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DIY Archery Equipment on a Frugal Budget

If you have read some of my past topics about Frugal Exercises then you know I am a big fan of people exercising without having to spend a lot of money on the activity they are doing. People should not have to spend oodles of money on a "Bow Flex", "Shake Weight", etc.

eg. In 2014 one of the biggest exercise gadgets being promoted is bracelets and watches that estimate how many calories you are burning, your heart rate, how fast you are jogging, etc - often with attachments or Blue Tooth that attach to your phone. But do these gadgets actually get you exercising? No. Do they allow you to miraculously lose weight more effectively? No.

All such gadgets seem to do is remove money from your wallet in an effort to nerdify your workout (assuming you actually have a workout and the gadget doesn't end up collecting dust in a shoe box).

For example if you browse a list of such gadgets you are just as likely to see "Bicycle Helmet Camera" or "Earbuds for listening to Music" on the list of gadgets, as if the camera will cause you to actually go out and bicycle, or the earbuds will cause you to jog and listen to music while you jog. More likely the camera will get used once, and the earbuds will be used more often on the bus or subway en route or coming home from work.

But enough ranting. Lets talk about archery equipment.

Buying archery equipment is expensive right from the get go. Expect to spend anywhere from $120 to $350 on your first bow if you go into an archery store and ask to buy their cheapest bow. Then you also need arrows, bow stringer, finger glove (or tab or thumb ring) to protect your shooting fingers and a bracer to protect your bow arm. Quiver, store-bought targets / target butts, spare bow strings are optional.

If you want the really nice equipment, expect to be spending $400 to $900 - or $1,000 to $3,000 on the super expensive equipment.

However expensive equipment does not make a better archer. Case in point, my cousin Ken won three Canadian National Championships back in the early 1990s using a Hoyt traditional recurve that in today's prices would only be about $600 CDN. But that isn't the bow doing the work. It is the archer. (Because apparently archery skill is part of our Scottish family history, going back centuries. Although to be fair, many families have a dose of archery in their family line.)

I have seen many archers using homemade bows and performing shots that would make their ancestors proud. So you don't need a store bought or expensive bow to do archery.

But I should say however that bow making is not easy. Bow making is both a craft and an art form, because it relies on knowledge of the materials - but also on an understanding of how to make a bow which shoots effectively.

So the question then becomes, how do you do archery on a frugal budget?

Well, it depends on how frugal you want to be.

For example, I know it is possible to make a trilam bamboo bow for only $20 worth of materials - but you will end up spending closer to $60 just on tools, and making a trilam bamboo bow requires a degree of woodworking skill that is beyond most first time bow makers (and even moderately good woodworkers).

You can even buy kits for making your own bow (see http://basicallybowsarchery.com/Bow_Building.html) for roughly $120, but I think we can find a style of bow that is even cheaper and easier to make.

Which brings us to the topic of PVC. There are plenty of videos on YouTube about making PVC longbows, PVC recurves and many other styles of PVC bows. They're all super cheap, costs you about $5 to make the simplest designs, or closer to $50 if you want to make something more complex. A good YouTube channel to watch on the topic of PVC bows is BackyardBowyer.

But I have an issue with PVC bows. I have seen many people at the archery range using PVC bows, and they all inevitably break. Often in a spectacular way, which is to say a horrendous cracking noise as the PVC splinters and explodes in different directions. I have yet to see an injury from an exploding PVC bow, but they do happen.

Bhutan man using a homemade bamboo bow.
Archery is the National Sport of Bhutan.
Thus my recommendation for a frugal bow is going to be a different material entirely: Bamboo.

Now I did mention trilam bamboo bows further above, but what I am talking about here is in Indian-style Bamboo bows (Indian as in India, not Native American). People in India cannot always afford to buy a bow in stores, but archery is quite popular there and bamboo bows (and bamboo arrows) are easy to make and cheap since both bamboo and cheap labour are both very plentiful in India. (I should also note bamboo bows are also popular in Bhutan, in parts of China, and other countries in south-east Asia.)

But let us pretend you want to make your own bamboo bow. Here is what you do...

STEP ONE

Get a thick 6 foot long piece of bamboo in Toronto's Chinatown. Approx. cost $5 to $10.

STEP TWO

Using a saw, hack saw, band saw or whatever kind of saw you have handy cut the bamboo lengthwise into 3 or 4 flat pieces. Once you have the three or four pieces you need to smooth down the bamboo so it is nice and flat on the interior side (how you do this is up to you, I recommend rasps and sandpaper).

STEP THREE

Find the middle of each piece of bamboo and mark it with a pencil. Next mark the three quarters point on both ends of each piece of bamboo. Mark lines on the bamboo from where the tip of the bow will be down to the 3/4 marks on the bamboo. The triangle parts on the corners of the bamboo you've just drawn should then be removed with a saw. (Try to make sure each bamboo piece is identical in terms of where they are being cut, so when finished cutting and stacked together they look like perfect copies of each other.)

STEP FOUR

Now comes the tricky part, because you have options here and you have to decide which method suits your needs. The trick here depends on how strong you want your bow to be, how durable

Option 1 - Laminate 2 or 3 of the bamboo pieces together using wood glue or epoxy. Epoxy works best as filler, whereas glue needs to be pressed between two tight surfaces. For best results get the bamboo super flat and then use TiteBond 3 wood glue. Note - You probably don't need to use more than 3 pieces of bamboo to make your bow, using 4 pieces might make your bow too strong and impossible to pull. Use your own judgement and realize there may be some experimentation.

Option 2 - Skip laminating the bamboo together and instead wrap it tightly together using sinew, rawhide, or even duct tape... Duct tape is your cheapest option.

Option 3 - Laminate with glue AND wrap it with sinew.

Option 4 - Don't bother using multiple pieces of bamboo to make the bow, use a single piece - the bow will be very weak but functional.

STEP FIVE

Cut notches into the tips for a bow string + make a bow string out of twine, linen, silk, sisal, B55, B52 Dacron, etc.

STEP SIX

String your bow and give it a few tries with an arrow in the safety of your garage/basement/etc. The great news about working with bamboo is that you can basically skip the normal tillering process of making a bow. Bamboo has amazing tensile strength and flexibility - making it ideal for bow-making.

The end result is a bow which is functional and which will work better than any 'stick bow' you could make using found materials. Made well it will work just as good as a PVC bow, but without the danger of the PVC breaking / exploding into sharp pieces.

You will also need arrows, a bracer, a fingerglove (or tab or thumb ring) and possibly a bowstringer (although for a homemade bamboo bow, a bowstringer might be unnecessary).

If you feel you would prefer to try making a wood bow instead (out of yew, osage, ash, hickory, oak, elm, lemonwood or any of the other quality bow woods) then I recommend you purchase the following book:

The Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Volume I

Volumes II, III and IV are also good, but Volume I is the most important book because it covers all the basics of selecting/seasoning wood, design, tillering, arrow making, glues, etc.

If you are remotely good at making things with your hands you can probably figure out how to make a wood, bamboo or PVC bow. It doesn't take a genius to make something that works, but it will take several tries before you can make something you are truly proud of.

But hey, learning is a journey and you only get there when you take the first step.

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