Introduction: Making a Wooden Bowgrip
My sport has been archery for longer than I care to admit, and I think this is an opportunity to share my other hobby, woodworking. The techniques used here should also apply to making a saw handle, knife scales etc.
Tools I've used are a DW625 router, though other models will work fine, it's fitted with a 12mm template bit (i.e with a bearing above the cutter). A coping saw, file, random orbit sander, bow sander, assorted chisels, a couple of quickclamps and various grits of sandpaper. I won't cover actual use of the router as there are plenty of guides already out there, check out the Woodworking Class by Mikeasaurus.
The standard bowgrip fitted to my bow is injection moulded plastic, it works, but isn’t pretty. Replacement custom grips can be expensive, and yet still not quite right. Adding car bodyfiller also works and is ugly. Making my own grip enables me to customise it for my hand shape and, importantly, make it look good!
If I decide to make it with a solid block of wood, the problem is how to accurately cut/carve the 5/8” wide mounting groove. Not impossible though. I don’t feel a router would work as it’s in 3 dimensions with a curve at the bottom, possibly unsafe too. My decision is to make a template and then rout two halves and then make a glueup. I’ve chosen Jatoba, a) it’s a tropical hardwood which should be suitable for exterior use, b) it’s good looking, and c) I have an offcut, so it’s free!
Step 1: Preparation
I start by making a template from an old cereal box. I’ve cut one for the inside curve of throat of the handle and a 2nd one for the outside curve of the grip (where it fits over the handle). Both sides are the same so I can use the same template for each half, just flipped over. I’ve identified which side is which on the template. I also spotted that the grip mounting screws have individual holes, they don’t line up, hmm.
The next stage is to make a plywood copy of the cardboard template, followed by a test piece in a piece of oak panel. I used a coping saw and my stationary belt sander.
Step 2: Test Pieces
The routing is done on a grippy rubber mat (to hold the workpiece in place) with the template secured to the workpiece using double sided tape. I’ve made another cardboard template to tell me the offset needed for the two routing operations. It also enables the two halves to be identical.
Initial routing is done on the outside edge of the workpiece, being careful of grain direction. I rout ~3mm cuts each pass. The workpiece is large to make the job safer and more manageable. In the 2nd stage I turn the template around and align using the offset template. For the 2nd half I just flip the template over, rinse and repeat.
What did I learn from the test piece? 1) Plane the workpiece to the desired final thickness, i.e. ½ the final grip thickness as this will dramatically reduce the final shaping. 2) My short template cutter is too short for the outer shape of the grip, this will be fixed by starting off with thinner material. 3) The cutter is too long for the inner shape, the bearing can’t touch the template when thinner material is used. The solution is to make a new inner template but in a thicker material. Phew, who knew test pieces were so useful?
Step 3: And the Real Grip...
For this step it is really just a repeat of what was learned with the test pieces.
Step 4: Slight Modifications Needed
Test fit the halves onto the bow and together. It’s easier to drill the mounting holes beforethe grips are shaped. These holes are counterbored, not countersunk, luckily my Kreg pocket hole drill is perfect for the job. Some minor shaping was needed as the bow handle had an extra machining detail I needed to account for.
Step 5: The Glueup
I very lightly sanded the glue surfaces and degreased them with denatured alcohol as some tropical hardwoods are slightly oily. I used Titebond 3 for the glueup, as it’s an exterior grade glue, and wrapped the bow handle in food wrap to stop the grip accidentally glueing to the handle. And yes, that is a silicone pastry brush… The two grip halves in place with their allen screws and a couple of quick clamps, this was left overnight.
Step 6: The Morning Following the Glueup...
After the glue dried, I removed the clamps and foodwrap. I marked which parts of the grip I’d like to remove and started shaping the bowgrip to the desired form. I used a coping saw, random orbital sander, assorted chisels, a drill with a rotary rasp and a stationary beltsander. I need to be very careful not to take off too much wood and weaken the grip, or even break through the throat section. The minor brainwave of fitting the grip to a wooden batten so it could be clamped in a vice was good too.
Step 7: Shaping
I fitted the grip to the bow and shot a few test arrows. It certainly feels a bit ‘chunky’ in the hand but ensures the hand position I’m after. Final sanding was with a homemade sanding bow and an orbital sander. I started with 60 grit and worked up to 120 grit. I’ve decided to stop with 120 grit. While Jatoba can attain a high lustre with grain filler and fine grits, I don’t want to grip to be slippery in damp conditions or with a sweaty hand. The sanding bow was great for the throat of the grip. Big thanks to WoodbyWright for getting me started on a sanding bow, though his looks better than mine!
Step 8: Finishing
This is the 1st coat of finish, I used Osmo oil. These final two pictures are after 2 coats of Osmo oil, they’re taken outside in natural light conditions, though not bright sunlight.
Step 9: The Finished Product
Et voila! The finished bowgrip installed in my target recurve. Now I need to do some more training and see how it performs in other competitions.