Instructables
Picture of Make a takedown bow from skis!
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Ever notice how the cool action heroes all use bows and arrows these days? Katniss Everdeen, Legolas, Hawkeye, Lara Croft...Now you can join their ranks with this step-by-step guide to designing and building your own bow out of old cross-country skis!
I made this pair of bows at the artist residency, Grin City Collective, in Grinnell, Iowa.
 
Skis are an excellent material to use for the limbs of a bow. First off, they are uniform. You won’t have to worry about inconsistencies in the material; you can expect both limbs of the bow to bend equally.  This also eliminates the tedious process of tillering the bow.  The front of the skis also already have recurved tips.  All of this means using skis saves a lot of time.

What you’ll need: Materials
Skis – cut down to become the limbs
Lumber – to be carved for the riser.  Either a large block (at least 3"x3"x20") or scraps will do.
Couple of bolts, washers and wing nuts – to attach limbs to riser
Nylon twine (or any low-stretch string)- for the bowstring

What you'll need: Tools
Handsaw
Clamps
Hand drill with assorted bits
Chisel and hammer
Wood rasp or file
Assorted sandpapers
Wood finish
Glue or spray adhesive

The following tools are not required to make the bow but will make the process a lot easier if you decide to make a more complicated riser (handle) for your bow.
-Tablesaw                -Band saw
-Hacksaw                 -Planer
-Drill press               -Belt/disc sander         

Cost?
Skis ~$10 at a yard sale or Goodwill. 
Lumber  -- scraps
Hardware --  less than $4
Twine -- $3 for a roll

 
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Step 1: Skis

Picture of Skis
The skis used in this Instructable are cross-country skis. The bows turned out to be between 20-26# @ 28” draw.   Bows made from downhill skis will be much stronger due to the increased rigidity; I've heard reports of folks achieving >60# with downhill ski limbs. My initial goal was to make a more powerful bow but for some reason its really hard to find downhill skis in Iowa. 
EDIT: I have since made a bow from downhill skis.  This bow is 58# @ 28".

Step 2: Designing the Riser

A takedown bow consists of two limbs that attach to either side of a riser, or handle, by some hardware.  The riser needs to have a flat surface for the limbs to attach, a grip for your hand and a carved out shelf for the arrow. 
Here is the chance to be a creative in your design.  The riser doesn’t flex at all when using the bow! As long as the riser satisfies those three things it doesn’t matter what it looks like. 

If you are need of inspiration just do a quick image search online for takedown risers.  Or get really crazy/impractical and search for images of World of Warcraft bows. 

Start by sketching your riser on a couple of sheets of graph paper. I drew a few thumbnail sketches on graph paper to get some ideas before starting in on the full size drawings.
The two risers I designed were about 20” and 18” long.  The riser sketched on the left was designed to have only one bolt holding the limb down where the riser on the right was designed for two bolts per limb.  EDIT: The drawings for the risers made in this Instructable are included as pdf's in the final page.

Note: The angle made by the vertical axis of the riser and the attached limb should be around 15˚-20˚.  If the angle is  greater the limbs won't flex as much when pulled resulting in less powerful bow.  Don't stress about this too much!  Even at the end when the bow is fully constructed there are ways to change the angle to increase draw weight. We will cover that later.

Next I made a model of the riser out of 2” thick foam. This step is not completely necessary but it can be helpful to use as a guide when carving the wood riser later. 

First trace a copy of your riser design so you will still have the original drawing to transfer to wood later.  Cut and glue the design to the foam and carve with a craft knife or wood rasp.

You can test out alterations to things like the handle or curves of the riser on the foam before permanently removing wood.  For me, the foam model was really helpful. I’m not great at translating the 3d image in my head to a 2d drawing. Having a 3d foam model allowed me refine my design as necessary before starting in on the actual wood.

Step 3: Selecting and preparing wood for the riser

Depending on your preference and what materials you have available this step can either be rather short or take a fair bit of time.  I didn’t have a single piece of wood that was large enough to make the riser so I ended up laminating several strips of hardwood together with glue.  The latter method allows you to introduce different colors into the riser as well. 

If you decided to use a single block of wood square up the edges as best as possible with a tablesaw ,or better yet a jointer and planer, and move on to “Rough cutting the riser”.

If you want to make a pretty laminated riser, read on.

Here are some scraps of walnut, oak and pecan for the risers. 
Take a little bit of time to play and arrange the strips of wood to create some interesting color combinations.

