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.
Smooth On is a 2 part epoxy. I use it for most of my bow making applications, especially fiberglass laminated bows. It has several properties that make it desirable:
1. It cures very slowly. This gives you lots of working time so if you’re gluing up a laminated bow and something goes awry, you don’t have to panic. Or, if you’re gluing up a bow, and you run out of glue before you’re finished, you’ve still got time to mix up some more.
Smooth On will cure without a hotbox, but it takes a long time, like maybe two days or longer if it’s really cold. With a hotbox, you can cure it in about four hours. From what I’ve read, curing it in a hotbox is better for a couple of reasons:
(1) it raises the temperature at which delamination occurs, so if you leave it in a hot car in the summer, it’ll be less likely to delaminate, and
(2) it cures harder in a hotbox than at room temperature.
2. It does a good job of filling gaps. Smooth On is on the thick side, and it doesn’t shrink when it cures, so if your gluing surfaces are not perfectly flat or matched, you won’t have gaps. The glue will fill the gaps.
3. It cures clear, for the most part. I say “for the most part” because it’s only clear if it’s thin. If you cure a 1/4″ thick piece of it, it’ll be a little cloudy. But when you laminate a bow with clear fiberglass, you’ll be able to see the wood underneath clearly. That’s why I use this for fiberglass laminated bows.
4. It’ll stick to just about anything. The only thing I’ve found it not to stick to is the back of bamboo if it still has the rind on it. It’ll stick, but it pries off easily with a pocket knife.
5. It’s flexible. You don’t want to use any kind of brittle glue on a bow. Some epoxies, like Loctite 5 minute epoxy, are too brittle for bows, but Smooth On is perfect.
I use Smooth On for gluing up fiberglass laminated bows as well as bamboo or hickory backed bows. I also use it for gluing on tip overlays and back-of-the-handle overlays. You can also use it for applying a fiberglass cloth backing to your bow.
If the glue saturates the fiberglass cloth, it’ll create a transparent backing, so you can still see the wood underneath.
I used this method on an eastern red cedar English longbow because I wanted to disguise the fact that it had a backing, but I still wanted the protection. It turned out very well. People can’t tell there’s a backing on it unless I point it out to them, and they look closely.
I get my Smooth On at Three Rivers Archery, though I’m sure there are other places to get it. It comes in two pint sized cans–one for the glue and one for the hardener. The hardener looks like caramel, but don’t eat it!
If you put the hardener and the glue together, it looks like the inside of a cadbury creme egg, and it’s very tempting to eat it. Don’t do it, though.
I’m not sure what the shelf life is, but after about a year, the hardener will begin to stink.
Smooth On is thick, especially when it’s cold. You can thin it by heating it up a little. If I’m gluing up a bow in the winter, sometimes I’ll boil a small pot of water. Then I take the pot off of the stove and set my plastic bowl of Smooth On on top of it. That keeps the Smooth On warm so it’s easier to work with. I don’t bother heating it in the summer.
Bow Grip 100
I’ve never used Bow Grip, but I’ll tell you what I know. It is an alternative to Smooth On and has many of the same properties. Supposedly, it was created for the purpose of making fiberglass laminated bows, so it also cures clear. I saw a video of Justin (of G.I. Bows who used to own Bowstick Archery) using it to apply a fiberglass cloth backing to his bow. Judging by the video, it has a lower viscosity than Smooth On. He mixed it up in a cup and poured it on the back of his bow. Smooth On doesn’t pour that way. Don’t bother looking for the video. It no longer exists. I’ve even looked for it on the Wayback machine.
I’ve seen some negative comments about Bow Grip 100 on discussion forums, so you might want to read around before deciding to try it.
You can get Bow Grip at Kustom King Traditional Archery.
Here’s a glue I’ve never used, but I know people who have. It’s a two part glue–one part powder, and one part liquid. It works great for gluing bamboo or hickory backings on your bow or if you want to make an all wood laminated bow.
It’s coloured, though, so I wouldn’t use it with fiberglass. It might work with black fiberglass, though. I don’t know. I’ve never heard of anybody using it with fiberglass.
