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The practice of archery dates back tens of thousands of years to the various hunter-gatherer communities spread across the globe. Our descendants had to fashion a tool for hunting game – the bow. These were made from wooden staves obtained by felling trees. Today, making your own recurve bow is a popular and rewarding journey. But how do you do so? Let’s find out!
So how do you make a recurve bow from scratch? You’ll need a suitable wooden stave for the basis of the bow along with tools to shape it and make it capable of withstanding the immense physical forces of shooting. You’ll also need to string the bow and apply finishing touches to ensure it is comfortable to hold and shoot with.
While it isn’t an easy or quick process, making a recurve bow from scratch is still extremely rewarding.
And if you have the time, you can make something that is really unique and individual, for you.
But while the overview above gives you some insight into what you need to do, in reality, it’s much more complex than that.
So, keep reading. This article will cover a basic way to make your own recurve bow in as much detail as possible!
What Do You Need To Make A Recurve Bow From Scratch
You’ll need a strong but flexible wooden stave for the foundation of the bow. Some woods work better than others. You’ll also need a range of tools such as a drawknife, files, clamps, and a tillering stick. These will help you to craft an effective recurve bow.
The starting point for any recurve bow is the wooden base.
For this, choose woods that are strong but, most importantly, flexible.
A bow needs to cope with a lot of sudden tension and powerful force during a shot, and some woods can’t handle this.
The best woods to choose from are ash, black locust, hickory, lemonwood, maple, oak, or yew.
Whichever wood is chosen will need to be procured in the form of a stave – a straight wooden length that will be thicker than the final bow.
This stave will be shaped and whittled down to form the main components of the bow such as the handle, riser, and limbs.
You can buy pre-cut wooden staves or you can chop down a tree yourself. Check that this is legal in your area first.
If you’re taking the latter route, choose a tree with a diameter of between 15 and 20 centimeters.
Once the tree is felled, cut a length measuring around 1.6 to 2 meters.
This section can then be cut into quarters to create the basis for four bow staves. Apply some glue to the ends of the staves and leave them to dry out for a month or so.
You’ll also need a range of tools to make your recurve bow. Here’s a list of all the necessary equipment for various approaches:
|Selection of files (including a cylindrical one)||Tillering stick|
|Sandpaper||Thick nylon parachute cord or other string|
|Bow shaping frame||Belt sander|
|Vice clamps or grips||Bandsaw or jigsaw|
|Pen or pencil||Plane|
Where To Buy Your Supplies For Making A Recurve Bow
Large hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes will have most of the materials needed for making a recurve bow. Local woodyards can yield better-quality wood, or you can cut down one of the trees on your own property. Some tools, such as a bow shaping frame and tillering stick, can be bought online or from specialist archery shops.
The most important part of your recurve bow is the wood used to make it.
Pre-cut wooden staves can be purchased from local wood merchants for the best quality and indigenous wood.
Scour the merchants in your area to find the right sort of wood. You can also buy lengths of wood at places like Home Depot or Lowes.
Many of the standard carpentry tools used for making a recurve bow can also be purchased from larger hardware stores if you don’t own them already.
Some of the more specialist tools, such as the bow shaping frame or the tillering stick, can be purchased from nearby archery specialists.
These sellers can also offer you extra advice if you want to build your own recurve bow, so don’t hesitate to pick their brains.
Alternatively, specialist equipment can be found and bought online easily enough.
Because bows represent a safety risk, you want to try and obtain dependable, quality tools and materials for your bow-building project.
Safety is an important consideration during any carpentry project, so it’s recommended to use the right safety equipment.
Always wear goggles to protect your eyes and ideally overalls to protect your clothing and skin.
A face mask is essential when sanding, and gloves should be worn when felling trees wherever possible.
Once you’ve assembled all of your materials, tools, and safety gear, you’re ready to start making your own recurve bow from scratch.
How To Make A Recurve Bow From Scratch – Step-by-Step
Here is a step-by-step guide to making a recurve bow from scratch. We’ve broken it down into a few sections to illustrate each stage of the process.
Shaping The Bow Stave
- Start by marking out the general design of the bow on the stave using a pen or pencil. Include the handle and riser and the limbs. When marking out the limbs, mark them as flat and straight – these will be bent into shape later on. The handle should take up the middle 8 inches or so of the bow. Take this opportunity to mark out where you want the bowstring nocks to be.
