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In archery, like any sport, it’s important to be aware of signs that something needs replacing, such as a compound bowstring. Using damaged or worn equipment puts an archer at risk for injury and may result in further equipment problems.
A responsible archer should spot the signs that a compound bowstring needs to be replaced.
So, what are the signs that your compound bowstring needs replacing?
The 6 signs that your compound bowstring needs replacing are:
- Broken String or Cable
- Frayed Bowstring or Cable
- Stretched Bowstring
- Dry Bowstring
- Bowstring Serving Separation
- Age and Use of Bowstring
There are several signals that aren’t visually obvious to indicate a bowstring needs replacing as well.
Compound bowstrings are an important part of archery equipment, both for performance and as an investment. These bowstrings require frequent maintenance for longevity and regular replacement for extended bow use.
Bow Safety First
Archery, statistically, is one of the safest sports available. In fact, most injuries due to bows and/or arrows result from using damaged archery equipment.
This is both good and bad news.
It’s good news because, by taking safety precautions, archers can avoid using damaged equipment and therefore reduce the risk of injury.
It’s bad news because this indicates that there are a significant number of archers using damaged equipment and therefore increasing the risk of injury.
Experts suggest that archers check all equipment for safety before each use, down to the individual arrow. Unlike other sports equipment, such as a flat basketball, any damaged archery equipment can result in injury to the archer and onlookers and cause further potential damage to equipment.
Understanding how to check archery equipment for safety and taking time to do so is the responsibility of all archers. If you want to learn more about the most common archery injuries and how to stay safe, check out this article we wrote.
Here are some general principles when it comes to bow safety in archery:
- When stringing a recurve bow, always use a bow stringer; consult a professional for compound bow
- Before use, carefully inspect bow for proper working conditions
- Before shooting, check bow limbs for any damage
- Check bowstring for signs of wear, such as fraying or separation, and avoid use if wear is present
- Wax bowstring regularly
- Never “dry fire” a bow (draw and release bowstring without an arrow)
Compound Bows and Bowstrings
Many modern archers use compound bows which feature a levering system made up of pulleys and cables to bend the bow limbs. This gives the bow a mechanical advantage compared to longbows or recurve bows.
The compound bow limbs experience less movement which makes them more energy efficient during the draw and release of arrows.
Healthy bowstrings are essential in archery because their draw and release are what transfers the potential energy to kinetic energy for the arrow. The need for healthy bowstrings is vital in compound bows, both for the operational integrity of the bow and the protection of the archer.
Some indications that bowstrings need to be replaced are obvious, as in the case of broken, frayed, or stretched strings. Other indications that they need to be replaced are more subtle, such as dryness, age, and small separations in bowstring serving.
An archer should examine the bowstring of a compound bow as thoroughly as the bow itself to ensure it’s healthy. If an archer notices any sign of bowstring wear, it needs to be replaced immediately.
Failure to replace a compound bowstring showing signs of wear is negligence on the part of the archer. This neglect can result in serious injury or equipment damage.
Here are the steps for effectively checking the bowstring condition:
- Examine entire bow before shooting
- Inspect bowstring visually for breaks, frays, or stretch
- Run fingers up and down bowstring length to feel for fiber separations, “fuzzy” texture, or dry condition
- If bowstring appears dry or fuzzy, apply bowstring wax by rubbing it into string fibers with fingers until it’s absorbed
- Re-inspect bowstring for signs of wear or damage
If any of the following 6 signs are present during compound bowstring inspection, the bowstring needs to be replaced.
1) Broken String or Cable
Compound bowstrings are made up of the main bowstring and one or more additional cables which connect the cams. Traditionally, bowstrings were made of plant fibers or animal hides.
Modern bowstrings are made from advanced synthetic materials. These high-tech fibers allow for compound bows to shoot arrows quickly, reliably, and accurately.
However advanced the compound bowstring fibers or cables may be, they can still break. If this happens, an archer obviously can’t operate the bow and the string/cables must be replaced.
