The Shop => Wood & Stuff => Topic started by: vtsteam on July 18, 2015, 10:10:33 PM

Title: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 18, 2015, 10:10:33 PM
My daughter recently had a birthday and she'd asked for an archery set. Friends of the family bought her a kid's bow of fiberglass and plastic. It's kind of tough for her to pull back, and not very nice looking, but archery something we can do together, so I dusted off my old wood bow from the 70's and ordered a string for it.

I was thinking about maybe making a bow for her. Never done that before, but after a bunch of online reading I decided to start with a simple board bow for myself to get practice. I hunted up some wood I'd cut a long time ago on the bandsaw mill, and found a not too promising stack of hardwood that had fallen over in the woods. Most of the wood was wet and gray, though it felt solid with the fingernail test.

At first i was thinking of making it out of cherry, but that's apparently a pretty iffy wood for bows. Ash is considered good but it rots quickly and the ash boards didn't look good. I knew I had some black (sweet) birch in the pile, and these boards seemed sound. A quick check of wood properties online showed black birch has a very good set of specs better in fact than some of the more commonly used board bow woods. I'm not surprised as hard birch plywood is used in aircraft construction. I couldn't find anything online about black birch specifically for bow building. Perfect! Always like experiments with materials.

I ripped one of my boards into 1 by 3 inch strips, and chose the best -- with almost perfectly straight grain, about 6' long. Unfortunately when I planed it, there was a grain interruption at about 54", and I decided to cut it off there. I started to shape it into a short bow.

Title: Re: Kid's Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 18, 2015, 10:18:28 PM
To make a bow you gradually thin down the limbs in a process called tillering. The bow is placed on a post with markings on it to indicate draw length, and you pull down on the bowstring with a scale, while observing the shape at gradually increasing draws. You scrape off material until the shape looks right  and you've also brought the bow's draw weight to what you want it to be, at your draw length.

I decided I wanted about a 40 pound bow, at my draw length of 29". This proved to be more difficult to achieve than I realized, being a beginner to bow making.

Title: Re: Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 18, 2015, 10:30:21 PM
I should mention, there was a delay of a couple weeks between when I planed the board and shaping and tillering the bow. The wood needed to dry, which it did gratifyingly quickly. It had air dried in the stack over the years (maybe 7 years), and the recent collapse hadn't really wet it through. By the time I started shaping the bow, it was at 8% moisture content just from standing indoors.

Anyway, during tillering, it quickly became apparent that I'd never get this bow to draw 29". It was just too short for that using this wood. I really need a longer bow. So I decided to go ahead and make a child's bow of it. If I ruined it, it would just be for practice. And if successful, I could give it to my daughter. She needed a bow of about 15 pounds draw weight and 21" draw length. That seemed more appropriate for a bow this size, and much more do-able.

After working on the tiller for a few days I finally got it to draw at 18-1/2 pounds at 21 inches. I had her do a test pull, but she still thought it was hard to draw. Incidentally at about this time I tested her plastic bow on the tiller and was surprised to find it drew 22 pounds, though the packaging was clearly marked 15.

Here is the wood bow initially tillered to 18-1/2 lbs at 21":

Title: Re: Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 18, 2015, 10:48:04 PM
I received some advice from more experienced bowyers that the shape wasn't ideal, but that since it was still drawing over weight, I could probably correct it and reduce the draw weight at the same time. In the photo above you can see that most of the bend is near the center of the bow, and the ends are doing little of the bending.

It took another couple of days to carefully reduce the thickness of the taper to the ends, scraping a little at a time, re-stringing, exercising the bow by drawing it 30 times, and then checking the draw weigh and shape at 21"

Here's what it looked like at 16 pounds draw weight, when I decided to quit while I was ahead. Black birch is so stiff that the ends were getting very thin in order to make them flex more, and I just didn't feel comfortable going any farther.

