Chapter 2: Design and Layout
Today I’ll be making a 40 pound bow that can comfortably draw 28 to 30”. There’s a good amount of wiggle room with this design, so you can go a bit shorter, or a bit higher in draw weight if you’d like, you’ll just have less room for error. If you want a different draw weight then make your bow proportionally wider or narrower.
I recommend 68-72” in total length but as low as 66” or even less can still work just fine. As you shorten the design, you reduce the total energy storage, and also your margin for error. I’m making this bow fairly long for maximum margin for error. Longer limbs can tolerate more mistakes and still perform well. But shorter limbs have the advantage of being less massive, so as always there’s a sweet spot.
If this is your first bow, avoid the allure of recurves. You will hear that they are faster, more efficient, stack less, etc. The issue is they need to be very well designed and executed to capitalize on these advantages. You can give a simple straight stave bow many of these same advantages simply by making it longer, while keeping the tips light and narrow.
If you’re interested in making recurves, learn the basic skills with a simple straight stave bow and you’ll be much better prepared. And don’t overlook the simplicity of straight stave designs, they can be just as effective.
Back to the board. Choose the more flawless side of the board for the back of the bow, and cut the board to 72” long. For the handle riser, I cut out an 8” long piece from the same board.
I’ll be laying out a 4” handle with 2” fades on both sides. First mark the center of the board, 36” from either end.
The next step depends on the layout you choose. For a symmetric bow, mark your handle 2” above the center, and 2” below. For an asymmetric bow mark 1” above center, and 3” below. You can also compromise and choose mild asymmetry somewhere in between.
Whether you make a symmetric or asymmetric bow is completely up to you. Today I’m going for the asymmetric layout, since I like the look and feel. The practical differences aren’t huge. Most people seem to have an easier time tillering symmetric bows so that’s what I recommend you try. Good bowyers do it either way.