Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Recurve Bow

Setting up a recurve bow can be an intimidating task. But it doesn’t have to be! With the right tools and some simple know-how, you can set up your recurve bow no problem.

Don’t worry! Read on and learn everything you need to know about setting up a recurve bow.

A recurve bow is different from a typical longbow and much more versatile. Many recurve bows can be taken down by removing the limbs, making them easy to store and transport. A recurve portable is portable and still has the same power and ability to hit several different targets while still having a comparable draw weight to a long or compound bow.

Steps to Set Up Your Recurve Bow

A recurve bow is the type used in Olympic shooting competitions. It is different from the normal longbow in that the arms of the bow bend away from the shooter. With a longbow, there is a steady arc from end to end. Also, accessories can be added to the recurve bow to make it quieter and more accurate.

Things you will need:

  • Work area (a large table or work bench will do)
  • Allen keys or hex driver, matched size to the limb screw (sometimes the limb screws are thumb screws and you don’t need an allen wrench of hex driver)
  • Bow stringer like this one
  • Bow Riser
  • Upper and Lower Limbs
  • Limb screws (these come with the bow)
  • Bowstring
  • Crimp-on Nocking points
  • Nocking point crimping pliers
  • *Bow square, like this one available in this convenient set

Assemble the Pieces of the Recurve Bow

If the bow is new, remove it from the packaging; you should lay all the pieces out and make sure everything is there.

Once all the parts and tools are rounded up, you can lay the bow out and attach the limbs. You will need an allen wrench or hex driver to assemble the pieces. One should have come in the pack, and if it didn’t, they are easy to track down.

The Lower Limb is always the one with the writing on it and will have the bow length and draw weight written on it.

The Lower Limb is always the one with the writing on it and will have the bow length and draw weight written on it.
The Lower Limb is always the one with the writing on it and will have the bow length and draw weight written on it.

Align the pegs on the riser with the holes on the limb.

The riser often have pegs or another system to make sure the limb is aligned properly

Squeeze the limb and riser together and start the thread the screw with your fingers. You should still be able to see light in the gap.

Don’t start tightening the screw until you are sure the limb is aligned properly with the riser.

Tighten the screw until it is hand-tight. Do not over tighten the screw!

When fully tightened, the limb should be solidly attached to the riser. There should be no light visible in the gaps and it should feel like one piece on your hand.

Repeat the process for the other limb.

Take the time and ensure that the limbs of the bow are all adjusted to the same level. This comes into play in the next step, but it is always good to keep them even because it changes arrow flight and accuracy. Once you have the limbs close to even, you can move on to install any accessories that you might need.

Some accessories for your recurve bow are:

  • String SilencerThe large fuzzy puffs that you see attached to some bows are called string silencers. It cuts down on string noise, which could reveal your position or scare off the game with a missed shot. Some recurve, those with a 60lb draw, will sound like a whip cracking if left untouched.
  • SightsA three-pin sight can be attached to the recurve bow that allows for more accurate shooting. Each of the pins represents a different distance, and after the bow is set up correctly, you begin working on ranging in your pins.
  • Arrow Rest – On the lip of the recurve’s front, you will need an arrow rest. This rest will allow for smooth movement as the arrow is propelled forward. The smooth movement ensures that the arrow goes where it is supposed to go with as little resistance as possible.
  • Stabilizer – Keeping steady while making a shot is essential. If you are jittery or can’t hold the bow in position, then a stabilizer is the way to go. It keeps your bow level as you aim, and that increases the chances of an accurate shot.

Accessories for the bow should be used to make the bow more accurate and quieter. The market is full of things now that gives you an easy release or allows you to track the arrow as it flies. Choose items that make target shooting easier and then work towards moving and 3D targets that simulate hunting and archery competition.

Use a Stringer to Seat the String on the Recurve Bow

Once you have all the accessories you need on the bow, it is time to get the bow strung. This isn’t going to be done quickly without a stringer. A stringer works by holding one end of the bow and allowing you to add resistance to fit the much more taut shooting string. Without a stringer, you could be in a futile battle against the line and your wits.

