Intro: Making an Ash Recurve Bow
**Please note that this is an ongoing project. I'm publishing it so you can all watch as it develops. Feel free to comment with any suggestions, criticisms or advice you may have. I'd love to hear it.**
In this instructable, I will be showing you how to make an ash recurve bow from tree to deadly weapon.
I know that there are a lot of other bow instructables on here, but many of them are bad (sorry but its true) or downright dangerous (I've seen some nasty results from shattering PVC). I'm going to show you how to make a good bow for hunting, target shooting or whatever.
Shown is another ash bow I made to give you an idea of what the finished piece will look like.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
You can make a bow with just a knife, but a few basic tools will make it much easier.
Regular belt knife
Ruler or tape measure
Half-round rasp and half-round doublecut file or 4-way shoe rasp
Scraper of some sort
Hatchet or axe
Some assorted sandpaper
2 m of cord with with at least 100 Kg breaking strain (3 mm braided nylon cord will work well.)
Pencil or other marking tool (sharpie not recommended)
Finish (wax, oil, et cereta)
* Note that power tools are not recommended because it is too easy to ruin a good stave.
Step 2: Finding a Stave
First you need to find a tree. Look for a smaller tree 15 to 20 cm in diameter. Good choices are ash or oak. There are others but those two are the easiest for a beginner. Both are very common.
Next you need to cut that tree down. That's whats the hatchet or axe is for. If you don't know how to cut a tree down, please get some help from someone who does. When the tree is felled you need to cut off a straight section 1.6 to 2 meters long. and split it into quarters.
The stave then needs to dry for about a month now. Debarking now will be easier than trying to debark later, but be careful not to damage the back or you'll have more work to do in the next step. To prevent cracks while drying, put some glue on the back and the ends. Regular Elmer's white school glue works fine.
My stave for this instructable is shown.
Step 3: The Back
If your stave has a pristine back (any small blemishes can be sanded out) you can skip this step. If there are some bigger nicks or bug damage, like my stave has, you'll need to chase a ring.
Chasing a ring is a technique used to lower the entire back of the stave to a single growth ring and remove any bad wood outside that ring. My stave is bug damaged all over the back so I will be removing the first four rings. For this step you can remove all four rings in one go, or you can remove three now and finish the last ring when the bow is being roughed out. Leaving a thin part of the ring over your final goal will help protect the back from bumps and scratches as well as giving you more time to practice before finishing the back. The number of rings you need to remove depends on the condition of your stave. If the stave is already in good condition, you may need to only remove one ring or just sand the back a little.
The tools used for chasing a ring are a drawknife (used most often), scraper, regular knife, files/rasp for knots, sandpaper, and maybe a hatchet (not usually). The first step is to mark the target ring on the endgrain (BOTH ENDS!). Then you can start to remove the outermost ring. A good technique is to push the drawknife into the spongy earlywood between the first two rings and pry a section off. This is one reason oak or ash is preferred. Maple, for example, doesn't have obvious rings. This technique dulls the drawknife and you will have to resharpen it for later.
Another option is to cut through the ring and remove it in slices. The drawknife will stay sharper, but this method takes more work. When you get close to the goal, use the scraper to remove that last thin layer, and finally, sand.
When the back is ready, you can go on to the next step, layout.
Step 4: Layout
To layout your design (you do have one, right?) You want to start by finding the section of the stave you want to use. Your bow design may only be 67 inches, but your stave may be 82". Find a good, straight, 67 inch section and mark lines across the stave at both ends of that section. Always mark on the back because it won't get removed during shaping. Next, measure 1/4 inch outside of those lines and cut the ends off. You should now be left with a stave that is 1/2 inch longer than your design. The extra 1/2 inch will be removed later.
Now you want to find the midpoint between the two endmarks and draw a line across the stave. This marks the center of the handle. Once the midpoint is found, you want to find the centerline. The centerline is the line that travels long ways down the back of the bow and will intersect both tips and the handle. To find this line, put one end of the string at each endmark where you want the nock to be and pull it tight (see pictures). Draw a line along the string. Finish the rest of the markings by measuring away from the centerline and midpoint.
My stave has a nasty burl in the top limb so I will draw the limb curving to one side to avoid it. It's alright as long as both tips line up with each other and the handle.
Step 5: Roughing Out; Part 1: Width Profile
In this step you remove all the wood outside of your drawings. It's easier to explain this step by seeing, so look at the pictures. Use a hatchet to start, drawknife next, then finish with the rasp and file. Remember to always pay attention to the grain so the bowstave doesn't split.
Step 6: Roughing Out; Part 2: Thickness Profile
Before you start this step, you should choose a target draw weight. My target is 30-40 lbs, a nice cross between power, light enough to shoot over and over without wearing me out). Following this design, anything between 25 lbs to 55 lbs is fine. Other designs can have higher or lower weights. If you want to use this bow for hunting, make sure the draw weight is high enough for the animal you plan to hunt.
This step is simple, draw a line on the sides 1/2 inch or so from the back. Cut the belly down to the line except at the handle. The handle should be at full thickness yet and taper down to the limbs at both sides.
Step 7: Bending
It's finally time to bend the bow! You couldn't wait so you tried this already though, didn't you? :P Don't worry, as long as you weren't really rough on it you didn't cause any damage. To begin, place the bottom tip of your bow against the inside of your foot with the bow's back against your foot/shoe and grab the handle with your hand on the same side as the foot you are using. Place your other hand against the back of the bow near the top. Now bend it slowly, not a lot but enough to where you can see the wood start to bend a bit. One limb is probably bending more than the other. Remove wood from the belly of that limb until it bends roughly the same as the other one. If one part of a limb bends more than the rest, remove wood from everyplace else. If the bow limbs twist when bent remove a little bit of wood from the side that twists toward where the shooter would be. Remove wood from the bow's belly (keeping the limbs bending evenly) until the bow bends about 15-20 cm with some effort.