Snakeskin Backing a Bow

By: Dale Karch and Todd Smith

Unique and Exotic Snakeskin backing
Add a touch of the unique and exotic
to your bow with a snakeskin backing.

How do you put snakeskins on a bow?

Great question! Snakeskin Backings are a beautiful addition to any bow. You can either purchase them or capture them yourself. The snake skins must be dry when you’re applying them, but may be purchased in either a raw/frozen state, or a pre-dried state. If you dry your own skins, you can control the shape and straightness of the pattern.

For drying skins, we recommend using cardboard and a stapler. Position the skin on the cardboard, scale side down, and stretch it slightly as you push the staples through the skin and into the cardboard. Be careful. Do not staple your hands or furniture. Watch the pattern of the skin as you tack it down. Keep it straight and symmetrical. It will make the gluing process easier. When the skins are dry, you can continue.

Prepare the surface of the limbs by cleaning and degreasing them. Mineral spirits or regular rubbing alcohol will work well for this. You do NOT have to rough up the surface of your bow. For snakeskin backing any bow we recommend using a quality, contact cement such as Barge Cement, which will hold well even on smooth surfaces.

Barge Cement
It’s important to use a quality contact cement
when applying snakeskin backing to your bow.

Secure your bow at the handle in a padded vise. This allows you to work with both hands and makes the project much easier. Apply a thin, even layer of Barge Cement to the surface of the bow that will receive the skin. While that is drying, apply a thin, even layer of Barge Cement to the surface of the skin that will be in contact with the bow. Allow that to dry.

Starting at the handle section, line up the center of the snakeskin’s pattern with the centerline of the bow. Touch the two glued surfaces together there and while holding the far end up and out of the way, slowly and smoothly slide your near finger over the skin, pressing it onto the surface of the bow, all the while checking for the proper alignment of the pattern of the skin. Continue until you reach the tip of the limb. Note: Once the two glued surfaces touch, they will be stuck right where they are so be careful. Repeat the gluing process for the other side but overlap the skins at the starting point in the middle of the grip and when finished laying the skin out on the limb, come back to the overlap and carefully cut across and through both skin layers at the same time with a snap-off knife or razor blade.

Snap-Off Knife
A good snap-knife is a useful tool to have on hand.

To trim the excess skin from the sides of the bow, use the same snap-knife or razor blade. Start at the grip and slide the blade along the limb, using it as a guide, cutting the excess skin as you go, all the way out to the bow tip.

To remove the scales, use a piece of leather or coarse cloth and carefully rub against the grain of the scales (from the tip towards the handle.) You will see the scales “jump” off the skin. Then with a piece of masking tape, this time going with the grain of the scales, (from the grip section to the tip section) press the tape onto the top of the skin and slowly, carefully pull it up and away from the skin. The remaining scales should come off during this operation.

To seal and finish the skin, use Tru-Oil Finish, a gun stock finish available from many traditional archery stores. Dip your fingers into the Tru-Oil and rub it onto the snake skins, wiping off any runs or drips. Rub with the grain then give the finish time to dry. Continue this process, adding successive layers until you reach the luster that you desire.

Tru-Oil Finish
Tru-Oil Finish is made for gun stocks,
but it works equally well for bows.

Once you’re sure the finish is good and dry, take your beautiful snakeskin backed bow out and shoot it! Hey! Just because you’ve made a work of art, doesn’t mean it has to hang on the wall forever!

Keep Hunting
Dale Karch and Todd Smith

For more information contact:

3Rivers Archery
PO Box 517
Ashley IN 46705