Rip (cutting with the grain) all the strips to the same width on a table saw.  The width that you should be aiming for is about an 1/8” wider than the widest part of the ski. For me that was about 2” with both sets of skis.  The 1/8” excess on the riser will be removed later on when sanding. 
Next cross-cut (cutting across the grain) the boards to the same length.  I used a radial arm saw for this step.

Notice how the strips of wood that I ended up selecting were a bit warped.  To make a good glue joint, it’s important that the wood fits together as smoothly as possible.  If you have a planer, flatten the boards or do your best to sand any particularly rough pieces.

Step 4: Gluing

The wood is now ready to be laminated.  Any woodglue ought to do just fine for our purposes.  Below I’m using Elmer’s woodglue.  Halfway through I ran out and started using some Titebond II.  If you end up sealing the wood later with some sort of polyurethane finish (which I highly recommend) its not too important that you use a waterproof glue like Titebond.
 
Start by drawing a thin bead of glue across the wood and then smooth it over the entire surface of the wood to create a thin, even layer.

Once glue is applied to all the pieces, clamp them together and wipe off any excess glue drops from the outside.  Make sure that there aren’t visible spaces between the boards.  Let sit overnight.

If you decided to glue all the strips together at once to save time your boards may end up uneven like this.  It is best to get them as smooth as possible before we continue.  For me, it’s back to the planer.  To avoid uneven boards like this, glue fewer strips of wood together at a time so there are less “moving parts” when clamping.

Step 5: Rough cutting and carving the riser

Now that you have a squared smooth block of wood (or laminated woods) its time to cut out and spray adhere the pattern to the block.

Rough cutting the riser is best done with a band saw, but a scroll saw like the one here will do just as well.  First draw and cut a few relief cuts from the edges to the paper.  They are the black lines in the above photo.  The relief cuts are small cuts made in the waste wood (the part of the wood we are trying to remove) from the outside of the block to the pattern. 

After all the relief cuts are made, start in on the curve. As you reach the relief cuts the pieces will just fall away as shown here.  This provides a natural stopping point anywhere along the cut. 

It’s now time to cut the arrow shelf.  Turn the riser on its side and draw in the shape of the shelf.  If you have a band saw, cutting the shelf is rather simple – just do the same thing as you did to rough-cut the shape of the riser.  If you only had a scroll saw like I did you might need to use a chisel for this step.  Most scroll saws can only cut wood up to two inches thick.  The risers I designed are closer to 3 – 3 ½” wide when turned on edge. 

To chisel the shelf, start by clamping the riser down to a bench and cut vertical slits with a handsaw. Next, flip the riser on its edge and clamp it down again. With the chisel and hammer, taking care to hold the chisel as perpendicular as possible to the riser, cut out the pieces with even blows.

From here, its time to rasp, file and sand the risers for the final, smooth shape!  I did most of the shaping with a disk and belt sander.

Step 6: Cutting the skis to length

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To get an idea of what the bow will look like when unstrung, lay the ski and the riser next to one another as shown below.  You don’t want the limbs to be too long or you could lose some power.  That is especially a concern with cross-country skis as they are less rigid.

For an 18” riser, I cut the limbs to be 22” including the section that overlaps with the riser. The limbs were a bit longer for the larger riser to keep it looking balanced.

Use a square to make an even line across the ski and cut it to size with a hacksaw.  Avoid using a radial arm saw or chop saw for this especially if your skis contain metal reinforcements.

Check that the ski is actually square after cutting.  If not, sand or file it flat.

Step 7: Drilling the holes for the hardware

The number of bolts you want to use to attach each limb will probably dictate the diameter of the bolt you use.  For the bow with only one bolt per limb I used these 1 /2 ” bolts. For the other riser I used 5/16” bolts.

To drill the holes, select a bit that is the same width as the outer threads of the bolt.  You don’t want the threads to bite into the wood at all. The bolt should go into the hole with no resistance and shouldn’t wiggle once it’s in place.

Ideally for this step you would use a drill press. Clamp the ski and riser to the bed of the drill press checking to make sure you are perpendicular to the bit. 
If you don’t have a drill press you can still drill these holes with a hand drill..

Make a mark with a nail in the center of the ski about 1 ¼” away from the end. This will help to keep the bit centered if you are not using a drill press to make the holes.
If you can clamp the limb onto the riser and drill both together do so!  Otherwise you can drill them individually.

