Singapore Bamboo-backed Osage Recurve

Build Along

by Sam Harper

***At the bottom of this page, there are Amazon Affiliate links where you can buy the tools and stuff I used (or something close enough to what I used) to do this build along. That means if you click on the links and buy anything, I'll get a commission.***


Originally, I posted this build along on Tradgang and The Leatherwall, but I decided to move it here for safe keeping. Tradgang already moved it on me once which made me think I had lost it. The version I'm posting here is from Tradgang.

Robin Tan from Singapore

Robin Tan, whose username I can't remember, sent me some of his bamboo from Singapore saying it's better than the bamboo I get at Franks or other American suppliers. He said it's harder, and there's better node spacing. He wanted me to do a build along and review. That works out great for those of you who like this sort of thing. Who doesn't like a build along, though, am I right???

This may take me a while (like weeks) because I've been working out of town lately and only come home on weekends, and I'm not free to play every weekend that I'm home. But maybe I'll get laid off and have more time to make bows. :-)

Feel free to comment, critique, offer suggestions, or ask questions, and if I don't know the answer, I'll make something up.

Here's the package he sent it in, which I just got today. It's wrapped in mailing paper and taped up.

It came with two black rectangles where the addresses are supposed to be, but those postal workers are wizards, and they managed to get it to me anyway.

It's about 31.5" long, which is shorter than I would like. I can splice it together, though, and get 63" (actually 62.75" when you consider the splice), so about the longest bow I can make is 62" nock to nock, assuming I cut my nocks about 1/2" from each end (or 3/8" when you consider the splice). I'm probably going to make a 60" bow, though. Or maybe I'll do something really crazy and make an odd-numbered-inched bow, like 61". Oooo! How unconventional!

To avoid stacking at my 28" draw length, I'll probably have to reflex the tips. That's okay, though. Last year, I made a 58” bamboo backed Osage bow, and it turned out well.

As you can see from the picture, he sent me matched sets so the node spacing will be the same on both ends of the bow when I splice them together. :-) And, like he said, there's lots of space between the nodes, which is a good thing because it makes it easier to tiller. Nodes create stiff spots.

There's plenty of thickness as you can see.

The diameter is a little more narrow than I am used to, giving it a higher crown, but it's close enough to not really have anything to complain about. A higher crown limits you on how thin you can get the bamboo because if you try to get it too thin, you'll begin to lose width. I think these will be fine.

The narrowest one is 1.5".

The stuff I usually buy is 2" wide, but these are fine. My bamboo backed ipe bows are usually 1.25" wide, and my bamboo backed Osage bows are anywhere from 1.25" to 1.5" wide.

Next, I'm going to flatten this bamboo, then splice it together. Stay tuned, but be patient.

I arbitrarily picked a matching pair and flattened them. First, I used the bandsaw to cut off the inner part. The better you are at the bandsaw, the more you can cut off without the risk of ruining anything, and the less work you have to do on the belt sander.

I was impressed right away. This bamboo is a lot less pithy than other bamboo I've used. Whenever I bandsaw the inner stuff, it curls up, leaving the bamboo backing kind of straight. This stuff didn't curl, and the fibers seemed to be more dense where the pith is supposed to be. It was nice and stringy. That stringiness (fibers) are what give bamboo its crazy tensile strength. I like it so far!

Since the inner part didn't curl, I decided to make a template out of it.

First, I drew a straight line as close to center as I could with the aluminum yard stick so it would be nice and straight. Then I measured 1/2" wide at the tip, 1-1/4" wide 10" from the tip, and 1-1/4" for the rest of the length toward the handle. Ordinarily, I'd start my taper farther than 10", but since this is going to be sort of a recurve/hybrid, I left it wide closer to the tip to give it more stability.

Since I don't like to have my nodes too close to my overlays (because it makes it hard to do the overlays), I decided the ends with the nodes closer to the end would be the handle, and the other ends would be the tips.

I put those clamps on there to hold the template still while I drew the lines.

On the last bow of this style I made, I didn't pre-taper the bamboo. I left it parallel from end to end because I intended to make a recurve and wanted to make sure I could line my tips up after glue up. But I decided to go ahead and pre-taper these because with the higher crown of this bamboo, I wasn't going to be able to get it very thin toward the tips unless I pre-tapered it.

After drawing the lines, I cut it out with a bandsaw and took it to the line with the belt sander. Then, I used the belt sander to thin the bamboo some more. I ground it down until I had a knife edge on the sides, and the thinnest I was able to get it was a little over 1/8" thick, which is thicker than I like.

But since I tapered the width toward the end, I was able to taper the thickness as well. With this bow being shorter than usual, the overall thickness of my limbs is going to be thinner than usual. That means my belly/core wood is going to be thinner than usual, and that means there could be an unfavorable ratio of thickness between the bamboo backing and the belly wood. And that could cause the bow to fail in compression or create an unexpected hinge or something like that. I can avoid that by tillering carefully, making the limbs more narrow (instead of thinner), and using a wood that's really strong in compression.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Osage!" Well, that's what I was thinking, too! And I got some Osage lumber from Terry Dunn in La Vernia, Texas, so I'm all set!

So there they are, all nice and thinned and tapered.

The next step was to join these two pieces of bamboo together, and I did that with a scarf joint (or at least I think that's what it's called). I used to have a difficult time getting my two ends to match and be squared up, but Bob Sarrels of Sarrel’s Archery showed me how he did it with just a stick of wood clamped to the table of his edge sander, which I replicated on my disc sander.

And look! I got a perfect fit the first try!

