The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #33: Archery and PVC Bows

Episode #33: Archery

https://archive.org/download/13thHrEps16On/13th%20hr%2033.mp3

This episode focuses on archery, which I’ve featured a few times on this blog (see links below) and on Instagram, since it features in The Thirteenth Hour, though it will play a bigger role in the yet-unnamed sequel.

https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/on-the-state-of-archery/

https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/on-the-state-of-lars-andersen-speed-shooting-and-armchair-quarterbackery/

If you’re interested in making your own bows and arrows, here are some posts and links to get you started.  Using PVC, you can make a cheap, durable, and powerful bow in an afternoon.  There’s still a learning curve, but it’s not nearly as steep as it would be to make a bow the traditional way.

Here’s how to make this takedown bow:

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Clicking on the picture will take you to an accompanying youtube video.

https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/how-to-create-your-own-three-piece-takedown-pvc-fiberglass-bow/

The blue bow below is a variation of the model above:

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https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/how-to-create-your-own-three-piece-takedown-pvc-fiberglass-bow-part-2-the-fourth-of-july-bow/

I’m working on a small how-to guide that goes into more depth on the making of the bows above as well as a crash course on archery – watch for more updates in the coming months.

The bows below as also takedowns of different designs:

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https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/the-imperial-ranger-three-piece-pvc-takedown-bow/

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https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/auroras-bow-a-compact-two-piece-pvc-and-fiberglass-tent-rod-takedown-bow/

Clicking on the picture above will take you to a video on youtube.

The bow below is a little different.  It’s a children’s bow made of bamboo, though repurposed from a Halloween costume prop.

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https://13thhr.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/the-halloween-bow/

This is the hunter’s bow from A Shadow in the Moonlight:

bow hunter

If you’re interested in learning more about this particular model, signing up for the mailing list will give you access to a special podcast that talks more about it.

I highly recommend you check out videos on youtube such as the Backyard Bowyer channel by Nicholas Tomihama as well as the Google plus community for PVC bowmaking, a great resource!

Next week, archery in the media!

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In other news, the 80s style ending song that I previewed last week is done.  As I mentioned before, I decided to write a song to accompany The Thirteenth Hour, a novel I wrote influenced by the 1980s films I loved as a child.  Those movies often had theme songs that played in the opening or ending credits referencing the story, title, or themes involved.  Sometimes, the lyrics were largely unintelligible but relied on a catchy riff or beat to carry the song.

“Searching for Forever,” with its synthesizer backing track, electric guitars, and lyrics that allude to various 80s songs and the plot of the book is my attempt to pay homage to this aspect of 1980s cinema.

You can hear it at https://joshuablum.bandcamp.com/track/searching-for-forever).  

As always, thanks for listening!

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Aurora’s Bow – A Compact Two Piece PVC and Fiberglass Tent Rod Takedown Bow

In my last post, I wrote about the making of the Imperial Ranger takedown bow, a large, heavy 3 piece bow meant to emulate a warbow that was small enough to fit inside a backpack.  At the same time, I was also making the one which will be detailed in this post, which, in many ways, is the total opposite.  Whereas the Imperial Ranger bow was large and heavy, this one was designed to be as small and light as possible.  The Imperial Ranger was also complex (although not necessarily on purpose), whereas this one was designed to be straightforward and simple.  Yet, they both function as takedown bows able to fit in small spaces, and despite the small size, this one packs a punch – 50# of draw weight when pulled back to my draw length of 32″.

So what do you need to do to make a bow like this?

Here’s the materials:

  • One piece of 1/2″ Sch 40 white PVC pipe (I used a piece 36″ long)
  • One length of 3/4″ Sch 40 white PVC pipe for the handle (I used a piece 7″ long)
  • A flat hardwood coat hanger (I used one made of cherry; for strength, make sure the grain of the wood is running horizontally when the hanger is held in its hanging position)
  • Fiberglass tent poles (I used four, two per limb, each about 15″ long and 4 mm in diameter)
  • 550 paracord for the string (or your bowstring material of choice)
  • Heat gun
  • Gloves (for handling hot PVC)
  • Flattening jig (to flatten the PVC pipe once hot; see info below for more info)
  • PVC cement (optional)
  • Sandpaper
  • Saw
  • Spray paint and clear coat varnish (optional)
  • Leather for arrow rest and arrow strike plate (optional)

If you already have the tools (heat gun, saw, etc), this bow can be made cheaply (for under ten dollars – the main costs will be for PVC, paint, a can of Great stuff foam – the hanger and tent poles you may be able to find around the house or by repurposing stuff you find used).  This bow is not very complex to make, though if you’ve never made a PVC bow before, I highly suggest you make a few prior to attempting this one.  Or, check of the 3 piece PVC fiberglass rod bow post with the associated video or the updated Fourth of July bow for a hybrid PVC/fiberglass bow you can make in probably less than an hour.