To stop the head of the bolt from biting into the back of the riser its necessary to counter sink the holes.  Use a bit that is a hair wider than the widest part of the head of the bolt.  Determine how far down you want to countersink the holes by holding the bolts across the limb and riser as shown below.    You want to have about ½-3/4” of exposed thread coming out the front to put on the washers and wing nuts. Mark the wood lightly with pencil and back to the drill press (or vice and hand drill).

Step 8: In case you messed up..

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So perhaps the holes didn’t quite line up when you put the bolt through the limb and your bow may look a bit like this! A small gap like this can lead to a wobble in the limbs that makes the bow inaccurate. No worries though, its easily fixed. 

Cut and glue a small wood shim to the end of the problem limb.  Once its dry, sand it down till it fits snug.
  

Step 9: Sanding and finishing the riser

Picture of Sanding and finishing the riser
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Time to sand out all those tool marks and scratches!  I went up to ~400 grit with the sanding.  220 grit should be totally fine.   After sanding, wipe off the dust and coat it with some finish.  I applied two coats of a satin polyurethane finish sanding in between each with 400 grit sandpaper.

Step 10: Carving the string grooves and making the string

For a weak recurve (25lbs or less) it’s not necessary to reinforce the tips of the limbs. A few small files I use for jewelry worked well to carved the notches. Be sure to round over the edges of the groove so that the string won’t wear out with use.

For these lighter bows nylon twine will be more than strong enough to serve as a string.  The twine itself is a bit too narrow for the nocks of arrows to grab and shoot accurately.  This can be worked around by twisting the string in a special way (shown below) to double its thickness.  

Before making the twisted string, determine how long it will need to be by stringing your bow with a bit of untwisted twine.  Tie two bowlines on either end of the twine and string the bow.
A string that is too long or too short for the bow will greatly hinder its performance.  The distance between the string and the riser is called the brace height.  Although it will be slightly different for each bow a good ballpark range is around 7” for the brace height.

To make the twisted string that will actually go on the bow, cut a piece of twine that is three times the length of the twine just used to string the bow.

A video showing how to twist the string is below.  In case its hard to see, here’s what is happening:   Fold the string in half with a loop on one side.  Pinch the end of the loop with one hand.  With your index and thumb of the other hand,  twist the top strand away from you.  At the end of the twist grab the bottom strand between the top of your index finger and the pad of your middle finger.  Rotate your hand back to the front while holding all the strands.  Inch your hand that is pinching the loop toward the newly formed twist.  Repeat.
  NOTE in this video I am showing the twisting process with the hemp string as it is a lot easier to see in the video than the nylon. You want to twist the nylon twine for the bowstring NOT the hemp.

Now that you have a large piece of twisted nylon twine, tie a double knot in the end to stop it from unwinding and cut and melt the end. Tie a bowline on either side of the string at the appropriate spot on the string  Follow each bowline up with a simple overhand knot and cut and melt the ends. 

Almost done with the string!  The section of the string where you grip and nock an arrow takes a lot of abuse while shooting.  An additional thin layer of twine can be added to reinforce this area.  This process is called serving the string.  The serving should span a few inches blow the arrow shelf to a few inches above.

To stop the serving from coming undone and sliding up and down it will be necessary to thread the hemp twine through the bowstring.  A small nail can be inserted into the twisted bowstring to aid in threading the hemp. The tape in the above photo serves to hold the hemp in place during the twisting.
 
This method is similar to a basic whipping.  However, the hemp to weak to try and pull the end loop back into the coil. Instead, thread the working end of the hemp through the tiny exposed look and through the bowstring.  Tie a clovehitch, trim the excess and apply a dab of superglue on the end to keep it from coming undone.

Step 11: Finishing touches

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The bow is now fully functional! Yay!  To make the bow even more pretty I added some leather on the arrow shelf.

Step 12: Go shoot your new bow!

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Here is a silly video of me assembling and shooting the bow.  Enjoy!

I hope you enjoyed my first Instructable!  I will be happy to answer any questions you might have.  Thanks!



 

Step 13: Tweaking your bow for strength

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Here are a few ways to increase the strength of your bow.

The riser - limb angle:
The smaller this angle the more the limbs will be forced to flex when pulled thereby generating more energy.  For reasons of not putting too much stress on the skis (they do have the potential to break) I wouldn't decrease this angle below 10˚.  The easiest way to change this angle is to cut a small shim of wood and drill the appropriate holes.  Insert the shim between the limb and the riser and bolt them all together.  To make the shim more visible in the photograph I have wrapped it in some paper.  Shimming the limbs increased the pull of this bow from 26# to 30#.