Using a stringer is best because you can place the looped end on the ground and drag the top fork down to meet the string. Being able to get this mechanical advantage over the bow is critical in seating the string correctly. A string that isn’t correctly placed could fling off the end and injure the shooter and people in the area.

Steps to using a stringer on your recurve bow:

  • Attach the Covered End – One end of the stringer will be a sock or covering that will go over the end of the bow. It will surround the fork end and should provide some leverage to string the bow. Don’t rely on stringers that don’t engulf the forks, as they can break string rests if too much pressure is applied.
  • Pull the Stringer – Pull the stringer tight, and the bow will compress enough for you to start the string onto the forks. The stringer is best used by standing on the end with the rope loop. This allows you to wrench back on the covered end and create the force needed to get the string appropriately seated.
  • Hook the Strings – Now that you have enough force to get the bow bent, take the string’s small end and attach it to the bow’s bottom fork. The bottom fork is the one that is under the hand rest. Don’t get the bow’s ends confused, as the large end has to go at the top.

Getting the string on the bow is one of those jobs that can be frustrating without the proper tools. If you don’t have a stringer, you can use a vice but make sure that you protect the forks of the bow from any torsion or clamping events that might negatively affect the way the bow functions. 

Here’s a video demonstrating how to use a bow stringer:

Setting the Nock Point is Crucial for Accuracy

A nocking point is a place that acts as a guide for the arrow nocking. It is a simple metal piece that crimps onto the bowstring and provides a place for the arrow to rest on the string. It sets the foundation for precise shooting and will take some working to get it set into the right position. (Here’s an article explaining What is a Nocking Point on a Bow?)

Once the nock is crimped, you should ensure that the arrows are nocked level. If they are unlevel, the arrow will leave the rest at an odd angle, and your shot will be wide. If you are a stickler about it, you can stick a small level on the arrow as it rests in the nock, but getting close is the best you can ask for with a bow and arrow.

Things to watch for when setting the nock point on your recurve bow:

  • Improper Height – The nock point height is one of the most essential bow set up parts. The wrong height will force the arrow off-target and could also cause it to have erratic flight patterns.
  • Brace Height – The brace height is the shortest distance from the string when it is loose and the main body. Bracing the bow is important because it ensures proper power distribution when maintained. The typical brace height should be between 7 ½ inches and nine ¾ inches, depending on draw length.
  • Measure Twice – Before moving on to the next step, you must measure; you must measure the brace and nock height. Once you have those measurements, take the time and go through them one more time. Being sure of these heights will come in handy when you get to the testing phase.

Going back to work with the nock point is a recurring theme with this job. Although you measure twice to get the correct measurements, you could end up with inaccurate fires, which means you have to refit the nock. Be prepared for a little tug-of-war with the nock and how it affects the shooting of your recurve.

Centering the Arrow on the Rest Will Increase Accuracy

One of the things that keep arrows from firing on target is the arrow’s movement. The arrow moves and shakes when it leaves the bow’s body. If it is not centered, the arrow will wobble when it is fired, causing it to do all kinds of weird movements; as the shot is fired, the arrow grinds against the body and not the arrow rest, which is there to stop this wobbling shot.

The most crucial part of centering the arrow is giving it enough space to clear the rest while remaining on target. Precise measurements for how far to adjust the arrow rest padding can vary depending on the maker and draw the length of your bow. It is a good idea to check the owner’s manual and find out how to adjust the rest padding.

Rules to go by when centering your arrows:

  • Look Down the Site – When you draw the arrow back, you should look down the site and see how the arrow leans. If it moves off to the left slightly, it should fire and stay true. If it moves straight ahead, it could be prone to wobbling and makes for an ineffective shot.
  • Test Draw the Bow – Draw the bow to full draw several times and make sure that the arrow always returns to the same spot. If it doesn’t, make adjustments with the pad and continue to draw until there is consistency in the draw.

