Many people are intrigued by the idea of making their own bow, but they are intimidated by the thought of making a wooden bow. This is totally understandable since making a wooden bow involves so much in the way of procuring the right materials, taking the time to season the wood, and then making the actual bow; all with no guarantee that the bow will turn out to be an effective shooter.
Well what if I told you that there’s a way that you can make a bow in one day, and that said bow is made from readily available low cost materials, and that the bow is virtually guaranteed to work. Would you be interested then? Well, it’s not just a pipe dream. This is a bow that anyone can make and it won’t take a lot of time or cost you an arm and a leg. It’s the amazing PVC bow.
PVC, or poly-vinyl-chloride, pipe is one of the most widely used plumbing pipes in the world today, and it is readily available from big-box and local hardware stores almost anywhere. To make this bow we are going to use ¾ inch schedule 40 PVC pipe. A ten foot piece of this pipe at my local hardware store costs about three dollars, U.S., and that is enough to make two bows.
Tools you will need to make this bow include a tape measure, a pencil, a hacksaw, two or three wood clamps, a rat-tail file, a flat wood rasp, a small piece of 80 grit sand paper, and of course you will need something to make a string out of. You can use your kitchen stove to heat the PVC for this project, but a heat gun makes the job a lot easier. I bought a heat gun for $20.00 U.S. at a discount tool store, and I have used it to make several bows as well as other projects around the house.
You will also need a few pieces of scrap lumber to make a simple jig. The jig is super easy to make and shouldn’t take more than ten minutes for construction.
So, let’s get started. Assuming that you have a ten foot joint of PVC, let’s make our bow five feet long. that way we can get two bows out of this one pipe. So step one is to use your hacksaw and cut a five foot piece of ¾ inch, schedule 40 PVC.
When the pipe is cut, measure to the center and make a mark. Then measure and make a mark three inches on each side of the center mark. This six inch section will be the handle of your bow.
When you have your PVC cut it is time to taper the limbs down. To do this, you will heat the PVC until it is pliable and then press it between two flat boards to leave it thick at the handle and tapered down to flat at the ends.
I found that the easiest way to do this is to build a simple jig out of a few pieces of scrap lumber. The base of the jig is a piece of 2 x 6 that is 36 inches long. The top board of the jig is a 36 inch 1 x 4.
To hold the PVC in place while it is being heated and shaped, I nailed a couple of 1 ½ by 1 ½ inch blocks on each side of the pipe. These blocks need to be the same height as the thickness of your pipe. In this case they are one inch tall.
I recommend that you pre-drill the blocks to keep them from splitting when you nail them down.
I also nailed a couple of 2 x 4 blocks under each end of the bottom base board. This lifts the whole jig up so that you can get your wood clamps onto the jig without a big hassle.
So, now you need to heat the PVC to make it pliable. You can do this over a burner on your stove, but I have found that an inexpensive heat gun, $20 U.S., works better for this part of the project. We are going to shape one limb at a time on the bow, so set your PVC into the jig with the center mark between the small blocks and fire up your heat gun. Heating the PVC evenly takes a little practice. You need to keep the heat gun moving slowly up and down the pipe, and keep turning the pipe so that you heat it all the way around. Make sure that the end of the pipe is well heated, as this is the part that will be flattened out the most in your jig. If you are using your stove to heat the PVC, keep the pipe moving, and keep turning it.
You can tell when the pipe is ready to shape because when you lift it, it will sag easily.
Now is the time to move fast. Place your pipe in the jig with the end of the handle section even with the edge of the small block. Place the top board over the PVC, and press it down. Quickly attach your clamps and squeeze the down tight. The end of the pipe should be pressed completely flat.
Let everything sit for about five minutes and then remove the clamps and the top board. Your pipe should be evenly tapered from the round handle to the flat end.
If it isn’t tapered correctly, or if the limb went a little crooked, don’t despair. The great thing about working with PVC is that if things don’t go right, you just heat it up and go again. As long as you haven’t scorched the pipe, there’s virtually nothing that you can’t correct.
OK, you’re half way there. Now do the same thing to the other limb. When you have both limbs tapered it time to round each tip off to give your bow a more finished appearance and to cut the string nocks. Use your hack saw, wood rasp and sandpaper to round the tips.
Then use your rat-tail file and sandpaper to form the string nocks.
You can make a simple string by twisting together six strands of artificial sinew that are about one-and-a-half times as long as your bow. Tie an overhand loop in one end and then tie the other end off as you string the bow. The string will stretch a little at first, but you can correct this by unhooking the loop and twisting the string tighter. This will shorten the string. Keep making this adjustment until you have the brace height that you want.
That’s it! Your bow is ready to shoot. Your five foot bow should be pulling at around 30 lbs. at 28” draw. If you make a shorter bow, the poundage will naturally be higher.
If you want to dress the bow up a little you can give it a couple of coats of black heel and edge shoe dye.
And then it’s time to head to the range.