It’s cheaper than Smooth On, which is why a lot of people use it for all wood/grass bows. It doesn’t require a hot box, but you need to keep it above 72ºF. If you have some left over, you can stick it in the refrigerator and use it the next day.
Urac has good gap filling properties, which makes it good for gluing backings or laminated bows.
You can get Urac at nelsonpaint.com. I don’t think they make it anymore, but they might still have some left from when they did make it.
Word on the street is that Unibond 800 is basically the replacement for Urac-185 since they’re not making Urac-185 anymore.
I don’t know anything about Unibond except that it’s basically an equivalent to Urac and works just as well. It is also available at nelsonpaint.com and other places (google around).
Titebond I, II, and III
Titebond is a yellowish wood glue, and that’s pretty much all I use it for. Well, that and bamboo. I’ve never tried Titebond I; just II and III. III is a little more expensive than II, but it dries harder and is supposed to be more water-resistant.
I’ve used Titebond II or III for all wood laminated or backed bows, and there are a couple of things I’ve learned. First, it shrinks when it dries. So if your gluing surfaces aren’t perfectly matched, you’ll end up with gaps.
I had gaps in my first attempt at a bamboo backed bow. I filled them by putting some Titebond in a Dr. Pepper cap, sucking it up with a syringe, and injecting it into the gaps. That worked.
Second, Titebond will not dry if you wrap the bow in plastic. I wrap my bows in plastic when using Smooth On just to keep the glue from getting on the clamps, forms, and me, but with Titebond, you have to leave it unwrapped.
I discovered that the first time I tried to make an all-wood laminated bow. I had it wrapped in plastic, and I could see through the plastic for several days that the glue was still wet.
I finally cut the plastic all along the sides, and took off as much of it as I could, and the glue finally dried.
I don’t use Titebond to laminate bows anymore, but there are other uses for it. I sometimes use it to glue handles together before I glue them to the bow.
I have noticed, though, that sometimes after the bow has been shot in, those glue lines will begin to bulge, and you can feel them when you run your hands across them.
I think this is because the Titebond isn’t really that hard, and when you apply pressure to the handle, it squeezes some of it out even after it’s dry.
Another use for Titebond is applying cloth backings to your bow. It works great with linen, silk, or paper. I’ve heard of people using it to apply rawhide backings, too. And, they use it for snake skin backings. I’ve never tried that, though.
Whenever I use Titebond for anything, I always give it 24 hours to dry.
You can get Titebond in just about any hardware store, and also Walmart.
2 ton, 5 minute, 30 minute Epoxies
You see this glue all over the place–even in grocery stores–sold in a double barrel syringe. I don’t like the double barrel syringe for a couple of reasons. First, although the theory seems sound (to make it easy to measure out equal quantities of the glue and hardener), the reality doesn’t match the theory.
The problem is that over time (mere weeks), the glue will get thicker than the hardener, which makes it very difficult to get equal parts of each when you squeeze the syringe. I recently solved that problem by cutting the syringe in half and keeping the barrels separate.
But I found some 30 minute epoxy at Hobby Lobby that was sold in separate bottles, and I got that. It worked really well for a long time. Then the glue side began to coagulate, and before I could even use half of it, it became unusable.
I never use the 5 minute epoxy for anything because it cures too fast which stresses me out. I only use the 30 minute epoxy.
The only reason I use it is because it allows me to get to work on something the same day instead of having to put it in a hotbox and wait four hours or until the next day. It’s also more convenient than mixing up Smooth On when I want to do a small job.
I have used it to put nocks on my arrows because it’s pretty solid, and it’s crystal clear, which is nice when my nocks are transparent.
I’ve also used it to glue overlays on my bows. Although I’ve never had any failures, I’ve done some reading on line, and a lot of people think it’s a bad idea to use it on tip overlays because it’s too brittle.
Some people have had their tip overlays break off. So I don’t use it for tip overlays anymore, but I figure it’s still safe to use on overlays in non-bending parts of the bow, like the back of the handle, or decorative overlays on the fades.