Changing the lengths of the limbs:
If the limbs are too long the bow can be rather weak.  Longer limbs will flex less when pulled.  Less flex = less force.   The further the string can be pulled and the limbs can flex without breaking the stronger the bow. Limbs that are too small can be broken as they flex too far with a standard draw.  My advice: If you want to change the limbs, take 2 inches or so off each limb.  Re-drill the holes and make a new string. 

Shaving material from the tips:
Not all of the force that is stored in the bow by pulling the string is transferred to the arrow on release.  A significant amount of the energy is used to move the limbs back to the resting position.  If the limbs are lighter less energy is required to move them thereby increasing the energy imparted on the arrow. This doesn't change the draw weight of the bow but instead makes the bow more efficient and powerful. 
Because the tips of the bow limbs must travel the furthest to reach the resting position they are often the portion of the limb that gets shaved down. To shave the limb, take a rasp/file or sander to the edge of the tip. If you shave too much material from the tips you can compromise the integrity of the bow. You've been warned. It can be done if you're mindful not to go overboard. I wouldn't take more than 20% of the material in the top 1/3 of the bow.


Changelog:

6/21/13 3:00 PM CST  Added two more photos to introduction.
6/22/13 6:45 PM CST Added "Costs" section to introduction.
6/25/13  3:58 PM CST
Added "Tools" section to introduction
Added downloadable patterns of risers
Added step "Tweaking your bow for strength" to end if 'ible.
Added more photos to describe riser/limb angle relationship
Corrected dates in Changelog and moved Changelog to final step of 'ible.
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I also made my own bow using this
awesome instructable! It took me a few days though without using a
bandsaw or a stationary drill. Here are a few short videos of my bow in
action (my video editing skills are none existant so I apologize for
that)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3NEProCdgE&list=PLKMm2HX7cyW7lc-yn55bWRxgZhCqOgW8q&index=1

Anyway, my bow is not quite as powerful as I would want it
to be, pulling it back feels like nothing. My question is, can I
increase the bows power by making the string grooves go slightly further
down on the skiis? Because right now they are at at the very end of it.
Theoretically it should make it more powerful right, since it forces it
to flex more, but do you think it's a good idea?

Thanks for reading!

Jack Moran made it!1 month ago

Finnished mine!

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do you use a pair of skis for one bow? also, has anyone made their own arrows? we have chickens and get lots of feathers & I'm thinking..... What type of tip would you use & where would one look for something like that?

AdnamaG1 month ago

what can you use other than skis or PVC? do you have to make a riser?

Finley372 months ago
I made multiple bows but instead of using skis I used PVC because I had some around the house. I got a 35lb draw off of it and it extremely accurate. Great tutorial
jgarratt made it!2 months ago

Great Ible dude! Had lots of fun making this one :D

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streetlegend3 months ago

Awesome tutorial!

If for some reason it is difficult to find skis in your country or state like me, you can use two grass slashers instead. you can find quite heavy duty ones if you want to create a stronger bow. i got about 25 lbs out of mine

yverweij made it!4 months ago

Not quite finished, but here's mine. Awesome instructable, thanks for sharing!

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triumphman7 months ago

I have the downhill skis, wood and bolts/nuts and some paracord too. I shoot lefty. Should the arrow rest be cut on the other side of the riser ? Also , do you recommend 10 degrees for the angle ? I want a strong bow for hunting and fishing. Thanks.

riser is on the right side for a left handed shooter, and i dont recommend paracord because it stretches. you can get some dacron on ebay or something for 10$ http://www.ebay.com/itm/Brownell-B50-Bow-string-Material-1-4lb-Dacron-11-colors-/290599717079?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item43a917c8d7

kian t4 months ago
awesome idea, and it works great
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gpezzin5 months ago
great idea and tutorial. Finished my own an hour ago. Now I must find a string that doesn't stretch. Any suggestions?
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Shenvy made it!5 months ago

Very good tutorial, I was able to do it despite lacking proper tools :(
Skis used are actually mine (when I was a kid) so I didn't spent any money for them. I removed the metal bit on the sides (I don't know how you call them in english).

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VanniMGK6 months ago

I was able to do it :) thank you I just added some art

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How log was the project start to finish?

honestly it took me around a week, it was mostly the shaping and sanding that took forever.

kekio846 months ago

I had this idea too,and i made it but i cuted the ski's on a wrong place and now the bow is way to tight,and i don't have enough stenght to pull it to the end.