Centering the arrow is a lot like the nock. It will be done several times and has a significant impact on how the projectile functions. The arrow rest will be in constant movement, but once a happy medium is found will provide a stable platform for firing. The biggest thing about the arrow rest is scrubbing. Once that is stopped, you are in business.

Time to take a few test Shots

Now that the arrows are nocked and in the right position, you should head out to the range and get a few shots on some static targets. A rule of thumb is to fire fletched and unfletched arrows at the target. Each of the arrows will have a different flight pattern and give you a better idea about your bow’s accuracy.

Porpoising is the name given to the movement of an arrow when the tail swerves when fired. Porpoising gets its name from the sea mammal that must return underwater to get a breath. The arrow as it flies has the same effect by moving back and forth across the aiming area. The way the arrow moves tells you everything you need to know about how the bow is set up.

Steps to set up test firing your recurve bow:

  • Place the Target – Set out your static target at 20 yards away from your firing position. The reason for not going any farther is that the unfletched arrows are hard to track down. Anything over 20 yards almost guarantees they won’t reach the target.
  • Shoot a few Arrows – Now the fun part! Shoot the arrows without fletching first and mark where they land on the target. Shoot the regular arrows and again make a note of where they land; if the unfletched arrows land higher than the others, you need to move your nocking piece up until they are even.

Fishtailing is the other side of the porpoising coin. It means that the arrow turns right and left when the arrow is fired. Think of porpoising and fishtailing as signs of adjusting the nock and arrow rest to get the appropriate shots you need.

The things to look for when test-firing your bow:

  • Height of Arrow Landing – Like with the previous iteration, there are things to adjust when the arrow lands in a particular place. If the arrows without fletching land hard to the left, you should reseat the arrow on the rest. The arrow is getting too much contact with the centerpiece of the bow.
  • Weak Spined Arrow – If the arrows go right, that means that the arrow has a weak spine. That doesn’t mean that the arrow is broken. It means that the projectile doesn’t rebound from the force of striking the center of the bow. It bends instead of breaking, which leads to shots going to the right.

Working Towards Arrow Clearance is Time Consuming

By now, you would think that all the clearance issues with the recurve would be fixed, but you aren’t there quite yet. The fletching that forces the arrow to turn on a straight line as they are fired will need to be considered also. Their impact on the arrow’s flight is unmistakable, and allowing them room to move is critical.

Figuring out this step takes a bit of old school detective-style work but will improve your accuracy to no end. You will be using talc or dry deodorant to give you an idea of where the arrows’ fletchings impact the bow.

The steps to take when testing the fletchings on your bow are:

  • Coat the Areas – Whatever you decide to mark the bow with is of no consequence. Choose something that will be easy to spread and easy to spot when it has been removed. Focus on the arrow rest and nocking area where the arrow meets the string.
  • Fire at the Target – Being careful not to touch any of the talc or deodorant that you are using fire arrows into the target. Aim somewhere that the arrow won’t penetrate too far and take the fletchings with it.
  • Search for Skidmarks – Check the spots on the arrow rest and fletchings to see where they have impacted the bow’s spine. The fletching will also have a marking and will tell you where it ground past on its way towards the target.
  • Recoat and Fire – Once you know where the arrows are being scrubbed, you can adjust the rest’s seating or, if all else fails, go back to the beginning of setting up your bow. That’s the last resort, but it isn’t a bad idea if your bow has been out of service for an extended period.

Recoating and shooting the bow to search for scrubbing could take a long time. Be sure that you are ready to shoot and mark the fletched and unfletched arrows’ landing spots. This information is vital because it will give you an idea of what you need to correct when you get back to your bow. 


Setting up a recurve bow is going to take time and effort to produce a true shot. Once all the parts of the bow are assembled, you should add all the accessories that you will need. The number of accessories should be kept to a minimum and concentrate on your bows’ noise level and accuracy.

Shooting the recurve bow with fletched and unfletched arrows will give you the best idea of how well the bow is set up. If the arrows without fletching are higher or more to the left or right, you could need to readjust the nocking and arrow rest to make sure the arrow has clearance and isn’t affected by contact with the recurve.