It was such a good fit, I had to pull it apart a hair just so you could tell there was a joint there. :-)

When I glued these two pieces together, I wanted the tips to be lined up, so I took a piece of cedar slightly longer than the two pieces of bamboo when placed end to end, and I used a string with squeeze clamps hanging off of both ends to make center marks on each end of the board. That way, I could line the tips of the bamboo up with the marks, and that ought to make the tips line up.

At this point, I went back and forth over whether I should use 5 minute epoxy or Smooth On. Some people don't like 5 minute epoxy because it's brittle, and some people claim to have lost tip overlays over it. But this joint isn't going to be under much stress if any at all since it will be at the thickest part of the handle, which will be stiff. Plus, with 5 minute epoxy, I could work on this bow just as soon as I get the Osage ready whereas Smooth On takes a few hours in the hotbox and longer at ambient temperature

But I went with Smooth On anyway. It doesn't take much. A little dab'll do ya! Here it is all glued up with wax paper around it. I put that piece of leather right over the joint.

Then I stuck it in my solar hot box.

I had to drive my car around the corner to do this because there's too much shade on my street. But I was uncomfortable with it, and with the sun on its way down and the clouds in the sky, I figured it wouldn't get very hot anyway, so I took it back in and put it in the garage. Smooth On will cure without a hotbox; it just takes a lot longer. I'm reluctant to put it in my proper hotbox because I don't want the bamboo to warp or curl or anything. But it's summer, so it'll be fine in the garage. I'll be able to tell when it's cured from the Dr. Pepper cap I mixed the glue in since there's a smidgeon of glue left in it.

The next step will be to prepare the Osage. I may not get to that this weekend. Tomorrow, I'm taking a leather working class at Tandy in hopes of improving my ability to make cool sheaths for my knives. On Sunday, I'm going to a 3D shoot at the Austin Archery Club, then going to see Earth to Echo with a friend. I've got to squeeze laundry in there somewhere, too. On Monday, of course, I'm going back to work. So I'll get back to this when I get back to it, which I realize is a tautology, but since it has found its way into the American vernacular, it's a socially acceptable tautology.

Z-splicing my Osage

Here's my big ole piece of Osage I got from Terry Dunn. I have a longer one, but the longer one is an inch or so shorter than my bamboo, and my bamboo is short enough already. Besides that, I wanted to show you how I do a Z-splice, so I went with the shorter piece of Osage.

I set the rip fence on my bandsaw to 1-1/4" and ripped out a piece.

That's Osage is 2-1/8" thick, and my bandsaw cut through it like butter. Ah, it's nice to have a good bandsaw! A sharp blade helps, too.

The sides of this piece of Osage were a little wavy. If I had a jointer, a planer, or a drum sander, I would've used it to true this up before ripping any further, but I did the best I could with my belt sander, and this was the result.

After truing it up, I set my rip fence to 3/8" and ripped out two slats.

So, those slats are 1-1/4" wide and 3/8" thick. It's important that they be at least 4" longer than your intended bow if you're going to do a Z-splice because a Z-splice takes up about 4".

Now, I want to say a few things about Z-slices, because they can be kind of tricky if you're like me, and you're stingy with wood. If you make your wood nice and wide you don't have as much to worry about, but I waste as little wood as possible.

To do a Z-splice, I stack one piece of wood on top of the other and cut them both at the same time. That way, they match better, and I only have to cut once. I put a clamp around the middle, far enough back so it doesn't interfere with the table of the bandsaw. I also wrap some tape somewhere behind where I'm going to do the cutting. That way the two pieces won't slide around while you're trying to cut them.

This is how I trace it out. I draw a line across the board about 4 or 5" from the end. Then I draw a line perfectly centered from the end of the board to the line I drew before. Then I draw my diagonal lines.

The first cut I make is along that center line. But this is where you have to use your head. Remember that the bandsaw blade creates a kerf, and that line is perfectly centered. So imagine if you cut straight down that line. I'm going to exaggerate here so you can see the problem.

The problem is that by cutting through the center of the line, with there being some width to the kerf, the joint is going to be off center resulting in to the two pieces of wood being misaligned like this.

That wouldn't be a problem if your wood was wider than you needed it to be in the first place. You could just cut off the excess, and everything would be fine. But like I said, I don't like to waste wood.

To avoid this problem, you want to cut in such a way that the edge of the kerf goes straight down the middle of that line. That means you're going to cut slightly off center of the line.

When you cut out those angled parts, leave the end of the centered one about as thick as the kerf so when you join the two pieces, it'll seat neatly into the bottom of that neck.

And for heavens sake, be careful which side of that center line you cut. You want to cut toward the side where you're going to remove that triangular piece. If you cut the wrong side, you're going to end up with what I ended up with.

This is why I don't make bows for a living. See that big ole gap? That's because I cut to the wrong side of that line. I could push the two pieces together, but then they would be misaligned. To keep them aligned, I've got to live with the gap. I decided to just fill it with epoxy. Since it's in the middle where the handle is going to be, nobody will ever know.

I clamped the pieces to the edge of a table so they'd be lined up and so they wouldn't slide around when I applied the clamps to the splice.

Do try to cut straight lines so everything will fit together nicely. Smooth On fills gaps, so it doesn't have to be perfect, but you can get it pretty close to perfect just by cutting carefully. Some people like to boil the ends, then clamp them together while they're wet, hot, and swollen, but not glued. That gives them a perfect fit. Some people like to use a jig. There's a pretty simple jig you could find using google. I just free hand it because I don't do too many z-splices.

That's all for today.

Yeah, I guess it would've been better to put a shim in there instead of just filling it up with epoxy. Oh well. Today, I cleaned it up on the belt sander, and this is what it looked like:

It's got a little bubble in there, but that's okay. i'll fill it with 5 minute epoxy.

