Making a red oak board bow

By Sam Harper

Warped wood woes

What do you do, though, in a situation where your wood is really warped from side to side? Well, one thing you could do is steam and clamp it back into shape. But here's another method. Just lay the string with the weights along the wood like before, and make sure the string runs through the dead center of the bow. Then make marks at the tips under the string. Then draw a straight line from the tip to the center of the bow on both ends. Now you should have a perfectly straight line from tip to tip that runs through the center of the bow.

At various intervals, measure the distance between the center line and the edge of the board. Then put a mark on the other side of the center line that is equal in distance. Do this on both limbs so that the intervals are the same and the widths are the same.

If your board is anymore warped than what I have in this picture, then you have to either (1) make the bow shorter, or (2) use steam or some other method to straighten the board out.

Remove the red part.

Wood removal

Now I get to introduce the first tool (besides a pencil and a yard stick which I smuggled in earlier without you noticing). This first tool is called a Stanley surform rasp, and you can get it at Lowes, Home Depot, or wherever.

It's got a removable blade, and they're easy to change out. When I first started making bows, I used this tool for just about everything. I used it both to rough out the bow, and I used it for all my tillering--even fine tillering. It was very handy.

When you use this surform, you should only use it in one direction. If you stroke the wood in one direction, and then drag it back in the other direction, it will dull the cutting edges, and you'll have to replace it sooner. So just stroke the wood in the cutting direction, lift it, and start again. It will last longer that way.

If you live in an apartment like me, then you probably don't have a work bench, a vice grip, or even anywhere to put one. You still have to figure out a way to hold the bow while you work on it, though. Since you don't have a vice grip, you have to make due with what you've got. That's simple enough.

This is called the Sit-on-it method.

You see? I'm just sitting on it. I put a pine board (which I got for free out of a dumpster at a construction site) under it for two reasons. First, it lifts it off the ground a little, which makes it easier to work on. Second, it keeps me from dragging my knuckles on the concrete of my balcone. Notice how my left hand is open. That's also to prevent my knuckles from dragging on the concrete. I've done it so many times that I started wearing a glove on that hand to help even more. I don't have the glove on in this pictures because I'm not really using the rasp. I'm just posing for the picture. If you don't have a balcone, you can even do this on your kitchen floor. It makes a lot of little shavings, but they're quite easy to sweep up.

If you've got a rail on your balcone, and you've got a couple of C-clamps, then I highly recommend the Clamp-it-to-the-rail method.

This is far easier and much less tiring. Notice that I've got TWO clamps on there.

Two is better than one, and keeps the bow from turning while you shave wood off the corners. I put them on upside down so the stem doesn't get in my way.

After making about five bows with your Stanley surform rasp, you might start thinking about getting a bandsaw. It makes the work much easier. The Stanley surform is tiresome, but it gets less so the more bows you make. The first bow took me three hours to rough out. By the fifth bow, I could do it in about 45 minutes.

Anyway, cut on down the to the line and then turn the page.

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Stanley surform rasp:

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