Bamboo Recurve Build Along

By Sam Harper

Stringing it up and tillering

Stringing a recurve sucks because stringers don't work well. The easiest way is the step through method, but that's not the best way, especially with a recurve. I ain't gonna lie. I used the step through method.

When I first strung it up, it had a 1/4" positive tiller (or negative, depending on your perspective, but up until then, I hadn't decided which would be the top limb).

"Wait a minute, Sam! Didn't you skip a step? What about tillering with the long string first?"

I would do that with most wooden bows, but since I ground these laminations, I expected the tiller to be close to good from the get-go, and with floor tillering, I could tell it wasn't outrageously heavy. So I went ahead and strung it. And since the tiller looked good, I started exercising the limbs, too. After a bit of exercising, I went ahead and brought it to full draw. It was lighter than I expected it to be. I measured it at 45 lbs at 28 inches. Much lighter than I expected, but just about right. It'll probably go down to 40 lbs after sanding and shooting it in. Bamboo takes a lot of set, so I expect it to lose some draw weight.

The only problem with it was a slight misalignment.

To fix that, I used the belt sander to remove bamboo along the edge as shown in the picture. You have to go slow here and keep checking it because recurves are sensitive about that stuff. I went too fast and fixed it on the first try. I could've easily taken off too much and had to remove wood on the other side. I got lucky.

Once it seemed to be fixed, I took it outside and shot a few arrows. After the third arrow, it still seemed to be lined up.

So I went back inside and cut some grooves along the belly at the curves for the string to sit in when it's strung.

That helps keep the string aligned, and it keeps it from popping off by sliding over one edge.

The tips and handle

Since one limb was bending slightly more than the other, I designated that the top limb, and I cut my arrow shelf accordingly. I also shaped the tips and handle, and I did a lot of sanding. I didn't take any pictures during this process. Shaping tips and handles is, to a degree, a personal matter. You have a lot of flexibility. If you want to see how I shape my tips and handle for my bamboo backed longbows, here's a series of videos on YouTube. The procedure was pretty much the same.

Putting a stain on it

A long time ago, J.D. Jones (aka Horseapple) had this tutorial showing how he did a fiddle back stain on the back of a bamboo bow. I read that thing over and over and experimented, but I could not replicate what he did. There were also these two guys named James Parker and Vinson Miner who did beautiful stain/dye jobs on the back of their bamboo bows. Check these out, and keep scrolling down so you can see all of them. I posted a bunch. I've done a lot of experimenting and have never been able to replicate their art. The other day, I was visiting Bob and Zach Sarrels of Sarrels Archery fame, and Bob recommended using a feather to apply the stain for the fiddleback design. So I gave it a try.

I wanted to have a lighter base coat, then put the fiddle back design with something darker, so I started off with some green aniline dye dissolved in denatured alcohol and wiped it on the back of the bow. You can get it as dark as you want by wiping more coats on. So I wiped a few on until I got it to where I wanted it.

Then, I dipped my feather in some green leather dye (because it's pretty concentrated), and began dabbing down both limbs.

I thought it looked like crap, but I kept going. Here's what it looked like when I was done.

Some of the dye got on the side of the bow.

I tried to sand it off, but it had already soaked in too far. In hind sight, I guess I should've used some masking tape.

I vaguely remember J.D. Jones saying in his tutorial that you should wipe it down with alcohol to soften it a little, so I gave that a shot. Here's what it looked like.

Even though it still looks like crap, it's better than any other attempt I've made, and I've made a bunch. Thanks Bob! James Parker uses a mouth atomizer to paint the back of some of his bows. I'm going to try that next time.

Putting a finish on it

I usually use Deft lacquer for everything because it dries quickly on oily wood. Bob Sarrels taught me a better way. It's a little more involved, but it gives you a much more durable finish.

First, they sell these disposable Preval sprayers. You can buy it with the sprayer and a jar, or you can buy a sprayer without the jar, or you can buy extra jars without the sprayer. I've seen them at Lowes or Home Depot (can't remember which), but you can also get them on Amazon. The sprayer will clog up on you if you leave it sitting too long, so when you're finished with it, you should take the sprayer out, and spray it a little in the air to clean it out. There's a lid that comes with the jar.

Second, he puts 80% Thunderbird Sealer and 20% lacquer thinner in the jar. Thunderbird starts off as a lacquer, then after six hours turns into a polyurethane. That's cool because it dries just as fast as Deft, but then becomes harder. Bob recommends getting gloss because it's more durable than satin.

After the first coat of Thunderbird, steel wool the [cuss word] out of it. Then put two more coats on it. You only have to let it dry for ten minutes or so between coats.

After the third coat, wait at least six hours so that it converts to a polyurethane. Then, spray a Satin polyurethane over that, which you can get in a spray can from Lowes, Home Depot, or wherever. I can't remember if he said to use one coat or two, but I just use one. Bob explained that waiting until the final coat to put the satin on there gives you a more durable finish because the grit they put in there to make it satin weakens it a little. That's why he recommends getting the Thunderbird in gloss.

Final reflections and pictures

Here it is all finished. I'll probably end up putting a leather grip on it. It feels better when it's all hot outside like it is right now, and my hands are sweaty.

The final draw weight is 43# @ 28", but I suspect it'll drop a few more pounds as it is shot in.

If there's one thing I'd change about this bow it would be the amount of deflex. There is too much. (EDIT: This bow had too much deflex because I was using a 2x8 instead of a 2x6. Woops!) The bow barely has any stored energy when it is strung unless you raise the brace height, but then that shortens the power stroke. I remember way back when, I wanted there to be a lot of deflex because I was afraid the bow would break.

There's a couple of ways you could get less deflex. One way is to grind the handle area on the form down some more with the belt sander. I'd probably take the bandsaw short cut. Another way is, instead of measuring two inches from the bottom of the form when drawing the curve, measure three or four inches instead.

It's got 1/4" positive tiller, which is pretty normal for shooting three under, but seeing it at full draw makes me think I should've gone with 1/8" positive tiller.

And here's a video:

EDIT (9/4/2013):

I really didn't like that green dye job I did, so I sanded it out and tried again. I did this one by wiping on a red leather dye. Then I used a mouth atomizer to blow some black dye on the nodes. I like this much better. I'm still frustrated that I can't do a fiddle back stain.


Amazon Affiliate links

Fiebing's leather dye:

Four-way rasp:

Rattail file:

bow scale:

Preval sprayer:

Spray satin polyurethane:

Steel wool:

Mouth atomizer:

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