Making a red oak board bow

By Sam Harper

Continuing with the roughing out

Now that you've got the side's roughed out, you've got to get the belly roughed out, too. This is a little tricky to explain, but here's a diagram:

The red part should be removed. Now let me explain that line I have drawn 1/4" from the back along the side. You see, it's easier to remove wood from corners and rounded surfaces than it is from wide flat surfaces with the surform. So what I do after I remove the red part is sort of round the corners. I use that line along the side as a guide when I shave off the corners. That's how far I go down. Here's what a cross section of a limb would look like:

And here's what the wood looks like:

This creates a sort of rounded belly. It makes it much easier to remove wood from the belly as you tiller. If you ever get a band saw and a belt sander, it isn't necessary to do this. Of course it isn't necessary to do it with the surform either; it just makes life easier.

I still want to leave the handle area square, so I sort of just gradually round those corners as I move away from the handle. I don't know if I'm explaining that well or not. After I glue on the handle riser, then I use a rasp to bring that roundness from the limb into the riser. I'll show you what I mean later.

Gluing on the riser

The next thing is to glue on the riser. I used to do this before I did the roughing out, but the riser gets in the way a little when you're trying to rough out the belly.

The riser is optional. You could leave the riser off and make a bow that bends through the handle. Having a riser allows you to make the handle more narrow and comfortable. It also allows you to cut an arrow rest. The last thing you ever want to do is cut an arrow rest in a bow that bends in the handle. It'll break for sure.

Anyway, I use a piece of wood 10 inches long and about as thick as the board, which is 3/4" thick. If you want to put a little more contour in your handle, you might want to use a thicker piece of wood. You can also use a few layers of thin wood and glue those on. That'll add a little pizazz to your riser. In this case, I'm using a piece of cedar so the handle will be half sap wood and half heart wood. I think that'll look cool. You can use just about any kind of wood you want--another piece of red oak, a piece of poplar (which you can also get at Home Depot or Lowes) or whatever.

I use Titebond II wood glue to glue the riser on. Be sure to put the glue on both surfaces. Putting it on both surfaces ensures there will be no dry spots. And remember that too much is better than not enough. Spread it on with your finger so that it covers the whole surfaces to be glued. Don't worry. Titebond II washes off easily with water as long as it hasn't dried. Once you have it clamped on, glue should ooze out everywhere, and you can just wipe it off with a paper towel.

I use three C-clamps. Two is enough. This is a little tricky to do with just one person, because as you're trying to tighten the clamps, the riser will start sliding around. It's much easier if you have two people--one to hold everything together and one to tighten the clamps.

Notice the pencil mark in the middle. I put that in the middle of the riser and the middle of the bow. Then I just line them up while I clamp the riser together. Clamp firmly, but don't clamp so hard you squeeze all the glue out of the joint.

Let that dry until tomorrow.

Roughing out the handle

Then you can rough out the handle. Here are the dimensions I use.

You see how that 1/4" line along the bow sort of curves up toward the handle? That's what I meant earlier when I was talking about gradually rounding the corners as I move away from the handle which I left square.

You can remove that red part in one of two ways. You can either use a rasp or you can use a saw. A saw is much easier. Just be careful not to saw into the limb of the bow. You can saw most of the corner off and then use the rasp and file to go the rest of the way, blending it into the limb.

Lemme introduce a new tool.

Looky there at the one on the bottom. That there is a Nicholson 4-way rasp file. It has four surfaces. On one side, it is flat with a rasp on one end and a file on the other. On the other side, it is rounded with a rasp on one end and a file on the other. It's a very useful tool and I highly recommend it.

Now look at the one on top. The only reason I have that one is so I can use both hands and remove a lot more wood in a shorter amount of time. To use both hands, you need to clamp the bow somewhere. A vice grip would be ideal, but I don't have one of those. Instead, I clamp it to a chair.

If you don't have a chair or C-clamps, you can just hold it in your lap and rasp. It'll take longer, but you can still do it. Just be careful not to rasp your hand. That hurts.

Remember when you use a rasp to only stroke the wood in one direction. Don't drag the rasp backwards or it will become dull.

Whether you use a saw or rasps to remove the area in red, the next thing to do is use the rasps to sort of make the fades dish-shaped so that it blends into the limb gradually. (You'd be amazed at how much easier that is to do with a belt sander!) Then rasp away all the corners in the handle area so you can grip it without it being too uncomfortable. I leave the belly of the handle flat so it will sit on my tiller tree without rolling.

I wait till after I finish tillering before I finish working on the handle. That way I can make any adjustments I need to make if the string isn't perfectly lined up through the center of the handle. More about that later.

I used to wait until after I tiller before cutting an arrow rest. That way if one limb bends a little more than the other, you can use that limb for the top. That's what I'll do with this bow. There's a reason you'd want the top limb to bend slightly more than the bottom. It's because the arrow rest is going to be a little above center, so the string will be drawn a little above center. Having the top limb be slightly weaker evens out the tiller when you draw.

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