I made a mark 1 inch from one end of the splice. That'll be the middle of the bow. That way, when I cut my arrow shelf in about 1.25" above center, none of the splice will be in the site window. it'll all be under the handle.

Then I put the bamboo on top of it, lining up the center of the bamboo with the center mark on the Osage. I made a mark on the Osage at both ends of the bamboo and cut the Osage to the same length.

Tapering the bamboo

Then I decided to do something I've never done before. I wanted to taper the Osage before putting in the curves and gluing it up, and usually I'd use a bandsaw and a belt sander for that, but this time I decided to try the Dean Torges method that he shows on his video, "Hunting the Bamboo Backed Bow." He uses a jointer and makes multiple passes, progressively starting each one closer to the handle, to get an overall taper.

I don't want to go into all the details of the math, so I'll just tell you the bottom line of what I did. I made three marks on either end of the Osage that were 8-3/4" apart. I set the jointer to 1/16", and I made three passes. The first one, I started at the first 8-2/4" mark. The second one, I started at the second 8-3/4" mark, etc. I forgot to take any pictures, so I made an illustration so you could visualize what I did.

That basically reduced the thickness by 3/16" from about 26" to the end.

I didn't like this method, though. I don't know if the problem is me, the jointer, or the Osage, but it was a bit chippy. Check out this big chip it took out of the end of one end of the Osage.

It's not a deal breaker, so don't stress out. :-)

Getting it lined up

My bamboo was just a smidgeon more wide than the Osage, so I made it more narrow, being careful to remove the same amount from each side so the tips would stay lined up. Then I noticed my Osage wasn't straight, so I used the string and squeeze clamp method to make center marks on each ends that lined up with the center of the handle area.

Then I lined the bamboo up with those end marks and traced a line kind of wide of the bamboo, and I cut that out with the bandsaw. I thought it would be better when I do those recurves if the bamboo is already straight and centered. I don't know if makes a difference or not.

Heat bending to put in the recurves

Speaking of doing the recurves, this is the same form I used on the last one, and it worked out, so I'm using it again. I made this out of a 2X6.

I put an aluminum strip next to the Osage, clamped the tip end to the form, and put another clamp on the other end of the aluminum.

That way, when I start to bend the Osage, that aluminum will be pressed tight against the Osage, preventing any splinters from lifting. Also, the aluminum stays hot when you heat it up, and it conducts that heat to the Osage, keeping it hot while you're bending.

Some people leave their Osage kind of thick when they do this so if it lifts a splinter, they can just rasp it off, and still have plenty of thickness left. I saw one of J.D. Jones' static recurves at OJAM earlier this year. His Osage was thick, and his bend was almost 90º. It was such a sharp bend, the back of his Osage was wrinkled from the compression. So you can do some crazy stuff. I haven't tried anything that radical.

Anywho, I used my heat gun to heat it up a little at a time and apply clamps until I got the whole thing clamped down. Of course I had to remove that one clamp so I could get it to go down all the way in the end. Since my Osage was pretty thin, it didn't take long. Just a few minutes. I can't explain when it's ready to bend. I just apply a little pressure, and when I feel it begin to loosen up, I apply a clamp. I guess it's the sort of thing you have to do to figure out. I always cringe a little when I'm applying the clamp because I'm afraid of breaking it. That would be such a disappointment!

I got it all down without any cracking noises, though.

It helps if you have that form nice and rounded with no sharp spots. You can feel them by running your finger along the curve, so just file them away if you feel them.

After I get it all clamped down like that, I put the heat gun on the aluminum a little more in hopes of loosening it up a bit so it'll hold the curve better when I unclamp it. I'd like to have as little spring back as possible. The longer you leave it clamped up, the better. I'll probably unclamp it in a few hours and do the other end even though it would probably be better if I left it over night.

I don't know whether I'll post more tonight or wait until tomorrow.

I decided to leave it clamped up over night, and this morning I barely got any spring back at all. Maybe I'll end up with a recurve this time. I had intended the last bow like this to be a recurve, but so much curve came out by the end that it wasn't really a recurve anymore.

I just clamped up the other end, so I'm going to wait until the end of the day to unclamp it and continue.

Heat bending the bamboo

After heat bending both ends of the Osage, I heat bent the bamboo the same way. The last time I made one of these, I didn't heat bend the bamboo (at least I don't think I did), and during glue up, some of the curve came out. I'm guessing part of the reason was that the stiffness of the bamboo pushed it out. So this time I pre-bent the bamboo.

You have to be careful with bamboo if there are nodes anywhere in the bend because the node will be stiff, and that'll cause it to want to hinge on either side of the node and possibly lift a splinter. One way to deal with that problem is to put shims between the nodes. Another way is to put clamps on both sides of the nodes where you expect it to hinge. Just be careful.

I didn't have that problem because my nodes were far enough back from the tips that they weren't part of the curve. (Thanks Robin!)

Another problem I've had with heat bending bamboo is that it'll warp a little, and the flattened part will no longer be flat. I reckon my bamboo wasn't dry enough when that happened. One way to deal with that is not to flatten it all the way before bending it. Then, after you bend it, you can flatten it some more, and if it's bowed a little, that'll take care of it.

I also pre-bent my wedges. I'm using wedges 7.5" long on the tips because I want them to be kind of stiff. I don't like working curves in all wood/grass bows because over time they work themselves out. The last time I made one of these, I used walnut between the bamboo and Osage for contrast.

This time I used Osage just because I had already made them and they were ready to go. I'm lazy that way.

I didn't leave the bamboo or the wedges clamped up nearly as long as I left the Osage, and you can see the difference in how well they held their bend. The bamboo barely held any bend at all.

