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Welcome to the 3Rivers Archer's Den

Archer's Den

Welcome to the Archer's Den. Here you will find a gathering of traditional archery stories, tips and techniques, trophy animals taken with traditional bows, and plenty more. Stay a while and learn something. We hope you enjoy and even submit a trophy of your own, or leave a comment on a post.

Tag Archives: board bow

Sharpening Traditional Broadheads

By: Dale Karch and Todd Smith

Sharpening a broadhead with a CC sharpener
Sharpening broadheads is a misunderstood, but necessary art.

The guy behind the counter hands you your first pack of cut-on-contact broadheads. First there’s the blank stare… the deer in the headlights look. Then you see a glimmer of the light flickering on as the realization sinks in.

“You mean I have to sharpen ’em?”

This is a valid question that we get all the time. It makes sense too, if the only broadheads you’ve ever been around are the ‘razor-sharp right out of the package’ kind, then why would you have to sharpen them? The truth of the matter is, 95% of all cut-on-contact broadheads need to have their final edge sharpened by the bowhunter before they are taken into the field. The good news is, with the sharpening aids available to all bowhunters today it’s not difficult to do. Read on and we’ll describe some hand sharpening techniques as well as introduce you to some of the more popular tools and accessories available for sharpening traditional broadheads.

Woodsman BroadheadZwickey Eskimo Broadhead
Safety first. Use extreme caution whenever working with broadheads.
They are extremely sharp and may cause serious injury or death if used improperly or carelessly.

Hand sharpening without sharpening jigs and aids is demanding but also gratifying. Many bowhunters take pride in the fact that they can sharpen broadheads well this way. Before starting the sharpening process, mount all your broadheads on your arrows and make sure they spin straight and are installed correctly. As you go through the steps of sharpening, you’ll need to continually check the finished edge for sharpness. How you test for sharpness is up to you. In bowhunter education courses we teach a technique of stretching rubber bands across a small wooden frame from both directions to create an overlapping pattern. Then we push the broadheads through. If they cut the rubber bands easily, the broadheads are sharp. Most archers simply see how well the broadheads shave the hair off of their arms. We do not recommend this as the potential for injury is too high. Some folks carefully rub the edge of their thumb sideways across the edge. (Not along the edge! If you do that you’ll cut yourself for sure.) In time, you’ll acquire the knack to know, by feel, just how sharp the edge is. Once you think it’s sharp try the rubber band test.

Now, let’s sharpen some broadheads.

Well-designed, quality broadheads will be easy to sharpen. Take a close look at the factory grind. This is the angle of the grind on the broadhead right out of the package. It should be a smooth, straight, gradual grind terminating to a nice ‘almost sharp enough’ factory edge. Broadheads with grinds like this will be easier to put the final edge on. As we mentioned in the last column, another key to good broadheads is having the steel tempered hard enough to give you strength, but soft enough to allow you to sharpen them with a file. We recommend giving your broadheads the file test. Make a pass or two along the bevel of your broadhead with a good quality file. If the file skips off the broadhead and doesn’t bite into the steel, the steel is too hard for file sharpening. This is not necessarily the end of the road for that broadhead as there are diamond hones on the market that can sharpen nearly any steel no matter how hard it is. Still, for the bowhunter who wants to be able to re-sharpen broadheads in the field, they must pass the file test.

Two and four blade broadheads first. For smooth stock removal, we recommend a bastard file. For home sharpening a 10-12″ file is suggested. For ‘in the field’ sharpening get a 6-8″ model. Buy only high quality files, this is not the time to scrimp. Right-handed bowhunters will normally hold the arrow in their left hand and sharpen the broadhead with a file held in the right hand. Some people chuck them up in a padded vise and there is even a tool on the market called the Arrow Grabber that you hold in your hand and it supports the arrow and broadhead while you work.

Bastard FilesArrow Grabber
A bastard file and Arrow Grabber are valuable broadhead sharpening accessories.

