Chapter 15: Troubleshooting
Here are 10 common issues and how to correct them. See the video for visuals.
1. Too much bend from the inner limb/not enough thickness taper
This is the most common issue I’ve seen. Many new bowyers are afraid of removing wood from the mid and outer limbs, and as a result make the inner limbs bend too much. It’s really tempting to keep the tips stiff, it makes them seem sturdy, but you actually want them to feel flexible so they can take on their fair share of the bending. Obviously you can make the tips bend too much, leading to whip tiller, but for some reason this is a much less common mistake. So make sure you get your mid and outers bending enough. If only the inner limb bends, this is a sign that you don’t have enough of a thickness taper. Make sure to get a good thickness taper going before you ever start tillering.
2. Not enough bending limb
If you followed the design in this build you won’t have this issue, but its one of the most common problems I see. When in doubt double your draw length, and add the length of any non bending handle and tips. In other words, each limb should have at least as much bending limb as your draw length.
3. Number three. The handle section wastes too much bending limb.
Often this come up when someone tries to copy the design of a fiberglass bow with all wood. If you want a long stiff modern type riser then you will need plenty more length— that way the handle doesn’t use any length that is meant for the limbs. If you use a longer handle than I have in the design, don’t steal that length from the limbs, they need it more. If you want a longer handle, make a longer bow. If you think you need that style of handle because you need an arrow rest, then in that case I would recommend gluing on an arrow shelf, rather than cutting one out of the riser.
4. Not enough margin for error. Performance features are tempting, but it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. Any kind of performance feature needs to be counterbalanced by extra margin for error. If you want recurves, reflex, a high draw weight, short bending limbs, or a high draw length, then you have to balance that out with any combination of wider limbs, longer limbs, a lower draw weight, or a shorter draw length.
5. Fades too abrupt. We covered this one earlier, in chapter 3. A nice concave curve looks much better and also eases out the stress, making the handle less likely to pop off. Avoid letting the fades bend at an abrupt angle, and make sure they keep all the bending away from the handle.
6. Tips too thick, overlays too big.
It just takes a minute or two to round everything out. This will give you a tiny bit more speed but mostly it just looks much better.
7. Longstring too long
When you’re tillering on the longstring, shorten the string as much as you can without bracing the bow, especially if you’re doing a tiller check. This isn’t a hard rule, more of a best practice. There are good bowyers who ignore this but they know what they’re doing. In general, The lower your string hangs, the more it will distort the geometry of the tiller shape. This is something you can correct for but it takes experience. Keep that string tight, and you will get more reliable draw weight readings as well. And then once you brace the bow, the draw weight readings should correspond closely to what you saw with the longstring.
8. Excessive set and or compression fractures.
A bit of set is always natural, but an excessive amount should make you consider droping the draw weight. Solutions for next time are to design with more margin for error, or dry your wood better, or do a better job with the tiller.
If the bow takes a lot of set in one particular spot you may see what are called frets, chrysals, or compression fractures. There isn’t really a way to fix them, but luckily they aren’t always fatal. If you see chrysals, keep an eye on them. If they keep getting worse it can be worth retiring the bow, but otherwise they don’t necessarily present a serous safety concern.
9. Tools get stuck, chatter, or cause tear out. Typically this isn’t a problem with the tool, and can be fixed by studying the wood and making sure you’re following the grain. When a scraper chatters its giving you a little hint that in that small section, it was working against the grain. Try reversing the tool direction, and that will probably get rid of the issue.
With any cutting tool, resist the temptation to follow through with any cut where you see tearout. If tearout happens, stop and back out, don’t try to rip out the shaving by force. Once again, you can usually get around the problem area by changing the cutting direction. For more carving tips like this and a detailed demo of what I mean, check out my video on beginner carving tips.
10. Breakage. It happens and we’ve all been there. Typically it comes down to a combination of poor wood selection, bad tiller, and not enough margin for error. If it happens, try not to get discouraged and post some pictures online, you’ll get great advice from others who have been there before.
You do have to ignore many warning signs before your bow breaks. With a good board you will see a lot of set before you get anywhere close to breakage. I hope I’ve equipped you with enough information, but also remember to use a tiller check if you need one. Feel free to post as many as you need, especially on r/bowyer where I moderate.