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Thread: Help a first time bowyer?

  1. #1

    Question Help a first time bowyer?

    Lately, I've been wanting to make my own bow. It seems like something that would be tons of fun, and just the thought of showing up to the range with something built with your own two hands sounds extremely satisfying. If possible, I want to make everything myself; bow, bowstring, arrows, the whole 9 yards.

    I have done some research into how exactly to go about everything. However, as I am fairly new to archery in general, and have never attempted something like this before, I figured it would be best to talk to real people and get some answers before I delve into it.

    First off, my background/limitations. I'm a college kid, and therefore don't have a whole ton of money or tools. The only tool I currently have is a good knife. I'll probably go out and get at least a small c-saw and a set of wood rasps before I begin, but I don't have the money to get expensive tools and jigs. I figure it might take it bit longer, but people have been making this stuff for thousands of years without any fancy equipment.

    Now for the questions...

    How important is it to get the right kind of wood? I would much prefer to go out to the woods somewhere and find a good log to work on, than buy a plank of wood from a hardware store. However, I don't think I could recognize which trees are which, and as I live in Arizona, selection of good bow wood may be limited.

    Is it possible to make a bow without a draw knife? Apparently they are somewhat difficult to find, and are expensive when you do. Could the same work be done with careful whittling instead?

    How vital is it not to "violate the growth ring"? All of the videos that I've seen say this. However, I've also seen tutorials of people making 50-60lb bows out of hardwood boards(which obviously don;t follow a single ring) that work just fine. I'm going to do my best to follow a single ring, but do I have to throw out the stave and start over if I accidentally cut too deep?

    What about backing/finishing? Due to my inexperience, and the above mentioned problem it seems like a good idea to back the bow somehow. Sinew backing seems a bit complicated, and the materials are not easily acquired. Anyone ever backed a bow with rawhide from dog treats? How well does a cloth backing work?

    How helpful is it to have a tillering jig? I've seen it done with and without one. Do i need to make one?

    What material would you suggest for the bowstring? I am willing to use more modern materials, however i have no idea where to get Dacron, Fastflight, etc or how much it costs. Maybe look for waxed linen at a craft store? Also, how many strands for each material? My target draw weight is 40-45 lb.

    Serving the string... If I were to go with a less modern string, with what would I serve it? should I even worry about serving the string? Should I attempt to serve the ends, like store bought strings? And can I get away without a serving jig?

    For the arrows, I was planning on using a dowel as the shaft, and making my own fletchings out of feathers from a craft store.

    What can i use as arrow heads? These arrows will not be used for hunting, so I don't want a broad head. Modern arrowheads/points go inside the shaft, which is a problem, and traditional arrow heads sell for $5-$10 each online, which seems a bit pricey. Any ideas?

    How do you suggest going about fletching without a jig? it must be possible...

    Sorry for all the questions, and thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Also, a copy of this thread can be found here: http://www.archerytalk.com/vb/showth...post1063796247 It might be worth a read to avoid redundant answers.
    This is probably a better place for this thread, so a made a copy here.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    You can do it with a rasp and sandpaper, it'll just take longer. Next items I'd look for would be some cabinet scrapers (cheap) a hatchet (just make sure it's sharp) and some decent way to clamp the stave down.

    In the beginning I did my rough work with a hatchet and then moved onto a surform plane then finished with sandpaper. Works just fine if you a dealing with a split stave but its very labor intensive.

    I don't work with Osage so I haven't had to follow a growth ring, realistically as a 1st time bowyer you'd be best off with some whitewood which you can just debark instead of chasing a ring.

    -Grant

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by grantmac View Post
    You can do it with a rasp and sandpaper, it'll just take longer. Next items I'd look for would be some cabinet scrapers (cheap) a hatchet (just make sure it's sharp) and some decent way to clamp the stave down.

    In the beginning I did my rough work with a hatchet and then moved onto a surform plane then finished with sandpaper. Works just fine if you a dealing with a split stave but its very labor intensive.