We always file from the back of the broadhead toward the tip. You can sharpen from either direction and there are arguments that defend both schools of thought. Still, sharp is sharp, so file in whichever direction you prefer.
The object is to follow the primary angle of the main bevel, removing the same amount of steel from both sides until you have a very thin, razor sharp edge. Before you see the final razor edge, you will see what is called a ‘wire edge’. This is the result of removing stock evenly from both sides of the broadhead. The wire edge is a sign that you’re doing a good job and you’re almost there. When the wire edge is removed properly, a sharp edge is left behind. It’s a good idea to count the number of strokes you make on each side. Push firmly but not too hard. You’ll be able to feel when the file is removing steel. You may want to take a marker and color in the factory bevel. Then when you start making passes with the file you’ll be able to where you have removed material and you can adjust your angle as needed as you go to match the factory angle. Once all of the ink is removed, go to the other side and repeat the process. Many bowhunters believe in and use the coarse, ‘file sharpened’ edge that you’ll have at this point and this is as far as they go. To really finish the edge though, some sort of stropping is still necessary. You can use a piece of tooling leather, a hard Arkansas stone, or even ceramic crock sticks for this. Smooth, steady light pressure is the key here. The closer the edge gets to final sharpness, the lighter your strokes need to be. When you’re finished stropping, test for sharpness. If they pass inspection, they’re ready to hunt.

Three-blade broadheads like the Woodsman are actually quite simple to sharpen if you follow some basic guidelines. The nice thing about three blade broadheads is you always work on two blades at a time so the blades themselves act as guides helping you maintain the all important, consistent angle. For these 3-blade broadheads it’s best to first mount them to your arrows and use the shaft as a handle to pull the broadheads across your sharpening tool. Start with a 12″, quality single cut bastard file. This file will be wider than the two blades of your broadheads so you can remove material from both blades at the same time. Don’t press too hard! This is the mistake most people make when sharpening broad heads. Light, steady pressure consistent throughout the stroke is the key. As mentioned before, you may want to use a marker to cover the factory bevel and help you gauge how much material you have removed. If you mark over the bevels and only remove enough material to remove the ink, then go to the next two blades, then to the third set, you should have removed almost the exact same amount of material from each blade. This leaves you ready for polishing. The polishing step is best done on a fine diamond sharpening surface like the JewelStick® Diamond Bench Stone. Remember light controlled strokes. Now your three-blade broadheads should be ready for hunting, but you may also want to strop them lightly on a piece of tooling leather at this point. This final stropping action will align the microscopic steel particles taking your edge from sharp to ‘scary’ sharp.

Woodsman 3-blade broadhead
Three blade broadheads like the Woodsman are quite simple
to sharpen if you follow some basic guidelines.

If you did everything described above correctly your broadheads are ready. If not, you might be thinking that the process is easier said than done. You would not be alone! When sharpening anything, maintaining a consistent angle is the key. This is where most people run into trouble and this is exactly why there are so many excellent sharpening systems and aids available on the market. Some of the most common are: The KME Knife Sharpening System, 3Rivers CC Sharpener, Lil’ Shaver, and the Hollowground Sharpener.

KME Knife SharpenerHollow Ground Broadhead Sharpener
For fast and accurate sharpening, you can’t beat using a sharpening jig.

The Lil’ Shaver is another tried and true unit. It’s a jig with three angle choices built into it. Clamp your mounted or non-mounted broadhead into the jig. A file on a positioning block does the cutting. Slide the jig arm through the locating hole of the jig body and push the file against the broadhead from one side to remove stock. Then take out the arm, flip the unit over, re-install the arm and stroke this other side of the broadhead until a sharp ‘file sharpened’ edge results. This jig sharpens all two or four-blade heads. The file that comes with the kit is aggressive and removes stock quickly. The LIl’ Shaver is another good choice for re-shaping blunt factory grinds or reestablishing a good primary angle on dull broadheads.

Lil' Shaver Broadhead Sharpener
The LIl’ Shaver is a jig with three built-in angle choices.

The Hollowground Sharpener is a bit unorthodox but very effective. Instead of flat, it uses two round files to sharpen and they actually create a slightly concave shape to the edge. Quite a few archers put faith in this hollow ground edge and it is a strong seller. The kit includes a ceramic rod for polishing the final edge. For the fans of hollow ground edges, this sharpener is a good choice.

Hollow Ground Broadhead Sharpener
The Hollowground Sharpener uses two round files to sharpen,
creating a slightly concave shape to the edge.

Have you got all that? Good! But wait, there’s more. Now for the rest of the story. For broadheads that have good factory grinds right out of the package, or for broadheads that you’ve used a sharpening aid to revamp the edge, here are a couple of tools that take you to ‘hunting sharp’ with the greatest of ease. They are the AccuSharp and the 3Rivers CC Sharpener. Both of these sharpening tools utilize carbide teeth to actually strip metal off of both sides of the blade bevel at once. Especially if you already have a wire edge established, these tools will remove that and align the entire final edge resulting in a sharp, ready to hunt broadhead in a matter of moments.