PVC is a forgiving material.  Even so, practice does make the process easier, and making PVC takedown bows is more complex than one piece bows.  I highly recommend you check out videos on youtube such as the Backyard Bowyer channel by Nicholas Tomihama.  Though plenty of folks have uploaded videos of their creations, he, in particular, has a huge variety of tutorials (meant for both beginners and advanced PVC bowyers) to walk you through making PVC bows as well as the equipment you’ll need to make one, such as the flattening jig I mentioned above – easy to make once you’ve seen it, though more difficult to explain in isolation.

I’m going to pick up after the PVC pipe has already been flattened (in this case, I flattened the pipe in such a way that the handle was thicker and gave the limbs a gradual taper).  I next cut off the ends (~8″) of the wooden coat hanger to make wooden tips for the bow (called siyahs in archery terminology).  Wood is lighter than PVC, and the lighter ends allow the bow tips to move faster, theoretically increasing the velocity imparted to the arrow.  In order to attach the wooden tips to the PVC, the ends of the PVC pipe need to be heated until they swell back up again.  Then the wooden tips can be inserted inside (about 2″ should do) while the PVC is still hot.  When the PVC cools, it will shrink, forming a tight grip on the wooden siyahs.  It is important at this step to make sure the nocks line up.

Although I added more heat to bend the limbs forward just proximal to where the siyahs were inserted, thus reflexing the bow limbs (adding a bit more spring and draw weight), you don’t need to do that.  You can create a bow that has a simpler longbow shape as opposed to the one I ended up with.

At this point, after everything cools, you can string the bow and check its profile.  There should be fairly evenly bending limbs on both sides without major twisting.  If one area is bending more than the other, correct it now by gently heating the area until it puffs back out, then use gloved fingers to shape the limb.  This part is admittedly finicky and takes me the most time.  But it’s always a good idea to try to correct minor issues of limb asymmetry or misalignment now prior to progressing further.  For those that make wooden bows, this trial and error process of making the limbs draw as evenly as possible is akin to “tillering.”

When I was finished with this portion, I strung the bow and tested the draw weight – it was about 20-25# at 32″, which was about right for 1/2″ PVC.

Once I was satisfied with the profile, I cut the bow in half at the center.  I then heated up the piece of 3/4″ PVC and fitted it over the limb I’d designated as the lower limb.  A layer of PVC cement helped secure it in place.  I then heated and shaped the other end, making it a bit more of an oval shape in cross section to match the lower limb side.  In general, despite what I said above about making the limbs draw as uniform and evenly as possible, one limb may bend slightly more – this is fine.  Make that one the upper limb, since the grip is usually in the center of the bow, and the point where the arrow is resting is usually above that, meaning the upper limb needs to bend a little more to compensate for the arrow not being right at center.

Next came the rejoining of the two limbs.  This was not my first takedown attempt – I have been fiddling with them for the past six months or so – but still find that they can be persnickety things to get right.  Of course, there’s the simple fact that you must make an essentially “broken” bow function as if it were whole again without exploding in your face.  But if you take care, make sure the limbs are aligned and the junctions properly reinforced and not at particularly high stress areas, making a functioning and safe bow gets easier with time (though there can still be surprises, as my last post will attest).  No, for me, that hardest part is, in some sense, the simplest – once joined, getting the two pieces apart again.  It’s taken a lot of fiddling and some consultation from people smarter than I on the interwebs (i.e. youtube and the google plus PVC bow making community) to get it right.

So here’s the secret – heated PVC expands.  Cooling PVC shrinks.  So the trick to being able to get the 1/2″ limb out of the 3/4″ PVC piece once heated is to heat the end of the 1/2″ PVC limb, stuff it in the cool 3/4″ piece as best you can, then wait.  As the 1/2″ PVC limb cools, it will shrink in diameter, allowing you to pull it out again once cool.  It sounds simple (and is, once you know the trick), but I’ll be damned if it didn’t take forever on this particular bow to get right.  A layer of plumber’s grease on the joints hasn’t hurt, either 🙂

2015-08-13 12.09.03

Above is a picture of what the bow looked like when everything was assembled.  Then, since I had them lying around, I wondered what would happen if I added some small (4 mm diameter) fiberglass tent pole rods in the limbs.  I had a bunch lying around that I’d found somewhere, and since they were about 15 inches long, I figured they could fit easily into the flattened limbs.  I was able to fit two in each limb, which I “glued” in place with expanding Great Stuff foam (which comes in a spray can and is used to seal holes around doors and such – a wonder of modern technology that I both admire and curse.  Two words – wear gloves.  You will be glad.)

