Archery bows began as simple weapons but in time their designs changed in order to make them stronger or so a certain problem in their use could be solved. That is why we have different types of bows today.
There is no one unified way to classify bows by the material from which they are made. One system classifies them into longbows (made from one material) and composite (made out of two or more materials.) Other system divides bows into simple (made from one material), backed (made from two materials), and composite (made from three or more.)
By shape and design, bows can also be classified in these types:
Self bow is the oldest type of bow. It is made from one piece of wood or rarely from two. Some of them have horn nocks on the ends, or built-up handles. They are made from denser timbers because they store energy better. If constructed well they can perform as well as composite bows.
Longbow - a tall bow that is not too recurved. Its cross section is circular or D-shaped and these bows are made of a single piece of wood. Different cultures use different kinds of wood. The first recorded use of a longbow was by the Welsh in 633AD.
Flatbow is a flat bow with relatively wide limbs that are rectangular in cross section with rounded, non-bending handle. It is made from one piece of wood and it tolerates better stress of bending than other wooden bows. Flatbows were used by Native American tribes.
Cable-backed bow is a wooden bow reinforced with a cable on the back. Animal, vegetable or synthetic fibers are used for cable part of the bow.
Recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is strung, hence the name. This construction gives greater amount of energy and speed to the arrow. It is known since the ancient times and was made from wood while today it is made from modern materials.
Decurve bow is a bow whose limbs curve or curl at the ends towards the archer. This reduces the strain on the bow when it is used and this shape is used by peoples that had no access to quality materials but could still make quality weapons this way.
Reflex bow is bow that has curved or curled limbs away from the archer when it is not strung. This gives them same or greater velocity as much larger bows. They were the main weapon of Mongol armies.
Deflex bow has limbs that are curved or curled at the base towards the archer when unstrung. This way of manufacturing reduces the strain on the limbs and also the energy that weapon can convey to the arrow.
Composite bow is a bow made from layers of horn, wood. Wood is used as a core, horn is on the belly, and sinew on the back. This gives to the bow more energy than wood for the same length of bow. The First to make them were Asiatic nomads.
Compound bow is a modern design of the bow, designed for the first time in 1960s. It uses levering system of cables and pulleys which gives it more energy, higher speed of arrows and requires less strength from the archer when the string is in full draw. It is used for hunt and sport.
Crossbow is a variant of a bow where a bow is horizontal and mounted on a stock that shoots projectiles. They were first made in China during the 5th century BC. It was very popular from then on, because it was easy to train and use than bows. As other bows it fell out of popularity with appearance of firearms.