- Using a hatchet or something like a bandsaw or jigsaw (depending on your preference), cut out the shape of the bow. Make sure to retain the overall length that you have in mind for the finished bow. Aim for the handle to be about 1 ½ inch thick.
- You’ll now need to identify the belly and back of the bow stave to determine how to bend it. The back of the bow is the outer surface that faces towards your target while shooting. The belly is the inward curve on the other side that faces you.
- Stand the stave upright and hold the upper limb with the tip of the lower limb planted on the ground. Gently bend the bow to check the flexibility of the wood.
- It’s now time to trim down the limbs. Set up the bow in a strong vice, clamping around the handle area. Then, use a drawknife, files, sandpaper, or a plane to shave down the limbs to your desired thickness.
- The thickness of the limbs determines the draw weight of the bow. At this stage, it’s best to aim for a slightly heavier draw weight that can be refined later on. Around 5/8 of an inch is a good thickness. When performing this step, always shave the wood away from the belly of the bow, not the back.
Bending The Limbs
- Once the limbs have been reduced to the ideal thickness, it’s time to start bending them. The limbs on a recurve bow curl away from the handle initially before curving back out towards the tip of the limbs.
- Use the bow shaping frame for this. It will allow you to secure your bow using several clamps while gradually bending it into shape. Tie the stave in place as well to keep it secured.
- Make sure to utilize exact, precise measurements. You’ll need both limbs of the bow to be bent at precisely the same angles to create an efficient working bow. With the handle fixed in place, bend both limbs at the exact same point on either side.
- Once you’ve finished bending the bow, leave it fixed and tied in the shaping frame overnight. This allows the wood to settle into the desired position.
Stringing The Bow
- Now it’s time to sort out the bowstring. Use a cylindrical file to carve out the notches at the desired place towards the tip of each limb. Work on the inside wood and not the outside wood. This preserves strength.
- The bow must now be tillered. Tillering refers to how evenly the bow bends while being pulled back to full draw. Attach a long piece of parachute cord to the notches of the bow. This cord needs to be double the size of the bowstring that you want to use.
- Secure the handle of the bow to the clamp at the top of the tillering stick.
- Pull the tillering string down to one of the notches on the tillering stick. This allows you to improve the flexibility of the bow whilst also checking that it bends evenly.
- If the bow is bending unevenly, remove it and gradually shave down the limbs a little more.
- Once the bow is flexible enough to bend at the first tillering notch strength without feeling too stiff, set the tillering string at a higher notch and let the bow sit. Repeat this process until the bow is at your ideal draw length. This may take months of gradual adjustment.
- If the bow starts to creak at any point, remove it. This is a sign of strain. Adjust the thickness of the limbs and try again.
- Once the tillering process is complete, you can perform the finishing touches on the bow. Smooth the wood, especially around the handle, with sandpaper to prevent rough bits and splinters.
- You can then stain the bow if you want, or add a protective layer such as varnish to guard the bow against moisture or other problems. Your bow is now finished and your bowstring can be attached.
Factors To Consider When Making Your Recurve Bow
The main factors to consider while making your recurve bow are things like draw length and draw weight. Keeping these in mind is crucial for a comfortable shooting experience with your new recurve bow.
Your draw length is the main measurement that decides how far you need to pull the bow back for a shot.
This is used to determine the height of bow that each individual archer needs.
The correct draw length helps give you a comfortable and stable shooting foundation, allowing you to focus on improving your accuracy instead of wrestling with the bow.
To identify your draw length, stand up and lift your arms out to your sides naturally.
Get someone to measure the distance between the fingertips of both your hands to determine your wingspan.
You can now divide this measurement by 2 ½ to approximate your ideal draw length.
This is then used to decide how tall your bow should be. Check out this post for more detailed information.
Once you’ve determined the bow height that you need, you can factor this into your calculations when choosing a stave for building your own recurve bow from scratch.
Another factor to consider when making your own recurve bow is the draw weight.
This refers to the amount of physical force that you need to apply when pulling the bow back to full draw.
The ideal draw weight depends on what you’ll be using your bow for.
If you’re target shooting, you won’t need as heavy a draw weight as you would if you were hunting.
For most beginners, a draw weight of around 25 to 28 lbs (11 to 13 kg) is ideal for target shooting.
For hunting bows, 40 lbs (18 kg) is the minimum draw weight that can effectively bring down game like deer or elk.
The draw weight is influenced by the thickness of a bow’s limbs, so keep this in mind when you’re shaping and thinning your recurve bow’s limbs.
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.