FYI: The string referred to in this post is the one I made for the walnut bamboo longbow in this series. The critique of that bow follows this string thing because one needs a string to shoot the bow for critique purposes.
If you really want to learn to make a bowstring, fly to the bottom of this post and check out my string mentor, Nick Tomihama’s videos. The videos below are the ones I watched before attempting my first string.
On the other hand, if you’re killing time or want to wade in to string making, read on…..
I was desperate. I’d built a bow, a mollegabet, at 76 inches long. And I couldn’t shoot it. I needed a string.
I go to the Bow Hunter’s Den down the road. Nice shop. I think they prefer paying customers to amateur bowyers with questions. When I told the guy my bow length was 76 inches he rolled his eyes.
“You’ll need it custom made. They don’t make strings that long. 68 inches is about it.”
Great. How long a wait for a custom string? I can’t remember the exact answer. All I heard was “longer than the few minutes you’re willing to wait.”
So … I’m suddenly in the string making biz.
I needed a few things I didn’t have and only one thing I couldn’t make. The first and most needful item: the string.
The den doesn’t carry string making materials. Calls to archery shops in a thousand mile radius (OK, maybe a 25-mile radius) returned zero string stock. Of course 3Rivers carries the Brownell Dacron B-50 that I needed. But we’re talking days and days of waiting. Patience like that would probably scar me for life.
So I drove to Dick’s.
I knew Dick’s carries serving string. I also knew it stocks fishing line. Lots and lots of fishing line. I was looking for high-test dacron fishing line. What I found was close enough. Stuff’s expensive, too, relative to the Brownell stuff. But what this string offered that Brownell could not was instant gratification.
A few days after building the string, my 3Rivers shipment arrived and I built a string with the B-50. I’ve used that material ever since. Here’s how (sort of) I do it:
First I had to make a string jig. That’s a toughy. It require procurement of a long 2×4 and two nails and a deck screw or two. Some duct tape and metal washers might come in handy if you don’t have duplex head nails, which I did not.
At one end of the
board specially designed string jig, I take a nail, slip a washer on it, and lay down a supportive wrap of duct tape.
At the other end of the board, I drive home another nail, this one has only the supportive duct tape. I got excited and hurried and forgot the washer. Guess what? It works fine. But do the smart thing: get a couple duplex head nails. Not that I’m advising you to make string. It’s dangerous. You could injure, maim or kill yourself in various hideous ways. So don’t do it.
I tie one end of the string to the wood screw and begin wrapping. The string loops around and around the nails. That’s why they call this design a continuous loop. One thing we can say about bowyers, they get right to the point when they’re naming things.
In this particular case, I’m using two colors, yellow and cocobolo. Turned out to be a nice combo for this bow (walnut & bamboo). I want 16 strands in all. So I wrap the yellow around the nails 4 times, giving me four strands on either side of the nail, which, if memory and math serves, is 8 strands. Do the same with the cocobolo and you’re at 16. Sweet.
WIth the loops looped, the next step is serving* the string. The only really unobvious piece to learning this is the initial anchoring knot and the finishing tie-off knot, a reverse of the anchor. It’s not difficult at all. But it’s impossible for me to photograph and probably to explain in less than thirty thousand words. So watch Nick’s videos.
How long to serve the sections that will be the loops at either end of the bow? Depends partly on how wide your tips are. I tend to serve more length than necessary — I think. In this case, I marked off seven inches. Could I get away with five inches? Probably.
I lay out with masking tape the length I plan to serve.
Then I wax the side. Then I serve it. It’s a simple process of winding the serving string tightly around the bow string.
Note one waxing: Brownell B-50 Dacron from 3Rivers comes waxed and ready to roll … or unroll. So why wax it? Because the extra wax helps hold the strands together and, I suspect, also facilitates smooth serving. I probably don’t need to wax the string, but when I made that first string, I needed wax. So I went to Michaels. They sold a slab of maybe five pounds of the stuff for 20 bucks. I bought it. Now I have enough beeswax to last into 10 generations of great-great-x-grandchildren stringmakers. That did not stop me from buying a tube of official stringmakers wax, just to see if that made a difference. I’m sticking with the beeswax.
When I’ve served both sides of the continuous loop, I pull the lines till the served sections wrap around the nails. Notice one side has more serving than the other. We’re going to serve each end to make the loops. Spacing the serving like that makes for a smoother transition from served string to bare string. Not that you can tell by looking at my serving jobs. I’m just sayin’.
Here’s a served loop….
All that’s left is to serve the nock area of the string. That, you do after stringing the bow.
It happens that I procured a new serving jig just prior to needing to serve the string for this walnut-bamboo beauty. I gave it a try….
The idea is, get the serving started and work the string so that the jig spins around and around, leaving a perfectly served string. In this case, that only sort of happened.
The jig kept cutting the serving line.
So I switched to the homemade job.
And finished the operation….
And now we’re done, right?
Nope. Two things remain. I need to place a nock point on the served string, and I need to pad the bow’s arrow shelf.
Following that, I’ll post a critique of the finished bow. If I hold to plan, that’ll include the bow’s dimensions, including limb thickness. It’ll also include the sad fact about how the bow broke. Yes broke. And what I plan to do to fix this sweet shooter.
This post is long enough. Watch Nick’s vids if you really need to know how to make a string work.
*Good question. No, I don’t know why it’s called serving. I’m too busy making stuff to play amateur etymologist.