    I don't work with Osage so I haven't had to follow a growth ring, realistically as a 1st time bowyer you'd be best off with some whitewood which you can just debark instead of chasing a ring.

    -Grant
    I was under the impression that you had to "chase a ring" regardless of what kind of wood you were working with. Is this not the case?
    If so, what kinds of wood need a single ring, and what does not?

  5. #5
    What part of AZ? I'm in central Phx, and can help with a flemish bowstring. I have a couple of spools of dacron, and a home-made jig.
    As for fletching without a jig, you'll have to eye-ball it and hope for the best. Even primitive arrow makers used a sort of jig. Usually, it's a piece of leather with a shaft-diameter hole in it and three slits, to hold the feathers in place while you wrap with sinew or thread.
    Arrow points are not a problem. Most archery shops still sell glue on target points for wood arrows, in 5/16 11/32 and sometimes 23/64 sizes.
    If you are looking for specialty woodworking tools, try Rockler's on T-bird west of Tatum (Phoenix) or Woodworker's Source on I-17 near Union Hills rd. (also Phoenix)
    I haven't built a bow (yet), so I can't offer any insight there. It's on my to-do list. My first attempt will be a backed red oak board bow.

    Good luck, and show us pics of the progress!

    ---Ford---

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    First, head over to my site (in my signature) and check out the build along for a selfbow. It covers most of the details on how to actually build the bow.

    Now for the questions:

    For what you NEED, I would suggest a decent rasp, a wood file, and a hatchet. The rasp and hatchet being the most important part. You'll also be best served with a couple clamps: two small ones, about 4", and one large one, about 6". A used hot plate and a used bathroom scale (SPRING, NOT DIGITAL) will finish out your tool box for now. DON'T BUY ANY POWER TOOLS. YOU DON'T NEED THEM AND YOUR MONEY CAN BE BETTER SPENT ON OTHER MORE USEFUL THINGS.

    The type of wood is VERY important, not because some woods magically are better bows, but because if you don't know the density of the wood you won't know how wide, long, or thick to make it. That's why people like boards. However, a trip to the library will yield a book on how to determine what tree you're looking at, so if you don't mind putting in the time I'd say go that route.

    You don't need a drawknife. Actually, if you don't have a good vice, a good drawknife can be a huge waste of money. A rasp and a SHARP hatchet work fine.

    You will ALWAYS have to follow a growth ring to some extent. With boards, we choose only ones that have the grain running from one end to the other. Same goes for selfbows. Imagine the growth rings are like tounge depressors held together. If you cut through the top one and then bend it, it will naturally fall apart and the one under it will bend. Difference is in a bow, when that top one is broken it has a chance of breaking the one below it when you bend the bow.

    Cloth is a GREAT backing. Mid weight cotton, with a tight weave, is my personal favorite. You're looking for something like a good table cloth. Just glue it on the back with some Titebond III and you're good to go!

    I use a tillering stick to get the bow to brace height. You can make a tillering stick with a hand saw, 2x4, and about fifteen minutes. Use it, because it's easier to see the hinges early than get to tillering and have to start from the beginning, so to speak. However, I use "No Set Tillering" which uses a scale rather than a tillering stick or tree. It's the best method I've found and I highly recommend it- fastest, easiest, and most accurate method I've ever seen.

    For your first string use Dacron, served with Nylon. A serving jig is cheap and worth the money. Dacron is a forgiving string and soft, so it won't hurt your selfbows nocks if you don't use overlays (which I don't). I use FastFlight and have to use Dacron to make the loops thicker anyway. There's a how-to for strings on my site also.

    Buy your first arrow shafts from somewhere like 3Rivers. If you try to use dowels you have to build a spine tester and buy a grain scale. You can't use just any old dowel, or else you'll never hit what you're aiming at. This summer I'll be doing a dowel-arrow how to when I make some arrows for my father and uncle to try some prototype bows, believe me a good set of matched shafts from 3Rivers or Kustom King is worth it when you take all the work into account with dowel arrows.