The AccuSharp has a comfortable handle and a safety guard to protect your fingers. Operation is simple. Hold your arrow on a hard surface and draw the AccuSharp from the back of the head to the tip. Repeat as needed with less pressure each time until you are satisfied with the edge.

AccuSharp Knife and Broadhead Sharpener
The AccuSharp offers simple operation as well as safety features.

The 3Rivers “CC” (Ceramic-Carbide) Sharpener also uses carbide teeth, but with this tool you hold the unit on a hard surface and draw the broadhead through and between the teeth allowing it to remove metal on each pass. As always, use less pressure as you continue. Once you are satisfied with the edge, stop. The “CC” also has the advantage of a ceramic surface that can be used like a crock stick for finally polishing of the edge. You may even alternate at the end of the process between the teeth and the ceramic stropping surface until you reach ultimate sharpness. This sharpener is one of the handiest tools we’ve ever found for broadhead and knife sharpening. They’re small (approx 3/4″ x 3″), lightweight, and sharpen edges perfectly! Keep one with you at all times when hunting for fast field touch-up of broadheads and hunting knives.

3Rivers CC Sharpener
Small and lightweight, the 3Rivers “CC” Sharpener provides two
sharpening surfaces… one carbide and the other ceramic.

As you can see, broadhead sharpening is a bit of an art. A very straight forward and necessary element of bowhunting with cut-on-contact broadheads. It’s an important skill to learn, and whether you hand sharpen with a file or take advantage of some of the many time saving commercial sharpening systems available, always make sure your broadheads are, ‘hunting sharp’. We owe it to ourselves, to the animals, and to the great sport of bowhunting. Yes, you’ll have to touch up those edges yourself but after a bit of practice and with the right tools, you’ll have no problem at all sharpening traditional broadheads.

Keep Hunting
Dale Karch & Todd Smith

For more information contact:

3Rivers Archery
PO Box 517
Ashley IN 46705

260-587-9501

info@3riversarchery.com or check us out on-line at 3RiversArchery.com

Beginner’s Guide to Building a Hickory Longbow

Beginner’s guide to building a hickory longbow
Beginner’s guide to building a hickory longbow

There is something enchanting about the idea of crafting something from scratch with one’s own hands – looking at a piece of dead wood and seeing something more and then breathing life into it again in the shape of a bow.

Hundreds of thousands of people have made their own bow from wood, and they all started somewhere. Whether you’re looking for a deeper connection to the sport of archery, trying to find your roots in hunting or you’re looking for your next challenge in woodworking; today, you can start here.

This build-along shows you how to craft a laminated flat-board longbow.

For this build-along we will be aiming at constructing a 45# at 28” hickory longbow.

Pro-Tip: Don’t be upset if your bow ends up pulling #20 at 28” – it happens more than you’d think. Being a bowyer takes practice and patience.

What you’ll need

  1. One 1-1/2″x1”x72” piece of hickory
  2. Optional Osage riser blank
  3. Hickory backing
  4. Optional phenolic tip overlays
  5. Unibond Wood Glue
  6. Clamps
  7. Sandpaper (from 60 grit on up to 300)
  8. Farrier’s Rasp
  9. Draw knife
  10. Band saw (optional, and can be completed without it, but this will make your life a whole lot easier)
  11. A round file
  12. Epoxy
  13. Tillering stick (sometimes called a tillering tree)

For this build-along we’ll be making a hickory longbow; although you might be more interested in making a recurve bow, that’s not a great place for a beginner to start. Hickory is not the only bow wood you can use; in fact you will find countless videos and tutorials online showing you how to make a self-bow from red oak, a cheap, brittle wood that is easy to come by and easy to break. However, hickory is, perhaps, the best wood for a beginner to start with because it can handle compression and tension better than red oak. Further, hickory has very good performance and speed and it will be a little easier for a beginner to tiller because the wood is a little softer than red oak.

Pro-Tip: Hickory is also great because it can be backed by its own wood. You can take a 1/8” strip of lumber off with a table saw and flip it end for end and reverse it, then glue this piece back on and you are good to go.

There are no specific schematics or a plan to print, but I’ll try my best to provide as detailed instructions as possible. However,  you can learn more from our  books   and DVDs.