With compound bows, the string and cable lengths are noted either on the bow or in the owner’s manual. Most bow experts agree, however, that to replace a compound bowstring and/or cable it’s best to visit an archery store or authorized retailer.
There, compound bow technicians can advise and oversee bowstring replacement.
2) Frayed Bowstring or Cable
Bowstrings are also subject to fraying, which is when the string fibers unravel or become worn at the edges. This generally happens as a result of regular friction, caused by drawing the arrow against the bow and releasing it.
Unfortunately, many archers will consider using a frayed bowstring for “just a few more” arrows or apply bowstring wax as a temporary fix. This is a risky decision. Frayed bowstrings (and cables) cannot be repaired, by wax or any other substance.
When a compound bowstring or cable is frayed, it must be replaced immediately before any further use.
A frayed bowstring indicates a point of weakness in a certain area of the string fibers. The fibers have started to break on an individual level, which means the string will break altogether at some point.
The problem is that archers can’t predict when a frayed bowstring will become a broken bowstring. Therefore, if fraying is visible on a bowstring, continued use is unwise.
If the bowstring breaks during the high-tension draw of an arrow, the archer can be severely injured through skin laceration or tendon tears. The bow can be damaged as well due to a sudden break in the bowstring. If an archer notices a frayed bowstring, the safe and responsible choice is to replace it.
3) Stretched Bowstring
The stretch of a bowstring is important in archery. All bowstrings, even brand-new, stretch to absorb potential energy when drawn. As an archer repeatedly loads and looses arrows from the bow, the bowstring stretches slightly more each time.
As a result of this stretching progression, the bowstring starts to absorb more energy and less is delivered to the arrow. This is counter-productive across time and use in that an over-stretched bowstring will interfere with the speed and accuracy of the arrow.
Archers call this string stretch phenomenon “creep,” as it happens incrementally (usually between 50-100 shots).
The fibers lengthen when stretched across time and use, making the bowstring longer and the bow’s performance less powerful. String stretch also takes place when a bow is subjected to extreme temperatures, under-use, and long-term storage.
Archers can be reluctant to replace bowstrings, especially with compound bows. However, a stretched bowstring will diminish the bow and archer’s skill and performance.
String stretch can also cause damage to a bow and injury to an archer. The best way to overcome a stretched bowstring is to replace it.
4) Dry Bowstring
A healthy bowstring is meant to be slightly “waxy” for optimal performance. One of the best ways to maintain a bowstring is to make sure it’s waxed regularly.
Archers wax their bowstrings by using wax sticks that can be purchased at an archery shop or retailer. The wax is applied by rubbing the stick across the string and then working it into the string by running it between thumb and forefinger.
If an archer inspects a compound bowstring by rubbing it and finds it to be slick and dry, it needs to be waxed. Another sign that a bowstring needs wax is if little strands are sticking up so that the string looks “furry.” This is where a dry bowstring can become a problem.
The “furry” look of a bowstring indicates that the string fibers are beginning to wear. The bowstring wax will smooth out the very tiny strands so that they don’t interfere with the bow’s performance and launch of the arrow.
However, this is temporary and eventually, an archer will see individual strands sticking out or coming loose from the string. This is the beginning of fraying, which means that the bowstring is damaged and needs to be replaced.
Therefore, a bowstring that is becoming dry more frequently, appearing “furry,” and requiring more wax is one that is starting to wear and will need replacing in the near future.
In this situation, an archer must be especially careful and thorough when inspecting the bowstring. A dry and furry bowstring can fray quickly and easily which is a sign of string damage and need of replacement. Archers should err on the side of caution and replace the bowstring as soon as possible.
5) Bowstring Server Separation
Bowstrings are covered by “serving,” which is the thread that is tied over the top of the synthetic fiber material that makes up the bowstring itself, as well as the cables on compound bows.
The serving is located in the nocking area of the bowstring—the point on the string that keeps the arrow in place so it can be shot from a consistent position and with consistent force.