    For points get "field points" in 100 or 125 grains you order your arrow shafts. It's about $5 for a dozen. Also get a tapering tool, the pencil sharpener kind is cheap and works great.

    Fletching without a jig is an art form. I did it for years, and don't suggest it to beginners. What you do is tie the feathers on by hand, but you have to lay them on pefectly spaced, and leading in the right direction, and it's only easy if you happen to be an octopus. There are jigs out there for as little as $25. Just buy one of those.

  7. #7
    Just an update: I have decided to skip cutting a whole stave from a tree, and simply go with a board bow. I have neither the tools to do "raw" wood working, not a place to get good wood from. Plus I figure a board bow would be easier for my first time.

    I am now in possession of an 8' red oak 1x3 board which will become my bow. Very little curvature, no knots or flaws, and only 2-3 growth rings on the end, so it should work well. I also have my basic tools now: clamps, a coping saw, and a file set.

    I still need to get a hold of a good piece of silk to back the bow with, and material for the bowstring. I'll worry about the arrows at a later point.

    Now for some new questions...

    What overall length do I need? The target weight is 40-50lbs. I figured it would be between 60" and 72", but wasn't sure what to make it exactly. Is this simply personal preference, or is there an ideal length?

    Should I tiller before or after I back the bow?

    Any pointers on backing with silk? I doubt I will have a single 6' piece of silk unless I drop the money to get a full two yards of it from a craft store. Does it need to be one piece?

    I was thinking about carving out overlays from the leftover wood. Should these be glued on over the silk?

    I'll post some pictures once I actually get down to work.

  8. #8
    Length is personal preference --- the classical measure for a long bow was equal to the user's height. I'd suggest going for as long as you feel is manageable, that way if you miss the desired draw weight you can ``pike'' the bow (shortening it) so as to increase the draw weight (I had to do that w/ my most recent hickory-backed hickory bow).

    Backing should be done before tillering --- here's a neat article on using silk for backings --- if you've got the space and the wherewithal for clamping may be something to consider:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=oSc...page&q&f=false

    Applying the overlays is tricky --- doing it before the backing then requires one to butt the backing up to them which isn't as strong, applying them after the backing creates the possibility that one will damage the backing while sanding down the overlays.



  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by WillAdams View Post
    Length is personal preference --- the classical measure for a long bow was equal to the user's height. I'd suggest going for as long as you feel is manageable, that way if you miss the desired draw weight you can ``pike'' the bow (shortening it) so as to increase the draw weight (I had to do that w/ my most recent hickory-backed hickory bow).

    Backing should be done before tillering --- here's a neat article on using silk for backings --- if you've got the space and the wherewithal for clamping may be something to consider:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=oSc...page&q&f=false

    Applying the overlays is tricky --- doing it before the backing then requires one to butt the backing up to them which isn't as strong, applying them after the backing creates the possibility that one will damage the backing while sanding down the overlays.




    I havent built a bow before, but making knives led me to ask this. Maybe its deeper than it seems when you say it. But couldnt you do a rough sand before you back the bow getting the overlays and tips "just about there" over even finish them just clamped in place then back the bow, attach the overlays, and just possibly have to only really do any work to the seam?

    Kind of like what you would do when making the handle scales on a "in progress" knife by clamping the scale blanks to the unfinished blade to shape and finish, then putting in the spacer(s), epoxying the scales and putting in the pins, then doing just a final finish sand on everything and finishing how you normally would.
    WARNING:
    1.- I am not associated with any company, product or personality.
    2.- I am not sponsored; nor a fanboy.
    3.- I do not harvest, I kill tasty animals and I eat them on a regular basis.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by smokin x's View Post
    [/B]

    I havent built a bow before, but making knives led me to ask this. Maybe its deeper than it seems when you say it. But couldnt you do a rough sand before you back the bow getting the overlays and tips "just about there" over even finish them just clamped in place then back the bow, attach the overlays, and just possibly have to only really do any work to the seam?
    Tricky may have been the wrong word, but that's a good technique.

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