Making the Rough out Marks

Every piece of wood is different – for that reason, every bow is different, so there is no perfect guide or set of measurements, but hopefully these will help you along.

Find the middle of your bow stave (i.e. 36” would be the middle of a 72” bow).

Mark the middle. Center of the bow

Mark 6” on either side of the middle – this will eventually become your handle. 6 inch mark

Mark 1” on the limb side of your 6” marks – these lines indicate where you will start your taper. 1 inch mark

To mark the center of your bow, measure up 3/4″ from the edge of the bow and put another mark perpendicularly on your middle mark. Now, you should have a + in the middle of your bow. DSCN8953

Take a string that is longer than your bow and run it across your bow. Attach a weight on either end; you might find it easiest to use squeeze claps. String on bow

Move either end of the string on the tips of the bow until the string is resting as close to the middle of the ends of the bow as you possibly can, while ensuring the string is running straight through the center + of the bow. String center

Make a mark on either end of the bow directly under the string. Connect the marks on each tip, running through the center + on your bow.

At either tip of the bow, mark 1/4″ on both sides of your center mark. String end

Connect each mark to their corresponding 1” mark.

This should make a taper from your handle to the end of your bow.Shape

Next, starting from your 1” mark, draw a line to 3/8” above the tip of the bow (this will shape the belly of your bow). Back Belly

Let’s Get Cutting

  • Wear safety glasses while cutting
  • Never touch the blade while it is moving

Although a band saw is the best tool for the job, there are a number of hand tools that will also work such as your draw knife.

Remove the marked sections. Back Belly Shape

Pro-Tip: A bow building vise, c-clamps, work bench or stave press all start to come in handy at this point.

Congratulations, you have the belly and the sides roughed out.

Rounding Out the Rough Edges

Make a mark on the side of both tips 1/4″ above the back of the bow. Quarter inch mark

Draw a line connecting the points.

Using your rasp, round out the edge of the belly of your bow.

Pro-Tip: You may want to clamp down the bow, so you can use both hands during this process.

You will want to round the edges from the belly to the 1/4″ line that you drew earlier.

not shapedShaped

The goal is to make your bow go from the top image to the bottom image (looking down the bow).

OPTIONAL – Attaching the Riser

Although your hickory bow doesn’t necessarily need a riser, it can still be desirable to have. The riser (your handle) acts as a stop for each limb, which stops the flex from traveling through the middle of your bow. It is that travel, which will sometimes cause the phenomenon of a riser popping off of the bow. This is why there is a 1” buffer on either side of the riser and this is also why you add the riser before you start the tillering process. If you start the tiller before you add the riser the wood will “remember” flexing through the handle, which could cause your riser to pop off.

Feel free to play around with different kinds of wood for the riser (adding different colors and species of wood can really give your bow a custom, beautiful look). However for this build-along we’ll be using a 3/4″ x 1-1/2″ x 14″ Osage bow handle blank.

Make a mark indicating the middle of your bow on the side of your handle. DSCN8960

Make a mark on the side of your riser indicating the middle of the riser. DSCN8961

Align the two marks.

Glue your riser to the handle (on the belly side) of your bow.

Be sure to use plenty of wood glue (I recommend using EA-40 because it has more longevity than regular wood glue) – making sure to glue both surfaces, this will ensure you don’t have any dry surfaces.

Pro-Tip: You might want to put a piece of wax paper under your work area to avoid making a big mess.

Clamp the riser down with c-clamps.

Pro-Tip: Put a cloth or another piece of scrap wood between the back of your bow and the c-clamp to avoid scarring the wood.

Glue will ooze out everywhere, but that’s why we put wax paper down. This whole process can prove to be a little bit tricky, as the riser will try and move while you’re attempting to clamp it down. This will lead to a kind of twist-and-correct action on your part, but it’s not impossible.

Pro-Tip: This would be a great time for a second pair of hands.

After gluing on your riser, take the phenolic tip overlays (you also have the option of using wood of differing thicknesses, and using different species of wood to give your bow a nicer look) and epoxy them to the tips (making sure to apply epoxy to both surfaces) – on the back of your bow. DSCN8969

Pro-Tip: For  a  more  traditional look, you can always use horn nocks.

Just like the riser, clamp down the tips with c-clamps.

After you’ve glued and clamped everything down it’s time to walk away.