Once everything was dry (I let the foam cure for about a week, I think), I reassembled it and tested the draw weight.  I was surprised at how much the draw weight had shot up – somewhere in the upper 40s to low 50s – an increase of 20-25# of draw weight just from using the two thin fiberglass rods in each limb.

From there, it was just the finishing touches – a few coats of spray paint and clear coat lacquer, a grip, an arrow rest, and a string with nocking point wound on.  The pictures do these details better justice than my descriptions could.

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2015-09-11 01.03.15

 Final specs:

  • Length nock to nock when strung: 45″
  • Unstrung length: 47.5″
  • Length of each limb: 27″ for the lower, 22″ for the upper
  • Brace height: 4.75″
  • Draw weight: ~50# at 32″
  • Speed: varied considerably from 166 fps – 194 fps with the 446 grain arrow I used; I suspect due to inherent inaccuracy in the sound based app I used to test the speed, but after averaging the four values I obtained together, it came to 179.25 fps.

So how does it feel to shoot?  Well, it’s small, light, and solid.  The brace height is low and is probably more comfortable to shoot with an arm guard on, since the string sometimes snaps the wrist or heel of the hand.  Since it’s such a small bow, the angle the string makes with the fingers is fairly acute, so comfort-wise, it could be better.  And it stacks a little at the end (meaning the draw weight jumps up the last inch or so), but given the small size, I expected that.  I’m surprised it can go back as far as it can without collapsing.  All in all, I’m happy with the way it turned out.  Given its speed and pull, it goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.  It makes a nice little companion to its larger partner bow, the Imperial Ranger takedown.

If that bow was meant for Logan in The Thirteenth Hour, then this one is meant for his partner in crime, Aurora – smaller, lighter, but just as fast, strong, and versatile.  And so, ladies and gents, that’s where the bow in the title gets her name.  You will see more of Aurora and her bow in the as-of-yet-unnamed sequel to The Thirteenth Hour.  So stay tuned!  Until then, I leave you with a picture of Aurora from when she last fired a bow in the The Thirteenth Hour.

aurora with dragonWM

VIDEO UPDATE!! (1/5/16)

There is now a showcase video that accompanies this post.  Click on the youtube link to be taken to it.

Here are some animated gifs made from the video above that show the bow in action:

bow shoot 1

bow shoot 2

Reference List

3 piece PVC fiberglass rod bow post and video and the updated Fourth of July bow (quick and easy hybrid PVC/fiberglass bows)

Backyard Bowyer channel by Nicholas Tomihama and a link to his book on takedown archery

Flattening jig video

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 

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The Imperial Ranger Three Piece PVC Takedown Bow

 … My shooting equipment was back in my cabin, including the three–part take–down bow we’d all been issued with the quiver of arrows fitted for my bow and draw length, but even though I was better with my own equipment, it would take too much time to get it, so I grabbed a spare shooting glove, a bracer, the longest arrows I could find, and a warbow with the heaviest pull I could accurately manage from the ship’s arsenal and rushed out onto the deck, where the men were firing away diligently with flaming arrows.  The monster swatted most of the projectiles away.  The few that did hit the serpent bounced off, and the fire fizzled away against the animal’s wet exterior.  The serpent was playing a game with us.  I could have sworn that it was smiling …

Aside from the fight with the sea serpent, this passage from The Thirteenth Hour makes mention of a “three-part take-down bow” that the soldiers in the passage (Imperial Rangers) have been issued.  And although I didn’t draw a picture of that particular bow being used, I did later draw an idea for one:

Imperial Ranger LoadoutWM

If you notice in the upper left hand corner, there’s a three part takedown bow.  Although I wrote about this before, the bows I created in those two posts (1 and 2) didn’t really look like the one in the drawing.

So I decided I’d continue fiddling until I could replicate something more closely resembling the drawing.  Since the drawing above was meant to be a page taken from a general training manual for these special soldiers, I decided to give myself the flexibility of some artistic license with the design and come up with a 3 piece take down bow (made of PVC) that was both functional and worthy of being issued to an Imperial Ranger.

To back up a bit, I have been making bows out of PVC pipe for the past few years.  There is a wealth of information out there on how to do it, and I wish I’d known about it sooner, as it has revitalized my interest in archery in a way that no store bought bow ever could.  In any event, the general idea is that because PVC can be flattened when heated, you can basically bend it into (almost) whatever shape you want.  If flattened, the once semi-rigid pipe will bend easily, and owning to the inherent resilience of the material, it will generally spring back to its previous shape.  And because PVC is cheap, easy to find (at least here in the US), and easy to work with, the learning curve for making a bow out of PVC pipe is low, much lower than making a similar bow from wood.  So for this project, I decided I’d try to make a PVC takedown bow that Logan, the main character, would have carried.