But at its present state it pulls very smoothly, with no feeling of strain at 21" (I've pulled to 22" just for safe measure). The curve (or "tiller") is better and more of the bow is working. I tried it in its unfinished state, and shot 30 arrows into a hay bale, and was surprised at the penetrating power -- it buried the fletching on several aroows. And surprised at its accuracy, too. In fact i was having more fun shooting this small bow, I think, than my old Fred Bear recurve!

It still isn't finished, but I think it's going to work out well. I hope to shoot several hundred arrows after finishing to make sure it is safe and doesn't take too much set in the process, before handing it over. I'll post pics when that's done.

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: tom osselton on July 18, 2015, 11:42:16 PM
Nice job!
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: S. Heslop on July 19, 2015, 11:13:04 AM
That's pretty neat! I remember watching a bunch of videos on bow making a while back, can't remember exactly why. But I thought that tillering process was pretty clever.
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: Manxmodder on July 19, 2015, 06:03:01 PM
Very nice,Steve. A mate of mine who lives close by is a keen archer and has many homemade bows in his collection. He has a device very similar to your draw post permanently mounted on an outside wall  just outside the kitchen door. I am always amazed at the consistency and accuracy of a well made bow in experienced hands.....OZ.
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 19, 2015, 10:08:47 PM
Thanks Tom, Simon, Oz!  :beer:

I very much enjoyed that, though it was one of the simplest types to make. I'm going to try a more difficult bow next -- one entirely carved from a natural split stave, instead of a board. I have a rather good sized limb of witch hazel that I cut last fall -- it was in the way of sawing a big dead ash tree. I think it should be pretty dry by now, and it's a pretty unusual wood for a bow. I think that would be cool. I also have some elm split, and I'd like to do more with black birch to see how well it works out in a full size bow. I think I'd design the tips narrower so the thickness could be greater there -- they got awfully thin in this first bow.

I'm far from an expert hand at archery -- but a good bow does seem to make a difference. Arrows I'm told make an even greater difference, but I'll leave off making those for awhile.

I recently re-read Zen in the Art of Archery and enjoyed it a lot. I've had little personal interest in woodworking these last few years, but the bow making does seem interesting -- and if there's one resource I have in abundance here it's wood!
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: awemawson on July 20, 2015, 02:21:03 AM
No Yew in your extensive forest I suppose Steve ? That's the traditional long bow wood here, cut so the sap wood / heart wood join is in the bow so one is in compression whilst the other is in tension as the bow is drawn.
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 20, 2015, 03:04:09 PM
No Yew in your extensive forest I suppose Steve ? That's the traditional long bow wood here, cut so the sap wood / heart wood join is in the bow so one is in compression whilst the other is in tension as the bow is drawn.

No, none, Andrew -- yew is a Pacific northwest wood this side of the pond. For bow woods, my little microclimate favors black (sweet) birch, yellow birch, cherry, red oak, sugar (rock) maple, occasional hophornbeam, elm (surprising how many keep coming back despite dutch elm disease), black locust, one lone pignut hickory (which I won't be cutting!), ash, buckthorn, witch hazel (gets big enough), beaked hazelnut (which doesn't get big enough).

For non-bow woods: white pine, canadian hemlock, red maple, cottonwood, white birch, big leaf linden (basswood), striped maple, alder -- that's all I can thnk of now.

I have found one white oak in the woods lately. All of this is the lower15 acres or so. Haven't visited the ridge much in the last few years. Not keen to find a bear alone but might have to make an expedition soon just to find out what's up there.....
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: PekkaNF on July 20, 2015, 04:22:03 PM
..I recently re-read Zen in the Art of Archery and enjoyed it a lot.

It that book as a matter of fact like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I enjoyed readig the book, I first loaned in from the libraty. Then got it first in Finnish, then got it in English. It's bit like garlic or cilatro. Some people like it it and rest....

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 20, 2015, 05:09:15 PM
Pekka I think they just share a similar title. ZIAMM borrowed it from the much smaller and earlier ZIAA.

It's a German account of Eugen Herrigel's instruction in Kyudo (traditional archery) in Japan after the war, with a master bowman, Awa Kenzo. It's a short read -- a quick search just turned up a pdf of a translation here:

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: PekkaNF on July 21, 2015, 12:27:16 PM
Very different then...
 In its introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either."