After you’ve waited for at least 24 hours, remove the clamps and prepare to remove the excess wood on the riser and at the tips of the bow.

Be sure to avoid cutting into the belly of the bow when cutting the riser

Mark roughly 2-1/2″ back on either end of your risertwo and a half inch mark

On the side of your riser, from the mark you just made draw a line in a crescent shape to the belly of the bow. crescent shape

Remove the marked section, blending the riser into the limb of your bow. 

You can use a band saw to remove this section, but it would be safer to use a rasp file.

Pro-Tip: If you’re going to use a file, clamp the bow down. By clamping the bow, you will be able to use both hands to remove excess wood.

We’re going to leave the sides of the riser squared off for now, so it will sit flat in the tillering stick later.

Backing the Bow

Although there are a number of different materials that can be used to back a bow, for our purposes, we will be backing the bow with hickory and EA-40.

Although there are many materials you can choose to back your self-bow (such as fiberglass, snake skin, bamboo, rawhide, sinew, and even cotton) for this bow hickory will give you the most longevity and protection from breaking.

Pro-Tip: You might be thinking that you don’t need to back your bow, and you might be right, but you’re probably wrong. Think of a toothpick. What happens when you bend a toothpick? One side, the back, will splinter and break. Your bow is like a giant toothpick, the backing will help to prevent your bow from splintering and cracking, which is why you back your bow before you tiller your bow.

Again, it might be a good idea to put some wax paper down to keep your workspace clean.

Apply a thin layer of EA-40 Bow Glue onto the back of the bow.

Apply a strip of hickory on the back of the bow that runs the length of the bow.

Clamp the backing to the bow with c-clamps.

Let the Smooth-On EA-40 Bow Glue dry for at least 24 hours.

After 24 hours, gently sand the hickory to knock off any burrs or excess Smooth-On EA-40 Bow Glue.

Use your draw knife or a band saw to remove any excess hickory that might be hanging off the sides of your bow.

Be sure not to cut your bow, just the excess backing.

Use sandpaper to smooth out the sides of the bow.

Adding the Rough Nocks

Draw a line 1” from the tip – making the bow 70” from nock to nock.

Using your file, cut a notch where the line is marked on the back of the bow (where you glued the tip overlay earlier). rough nock

Next, using your file cut another notch on the side of the bow at about a 45 degree angle. rough nock side profile

Work the file so that you don’t have any sharp edges and that both sides match each other.

Don’t cut the nock so deep that you can’t make adjustments later, but be sure to cut it deep enough that it will hold onto the string securely.

Time to Tiller the Bow

Successfully tillering a bow takes time and is difficult to teach, even in person, so there is only so much that you can learn from reading without just going and doing it. That said, be prepared to break a few bows.

Perfect tiller
Perfect tiller
Hinged Tiller
Hinged Tiller
Flat Spot
Flat Spot

Pro-tip: Never pull the bow past your desired weight. This means that if, after you first string the bow, you pull 45# at the first notch on the tiller stick then you need to stop and achieve a good tiller. After you’ve gotten a good tiller, repeat the process, if you are still pulling to the same notch, then cautiously remove some more material from the bow. Once you can successfully pull the bow to another notch at 45#, re-tiller the bow. Continue this process until you’ve achieved your ideal draw length.

https://www.3riversarchery.com/Tillering+Stick+Bow+building+tool_i8499_baseitem.html

For this bit, you will need to either construct or buy a tillering stick and a tillering ropeTillering Cord

The tillering stick allows you to draw the bow to different lengths, stand back and examine the limbs to see how you need to work the bow.

Pro-tip: Your tillering rope needs to be long enough that you can put it on the bow and still have plenty of slack.

Pro-tip: If you don’t have a bow scale (and if you’re following along with this build-along, I’m guessing you don’t) it’s a smart idea to put a bathroom scale under your tillering stick. This way, when you pull down on the string you can see what poundage the bow is pulling. Just remember to either zero out your scale with the tillering stick on it, or subtract the weight of the tillering stick from the weight you’re pulling to get the actual weight of the draw.

You’ll start the tillering process by pulling down just a few inches

Pro-Tip: It would be a good idea for you to make one of Eric Krewson’s tillering gizmos, which really takes a lot of the guess work out of the tillering process (this is a great tool for beginners, I can’t overstate this) – you can use this tool at brace or on the tillering stick.