It's too late to do a glue up. Maybe I'll do it in the morning. It's ready to glue up, though.

Making a power lam

I went back and forth on whether I should have a power lam or not. On the last one-like-this, I used a power lam, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Look how much the Osage tapers from the handle to the end of the power lam here.

I think I could've gotten away without a power lam. But the starting Osage is slightly thinner on this one than on the last one, so I figured it's better to have a power lam and not need it than to need it and not have it. Besides, it looks good, and going with tradition, I decided to make one out of walnut this time, too.

The original power lam was 15", but I made this one 13.5" because it fit more neatly between the blade and the throat of my bandsaw. I'm going to make the glued on handle part 9", so that power lam will extend 2.25" past the handle on either end.

Here's the power lam all nice and tapered so you can see how thin I got those ends.

As usual, I didn't take any pictures of the glue up because I had glue on my hands and didn't want to handle my iphone. But basically, I used Smooth On and put glue over all the surfaces, wrapped it in plastic wrap, put masking tape around it in a few places to keep it from sliding around, then put squeeze clamps on it.

I'm not using a form. It's resting on a couple of pieces of wood near the middle, and I'm letting gravity give it a little bit of deflex. Having some deflex will make it more stable. By "stable," I mean less likely to have the tips twist one way or the other when it's under tension, which is harder to prevent with recurves than with longbows because recurves are inherently less stable than longbows, and by "stable," I mean. . . whoa, deja vous.

Can you see that string? I thought maybe if I put a little c-clamp on each tip and tie a string between them, I could keep more of my curve than on the last bow. Here's a close up of the c-clamp.

I used a broken arrow piece as a tourniquet to tighten the string.

I put that in the hot box, and I'm going to leave it on for 4 hours and probably not take it out until tomorrow or late tonight.

Cleaning it up

All I did today was clean it up a bit with the bandsaw and belt sander. Check how much curve it retained compared to the last one.

I'm pretty pleased with that. Now, if only the tips line up. I'll leave you in suspense about that for now. :p

I also went over the back and pealed off all the glue from the bamboo with a pocket knife.

It comes off pretty easy because the rind is waxy. I'm going to take the rind off after I glue on the handle.

Oh, here's one more picture to show it has a slight amount of deflex. Gravity probably wouldn't given it more deflex if not for the string. But it'll probably gain some deflex during tillering.

Attaching the handle and tip overlays

Today, I glued on the handle and tip overlays. Before gluing on the handle, I took a piece of 40 grit sanding paper, wrapped it around a piece of wood, and prepared a place on the belly to glue the handle on. The 40 grit makes a good gluing surface.

I decided to use a piece of pecan for the handle because I happened to have a piece that was just the right size, and I had nothing else to do with it. Besides, I plan to put a handle wrap on this to cover up the splice on the back, and there's no sense using a pretty piece of wood if I'm just going to cover it up.

Since there was a bit of deflex in the handle, I couldn't just glue the handle straight on. I had to curve it a little. If there's a lot of deflex, I'll use the bow to trace a line on the handle piece and use that as a guide to bandsaw it to shape. But there's just a tiny big of curve to this one, so I just used the belt sander. Here's the before picture.

After some sanding and check and sanding and checking (which can be maddening if you're me), here's the after picture.

It's not perfect, but I'm going to rely on clamp pressure to take care of the imperfections.

Preparing a nice flat surface to glue on tip overlays has always been a struggle for me when making recurves. This is one reason I prefer to make longbows. But here's how I do it.

Sometimes I use the disk sander. The only way to avoid digging into the limb of the bow on accident is to have that grind go through all layers. In other words, I don't just sand the surface of the bamboo. I sand all the way through to the belly wood.

Here's the handle and tip overlays all glued up.

I used Smooth On, but I'm not going to stick it back in the oven this time because I did that last time, and the Osage developed cracks on the belly.

I filled those with superglue and after hundreds of shots, it's never been a problem. But I'd still rather not have them in my bow if I can avoid it. I wonder if I could avoid this problem by wrapping the whole bow in plastic before putting it in the hotbox so it doesn't lose as much moisture. I don't know. But I'm just going to let this one cure at room temperature.

Perhaps I will post more tomorrow.

There's a couple of things I forgot to mention.

First, I used Ipe for tip overlays just because I already had some tip overlay sized pieces ready to go.

Second, whenever I use c-clamps on bamboo, I use some kind of padding because if you don't, the c-clamps will put dents in the bamboo. I use thick leather for padding. Squeeze clamps don't have that problem.

Third, before gluing on the handle, I draw an arrow indicating the top limb. I sometimes don't decide on a top limb until near the end of tillering, but I had to in this case because that splice is off-set with the intention of having most of it be under the thick part of the handle, and the arrow shelf being above it. Drawing that arrow keeps me from making a booboo later on. Or at least that's what it's meant to do.

Fourth, I forgot to show you the tip alignment.

Cutting the fades

This morning, I cleaned the bow up some more with the belt sander, got the handle and tip overlays flush with the rest of the bow.

Then I cut out the fades. I really wanted to use this Bowie knife I'm working on to trace the fades because then I could tell people, "This fade matches the curve on my Bowie knife!" but because the handle is going to be so short on this bow, I wanted the curves to go up faster.

"Faster"? That's not my usual way of putting things. I suppose 2000 years from now, scholars may look at this and say, "Faster" is not a typical Samine way of wording this description; therefore, this build along must be pseudonymous. (For those who didn't get the joke, I'm poking fun at how some modern scholars dismiss some of Paul's letters as being inauthentic.)

