A backed bow is any bow—flat or long type—that has been backed with a substance intended to prolong its life or improve its shooting qualities. The bow consists of two pieces; the bow itself and the back. A laminated bow is a bow made of three or more pieces, joined or laminated together. Wood, rawhide, fibre, fibre glass, sinew and various plastics are used for backs and for laminated bows.
A wood backing is a piece of fine, straight grained, tough white hickory, ash, elm or lemonwood. It is one-eighth to a quarter of an inch thick and adds strength and cast to the bow. If the wood back is put on so that the stave has a reflex toward the back (in other words, the back is concave) this adds to the cast. Before the new resin and plastic glues were developed, backing a bow with wood was a chancy business and there were many failures because of the back and belly of the bow parting company. Now, with these new glues, joints are actually stronger than the rest of the stave. The secret of making good joints is to be sure the back and stave are absolutely flat so that contact between the two pieces is made everywhere.
The rawhide for backing bows is drum head rawhide, a clear parchment-like calfskin. This is exceedingly tough and strong and makes an excellent backing. The black or red fibre used in bowmaking is quite thin and makes a very pretty back. The fibre polishes very well and the colors are attractive. Neither rawhide nor fibre increase the strength of a bow much. Their principal function is to protect the back of the bow from hard knocks and to keep splinters from lifting.
Sinew is what the Indians used to back their bows, but it is difficult to get, unless you have access to the dead animal itself. The longer the strands of sinew the better, and the longest comes from under the back bone. The hock tendons are good too, but are much shorter.
Fibre glass backings are made of spun glass fibres laid in a plastic to hold them in place and thus make a workable product. Plastics have been developed that are hard and horn like and make fair backs and facings for laminated bows.