Longbows generally are never braced lower than six inches and many modern longbows like to be braced at or around seven inches. Your brace height is the distance between the string and the belly of the bow. Brace height is determined from the deepest portion of the grip. However, you can measure your brace height from whatever point on the bow you wish, back to the string. Some folks measure from the middle of the sight window, some from the belly side of the arrow shelf, and some from the deepest portion of the grip. If you’re discussing brace height with someone, make sure you’re both on the same page. Regardless of where you measure from, brace height is a critical measurement for tuning your longbow or recurve. For measuring brace height, nothing beats a T-Square.

Some things to remember when tillering:

  • When tillering, you will want to avoid the hinges and remove wood from stiff areas, so the bow bends equally
  • Whenever you remove wood from one place on a limb remember to blend it with the rest of the limb
  • After you’ve worked one limb be sure to equally work the entire other limb, so that both limbs are even
  • Move slowly – one inch down the tillering stick at a time
  • More flaws will show up the farther you bend the bow, so if you pull the bow and see a flaw, stop and fix it
  • Your standard tiller process will look something like this:
    • Brace the bow on the tillering stick; you should not go to full brace starting off, keep it low, 2-3”
    • Exercise the limb 30-50 times by pulling the bow to where it is currently braced and then relaxing it
    • Place the string on the desired notch and level the bow
    • Step back and evaluate the limbs for areas that need to be worked
    • Mark the area that needs to be worked with a pencil and unbrace the bow
    • Bring the bow to your work area and clamp it down
    • Use a block sander or a scrapper to remove stock from the wood
    • Remember to remove only a little wood at a time, as even removing a small amount can make a big difference
    • Repeat until you have your desired tiller
  • Whenever you remove any wood from the belly, you should exercise the limbs at least 30-50 times

Pro-tip: Count your strokes and mirror the number on the other side – especially when you’re simply reducing the weight of the bow and not fixing any flaws.

Pro-tip: At times, you might want to flip your bow around. This will help give you a fresh perspective on the project.

Remember, we’re shooting for a 45# at 28” bow, which means you should never pull the bow beyond that 45# threshold – you don’t want to put unnecessary stress on the bow.

You should set several milestones for yourself during the tillering process. Remembering that tillering is more of an art than an exact science, the first of those milestones should be something like 30# at 20.”

When you first string the bow with your tiller rope you will have a lot of excess. Pull down on that excess and see how far down it is when the limbs just start to bend. What ever the distance and weight, double it and that will be your first target milestone.

By taking a slower, more conservative approach to the tillering process you’re giving your bow the best chance of avoiding a break.

After you reach your first milestone you will want to string your bow at half-brace.

Now, you will want to pull the bow to 30# again and check how far you’re pulling , since you’re half braced you can expect it to be less than 20.”

At this point you might want to use a 2x4x4 (or, you could continue to use Eric Krewson’s tillering gizmo) and slide it along your bow to find stiff spots you couldn’t normally catch with the naked eye. block

There will be a gap between the block and the curve of the bow. On a perfectly tillered bow, as you slide the block down the limb the gap will stay the same. If, however, the gap gets bigger and then smaller it means that you have found yourself a hinge. If the gap does the opposite, gets smaller and then bigger, you’ve found a flat spot.

At this point you will want to creep your way to about 40#, remembering to move one inch at a time and to take out any flaws as soon as you see them.

Don’t forget to exercise the limbs.

After you’ve achieved your second target, it’s time to move your bow to full brace.

At full brace check for flaws and correct them if necessary.

It’s also a good idea to check string alignment when you first enter full brace.

Again, moving slowly, one inch at a time, bring your bow to your desired weight and draw – for our purposes that would be 45# at 28.”

Pro-tip: You might want to leave the bow a little heavy (a pound or two) as the bow will weaken slightly as it breaks in.

After you’ve achieved your desired draw weight and length it’s time to check if you have a positive tiller. A positive tiller is when one limb bends more than the other limb. The limb that bends more is normally chosen to be the top limb.

To check for a positive tiller, measure from the end of the fade near where the riser and limb meet to the string on both sides.

If you’re top limb has a gap 1/8” bigger than the bottom limb, then you have a 1/8” positive tiller. Don’t feel bad if your positive tiller is closer to 1/4″ or even 1/2.”

Pro-tip: A positive tiller is not a requirement though, a zero tiller is good too, just not a negative tiller.

