Friday, September 14, 2012

Archery Party - Bows

Welcome to the Archery Party Tutorials!

We mass-produced three things for this party: bows, arrows and quivers (and also cookies, but those don't really count). They sound like they were a lot of work but actually, of all the parties I've done, these required the least work. I suspect it's because they didn't involve sewing. Cutting out fabric for anything is a lot more work than it looks. And sewing is slow. Soooooo slow. Sawing and filing and sanding and taping, by comparison, are fast. I mean, we sped through these three projects - even the quivers - all while fine-tuning the Bella Bag pattern, sewing up Bella Bag samples, listing them in the shop and blogging about everything, all in about two weeks. If you're ever thinking of mass-producing party favors, my suggestion is to avoid sewing them. Make them some other way. Or pick different favors that don't need sewing. Even cardboard is faster!

Today we are making bows. 

Let me say outright that this is not an original design. The girls bought bow-and-arrow sets from a local craft fair early this June and we literally made copies of them for the party, they were so easy.  Note that I didn't take one of those standard These Are The Materials You Need photos because I couldn't be bothered to gather them all in one spot and stand on a chair and try to get a real good aerial shot and whatnot. You'll just have to get pen and paper and follow along, making your own list as you go, okay? I picked the exact same materials that were used in the original bows.

We used PVC piping for the limb(s) of the bow. Mine was the 0.5" (you buy them according to the internal diameter) type, which came in lengths of 10 feet for about US$1.60. Each bow was about 40" long so each pipe makes 3 bows. 

File the ends of the pipe after cutting, so that they're smooth. 

This was Emily's job. She worked with me to make everything. Our terms of agreement for having a party were, "It's your party, so you have to do work." She was very happy to agree, in spite of how she looks in the photo. She's just concentrating as she works.

We made slits (about 3/4" deep) in each end for the bowstring. I used a mini hacksaw (hand-held; we didn't use power tools) to cut the slit and a file and sandpaper to smooth the sides of the slit. These slits need to be only wide enough for the string to slip through, so don't make them too wide. Make one slit in each end of the pipe, with both facing the same direction.

For the party, we wanted pure white bows so the kids could decorate them. Feel free to spray-paint yours whatever color you want. We just sprayed ours white to cover the manufacturer's markings. You can spray the pipes before or after you saw slits in them.

This is what we used for the bowstring. It's shiny and strong and soft. There are several thicknesses - ours was #18 and this spool was less than $5. 

Don't be daft and use elastic string. The power of the bow is in the curve of the limb, not the stretchiness of the string. Okay - Physics lesson coming up: when you draw the bow (i.e. put the arrow in and pull it back on the string; never draw the bow arrowless), elastic potential energy is stored in the curved limb (not the string) and when it springs back, that elastic P.E. gets transferred to the arrow in the form of kinetic (moving) energy. If you use elastic string, you won't even be able to get the limb to curve when stringing your bow. So believe me and use unstretchy, strong string, yes?

Cut about 76"- 80" (can't remember exact number) of string, fold it in half and knot the two ends together, so you get a double string. Could I have used a single string? Probably, but the original bow came with a double string and since we were working with kids I wanted to be extra sure that it wouldn't snap. Another Physics lesson coming up: you know how the bowstring has tension in it when it's stretched across the curved limbs? One string will bear all the tension but two will divide that same tension, so each string just bears half. See? Safer. Less likely to snap, all else being constant.

Slip the knot through that slit you made, so the knot is inside the pipe.

Extend the double string to the other end of the pipe. Make a knot about 4" from the bottom of that slit. You will now have a bowstring that's shorter than the limb, which will cause it to curve when strung.

To get that knot into the second slit, stand the pipe on its first end vertically on the ground. Step (yes, with your foot) on the middle of the pipe to bend it. It will bend, not break - it is more pliable than you think. Apply pressure on your foot to bend the pipe enough so that the knot slips into the upper slit. Remove your foot - your bow is strung. And no, it shouldn't snap back and the string shouldn't break. But it will stretch a little with the tension.