Where were we? Oh yeah, the fade. So I just drew a straight line where I wanted the fades to be, and cut that out with a bandsaw.

Then I shaped it a little with the elbow of the belt sander, being careful not to dig into the limb.

And that's all I had time to do this morning.

"But wait a minute, Sam, if you had time to update this build along, you had time to work on the bow some more."

Well, I did work on the bow some more. I just meant that I didn't have time to do anymore updating on this build along. I'll have time later today.

Except for the fades, I leave the handle square while tillering so it sits in the tiller thingy better. I'm going to go ahead and cut an arrow rest since I've already designated the top limb.

I'm just getting the bow ready to tiller at this point. I rounded the tips overlays, too, but didn't fully shape them. I'm going to cut string grooves and not fully shape them until the end.

I also remove the waxy rind before I tiller. I've used various methods to do this with--a pneumatic drum sander, a piece of sand paper wrapped around a t-shirt wrapped around a piece of wood, and a cabinet scraper. I've gotten to where I really like the cabinet scraper. I didn't used to like it as much, probably because I wasn't very good at sharpening them. Let me explain the procedure I use to sharpen my cabinet scraper.

Sharpening my cabinet scraper

First, I want to get the edge perfectly square and smooth, so I lay a piece of 320 grit sand paper on a slab of granite (glass would also work), lay the scraper on it flat, and move it around in a circular motion.

I do that on both sides, and I also do it on the edge.

You don't want to lean it when you're doing the edge because the idea is to get it square, like this:

Don't press down too hard when you're doing the edge because you don't want to deform it. After I do the 320 grit, I do the same thing with 400 grit. Lighten up on the pressure again when doing the edge. You can go to 600 grit, too, and that might improve things a little, but 400 grit is good enough.

Then I clamp it in a vice and use a burnishing tool (a screwdriver would work), and rub it along the edge.

Be sure to hold the burnishing tool perpendicular because you want to cause the sides to flare like this:

That's why you want to get it perfectly square to begin with and use a fine grit, so it'll create a good sharp edge when you burnish it. If it's not good and square and good and smooth, it won't make a good edge.

I can't tell you how much pressure to use or how many times to stroke it. You just have to figure that out by experimenting.

Once you've got a little edge (and you can feel it by pinching the scraper between your thumb and finger and pulling up to the edge), then tilt your burnishing tool and burnish a little more.

That makes your edge hook down a little like this:

Yeah, it's not the best drawing, but you know what I'm talking about.

Removing the rind

I used that scraper to remove the rind. I saw a thread somewhere where James Parker questioned why people remove the rind. I look up to James Parker as kind of a bamboo guru, and it sounded like he doesn't remove the rind. I still remove it, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, you saw how easy it was to remove Smooth On from the rind with a pocket knife. Obviously, things stick to it very well. It doesn't take a stain as well, and it doesn't take a finish as well.

But the rind actually has two layers. The top layer is thin and waxy. Right below that, it's white and not waxy. I suppose you could just lightly sand the whole back, get rid of that waxy surface, and leave the white stuff. It'll take a finish and a stain. But I remove it (or most of it) anyway because. . .

Second, I believe the bow is less likely to break if you remove the rind. There are no fibers running through the rind. The fibers are in the layer directly below the rind. The rind is kind of brittle, and if you leave it there, your bamboo will be more likely to lift a small splinter which will turn into a big break.

When you remove that white rind, it's a little darker underneath.

Since this build along is meant to be a review of this bamboo that Robin Tan sent me, I want to talk a little bit about it and compare and contrast it with the usual stuff I get at Franks or wherever.

This bamboo smells different than other bamboo I've tried. Other bamboo I've tried smells like hay, but this stuff smells kind of funky. I don't know what to compare it too. Maybe a pot that's been left on the stove too long.

The rind of this bamboo has a consistency very much like the early growth layers of Osage. If you've ever chased a ring on an Osage stave, you know what I'm talking about. It's that kind of porous crusty layer that's easy to scratch off. You can kind of see it in this picture.

So I would definitely not want that on the back of my bow. Whereas I'll sometimes leave a bit of white on my bamboo, I took this completely off with the scraper. Other bamboo I've used has ridges running along the length that leaves white streaks when you try to sand the rind off, but this was fairly smooth.

It's a little more difficult to remove the rind around the nodes. The nodes on this bamboo were kind of funky. On one side, there were two dips before you got to the node, and one dip on the other side of the node.

It was like that on all the nodes. The double dips made it a little difficult to get the rind off.

Once I got the rind completely off, I sanded with the 320 grit, then the 400 grit. I like the back to be nice and smooth, and if there are any nicks or scratches, I'll sand them out.

Another thing I noticed about this bamboo that is different than other bamboo I've used is that the area immediately beneath the rind is a lot harder than other bamboo. It was actually easier to remove the rind on this bamboo than other bamboo because there was such a difference in hardness between the rind and the bamboo beneath. I was basically just scraping crusty stuff off of a hard surface.

I was going to put some kind of cool dye job on the back of this bamboo. I'm working on a YouTube video right now showing various patterns and techniques, and I was going to add this one to it. But because it's so dark already and had some interesting colouring, I decided to leave it natural.

I'm a little concerned about it because it looks like water damage. It looks like some spalted pecan I have, and "spalted" is a euphemism for "rotted." It's pretty, though.

I have to go pick up a friend at the airport in a couple of hours, but I have time to work on the bow some more, so I'll probably post another update later tonight.

I want to say one more thing about the scraper before I go. You might have to experiment on the angle you hold it at to see where it cuts the best. It'll depend on how much you brought that edge over with the burnishing tool. I don't bring mine over that much, so I get the best cuts by holding my scraper nearly perpendicular. I guess I've got it at maybe a 60-something degree angle to the surface I'm scraping.