Time to cut the arrow rest

Draw a line on the handle (belly side) in the center, both horizontally and vertically (you should end up with an +). H V CenterDraw a line 1” up the bow from the center (vertical | ) mark (toward the top of your bow). 1 inch mark handlePro-Tip: You are not doing a cut-to center shelf, as this would be too much for a self-bow. It should be at least 1/8” away from the center of the bow. In fact, you could avoid cutting the shelf altogether and simply shoot off the knuckle.

Make a mark 1/4″ down from the horizontal (-) center line. Quarter inch mark handleConnect those points to make a box. BoxThe corner of that box indicates the inside corner of your arrow rest. Corner of restDraw a slopped line from the corner of the box to the corner of the handle. Slopped lineCut out the marked section. Remove shelfPro-Tip: These images are for a right handed shooter; flip the images for a left handed shooter.

Using a rasp, round file and sandpaper, round off the arrow rest.

Currently your arrow rest should look something like this. square shelfYou want to round off the arrow rest until it looks something like this. Rounded shelfThis will make it so the arrow will only rest in the middle of the ledge, which will cause less resistance and save some arrow fletchings.

square inside cornerrounded inside corner

You will also want to use your round file to round out the inside corner of your arrow rest; currently it should look like the top image, you want it to look like the bottom image.

You might want to round-out and blend-in the remainder of your arrow rest, but that is purely up to you.

Shaping the Handle

Using your rasp start shaping the handle to look more like a pistol grip.

Pro-Tip: An easy way to do this is to simply hold the bow and see what feels like it should be shaved off; making sure it fits your grip.

Make the grip asymmetrical – that is, both sides should mirror each other (this is purely optional, but it helps give it that nice pistol grip shape) .

You don’t want to take too much off while shaping the handle.

After you’ve gotten the handle to feel right in your hand, use some sandpaper to take off the rough edges.

Start with a 60 grit and move up to a 220 grit – this will make your grip a delight to hold.

Rounding out the Nocks

Use your rasp and sandpaper to shape the nock into an inverted teardrop shape.

This is where the tip overlays we added start to come in useful; if you added different woods, your tips will really pop.

By making the tips of your bow a bit smaller it will speed up the bow and will also reduce hand shock.

There is no exact science to shaping the nocks, but you will want to be sure to maintain your good string edge.

Try and look online to see what others did.

Final sanding

The final sanding will smooth out the whole bow and take out any tooling marks that might still be around. It takes out any squared edges that are still visible and makes the whole bow smooth.

Be sure to sand the full belly of the bow to ensure consistency.

Don’t remove wood from the bow – you want to avoid tillering the bow at this point.

People start at different grits at this stage, but the higher the better – a 220 grit is a good idea to start with, but sanding with a 100 grit and then moving to a 220 grit is okay too.

The higher grit you go, the smoother your bow will be – consider working your way up to a 400 or 600 grit.

Finishing the bow

Clean the dust off with mineral oil

You have the option of staining the bow at this point, the color and kind of stain you get is all personal preference. You also have the option of simply clear coating your bow.

Many people also choose to paint the back of their bow:

  • This process is simple and cheap
  • Lay out some wax paper
  • Use painter’s tape to cover the areas you don’t want painted, and spray paint the back of your bow whatever color you want
  • After the paint has dried remove the painter’s tape

After you’ve stained and painted your bow, you will want to coat it (at least the belly) in polyurethane.

After the stain is dry, clean your bow with mineral oil

Lay out some wax paper and spray coat your bow in the polyurethane.

Wait 24 hours, gently sand the bow with 220 grit sandpaper and coat again.

Pro-Tip: You don’t have to wait the full 24 hours, but it’s a good idea if you’re going to give it that final sanding.

The final sanding is optional, but it will knock off any burrs that might have gotten stuck in the first coat of polyurethane.

Apply at least one more coat of polyurethane (some choose to coat their bow as many as five times).

Sign the bow with your name, date, draw length and weight.

Pro-Tip: You might want to sign your bow before your final coat of polyurethane to protect your markings.

Congratulations! You’ve built your first of many bows; feel free to customize your bow with a leather grip, arrow rest and plate, and whatever else you might fancy.

If you’re looking for a longbow kit with everything you need and none of the work done, you might consider trying our hickory flatbow blank self bow kit. .

Or, if you’re looking for something a little different with all of the tedious work already done, you should try one of our bow building kits.

By Jason D. Mills

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