Note to reader: If you don’t feel like reading a page or so of my senseless ravings, you can feel free to skip ahead to the supplies section.
So there you are, sitting on your couch at home. And you’re thinking to yourself, as you often do, “How is it that I’m not as cool as Rambo yet?” Sure, you’ve got the sweet mullet; and you must have been sporting that rad crimson headband for the better part of a decade now. You have saved at least half a dozen pretty, in that girl next door type of way, Christian aid workers from warlords. Yet, something is still lacking. What could it possibly be? What it is can be summed up in five magical words my friend: homemade knife and homemade recurve bow. And yes, I realize that is six words if you count the conjunction “and”, but if you even noticed that you have dropped even further from your Rambo status. Rambo has no time for counting; unless it’s counting bullets.
Well my friend, you’re in luck because you’ve come to the right place. My good friend Matt Bray has made several videos showing you how to make your own knives for real man stuff, like beheading Burmese war criminals, shaving a superman logo into your chest hair, or turning a simple radish into one of these beautiful works of art. Now it’s time for me to show you how to make yourself a recurve bow worthy of downing your very own enemy Apache helicopter (Note: the author, me, realizes that Rambo used a compound bow in that scene. But I just referenced killing Burmese warlords once, and I’m trying to stay well rounded in my Rambo flashbacks. Please cut me some slack on this. Also I have no idea what type of helicopter it was.)
“But author!” you say. Clay, my name is Clay. You can just call me that. “But Clay,” you say, “I have no knowledge of the ancient art of bow making. Surely I, a simple lad, would be unable to accomplish such a task on my own!”
Well not to worry my young friend, who speaks peculiarly like someone from a Charles Dickens novel. You will not be on your own. I will be here to guide you along your path towards recurved mastery. Admittedly, not because I myself am a master of recurve bow making. In fact, my first two attempts at bowyery (real word, Google it) were abysmal failures. This lead me to a startling conclusion, I should never make a bow again! I’m just kidding; I’m way too stubborn for that. However, with my new-found lack of time to dedicate to the task (due to having two kids and being a college student), and my new-found state of devastating poverty (due to having two kids and being a college student), I realized I needed a new approach.
I had long wondered whether or not a recurve bow could be made from the limbs of skis. After seeking the advice of the high masters on this subject, (I Googled it. Seriously, Google can answer anything. It’s like Yoda without a speech impediment.) I determined that it was indeed possible and yielded some pretty spectacular results. So with much haste I set forth, planning meticulously and gathering the necessary supplies (that’s a lie. I had absolutely no forethought on the matter. I ended up making the riser out of a log. No lie, it had bark on it and everything.) Much to my surprise, that attempt was a rousing success! I had unlocked the secret to making an accurate, powerful recurve bow. Sure, other people had apparently unlocked the secret before me, but that doesn’t make it any less special. And the best parts about making this bow? It doesn’t take too long, it doesn’t take too much skill, and the whole project can be done for about $20.
So, without further adieu, I present to you the instructions on embarking upon this endeavor yourself. Good luck, and Godspeed young padawan.
Note: I Recommend reading through all of the instructions before beginning the project to avoid making any mistakes, or any additional trips to the hardware store.
Hard wood– Either a block that is at least 3”*4”*20”, or several strips that you will be able to laminate together. Woods that would be suitable for the task include Hickory, Pecan, Hard Maple, White Oak, Beechwood, and Red Oak. I went with Red Oak because it was the most readily available.
Titebond II– This is only if you are starting with strips of wood for the handle. If that’s the case, you can pick some up at the hardware store you’re getting your other supplies from for about $5. If you can get your hands on a big enough block of hardwood, you don’t need this.
Clamps– You’ll need 3 clamps if you’re laminating the riser (making it from multiple pieces of wood), or two if you’re making it out of a single block. One handed bar clamps make life a lot easier here, but any clamps that will go as wide as 4” will do.
Skis– If you’re looking for a draw weight more than 35lbs or so, you’ll need to use downhill skis. The bow I made was for my brother in law, so I was hoping for a draw weight around 55lbs. If you are making a bow for someone who doesn’t have the upper body strength for this, like a child, you’ll want to use cross country skis. The measurements I use in here will all have to be adjusted to compensate.
I got my skis from Goodwill for $10. Any decent second hand pair of skis will do, but I wouldn’t go spending much money on this, as you will be cutting them in half. Just be sure to check that there are no cracks or large divots out of the ski that would affect the integrity of the bow.