When you first start to scrap a roughly sanded surface, don't expect to get those nice little slivers. You'll just get dust at first and question whether you got the scraper sharp. Then, once the scraper has smoothed the surface down, you'll start to get those thin slivers, and that's when you'll know your scraper is working properly, and you'll start to enjoy using it. It leaves the surface so smooth, you barely need sand paper when you're done tillering. I just use the sand paper to smooth over the ridges from scraping different facets of the belly.

See you later!

Cutting the nocks and the arrow rest

It's later already! I'm still getting the bow ready to tiller. I had to file in some nock grooves. I used to hold the bow down with one hand and file with the other. Here's a video showing how I used to do it.

That was especially hard to do with a recurve, but now I use a vice, and it's a lot easier.

I glued leather padding onto the vice for just such occasions.

I cut an arrow shelf about 1.25" above center. It curves in at the top of the fade because I don't want to cut into the fade too much and weaken it.

People always ask me how far in they can cut and whether they can cut to center. There are too many variables to give a tidy answer to such questions. It depends on how thick your handle area is, how wide your handle is, what kind of wood/materials you're using, and how strong your bow is going to be. Even if I knew all that, I couldn't necessary say. I used to cut my shelfs really shallow because I didn't know what I could get away with. I guess over time, I just developed a feel for it. I have noticed on some of the bows I've made where I waited until the end to cut the arrow shelf that although the bow didn't break, it did cause an alignment problem. Whereas the string might originally have tracked straight through the center of the handle, after cutting in the arrow shelf, it drifts in the direction of the shelf, which means the cut weakened it a little. I've used that as a gauge for how far in to cut on subsequent bows. For this one, it's pretty narrow already, so I didn't want to cut anywhere close to center.

I'll remove wood from inside there when I shape it later anyway, and it'll be closer to center but still not there.

I use my disk sander to radius the shelf.

I've been doing it that way for a long time because it's quick and easy.

I saw somebody somewhere use a template and a router to cut the arrow shelf. I may try that some day. I would think it would reduce the amount of work later on when you have to sand and use files to get everything smoothed out.

Rounding the corners

The last thing I do before tillering is round all the corners on the limbs on all four sides. First, I run each corner down the elbow of the belt sander.

Then, I go over each corner with a piece of sanding belt and a block of wood. My block of wood is rounded on one side so I can do the inside of the curve on the back of the bow.

That's all I do to the belly side, but I want that backing to be nice and smooth, so I use the scraper to smooth out the corners on the bamboo.

The belly side will get smoothed out more as I tiller.

No more stalling. There's nothing left to do but tiller.

Fixing a crack

I'm going to stall just a little bit more. I was looking it over while ago, and I saw this crack.

That could cause a failure, and it looked like it might be too deep to just rasp off, so I put some superglue on it.

Superglue is really thin and can wick down into the crack. I don't know how far it'll go in, though. I can only hope that it'll work.


This is my old tillering stick.

It's been with me now for 10 years and two or three months when I first started making bows. Every time I show anybody a picture of this thing in use, it's always followed by gasps of horror and condemnation, so last night I thought I'd spare myself that, and I made myself a tillering tree in the garage. That required me to do a lot of moving (which in turn lead to cleaning), and I was up until 2 am last night cleaning and rearranging the garage.

Here's a first look at the bow on the tillering tree.

And here is the very first pull on this tillering tree. I pulled it to 40#, and the limbs moved about 3-1/2".

Although I used a level when I made that platform the bow is sitting on so I could get it perfectly level, it looks like the bow is leaning to the left a little. Notice how before I pull it, the left limb is already lower than the right, then when I pull it, the left limb looks weaker than the right. If I were to even those limbs out before bracing it, I suspect it would result in the right limb (i.e. the upper limb) being too weak, which I wouldn't noticed until I braced it.

I reckon the reason for that lean is that my handle is thicker on the right side than the left side, so I took a file to it to get it level.

And here is the result.

Better, eh?

By the way, I'm giving my tillering stick away if anybody wants it, but you have to come to northwest Austin, Texas to pick it up.

More tillering

Meanwhile in the bat cave. . .

Tillering wasn't all that eventful. There were no hinges or problem spots or anything like that. I just removed wood evenly on both limbs until I got to 45# at 10" of limb travel.

It still looked to me like that top limb (the one on the right) was too strong, but I wasn't sure, and it was close enough, so I went ahead and strung it.

Sure enough, the top limb was too stiff. I wanted to straighten that out before going any further, so I sanded on the top limb while it was still strung until I got it even.

Then I exercised the limbs some and pulled on it until it reached 45#. It came to 25".

I was shooting for somewhere between 45 and 50# at 28", so I'm almost there. But I didn't want to go any further until I got your input. Why go it alone when I could take advantage of your collective expertise? So tell me what you think and if you have any suggestions.

My next move is to narrow the tips. I keep them wide until after stringing it so if I need to make any adjustments for alignment, I can. In this case, the alignment looks good.

On recurves, I don't just rely on looking down the string that way because friction can cause the string to be off. Also, if you pull it back, then relax it, your bow hand can torque the handle a little bit, causing the string to be off, and misleading you about whether the alignment is good. So what I like to do with recurves is shoot them a little. I figure when the string is released naturally, that gives you a true indication of whether the alignment is good or not. If that string isn't dead center on that recurve after shooting it, then I make small adjustments until it is. Then I cut grooves in those curves for the string to sit in.

