Making a Fiberglass Laminated Bow

By Sam Harper

As I said before, I did the limbs and riser at the same time, so rather than do a chronological build along, I'll do a topical build along at this point. Let's do the riser first.

Making a riser

A riser can be as simple as a block of wood cut to shape. I thought I'd kill a few stones with this build along, though, and show how a riser might be jazzed up with a curved accent and contrasting woods. This is totally optional.

The riser needs to be at least 1.5" wide. The length can be anywhere from 16" to 20", though for mine, I think 20" might be a bit much, and 16" is definitely too little. 18" is good, but back in December I made a pretty sweet bow with a 19" riser. That's what I'll do this time, too. Besides, when doing the fades, a 19" block of wood might end up 18" in the end anyway.

The riser should be at least 1.5" tall. That all depends on how much contour you want in the grip. The more contour you want, the taller it has to be. I'm making mine a little taller than 1.5".

Now suppose, like me, you can't find any wood that is 1.5" thick. For some reason your local hardwood retailer only sells it 3/4" or 1" thick. Well, that's fixable. You can just take two 3/4" thick boards, 19" long, and glue them together. As long as you don't cut your arrow rest all the way to the center, nobody will ever know.

For this build along, I'm going to do a maple and walnut riser. First, I take two 3/4" thick slabs of maple, 19" long and 1.75" wide...

...(sorry about the blurry picture) and glue them together with Titebond II.

I let that sit over night. Then comes the fun part--cutting the curve. I use a jig to get my pieces to match up perfectly. The jig consists of a piece of plywood that sits on the band saw table. There's a groove cut in it to accomodate the blade. Well lemme just show you the picture, and then I'll explain it.

You see the groove on the left? That's so the blade can fit through. The board is clamped to the table with the clamps upside down so they don't interfere with the wood you're about to cut. On top of that piece of plywood is another smaller piece of plywood. See those holes drilled in it? Those holes go through both pieces of plywood. Well, actually, they don't go all the way through the bottom one. I use the different holes to get curves with different radii. I prefer the one that's the farthest out where I have that peg. That peg is there to create a pivot. The whole piece of plywood pivots on that peg. The peg has to be nice and snug so there's no play in order to get the exact same curve in each piece of wood you cut. My holes and peg are 3/8". Sitting closer to the blade is a block of wood I have glued and screwed on there, and sitting on top of that block of wood is a toggle clamp. They sell these on ebay, but I got mine at a local machinery shop. That toggle clamp holds the piece of wood while you swing the arm with the wood through the band saw blade.

Pretty nifty, huh? After cutting the curve out of the maple, I also cut one out of a piece of walnut. See how nicely they fit together?

They fit even more nicely with some accent strips, because those accent strips will take care of the kerf left by the band saw blade. Other than that, there's no point in putting an accent strip unless you can create a little contrast. Sometimes, it's hard to get contrast if you're using a light and dark wood because the accent will either fail to contrast with one or with the other. To guarantee that I'll always have some contrast, I just use the same woods. Since I'm using maple and walnut in the riser, I use maple and walnut accents, only switched.

I might as well tell you that I'm actually making two fiberglass bows at the same time. The other one uses a solid piece of Osage and some blood wood. For the maple/walnut bow, I cut four strips--two thin pieces of maple, and two thin pieces of walnut. One maple and one walnut strip is used as an accent, and the remaining two are going to be overlays on the back of the handle.

With all the scraps left over, I can assemble them into handles for my bamboo backed bows.

There's a way to also make a jig to use on a spindle sander that basically does the same thing. The last thing you want to do is ruin a perfect match by improperly sanding them. So I'm careful when I sand with my belt sander. I don't completely remove the tool marks. I use them as a guide to know how far to sand. I sand slowly and lightly. I do sand the accent pieces pretty well, though.

Here's a dry run at how the glue-up will look.

I apply Smooth On to all surfaces, wrap it all in saran wrap, clamp it (making sure the saran wrap doesn't get caught in the gaps), and stick it in the hotbox for six hours. It seems a waste of electricity to use the hotbox for just one handle. That's why I glue up both risers and my limb laminations at the same time.

After that's done, I cut it out. You want the bottom of the handle to perfectly match the shape of the form, but you have some flexibility with the fades just so long as you have the last inch or two really thin. The more your fades are dished, the harder it will be to put those 4" clamps on there, because the stems will hit each other. That's why mine aren't all that dished.

One way to get the shape of the bottom is to hold the riser against the form and trace it.

See how I've got a center line drawn on both the form and the riser? That's important.

I did a few different risers until I got a shape I really liked on the fades, and I made a template out of poster board.

That's another way to do it. Of course your cats may eat the tips off.

Cut that out with a bandsaw, remembering to cut outside the lines. Then sand to the lines with the belt sander. Once you've done that, you want to make sure the riser fits on the form. Just set it on the form, lining the lines up, and have a look-see.

Now just sand where it touches and don't sand where it doesn't touch. Eventually, the whole thing will touch, and that's when you stop sanding.

Go slowly as you get closer and take your time. Just sand, check, sand check. It's all trial and error. Once you have the riser fitted to the form, then you can start sanding the fades. Be sure to get those tips nice and thin.

Look! You can even see light through mine.

Now put that somewhere safe so nobody breaks those tips off.

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