Bolts, washers, and wing nuts– You’ll need 4 each of these. I went with 5/16” bolts. I used smaller ones on my previous attempt, and they ended up bending after the bow was drawn a few times. The length of the bolts will need to be the width of your limb attachment face, plus about ½ inch.
Something to rough cut the wood– A band saw or scroll saw is your best bet here, but if you don’t have access to one it can be done with a jigsaw, or even a handsaw if you’re really dedicated.
Something to cut metal and fiberglass– Downhill skis are made of several layers of material, most commonly metal around the edges, fiberglass exterior, and a wooden interior. Getting through all of this without the right tools can be quite a task. Having access to a circular saw with a metal cutting blade makes life pretty easy. However, I’ve done it with a dremel with a metal cutting head on it and a hacksaw.
Drill– A drill press is helpful, but an electric hand drill can get the job done.
Sanding supplies– Once again, this will depend on what you have access to. If you have a drum sander or belt sander at your disposal, you’re in luck. This project will be X10 easier. A dremel with a sanding attachment can also make quick work of annoyingly unsmooth lines. If you don’t have these, you’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way with a sanding block or sand paper. I would recommend at least getting a sanding block, which can be purchased from any hardware store for less than $5.
String– bow string is obviously optimal, which can be purchased at any archery store, or online. Otherwise a halfway decent substitute is 550 paracord. I know that it has a little stretch to it so it isn’t the world’s best option, but it definitely gets the job done in a pinch.
Helpful to have-
- Circular saw
- Angle grinder
- Bandsaw/scroll saw
- Drum or belt sander
- Wood rasp and file
- Drill press
- Dremel with assorted attachments
First things first, you need a block of wood. Starting out with a precut block of one of the hardwoods mentioned above would be the easiest, and you should be able to get this from a decent lumber yard, though I am unaware of how much it costs. If you’re like me and only have access to a Home Depot, then you’re going to need 3 or 4 strips of 1X4 wood, cut to about 24”. How many you need is dependent entirely upon your handle design, so you may want to sketch this out in advance (which I will go over in a later section; this is why I said read all directions first!).
While you’re picking up your wood, if you’re laminating strips together pick up some Titebond II. Don’t skimp and just use whatever old woodglue you have lying around the house. If you do, when you’re trying to shoot in high humidity or rain, your handle may end up ripping apart in your hands. Which I’m guessing will hurt. While you’re at the hardware store, go ahead and pick up your bolts, washers, and wing nuts too, as well as any other supplies listed that you need.
Making your riser block:
If you were lucky enough to just get your hands on a solid piece of lumber, you can skip to the next step. If you need to laminate wood together, this is how to do it.
First, use rough grit sandpaper on both sides of your boards. This creates thousands of tiny grooves in the wood which the glue will sink into to create a stronger bond. Do not skip or skimp on this step! If done correctly, the bonded areas will dry harder than the wood itself. If not done correctly, you will go through an experience I can only describe as mind numbingly horrendous. There are very few feelings as miserable as finishing your beautiful new bow, stringing it up for the first time, drawing it back and hearing a cracking noise as the seam on your riser splits. Then it is a good idea to lay your boards on top of one another to figure out which order allows them to fit together best. Most boards from a hardware store come with a slight bend to them, so doing this step will give you your best bond between the boards and a better block to work with when finished.
Next, cover your first surface with the Titebond II. You want a thin even layer covering the entire surface. I used a disposable rubber glove here so I could just smooth it all out by hand, but whatever you want to use will work. Just make sure that every part of the attachment surface is covered. Also, don’t go too heavy on this or your boards will want to slide all over the place when you’re putting them together, and you’ll have a bunch of runoff to deal with.
Once the attachment face of the board is covered with glue, place the next board in line on top of it. Repeat this step until your boards are all together, and you have what looks like a solid block of wood. Then line them up as perfectly as possible; if your boards are not exactly the same length, put all uneven ends on the same side and try to make one side perfectly square. This will help when making a solid block to work with. Then place your stack of wood on the edge of a table, and clamp them together.
If the clamps you’re using have a metal point of contact, it is a good idea to put something between that and the boards, otherwise you risk denting up your top board or even splitting the wood. Place one clamp at each end of the block, and one in the middle to ensure that there is no space between the boards when they dry. At what you end up with should look like this:
Once it’s clamped, wait a few minutes for any runoff glue that got pressed out of the seams to get rubbery, then scrape it off. If you do it too early, it’ll get messy; if you do it too late, then you have rock hard glue along your edges that will mess with the flat surfaces you need to measure. Now leave it alone! I highly recommend leaving it overnight; otherwise you may end up splitting a seam when you start cutting it. Here’s what you can do in the meantime.
See Part 2