Here's a picture of two bows. The one of the right was strung earlier, and it stretched out over time. The one on the left was more recently strung. If your bow loses its curvature after a while, repeat the Fancy Foot Procedure to unstring the bow, make a new knot to shorten the bowstring, and restring it. If you've ever strung a guitar (or other string instrument) you'll be familiar with this process. It takes a few days (sometimes weeks) for a guitar to be fully tuned because of how the tension in new strings changes. Moving on now!

We next added a grip. I am of two minds about this grip. It's good in that, because of its thickness, it acts as an arrow rest while drawing the bow. This helps little kids by preventing the arrow from slipping off while nocking and frustrating them. However, if it is not positioned correctly, the arrow will not rest in a horizontal position, so that it gets always shot upwards or downwards. This also frustrates little kids because it makes them feel as if their aim is bad (which it is, but not because it's their fault). 

Here's Emily demonstrating a grip-less bow: she's using her fist as a movable arrow rest. Little kids may find this hard. 

So, a compromise: make the grip, but make it movable. This way it's still an arrow rest, but you can adjust it so the arrow rests on it horizontally.

We used these insulation pipe things. They're foam tubes and come either singly or in packs. Extremely cheap, like less than $1 for the single tube. Even cheaper in multipacks.

Some are already split and some aren't. We used both, but for different purposes.

For the grips, we used about 4" of the split insulation. You can cut this foam stuff with a craft knife, box cutter, saw and anything except scissors, really. This grip was wrapped around the (approximate) middle of the limb(s)

and duct tape wound tightly around it.

This grip is now snug (i.e. it won't slide on its own) but movable. You can manually slide it up and down to position your arrow horizontally.

The bow is finished!

We made 20 bows. Only.

love mass-producing!

And that's how to make our bow.

See you tomorrow for the arrows!

After taking our photos and everything, I discovered Cindy's tutorial on Skip To My Lou, in my aggregator. Yay! It seems archery is everywhere! She does her arrows differently but her bows are similar. I linked to it here so you have an alternative method for both. And she has a shot of The Fancy Foot Procedure if you need some visual help with it!


  1. How easy and again very creative!!!!! :)

  2. Fantastici! Sei geniale!
    Ciao Federica

  3. How cute! That looks like loads of fun. My daughter loves Merida right now and she would sooo enjoy that. Very creative :)

  4. Those bows look amazing. I am going to have to try this with my kids. Thanks for sharing how you made them.

  5. Fantastic. You cannot believe how excited I am by these posts! Thank you.

    Just a tip - nail varnish remover will usually remove the marks on the PVC to save painting. It's what we do with the hoola hoops that we make.

    1. Ah, Hannah. If we'd only known. Thank you for the tip!

  6. These are SO COOL! I might have to make some even though a.) I'm not having an archery party and b.)I have a perfectly good compound bow. =)

  7. These are awesome! We are making 4 for my sons sleep over and now are making one for Me and the hubby! They work great! Thank you so much for the great directions. You rock!

  8. How do you make the arrows?

  9. These sound a lot like what I was hoping to make for my nieces and nephews for Christmas however I am unable to see the pictures on this post for some reason. Do you know why that would be or how I could get a look at them? These sound SO fun!!

  10. Genius idea! But ..... when I bent the bow to get the string on the 2nd end the 'bow' bent in half - perhaps I was being too strong. It tried it again with a new piece of pipe, more carefully, and it worked, but now .... the bow is barely bending at all and if you pull the string back to fire an arrow your hand gets wacked with the string - painful. Any advice would be most grateful, thank you.

  11. Louisa: I have no idea what you're doing different - or what I did different from what you did! It took a LOT of effort for me to bend the pipe enough to get the knot in the second end. You must be much stronger than I! And yes, after a few hours or so, the strung-up string (under tension) stretches, and the bent bow becomes practically straight again. You'll have to remove the string and move the knot an inch down to shorten the distance between the two knots. And then restring the bow. It's like gradually tightening the tension on guitar strings before you tune them up to the actual/final notes.

  12. seems a bit complex, but cool!


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