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Johnhall147 months ago
Great ible, I've been wanting to make a takedown recurve for a while now and I found your guide for making the riser very helpful.
dszura7 months ago

how long should be skiing?

chilihook made it!7 months ago

This project was great fun! Thank you so much for posting it. If you have the chance or interest, check out the Google+ community PVC Archery and Crafting. This 'ible has garnered a lot of interest over there. A quick question: What is the brace height of your bow? My riser is 20 inches and limbs are 24 inches. At brace the string is almost 11 inches from the riser. Way too much. I have already cut 10 degree wedges to place under the limbs. Thinking of cutting the limbs to 20 inches as well. Hoping to get 'er up to 25 pounds. Thanks again for a great project, I'll be making more!

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xeorius8 months ago

Hi ! Good job !

eterovic made it!9 months ago

Truly a great project

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orkface10 months ago
Awesome 'ible got my skis from the local tip shop just got to get the wood next. Any tips for doing this without any of the power tools, my father inlaw has a jig saw and a table saw but apart from that I'll be hand sawing and chiseling this out.
sitrik10 months ago

can you make bows out of water skis?

Thanks for this beautiful instructable! Just got a pair of ski's, now searching for the right wood.

What's the big difference between the single and double bolt version? Wich one do you prefer, and why?
louye11 months ago
I have 2 pairs of old Trak skis. One is fiberglass over a wood core. I can hear little fracturing sounds when I flex it. They other ski is fiberglass over a plastic core. I don't hear any sounds when I flex it.

Which ski should I use for the bow project? Thank you.
Yoshinok (author)  louye11 months ago
Cracking is bad. Best go with the skis that don't make cracking sounds.
Preppersaurus11 months ago
Yoshinok, I saw this and had to make it myself. Surprising since I haven't picked up a longbow in 40 years. Took a few days to make and almost lost it. So I had to make a SECOND one for my wife. During testing I managed to bag a composting bin and a retaining wall. Now, all I need to do is practice. Started working on a multipurpose fetching jig for arrows. Thanks for the motivation.
Yoshinok (author)  Preppersaurus11 months ago
Glad to hear it! Feel free to post pictures of your new bow!
FairPlay mate
FairPlay
If I had some old skis I would do this
TomShauley11 months ago
I went to your stronger bow update, and I've got 2 questions-

Have you found the 2-bolt design better than the 1-bolt?

-and-

Could I use the same designs in the attached .pdf files for the stronger bow if I simply adjust the angle of attachment?
clusterflop11 months ago
I guess winter is the wrong time of year to find cheap used skis on ebay. Found a few but they were a minimum of $45 or more and some sellers were ripping off buyers for $35 on shipping.
hottdylan12 months ago
If you have a old compound bow and don't have time to make a wood riser take the limbs off the compound and take the sights and stuff off and you have a riser
josuchav1 year ago
THIS ROCKS!!!!
Thanks so much for posting it. I don't know how easy it'll be for me to find skis in GA but I'm definitely going to the thrift store this weekend.
vbenitez1 year ago
Hey Yoshinok so I'm horrible with wood projects have you thought about or do you sell the risers? Love the bow.
Yoshinok (author)  vbenitez1 year ago
I am afraid I haven't any risers at the moment. I won't have regular access to a shop for a few months either. Perhaps someone else here might be able to help you out?
gmorin21 year ago
Thanks for the ible. I used maple to construct my riser and downhill skis, I cut them at 22" and mounted them at 23 degrees. I just need to craft the string but am wary of using twine. I am also doubting the strength of the skis as they are laminate. I have attached a picture of the ski and my completed bow so far.
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I have a few questions about the riser and arms for the downhill ski bow. I know you have templates of the other 2 risers that you made. Do you have one for this one too? Also, How long did you cut the limbs and how long is the overall bow? Last thing. I am around 6' tall and would need a draw of about 32"-33" (I'm guessing). Is there a way to adjust it from what you have built to accommodate for a longer draw length? Thanks.
Yoshinok (author)  preachercotton1 year ago
Sorry about that! Your question sorta got buried in my email.

I do not have a drawing of this riser. I can tell you that its 18" long and that the limbs are cut to 28". Making the limbs a tad longer for your increased drawlength couldn't hurt. You can always cut the skis down again if its too long!
Well football season is over and I have my skis! Need to stop by my schools wood shop and pick up some walnut and then it's project time!
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