Most compound bowstrings and cables have serving wherever they touch a cam, roller guard, or string stop. Therefore, archers using compound bows must be thorough in checking each part of the bowstring and cables where they are served when the bow is inspected for safety.
Ideally, the serving is wound in tight coils that are neatly stacked together, on top of the bowstring and cables. However, since serving is made of fibrous thread, the fibers begin to separate across time and use.
Just like bowstring fibers, when an archer notices slight separation of the serving coils it’s a sign of needed replacement.
The difference in serving thread is that the separation in the nocking area is a more urgent and greater concern than other areas of the bowstring or cables. Here is a guide for handling bowstring server separation:
- Serving thread contains different levels of thickness. Therefore, serving is most critical in the nocking area. The nocking area should be served properly with attention to whichever thread allows for the best nock fit.
- Any server separation in the nocking area must be addressed as soon as possible. This problem will affect shooting accuracy and can lead to bigger issues if not replaced.
- If slight separation of serving coils in other places on the bowstring or cables (aside from the nocking area) is noticed, the problem is not immediate. However, the separation will get worse and is a sign that there are issues coming soon.
- If the serving breaks (not just separates but breaks loose) then it must be replaced no matter where it takes place on the bowstring or cable.
Serving compound bowstrings and cables require a bow press. Therefore, any serving issues or replacement needs should be addressed by a bow technician at an archery shop or other outfitted retailer.
6) Age and Use of Bowstring
Like everything, bowstrings degrade across time, particularly with regular use. Even if no wear is evident upon archer inspection, compound bowstrings and cables should be replaced every two years.
This routine replacement will extend the life of the compound bow, maintain its performance, and decrease the risk of archer injury or equipment damage.
Bowstrings also weaken when stored for a lengthy period. No matter how properly they are stored or how preserved and flawless they look when opened, a long-term span of non-use is harmful to a compound bow and bowstring.
If an archer has not used a bow in a good while, it should be checked by a professional and the bowstring should be replaced.
Compound Bow and Bowstring Care
Most archers, whether competitive or recreational, consider archery equipment to be an investment. This is especially true for good compound bows, which range in price from $300-$500. Therefore, proper care, maintenance, and storage of a compound bow protect an archer’s investment.
Here are some maintenance and storage tips to extend the life of a compound bow:
- Check bow for any damage, cracks, or splinters
- Check screws and strings for tightness
- Use a hard-sided case for protection
- Store in cool, dry, climate-controlled area
Compound bows are stored with strings and cables attached. Therefore, the same elements that are harmful to compound bows are also harmful to their strings. This includes excessive light, extreme temperatures, and moisture.
Compound bowstrings, just like their bows, last longer when properly cared for, maintained, and stored. In addition, archers should routinely apply bowstring wax before storing
Caring for, maintaining, and properly storing compound bows and bowstrings seems like extra work. Yet archery is a function of archer skill and equipment performance. Damaged equipment will hinder an archer’s progress and enjoyment of the sport.
In addition, archery equipment can be a costly investment. Therefore, it’s essential to put in the work so that bows and bowstrings remain safe and effective as long as possible.
Archery calls for a lot of responsibility on the part of archers. They are responsible for the safety of themselves and those around them when they use bows and arrows.
In addition, they are responsible for the safety and condition of their equipment, to protect themselves and their investment in the sport.
Replacing a bowstring, especially for a compound bow, can seem a hassle. Often it requires a bow technician, costs money and takes time away from the sport.
Many archers will try to persist in using bowstrings that should be replaced, whether out of reluctance to make the effort or failure to properly assess their equipment. This negligence puts the archer at risk for injury and equipment like compound bows at risk for damage.
To avoid this, archers need to understand the signs that indicate when a compound bowstring should be replaced—whether obvious or not.
Being responsible for timely and proper compound bowstring replacement will prolong the performance of the bow and an archer’s enjoyment of the sport as well.
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.