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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. 

Chrysals aka Compression fractures

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. 

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  1. Avatar dansantanabows

    Mervyn Patterson

    Hi, congratulations on your full tutorial.It was very well done,easy to follow and understand,one of if not the best tutorial I have seen.Thanks very much I as a amateur bowyer found it most informative but being English my experience is more toward the English Longbow or D section bow.I have had some success with Italian and Pacific Yew.After seeing this I will have a go at a flat bow.
    Best wishes Mervyn Patterson UK.

    • Avatar dansantanabows

      Thanks Mervyn. In the UK also keep an eye out for Ash, Elm, and Hazel. On facebook there’s a UK bowyer’s group you may want to check out. There’s probably someone close to you who can show you the ropes. There are also several UK bowyers on the other groups and r/bowyer. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

  2. Avatar dansantanabows


    I am very new at this and can’t wait to start. thank you very much for these easy-to-follow instructions and video. As soon as I obtain the equipment and a good piece of wood I will try to follow your directions.

    thanks again and be safe

    • Avatar dansantanabows

      That’s awesome! With red maple I’d go for a slightly wider bow than I have, maybe 2” wide, or a slightly lower draw weight of 30 or 35 pounds. Next time if you can, try to get one of the maple species categorized as a ‘hard’ maple like sugar maple. Silver and red are a bit less dense, but don’t worry and it won’t stop you from making a bow. Just pay extra attention to the set and drop off the draw weight if you start seeing more than a couple inches.

      Good luck and feel free to post as many tiller checks on r/bowyer as you need

      • Avatar dansantanabows


        Thanks, Home Depot was my first stop for lumber, red maple was the best they had in hardwood planks at the moment, excluding mahogany. I did notice the porousness so went with the best most dense board I could find. I’ll post my progress!

  3. Avatar dansantanabows

    Terry Bowmam

    I am not able to get bow wood boards around here to sort thru.

    I can get Black Walnut or Eastern Red Cedar bow making lumber, but requires a backing. I don’t want to waste my hickory backing yet, been a long time simce I made a wooden bow.

    My question is, will that linen backing in your video be strong enough, with some reflex? Or maybe double it?


    • Avatar dansantanabows

      I’m not a big fan of doubling up on the backing because of the extra mess and glue line. Better to use a thicker backing from the start. I think with ERC lumber you’re probably going to need a hard backing unless you find a miraculously clean and straight board. With natural staves, if you’re able to chase or almost chase a ring then ERC can handle being unbacked, despite the popular advice. The problem is that the other popular advice for ERC is that it’s ok to violate the fibers on the back. This is only true to an extent and I wonder if this practice has much to do with juniper’s reputation for breaking in tension.

    • Avatar dansantanabows

      John Halverson

      You would NOT be wasting your hickory backing on an Eastern red cedar board (so long as the board is fairly decent grained with few or no knots). In fact, Hickory backed eastern red cedar (often called HERC) is considered a superior combination for high speed, high efficiency bows.

  4. Avatar dansantanabows


    I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The problem is something which too few people are speaking intelligently
    about. I’m very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something concerning this.

  5. Avatar dansantanabows


    G’day Dan, fantastic tutorial. I have always wanted to make a bow and I would like to thank you for putting the time into your channel. I live downunder and I am trying to work out what local timber I can use. After watch this I think I will try to practice on a fine grained timber and will certainly look what is in town at the hardware as well. Thanks again. Cheers Kev

    • Avatar dansantanabows


      G’day Kevin, I’ve heard quite a few say Spotted Gum is a good option of you find a nice board. I couldn’t find any it the right size at my local timber supplier so I opted for a really straight bit of Jarrah as it’s properties looked similar to hard maple (density, elasticity and modulus or rupture), hopefully it will work. Some others have said iron bark could work for a bow, but that stuff is so hard it makes it difficult to shape.

    • Avatar dansantanabows


      G’day Kev
      I’m keen to try this out as well. I’ve heard Spotted gum is a good option. I’m going to try it with some Jarrah. Ironbark might work but that stuff’s really hard, shaping it will probably be a pain and lots of tool sharpening.

    • Avatar dansantanabows


      G’day Kev
      I’m keen to try this out as well. I’ve heard Spotted gum is a good option. I’m going to try it with some Jarrah. Ironbark might work but that stuff’s really hard, shaping it will probably be a pain and lots of tool sharpening.

  6. Avatar dansantanabows

    Mickey O'Neill

    Dan–My son and I have decided at the same time to get into traditional bow-making. We shot off and on for years, and really enjoy being out in the fresh air and sunshine losing arrows together!
    We both truly appreciate your teaching style and the beauty of the videos you’ve made. Thanks for your generosity!
    We both went to the store and got red oak boards for our first bows. That is some hard wood! It’s pretty slow going for the moment, but we’ll see how it goes as we progress.
    We share the ultimate goal of crafting character bows out of wood we harvest for ourselves. We’re in Oklahoma, and tried over 20 years ago to make a bow from a piece of Osage Orange. Our attempt still hangs in my office! Hopefully, with your tutelage, we will produce something that shoots!

    • Avatar dansantanabows

      Good luck Mickey! I heard from your son on reddit last week and am very glad to hear you’re taking on the project together. Let me know if you have any questions or trouble, and feel free to post as many tiller checks on reddit as you need. Go make a bow!

  7. Avatar dansantanabows

    Ross H

    Dan, I loved this tutorial. Extremely helpful, a friend of mine and bowyer, Correy Hawk pointed me to your video. I had a question regarding the scale of the bow.
    If I wanted to follow your tutorial to make a kids bow (for a 3-5 year old) how does this scale down from the longer ones you make?
    Thank you.

    • Avatar dansantanabows

      Correy is an awesome bowyer and teacher. I would love to film one of his classes someday. To answer your question it depends a lot on the design. The absolute easiest way is to copy other kids bow’s dimensions that you see on other forums. Of course you can only copy the rough out dimensions since the true dimensions will be revealed by tillering. For a same length bow you can adjust the draw weight by scaling the width. And as a rough rule of thumb you can estimate the bow length by doubling draw length and adding on the length of your stiff handle, and adding a few extra inches per limb for stiff tips. This will give you plenty of margin for error. It’s possible to make a bow shorter but that will give you a nice safe length.

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