Special Thanks to Sam Harper for allowing us to republish his tutorials and build along instructions. His expertise and knowledge in the bow-making field have greatly benefited many readers, and we are grateful for his generous permission.
I get a lot of emails asking me questions. Since The Hunger Games came out, I’ve been getting a lot more.
So far I’ve been good about answering all my emails, but it’s becoming time consuming. I figured maybe having a FAQ page might help. I can’t remember everything I’ve been asked, so I’ll just add to this as people remind me.
Why Did My Bow Break?
I don’t know, but there are a few common reasons for why bows break.
1. Bad wood grain
This is the most common reason bows break. Having straight grain will greatly reduce the chances of your bow breaking.
2. Bad tillering
This is the second most common reason bows break. Tillering your bow means distributing the flex evenly along the limbs. The more you distribute the load, the less likely your bow is to break. Hinges make your bow more likely to break.
3. Your backing overpowered your belly
If you have a material on the back that is really strong in tinsel strength and a material on the belly that is really weak in compression strength, your bow can fail. This can happen with hickory and bamboo backings that are too thick.
4. Poor wood choice
Some woods just aren’t cut out for making good bows. Western cedar is a good example. It’s just a brittle wood. Also, some woods, while being great for making bows, are terrible for backings.
Ipe is a good example. Ipe is an incredibly wonderful wood to use on the belly of a bow, but it behaves terribly when used as a backing. I never make an Ipe bow without either a hickory or a bamboo backing. Even a cloth backing is not good enough for Ipe.
5. Some imperceptible flaw in the wood
When working with wood, you have to learn to live with the occasional failure. Breaking bows is part of the lifestyle of a traditional bowyer.
6. The sovereignty of God
In Jonathan Edward’s dissertation on The End For Which God Created the World, he argued that the ultimate end for which all events happen is the glory of God.
Somehow your broken bow will result in the demonstration of God’s glory. I don’t know how, but rest assured there is a divine purpose in your bow breaking. It was not a mere pointless tragedy.
Where Do you Cut your Arrow Shelf?
About 1.25″ above center. But this is flexible. You can put it closer to the center of the bow if you want. Some people make the top limb a little longer than the bottom limb, in which case putting the shelf at the center of the bow makes sense.
Will you Make me a Bow?
No. I used to make bows for people who asked, but it stressed me out. I don’t enjoy it because I feel pressured to finish it in a reasonable amount of time and to get the weight exactly where they want it. And I feel pressured not to make mistakes.
Usually, when I make bows, I’m just doing it for the fun of it. I don’t always shoot for some specific target weight because I figure that no matter where the weight comes out to, I can find a home for the bow.
And I like to try different wood combinations or different kinds of designs. I don’t want to make a bow to somebody else’s specifications because it sucks the fun out of it. And I don’t want to be in any hurry.
This is just a hobby for me. Every now and then I’ll sell a bow or give one away, but I decided as a rule not to make custom bows to order anymore. If I do it for one person, then I’ll have to do it for everybody else, and I don’t’ want to.
What Should I make my String out of?
When are you going to finish your violin?
I don’t know. It is slow going, for sure.
Red Oak Board Build Along – Picture Explained
I don’t understand this picture on page 4 of your red oak board bow build along. Is this looking at the side of the bow or looking at the back/belly? What’s that parallel line for drawn 1/4″ along the side?
I explained this in the build along. First, notice in the picture that I labeled the front and the back. That tells you where the front and the back are (the top and bottom of the drawing), which means we are looking at the side of the bow.
That’s the 3/4″ side. The area colored in red is where you remove wood to taper the belly.
The purpose of the 1/4″ line drawn along the side is to guild you while you’re rounding the corners. I illustrated this with the next picture, which is meant to be a cross section of one of the limbs:
How Many Layers Linen Backing Instead of Dry Wall Tape?
If I want to use a linen backing instead of that fugly dry wall tape backing you have on your red oak board bow build along, how many layers should I use?
Just one. That also goes for silk and most other cloth backings. Actually, I might prefer two layers with silk. And looking back on it, I might reduce the number of layers with the dry wall backing.
I’d reduce it to two layers instead of three. But one might be enough. It depends on how bad the grain is.
Like I said in the build along, if the grain is good enough, you may not even need a backing. Keep in mind that the more layers you add, the more weight you are adding, and cloth backings don’t do any work, so that’s just dead weight slowing the bow down.
Do I Really Need a Hotbox?
The purpose of a hotbox is to help epoxy cure. You don’t need it for wood glue or Urac. You do need Urac to be at least 75°F or so. If it’s winter, a hotbox would help.
I just use my hotbox for curing Smooth On epoxy. It will cure at room temperature, so you don’t absolutely need a hotbox. But a hot box will make it cure faster. If you don’t use a hotbox, you’ll need to let it cure at least a couple of days just to be safe.
Another advantage of a hot box, so I’m told, is that it raises the temperature at which the bow will delaminate.
So if you cure your epoxy in a hotbox instead of at room temperature, your bow will be less likely to delaminate in case you leave it in a hot car on a summer day.
Speaking of hot cars on summer days, they make great hot boxes. Just leave your bow in the car in the sun for five hours or so, and it should be fine.
Disclaimer: Sam Harper owns the rights to this article’s images and written content.