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 23, 2015, 10:10:18 PM
I'm now in the process of finishing the bow, and added a handle wrap of a strip of inner bark from an elm, with the outer rough part scraped off. The bark was soaked in water to cut into a strip, rolled and soaked in linseed overnight to make it pliable. It was then wrapped on the handle area. The finish on the bow is mostly tung oil.



Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: SwarfnStuff on July 24, 2015, 03:19:12 AM
Now here is another reason why I like this forum. I learn stuff every time. Like today I learn that bark can be used like a leather thong if prepared correctly. I would never have thought of doing that, but then I also would not be making a bow. But hey, what's to say I won't someday use bark as an inlay in a fancy jewelry box? IF I remember of course.  :lol:
Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: Eugene on July 24, 2015, 04:22:08 AM

I can't remember where I read this, but elm was one of the standard materials used for the traditional British "self" bow, so if you have access to a decent supply, it would be a pity to let it pass by.

I may have seen it in Robert Hardy's work "Longbow: A Social and Military History" which I heartily recommend. Hardy is an actor who came into an interest in longbows through playing Prince Hal in "An Age of Kings" on BBC TV a long time back. He's now a national authority on the subject being a Trustee of both The National Armouries and The Mary Rose Trust. He measured / estimated the draw weight of some of the bows from The Mary Rose at 180 lbs, so your daughter has a bit of a way to go just yet!

Second hand copies ...... (


Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: Fergus OMore on July 24, 2015, 04:52:15 AM
Whilst on my holidays, I was given a Bernard Cornwell novel on archery associated with the Hundred Years War, Crecy, the search for St Peters sword etc. There was lots of archery information. I'm interested in this Cathar thing- I'm a --------never mind but it's a good read. my bow was local briar- now yew or whatever and the arrows were willow.

A good read and informed.

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: modeldozer on July 24, 2015, 05:57:45 AM
Very nice bow.   :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow:

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: vtsteam on July 24, 2015, 09:38:19 PM
Swarf thanks!  :beer: I think it's been used for baskets, etc. a lot. It does shrink so I imagine inlays would use dry material. Be interested to see what you can do with it.

Eugene, I did save and split the elm into staves to make a few bows with, but they will take awhile to dry. The bark was handy to use for this bow. I'll post when I use the elm pieces to try a self bow.

I remember Robert Hardy from the early 70's Masterpiece Theater here (BBC originated) series Elizabeth R. And of course Siegfried in All Creatures Great and Small. Now that you mention it I did hear somewhere that he was an expert in English longbows. I'll have to read that book, thanks for the link!  :beer:

Norman,really interesting to hear about the briar and willow -- always interested in materials for things not commonly seen. Also the interested in the Cathars, Albigensian stuff, etc... :beer:

Abraham, thank you kindly! :beer:

Title: Re: A Kids Bow
Post by: Fergus OMore on July 29, 2015, 03:19:43 AM
Really, I don't think that we thought about fancy woods when I was a kid.  The willows grew - as willows grew and the briar grew hips which was an important  source of vitamin C in the war. So we used what was there.

Digressing, we were too poor to have Christmas trees and holly was the thing that was decorated. Ironically, we have the largest man made forest in Europe now. It was for locally grown pit props but is now a source of chipboard as there are no coal mines anymore.

Cathars and such.  Our son was a stagiare after finishing his degree in French. Went to live in Montpellier which is Cathar Country but is also near to where the Crusaders sailed from Aigues Mortes which is now miles inland from the River Rhone silting up. There's quite a lot about the Black Madonna and of course, two Popes and Friday the 13th. Avignon and 'Sur le pont d'Avignon- well, I've done 'Sous le pont d'Avignon'. Gypsies making clothes pegs and of course 'the crocodile chained to a palm tree'  at Nimes where 'De Nimes' originated.
Little wonder that there are so many books written.
Digressing further, it's the place where clarinet, saxophone and other reeds are grown. Too much for one scant lifetime!