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Chapter 8: the String

Here’s one way to make a single loop flemish twist string, there are better ways out there but this one’s simple and will get you going. Buying a roll of string material from most archery suppliers is typically cheaper than the cost of buying a finished string—and will last for many strings.

I’m making a 12 strand string out of B-50 Dacron. There are better stronger string materials out there, I just like Dacron for the convenience, it makes for a nice string thickness without needing any extra padding. Whatever string material you use, make sure you have a total breaking strength around ten times the draw weight of the bow.

To start off, set two nails 100 inches apart. The board I have isn’t long enough, so I’m using a third nail. This will yield an oversized string that you can use as a tillering string and later cut down to use as your final string. Since we’ll be using an adjustable timber hitch, it’s not critical to get the length of the string exactly right.

Wind the string around the nails 6 times for 12 total strands.

Cut the strands free and separate the bundles. Don’t let them tangle.

Winding into bundles helps avoid tangles.

Next, trim the ends of the bundles so they all end at a slightly different length. This way when the string tapers out you won’t get a sudden bulge from all the tag ends coming out of the same spot.

Wax the ends of the bundles with beeswax or bowstring wax.

 Now we’re ready to start reverse twisting the string. If you’ve never made cordage before, the basic idea is to twist each individual bundle in one direction, and then countertwist the two bundles in the opposite direction.

Start 8 to 10 inches from the ends of the bundles, and keep reverse twisting until you have enough cordage to fold back on itself and make a loop.

Once you’re happy with the size of the loop, fold the bundles over, fuse the bundles with wax, and then continue with the reverse twisting.

Make sure you keep the twist as tight as you can manage while the bundles are still fusing together. Once you get past the first foot or so, after you’re past all the loose ends, then you don’t have to tighten quite as much.   

With pristine modern string materials you don’t actually have to tightly twist all the way down the length of the string. If anything, over twisting can make the string stretchy, so for the center portion of the string I’m doing a much looser reverse twist. Once I get close to the end, then I go back to making the twist much tighter. 

Keep twisting all the way to the end of the string. For now the string will be too long, but that’s ideal since we’ll use it as a tillering string. Later on you can cut the string shorter to use as your final string, or make another permanent string.

If you’re looking for a slight bit of extra performance try out a continuous loop string. The disadvantage is that you’ll lose the adjustable timber hitch.

Snip off any loose tag ends. and you’re done for now.

To simplify things I will not be stretching this string out, I’ll just let it stretch out naturally on the bow. If you want to eliminate the stretch, hang a heavy weight on your string overnight, or put it on a bowstring stretcher.

Serving the String

Don’t perform this step unless you’re making a completed string. If you’re following the buildalong, serve the string later when the tiller is complete.

Serving adds some durability to the string and also ensures that the string is the right diameter to accept the nocks on your arrows.

the Timber Hitch

Here’s how to tie a timber hitch, which you can use to adjust the length of the string.


Make a loop.

Bring your string end around the loop

Then wrap the end through the loop once, and then a second time.

There it is. When you pull on the string it will tighten itself. Just undo it and retie to adjust the length of the string and the brace height of the bow.

For now the next thing we need is a way to attach the string to the bow: nocks.

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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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