I'll wait a while for your input, and if nobody says anything, then I'll keep going. But please let me know what you think so far about the tiller.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you something. That crack I put superglue in earlier seems to have disappeared. I rounded those corners pretty good. Maybe it wasn't as deeps as I thought it was, and it's gone. I hope so. I'm starting to like this bow.

This morning, I narrowed the tips. If you take more off one side than the other, the tips will be misaligned, so to keep them aligned, I made 3 marks--one in the center, and two where I wanted to grind to.

Final tillering

I ended up not grinding all the way to those marks, but I got close. Then I re-cut the nocks.

Then I continued to tiller. Each time I removed wood, I exercised the limbs, checked the draw weight, and checked the distance between the string and the limb on both fades.

I kept it about even, but as I neared the end, I gave it a 1/16" positive tiller. Most people seem to prefer a 1/8" positive tiller for shooting split fingered and even for shooting 3-under. I figured with a 1/16" positive tiller, it could be shot either way. Honestly, I've shot both ways with the same bow, and I can't tell a difference in noise or vibration or anything. I prefer a slightly positive tiller because the first bow I made had a weak bottom limb that seemed to get weaker with time, and that left a permanent scar on my psyche. Now, I subconsciously think that if the top limb is slightly weaker, then it's okay if the bottom limb is under more stress because it'll all even out in the end. I cannot shake that feeling no matter how many bows I make, even if they are fiberglass bows. Sometimes I give a bow as much as 1/4" positive tiller because of it. I wonder if that means I have OCD.

Anyway, as I got closer to my target weight, I started using finer grit sand paper. I used to tiller my bows to my target weight at 27" figuring that once I sanded it and everything, it would reach my target weight at 28". But with this one, I figured I'd just finish my sanding simultaneously with finishing the tillering. I had a broad range in mind, though, so it was going to be hard to miss my target weight no matter what I did.

When I got to 47# @ 28", I called it, and it had a 1/16" positive tiller.

And here's what the limb profile looked like immediately after unstringing it.

The next step will be to shape the tips and handle, which I will probably do later today.

Shaping the tips and handle

I won't bore you with the details of shaping the tips and handles. I have a video series showing how I do that if you're interested.

My handle shapes have been evolving over the last year, though. I used to only put a contour right below the arrow shelf. Now, I've found that if I narrow the back end a little, too, it feels more comfortable. It enhances the palm swell. This is my first time making the back contour go all the way around, creating kind of a bulb-shaped handle.

Here's a couple of pictures of the tip (before sanding).

Writing on the bow

Once I got everything shaped the way I wanted, I sanded everything down to 400 grit. Then I used some white India Ink and a fountain pen I got at Michaels to write on it. I used white with the idea that when the Osage begins to darken, the white will be more visible.

I used to use a sharpie because it was easy, but it was also fat, bulky, and ugly. Then I read a thread where Eric Krewson recommended acrylic ink and a fountain pen, so I went and got some at Michaels. I found it difficult to write with. I got black for lighter wood and silver for darker wood. I could not get the silver to work at all, which is why I got this white India Ink. The black worked, but it was difficult. I don't know if the problem is with the pen, the ink, or me. I got a really fine pen because I wanted to be able to write small, but it grabs when I try to write with it, and it's just difficult to write smoothly.

I used to put on a few layers of finish, then the writing, then the last layer. That way, it would be easy to get off if I needed to without removing wood. But I decided this time that since I struggle so much with writing, I'd try to write on bare wood and see if it was any easier. It wasn't. I couldn't get it to write at all at first. Then I found that if I shook the pen until some white ink dropped out of it, it would write a little. It was a mess.

I called the bow "Robin" since Robin gave me the bamboo. Besides, I like that name.

Next, I'll put a finish on it.

Putting a finish on the bow

Last night and today, I put a finish on it. I didn't take any pictures. I'll just give you a brief explanation of what I did.

I used what used to be called "Thunderbird," but is now called "Kwick Klean Sealer." According to 3 Rivers Archery, "starts out as a lacquer and dries to a tough polyurethane," which means it dries quickly on any oily wood.

I got some PreVal sprayers, which you can buy with or without jars. I got a couple with jars so I could mix my stuff. I put 80% Thunderbird and 20% lacquer thinner in there, then sprayed three coats of the glossy finish, waiting 12 minutes between coats. Bob Sarrels told me the glossy stuff is harder and more durable than the satin.

He also told me it takes about six hours for it to convert to a polyurethane, so it's important to put all the coats on within that time. I let it do its thing over night, and this morning, I put one coat of Satin polyurethane from a spray can. I got the Minwax fast-drying polyurethane. I'm not sure if it's still available, but Bob told me I could also use Rustoleum Ultra Cover Matte Clear. I'm going to get some of that as soon as I run out of the Minwax.

And that's it for the finish. I'm working on a handle wrap right now. I'll post pictures later when I'm done.

Putting a leather handle wrap on the bow

I've been taking classes at Tandy on leather carving and stamping, so I thought I'd make a fancy schmancy leather handle for this bow. Plus, it'll cover up the splice on the back of the bamboo. I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, though. Should I wet form it to the handle first and then tool it? No, because it would be really hard to tool it right on the bow, and I'd surely mess it up. Should I tool it flat, and then wet form it to the bow? Will it mess up the tooling when I try to wet form it? What if I tool it, and it changes shape as a result, and no longer fits the bow? If I put a finish on the tooling side, will I still be able to wet form it by wetting the back, or will it be too stiff? What to do, what to do? I googled around and even went to Tandy and thumbed through their books. I found a discussion forum where this subject came up, and different people did it different ways. I decided to just go for it. I had some cheap leather, so it didn't matter if I messed up.

I don't have a floppy tape measure, so I made one out of some masking tape.