I also use it to splice my laminations together when doing a laminated bow. It works great for that.
I sometimes use it when I make arrows. I’ll put a dab of it on the leading and trailing edges of my feathers. I like it because it’s clear and leaves the arrow looking nice, but I don’t have to worry about the feathers snagging on something and getting ripped off.
I usually mix it up in a bottle cap and stir it with a little sliver of wood or bamboo.
Gorilla Super Glue Impact Tough
I’ve never used this, but I read a thread on Archertalk.com where a guy compared several different fletching glues, and he convinced me to start using this one to do all my fletching. Apparently it works really well because it cures fast and hard.
I used to use fletching tape all the time and never had any problems with it. But lately, I’ve had problems with it. I think the problems might be attributed to two things.
First, my fletching tape is a few years old, so it probably doesn’t stick as well as it used to. Second, I switched the kind of finish I put on my arrows.
I used to use Spar Urethane, but lately, I’ve been using Thunderbird conversion that they sell at Three Rivers Archery. I don’t know if that’s the cause or not, but lately I’ve had a lot of problems keeping my feathers on. That’s why I’ve decided to switch to Gorilla Super Glue Impact Tough.
The thing I like about fletching tape is how easy it is to use and how quickly you can fletch your arrows. You don’t have to wait for any glue to cure.
You just stick it on and go to the next feather. I would still put a dab of glue on the leading edge of the feathers, though, to keep them from snagging and getting ripped off.
I get my fletching tape at Three Rivers Archery, but I’ve seen it in other archery stores.
Hot Melt Glue
I found a hot glue gun at a dollar store for a dollar, and a big bag of glue sticks for a dollar. I’ve been using that for years to glue the points on my arrows. It cools off really quick, which is a bit of an inconvenience.
But I put some on the end of the arrow, then slide the tip on. It won’t go on all the way, but I come back once I’ve them all on, heat them over a candle flame, then twist them on all the way. It holds pretty well.
The advantage of using a hot melt glue is that it makes it easier to take the field points off and put some broadheads on if you want.
Or, if you break an arrow and want to salvage the point, it’s easy to take off. You just heat it over a candle which melts the glue, and you can pull it right off.
Or, if your arrow broke right at the tip, you can put it in a pot of boiling water and get the wood out with a pair of needle nose pliers or a little screw.
This is another hot melt glue, but it doesn’t require a gun. It’s just a stick of amber coloured glue you heat over a candle and rub it on the tip of the arrow. Then put the tip on, reheat it over a candle, and twist the tip on all the way. You can also remove your tips easily by reheating them.
Like the hot melt, I use it exclusively to put points on my arrows. I’m not sure whether it holds better than the white hot melt. I’ve never had a tip come off with either glue.
I find Ferr-L Tite to be a little more difficult to work with than the white hot melt, but it’s not too bad.
I got mine at Three Rivers Archery, but I’m sure you can get it at other places.
People use super glue for all kinds of things, including if you want to glue your fingers together. If you have an oily wood like Bocote or Cocobola that your favourite bow finish won’t dry on, put some super glue on it and wipe it all over with a rag. Then lightly sand it, and your finish should work.
You can also use superglue to fill tiny cracks and checks in your wood. It has no trouble penetrating the tiny cracks because it’s so thin, and it practically gets wicked down in the cracks.
I used it on a bamboo backed Osage bow last year (2013) because my Osage developed some cracks along the grain. It filled the cracks, and after hundreds of shots, I’ve never had any problems with that bow.
Barge cement is great for gluing leather. I don’t glue my leather handle wraps on, but a lot of people do, and they use Barge cement.
People also use it to glue on leather strike plates or arrow shelf material. And, it works great for knife sheaths.
I’m talking about the stuff you get at Walmart that comes in a black tube with white letters, and it’s kind of white. I’ve used this for gluing leather things, too. It doesn’t work quite as well as Barge cement, but it’s okay to use if you’re unemployed and can’t afford Barge cement.
Disclaimer: Sam Harper owns the rights to this article’s images and written content.