Bamboo Recurve Build Along

By Sam Harper

What to do for a handle...

While the bow was in the oven, I looked around for some wood to make a handle out of. On the previous two bows, I glued several thin laminations of various woods against the bow, then another thicker piece of wood on top of that. I had a piece of Osage that was already thin and flat, so I used that. I had a piece of mesquite firewood that I cut a risers out of a while back and had enough left over to cut a thin strip from it, so I used that, too. And my brother-in-law gave me a small piece of curly maple.

I don't remember how long my riser section was on the first two bows, but looking at the pictures, I'm guessing they were about 12 inches long. My maple piece was only 11 inches long, so I decided to cut the Osage and mesquite to 12 inches and put the maple on top of that.

I cut these to about 1/8", then used the belt sander to remove the tool marks and make them thin enough to bend easily. I didn't bother with the thickness sander because it's not that important to get them perfect. The belt sander is good enough.

I'm thinking about adding a piece of walnut, too. I have lots of walnut flooring my brother-in-law had left over from a building project.

Have I mentioned that I love my brother-in-law? And I love my sister for marrying him. Let's give him a name so I can stop saying "brother-in-law." I really don't like typing that out each time. I especially don't like typing the hyphen. Let's just call him Steve. I actually call him Uncle Steve, not because he's my uncle, but because he's my daughter's uncle.

Later...I went with the walnut.

Out of the oven

The bow was glued to the form in one spot. I used a chisel to get it off without damaging the bow or the form. It was a bit of a struggle to get the bow off the form, but after a little tugging and prying, it just went "pop" and it all came off at once. It held its shape, and there was no spring back.

I immediately pressed it against the floor and found it to be quite a bit stronger than I expected. I think I should've made those tapered lams thinner. I might should've made the bamboo backing thinner, too. When I was grinding everything, I was worried it was going to be too weak. Oh well. I'll know next time. And I can still take a little off the belly.

Cleaning it up and adding riser and tip overlays

Taking the plastic off was like pealing a sunburn. Of all the plastic wrap I've used, Hy-Top works the best because it's not as sticky. It comes off a lot easier. I don't worry about cleaning the bow up too much at this point, though. Mostly, I just want the belly to be clean where I'm going to glue on the riser wood. So I clean that up with a belt sander, then glue on the riser lams with Titebond III.

You don't want to wrap plastic around it when you're using Titebond III. Titebond III doesn't cure; it dries, and it's needs air to dry. Just wipe off all the excess glue that gets squeezed out with a paper towel so it doesn't make a mess and glue your clamps to the bow.

If memory serves me right it's Osage, mesquite, walnut, and maple, in that order. I always feel a little uneasy putting beautiful wood in laminations like that since you only see the edges and ends of it. I'm going to try to get a nice fade so hopefully we can see some of that mesquite and curly maple.

I'm going to let that glue dry over night, then glue on the rest of the handle tomorrow.

Now, if I had been thinking, I would've marked the form in 1 inch increments (marked at 2" increments) down the limbs so I'd know where to cut the bow for whatever length. I forgot to do that. Now that I've got part of the handle glued on, I can't just stick it back on the form and mark where I'm going to cut the tips. Oh well. I'll deal with that later.

No, on second thought, I'll deal with that right now. It isn't easy to use a tape measure to measure increments on a curved surface. It's easier to put some masking tape down on a flat surface and use a yard stick to measure the increments.

Notice that I marked off twice each inch. That's because there'll be an inch on both ends, so for every one inch on one limb, that's two inches on the whole bow.

I take that masking tape and stick it on the form.

Now, I can mark the increments on my form.

You can probably tell that this form is bigger than the average recurve form. When the handle is done drying, I'm going to cut the bow at the 68" mark so I can cut my nocks at the 66" mark. 66" is how long I do most of my bamboo backed longbows, but it's kind of long for a recurve. That's alright, though. I'm just doing this for the fun of it.

Since the three lams I glued on for the handle were about a half inch thick, when I put the bow back on the form, it was raised by a half inch. So I marked it a half inch above 68" to hopefully give me 68", and I cut off the ends.

Then I traced a line on a piece of mystery wood to match the curve of the handle.

I sanded it to perfection, then glued it on with Titebond III.

The next day (that being today), I cleaned the bow up a bit. First, I took off some of that bulging glue with the band saw. Then I used the belt sander all along the sides until I got all the glue off the sides and could see the glue lines.

Well, okay, there's still a little glue on the handle, but I got most of it. The rest will come off while I'm shaping the handle.

I used the belt sander to grind all the corners along the limbs. That helped get rid of some of the glue that was stuck to the back. I got the rest of it with a pocket knife.

The pocket knife only works with the glue stuck to the rind of the bamboo, and it comes off pretty easy. I do this all along the back of the bow until it's all removed.

Now I want to cut the tips out, so I use a string to see where they line up. My tips turned out to be lined up pretty well.

It's hard to draw straight lines down the curve, so I made a template out of a discarded sanding belt.

It worked out pretty well.

I cut that out, then smoothed the sides with the belt sander. The reason I only tapered the last 8 inches is because the wider it is going into the curve, the more stable those tips will be.

I used a pneumatic drum sander to remove the rind.

You could also use sand paper or a scraper, but that's more work. It's important to remove the rind because it lifts splinters easily. You can round the corners of the nodes a little bit, but DO NOT flatten the nodes or you'll violate the grain and cause a failure. With the pneumatic drum sander, there'll be a little rind left on either sides of the nodes, which you can take care of with 100 grit sand paper.

Once all the rind is removed, sand the whole thing with 100 grit sand paper. Then use 220 or whatever. You want that backing to be nice and smooth.

Now, I cut the fades for the riser. I measured 3 inches on either side of the center line, then drew a line from there to the end of the fade.

I cut that out with the bandsaw, then I smooth it out and make it dished with the elbow of my belt sander. Be careful not to cut into the limb, and be careful while blending it in with the belt sander not to grind into the limb. Here's what it looks like after the belt sander:

And here's what it looks like after the pneumatic drum sander:

With my bamboo backed longbows, I always round those fades, but I'm going to leave these square, at least the part that runs into the limb. As you can see, I rounded the corners a little. I do that all the way down both sides of the limbs except near the end where I'm going to glue on tip overlays. I need those to be perfectly flat. I made them flat by tilting my belt sander up and grinding them.

They came out looking like this.

It wasn't perfectly flat, so I tweaked it a little with my dremel tool.

Since I have an abundance of scraps of cow horn on account of using it to make English longbows, I decided to use that for my tip overlays. Since I was not perfectly satisfied with the flatness of my gluing surface, I used two clamps on both tips and made sure they were snug.

I put those on with 30 minute epoxy, then went to see World War Z at the Alamo Drafthouse. The movie was okay, but nothing to be excited about. I can tell you, though, that running zombies are the worst kind.

When I came back, I used the bandsaw, belt sander, dremel tool, 4-way Nicholson rasp, rattail file, and sand paper to shape the tips.

This isn't the final shape. I just roughed them in so I can put a string on it and see how it bends. I wait until it's tillered before final shaping.

to be continued...

Amazon Affiliate links

3" c-clamps:

Squeeze clamps:

12" bar clamps:

Titebond III:

Buck 503 pocket knife:

Green string:

Dremel tool:

Four-way rasp:

Rattail file:

Upgrade your browser for a better viewing experience »