Then I wrapped it around the thickest part of the handle and got 4-1/2".

I measured out some leather 4-1/2" x 4", and used a barge cement thingy to keep everything square.

I learned a neat trick on YouTube. If you put a piece of carpet under your leather, it's much easier to cut because you can put the exacto knife all the way through it. Conveniently enough, my sister recently tore all the carpet out of her childrens' bedrooms to put in hardwood flooring, and I was able to cut a square out of the carpet they were discarding. Score!

My lines were not perfectly straight, so I straightened them out on the belt sander.

Whenever you tool leather, it's like sticking your fist in a ball of dough, and it spreads out. Tandy has this sticky paper type stuff you can stick your leather on to work it, and it keeps it from spreading out too much. I've seem people on youtube glue it to granite to keep it spreading out. But this leather I'm working with is on the thick side, so I figured maybe it wouldn't distort, and I didn't worry about it.

I wet the leather with a sponge, then use a ruler and the edge of my shading tool to draw a boarder.

Then I got my basket weave tool out and screwed it up (picture not shown). I was a little frustrated, but like I said, it was cheap leather, so I cut out another square and started again. This time, I used my camouflage tool to make a boarder, and it was kind of screwed up, too, but I went with it because I didn't want to start over again.

^^That was the 100th picture! (Not counting the non-build-along pictures)

Then I made a small line as a reference for my basket tool.

Then I used the basket tool (correctly this time) and made this pattern.

Then I used the seeder tool to jazz up the boarder a little more.

They have this tool you roll on the leather that makes equally spaced indentations so you can make stitching holes, but I just used a ruler and pen.

As soon as I punched the first hole, I knew I had chosen a size too big. But it wasn't going to start all over because of it.

I used my edging tool (can't remember what it's called) and took the corners off the leather.

Then I wet the edges and used the handle of the same tool to burnish the edges.

Then I put some "antique" on it. It was supposed to be medium brown, but it sure looks dark to me.

I let that dry, then put this sealer on it that smells like Pine Sol.

I gave that plenty of time to dry, did some running around, and made a string. I learned some new tricks from a YouTube video by Rick Barbee, and made a nice string. But I decided to be a rebel and not match up the bundles when I made the loops.

It came time for wet forming, so I wrapped the bow in plastic wrap, wet the back of the leather really good, and tried to form it around the handle. Unfortunately, it wasn't big enough, and there was a big gap.

I was pretty bummed about that. I thought it might happened because of the way I measured for the leather, plus the thickness of the leather. There was no way that outside circumference of that leather was going to be able to stretch as far as the inside circumference. But I thought tooling might spread it out a little and compensate.

I decided to try thinning it out on the belt sander and see if I could stretch it. That helped some. I wrestled with it some more and got it kind of close. The problem area, though, was where that node on the bamboo was. Here it is after wet forming.

I put that in my solar hot box to dry out for a few hours.

My solar hotbox has 393,000 miles on it, and it still runs great!

I really didn't want to start over again, so I found this lacing pattern on YouTube called "double loop lacing" that I thought might cover up that gap.

Here is the result.

I must've done something wrong because my pattern seemed to be bunched up on one side instead of in the middle. I think I may have been pulling the stitches too tight. He says on the video not to pull them too tight. There didn't seem to be anything I could do to make that bottom stitch look right, but I didn't glue the leather on the bow, so I can change it any time I want if I feel like it. I don't feel like it right now, though. Here's the front of it.

The finished bow

And here's the finished bow.

And here's the money shot.

And that's it for today. Tomorrow, I'll shoot this bow along with the previous one I made of this style and write up some final reflections on the bamboo that Robin sent me.

Reflections on Robin's bamboo

Okay, here's my final reflections. If any of you actually read this, you know that Robin Tan from Singapore sent me this bamboo in exchange for me writing a review and doing a build along, which is why this build along exists. I've already made a lot of comments about the bamboo, but let me recap.

Robin's bamboo had a smaller diameter than what I usually get from Franks, which resulted in a higher crown, which made it hard to get as thin as I wanted it.

The node spacing on Robin's bamboo is great. They are very wide, which makes it easier to tiller because there are fewer flat spots.

The rind came off easier with Robin's bamboo, and it seemed harder underneath.

Robin's bamboo is stringier, which I guess means the power fibers are distributed more evenly throughout the thickness.

Robin's bamboo was noticeably harder when I took the rind off. It was more resistant to indentation. It was also smoother.

Robin's bamboo smelled funny, not like the hay bamboo usually smells like.

Robin's bamboo had some funny dips near the nodes that made it hard to get the rind off in those places.

Robin's bamboo had some dark colour to it that looked like water damage, but I don't know if it is or not. It was so dark, I didn't even put a dye on it. I like the way it looks, though. It's got personality.

Robin wanted me to say something about the shooting characteristics compared to the bamboo I usually get, so I tried to compare it to a bow I had previously made of roughly the same style. I really can't say much about it because the bows are not similar enough to share. My old bow is 55# whereas my Robin bow is 47#. My old bow is 2" shorter than my Robin bow. My old bow is more of a longbow/hybrid, whereas my Robin bow is a recurve. My old bow has longer heavier tip overlays than my Robin bow.

But for what it's worth, I did notice two differences. My old bow was faster than my Robin bow (probably because it's 7# stronger), but my Robin bow is more quiet than my old bow, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the tip overlays are lighter. Maybe it's because the limbs have better balance. Maybe it's because it's longer. Maybe because it's slower. I dunno.

I am pretty happy with my Robin bamboo. Thanks Robin!

Here is a video I took showing the bow on the tiller tree, then with me shooting it.

The End.

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