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Stabilizers for Archery - How do they work?

If you are new to archery you may have noticed that many Olympic archers and hunters have a big long or heavy thing attached to the front of their bow - an object known as a Stabilizer.

It isn't a brand name or anything like that. Many different companies make stabilizers for different kinds of bows. You can even make your own stabilizer if you have the right materials (see section below on making your own).

Olympic bows often use long thin stabilizers made of rubber and carbon fibre, and hunters typically use short, fat and heavy stabilizers made of heavier materials.

The purpose of a stabilizer is to reduce the vibrations in the bow so that during the release your bow-hand doesn't jerk upwards, downwards, left or right so much. You can try to reduce these vibrations a bit by softening your grip on the bow and relaxing your bow arm (your arm will jerk more if its stiff), but you still need a good strong arm to hold the bow steady.

Thus stabilizers are essentially a gadget for people who want to improve the quality of their shots - without doing all the exercising required to have stronger / steadier arms.



If you pay attention you will also note that there is no one "perfect stabilizer" that is "one size fits all". Many of the stabilizers that Olympic archers use are very different from the ones used by hunters, and even very different from one another's stabilizers too. Typically an Olympic stabilizer will be quite long (two to three feet) and usually consist of carbon and rubber.

In contrast hunting stabilizers are often less than a foot in length, but thicker, heavier and have a lot more rubber to dampen vibrations.

Many of the hottest selling stabilizers are nothing more than a heavy piece of rubber cut into an interesting pattern to make it look intimidating. These small rubber stabilizers are more for looks than actual functionality.

That doesn't mean they don't help to stabilize the bow - they do help to do that, but if they were designed better they would function and do that task better.

Some people (mostly bowhunters) have been led to believe that the primary function of a stabilizer is to reduce hand shock, eliminate noise and bow vibration - which it does do, totally ignoring that the real primary function is to keep the bow steady and stable while a person is shooting.
“There is no question that a stabilizer helps reduce hand shock, bow noise and vibration, but one of the main reasons bowhunters should hunt with a stabilizer is because it helps keep a bow steady and stable when shooting. That’s why it’s called a stabilizer,” says Bill Leven, owner of Doinker Stabilizers.

At first glance, you will realize that stabilizers come in all shapes and sizes. The most important parts are those that incorporate a series of components that are scientifically proven to do their job. All stabilizers screw into the bow, some versions employ a more sophisticated anatomy, whereas others can be downright simple.

If they are made of all one material - typically rubber, metal or plastic - then the stabilizer in question might be designed for weight or it might be designed for dampening. A rubber stabilizer for example will be made for dampening vibrations and a metal stabilizer is made for weight.

The more complex stabilizers will use a balance of rubber, metal and/or plastic, attempting to combine weight and dampening in the same gadget. How well this performs will depend on the quality of the design and the individual archer.


THE STABILIZER BODY

The main body of most stabilizers typically consists of a solid tube. Historically, many stabilizer bodies were made out of metal because the weight makes it more stable - however you don't want to add too much weight to the bow because then your bow-arm can shake anyway if its too weak, thus you want to find a nice medium weight that your arm can handle.

If any weight is to be added, it should be done in the right place - the end of the stabilizer, after the dampening material. Many companies now use carbon fibre, ABS plastic and similar materials to make stabilizer bodies as light and rigid as possible. Some of these materials are chosen because they will sell, but they don't make a good stabilizing material, eg. titanium sounds cool, but it doesn't actually make a good stabilizer because it doesn't absorb vibrations that well.

Carbon fibre is the most popular choice these days.

VIBRATION DAMPENING COMPONENT

This is arguably the most important part of the modern stabilizer. Many companies use a type of rubber, gel or even sand to serve as the dampening component. All of these materials have dampening capability, but the most common choice is rubber.

It is important for dampening to occur where it’s most beneficial and effective. Vibration must be transferred properly away from the bow and out of the stabilizer end. By strategically placing the dampening materials away from the bow end of the stabilizer it will maximize the dampener’s effectiveness.

THE WEIGHT

In order to maximize effectiveness, the weight should come after the rubber material at the end of the stabilizer where it is furthest from the bow. The weight is meant to ground and draw away the vibrations from the rest of the bow. It serves as a counterbalance, and is what keeps the bow stable when being shot.

The heavy front-end weight combined with a rubber dampener directly behind it is designed so to assist in canceling out vibration. Stabilizers of the past were a solid piece of metal or rubber, and the moment the stabilizer was attached to a bow, they became “one unit", which means the bow still vibrates as part of the stabilizer. When a bow is shot with a quality weighted and dampened stabilizer, the vibration simply moves from the bow through the stabilizer and going to the weight at the far end, being dampened along the way. The vibration is cancelled out when it meets the rubber because the weighted front-end is allowed to oscillate at a different frequency than the rest of the stabilizer and bow. This turns the vibration into motion, which does not affect the rest of the bow.

Conclusions - Aim to select a stabilizer with a weighted front-end that has some type of dampening device directly behind it.

THE RIGHT LENGTH / CUSTOMIZATION

This comes down to personal choice. Honestly, you won't know what is right for you until you try many different stabilizers on the archery range and determine which one you like best - and get the most accuracy with.

I also highly recommend getting a stabilizer that you can customize and modify. Some stabilizers have added parts you can remove, add on, change. This allows you to select the right length, weight and materials that is right for you.

I suggest a systematic and scientific approach whereby you track your score on a target and try to determine which combination works best for you.

MAKING YOUR OWN

Start by getting a 5 / 16th by 24 bolt. (The 24 stands for thread count per inch. The most common bolt thread count is 18 per inch, so you will need to find a hardware store that sells other types of thread counts.)

If in doubt about bolt sizes, go to your local hardware store and take the riser from your bow with you and look for bolts that are labelled " 5/16 - 24 ". Then try the bolt on your riser to see how it fits. If you try using a 5/16 - 18 bolt you will discover it only goes in a little bit and then stops. The reason is because its the wrong thread count.

Once you have the bolt you need to decide what kind of stabilizer you want to make. How big is the body? What kind of dampening material? How much weight?

For example for the stabilizer I am making I am going to try using a wooden body, rubber and I haven't decided what the weight will be yet, but I am thinking maybe ivory or bone if I can find it. I want my stabilizer to be epitome of natural materials. How well it will work, I shall find out, but for now its just an experiment.

I recommend trying to make your stabilizer customizable so you can change components and try different things. How you design it is up to you.

However if you really need and want someone else to make the designs for you just Google the topic: how to make your own archery stabilizer and you will find approx. 300 pages on the topic for you to pick and choose from.

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