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How to Oil a Wooden Longbow or Flatbow - FAQ

On a rainy day (like today) it is a good habit to remember to oil any wood bows that you used outside.

Now in my case, I ended up shooting inside my garage today because it is just plain pouring today - and spitting even at the best of times.

Today I wanted to shoot one of my antique longbows - a wooden flatbow made by "Archery Craft Toronto", circa 1960s. But just walking from my home to the garage gets the bow a little wet from walking in the rain.

Fortunately I routinely oil my wooden bows each time I use them and they get wet. This is a good habit to get into, so if you know if your bow got wet you should remember to wipe it down afterwards and give it a quick oiling.

What Type of Oil should you use?

Well, for starters, don't use WD40 or any oil meant for machinery. That is just plain wrong.

Oils used for protecting wood are usually made from mineral / plant oils or animal grease.

You do not have to use Tung Oil. This is just for example.
I used both linseed oil and mineral oil. However there is a broad range of oils out there that are available. For example I know that Mike Meusel, the Toronto Bowyer, prefers to use tung oil. Some people prefer teak oil or gunstock oil, although it often depends on what they have handy / within their price range.

Traditionalists often prefer animal grease - such as deer grease, bear grease, or other kinds of animal fat. I even know one person who uses bacon grease.

What kind of oil doesn't matter so much as you might think. Some oils last longer, some provide a thicker protective layer, some sinks into the pores of the wood better, there are pros and cons.
  • Mineral oil is cheap. Does a decent job.
  • Boiled linseed oil does a good job. Takes awhile to dry.
  • Tung oil is more expensive. Dries faster.
Generally speaking it is considered a good idea to use multiple different kinds of oil, that way you get multiple layers of oil which protect the surface of the wooden bow.

Some archers might prefer to use type of more expensive / better quality oil that provides a good protection and a nice shine. Others might simply use whatever they have available. Others might prefer to use a mix of both plant oils and animal grease. Some archers even have their own "special recipe" that they like to use.

What is more important is that you are at least oiling the bow to protect it from water damage.

Should I clean the bow before oiling it?

Does it look like it needs to be cleaned? Yes? Then the answer it yes, you should probably clean it.

Before oiling you may decide you want to first clean your bow, possibly using rubbing alcohol or fine grit sandpaper. Sandpaper should be something you want to avoid using unless the bow is in really bad shape and needs some heavy duty cleaning. I have purchased some antique longbows and recurves in the past which were "absolutely disgusting" and needed to be thoroughly cleaned because they were covered in guck and stains, and that is a good time to get out the sandpaper. Otherwise rubbing alcohol works very well.

There may be other cleaning products out there that are safe to use on bows, but those are the only two things I use.

How do you apply the Oil to your bow?

I recommend using paper towels and pouring a small amount of oil on to the paper towel (a lint free cotton cloth also works well) and then proceed to rub the wooden areas of your bow with the oil in a manner similar to using sand paper on wood.

After everything is well oiled wipe it clean with a second paper towel and then store in the open air. (Do not stick it back inside a bow sock or case right away.)

If you are using multiple different kinds of oil, I recommend starting with the cheapest oil first and repeat this process with each oil, using the most expensive oil last. So for example I would use the mineral oil first, and then the linseed oil. (The order you use might depend on personal preference however.)

How often should you oil your wooden bow?

Honestly, once it has a good layer of oil on there, it should be fine - as long as it doesn't get soaked in water for long periods of time. For paranoid archers like myself however, I routinely oil any bow that gets remotely wet. I would rather be paranoid about it than to later discover I had forgotten to oil one of my wooden bows and it became damaged as a result of negligence.

Should I use wax finish or expensive wood finishes?

Not a necessity, but some people may decide to do so for the sake of appearance. Some traditionalists might use a beeswax paste to apply a more waxy finish to the bow, but that is mostly for the sake of appearance. For the purposes of protecting the wood waxes are unnecessary. I personally don't use waxy finishes on any of my bows, but I might decide to use them in future on my homemade flatbows in the future just to give them a waxier look, especially if I am planning to sell them.

For the purpose of selling a bow, it makes sense to wax a bow before showing it to a potential buyer, in the same way someone selling their car should probably use car wax before showing it to someone who is thinking of purchasing. Generally speaking, the shinier something is the more people are willing to spend on it.

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