Chapter 6: Backing (Optional)
You don’t need a backing. If you choose a good board, then design and tiller it well, the only backing you need is air. Personally I prefer making unbacked bows but many of you will choose to add a backing so I might as well show you how I’d do it.
I’ll be using some thick linen cloth, soaked in water and applied with wood glue. You can also can use just about any other cloth—old pants and jeans, even an old t-shirt, bedsheets, or a dress tie. Thin rawhide strips also make a great backing, but once again my personal favorite is to use no backing at all.
Avoid gimmicky backings such as fiberglass drywall tape. Most types of cloth are cheaper, easier to work with, more attractive, and more effective as a backing.
As I’m applying the backing, I’m inducing slight reflex in the back of the bow by clamping the handle down and propping the tips up on blocks. This way when the backing dries it will be nice and taught.
If you glue the backing while the bow is flat it may come out slightly slack. Since I’m not adding any heat to the bow, it won’t retain the reflex, I’m only doing this to keep the backing nice and tight.
Once the glue dries remove the excess with a sharp knife or a file.
Air really is the best backing in my opinion because the way to keep your bow from breaking is with good design, tiller, and wood selection. The backing only adds a tiny bit of extra safety, but does at least protect the back from scratches.
Don’t rely on a backing, especially not a soft backing—to make problematic wood safe. The real way to achieve a safe bow is to choose good wood, then design and tiller it well.
We’ve already talked about wood selection, and how to design for high margin for error. Soon we’ll cover the tiller—how to make to make sure your bow is bending well, both for safety and performance.