Here were some early plans:

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

2015-09-06 09.07.11

My original idea was to have a central riser made of thick diameter PVC where the limbs, presumably made of thinner, more flexible PVC, would fit inside.  I thought that if the joints were reinforced with an outer sleeve and inner fiberglass rods, it would provide sufficient rigidity to make this central part of the bow strong enough to withstand the stresses of being bent and released, despite the inherent weakness of a takedown design.

Well, as it turns out, the design I picked – a Cupid’s bow shape reminiscent of an upper lip – has lots of stress on the limbs at those exact spots where I decided to split the bow in thirds. Whoops.  As you can see in the picture below, this central piece had a bunch of parts – the main piece of 1″ PVC, another outer sleeve heated and wrapped around the handle for strength, two inner 3/4″ PVC pieces to serve as guide posts for the hollow PVC limbs, and (not shown, two fiberglass rods inserted in the ends of the white pipe for rigidity).

IMG_6108I only figured none of this was going to work after making a prototype, which naturally took quite a bit of time.  Despite all the reinforcements, there was still too much stress on the joints to be safe.  Needless to say, I was, how shall we say, somewhat … peeved?

But that’s the way it goes sometimes.  Making bows, like a lot of things in life, is sometimes about trial and error and not giving up when things don’t go your way.  There’s usually another solution.  So instead of scrapping the whole thing, I thought for awhile and decided to revise the design and make the takedown junctions in different places.

Here is the end result:

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I kept the original Cupid’s bow shape but split the limbs farther back in parts that didn’t bend as much.  Then I just glued the original joints together and filled the riser and limbs with Great Stuff foam (a real mess to work with) to add some resilience to the hollow limbs.  After a few coats of paint/clearcoat, a wrapped paracord handle, and arrow rest, and a string, the bow is what you see in the pictures.

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I used 1″ grey PVC pipe* for the whole thing (since that’s what I had around), so it’s heavy, and the reinforced grip is beefy.  It feels like a warbow.  Yet the takedown capability works well enough to fit in a backpack.

*if you’d like to make a bow like this, I’d probably recommend using 3/4″ white PVC, as it’s snappier than grey pipe and easier to work with than thicker diameter pipe.  But if grey pipe (Schedule 40 electrical conduit is what I had) is what you have, you can make a good bow as well, though the PVC is more apt to take a set once the bow is strung.

So how does it shoot, you might ask?  I have to test it at farther distances, but as far as the short distances in the basement go (5 yds), it’s easy to hit what I’m aiming at!  However, it creaks and groans when drawn like a geriatric racehorse the morning after a race.  I find this somehow oddly appropriate given that a guy like Logan would probably find it entertaining, in an albeit dark way, that he was trusting his life to something that sounded like it was going to fall apart.  Luckily, I think the groaning is mainly from some movement of the internals and the outer PVC stabilizing sleeve around the complex handle.  It hasn’t affected performance, as far as I can tell, and it’s a still a pleasure to shoot.  Not as smooth drawing as some other bows I’ve made, as there’s some stacking near the end of the draw, but it’s not bad.  At my 32″ draw, it pulls an even 50#, and shoots a 446 grain arrow somewhere in the 160-169 fps range (if my sound based chrono app is accurate).

Stay tuned for another takedown bow and a video in the near future!

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 

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How to Create Your Own Three Piece Takedown PVC-Fiberglass Bow Part 2: The Fourth of July Bow

A few months ago, I wrote up a little post about making a PVC fiberglass rod takedown bow and made an associated video.  That post has since been turned into a magazine article, which you can find in this month’s (July/Aug 2015) copy of Backwoodsman magazine, quite possibly my favorite magazine of all time and a great one for those that like to tinker with things and enjoy the outdoors.
2015-06-28 09.26.41

So I decided to do a redux of my original design with the goals of increasing the draw weight, getting an idea of the speed, and improving the appearance.  Without further ado, I present the Fourth of July bow (finished around the Fourth of July – happy belated Fourth for US readers – adorned with red, white, and blue).
IMG_6204IMG_620315 - 315 - 2IMG_6199The design is similar to the one I wrote about before, with a central PVC riser that fiberglass rods slide into.  This time, I added additional strength to the core by using three pieces of telescoping PVC: 1/2 inch pipe fitted into a heated piece of 3/4 inch pipe fitted into a heated piece of 1 inch PVC pipe.  I used a longer piece of 1/2 inch PVC than I did before, hoping the added resistance would increase the weight a little.  I also painted the riser metallic blue, added a grip, and an arrow rest for more comfortable shooting (before, the arrows were shot off the hand).  The fiberglass rods were wrapped in star-spangled duct tape that I think I found in a dollar store.

Sometimes I wish I had shorter arms, making buying shirts and finding arrows easier.  But, alas, I don’t, and sometimes a bow that works well for someone with more normal arms is uncomfortable for me.  For this one, I ended up sacrificing the draw weight a little in favor of comfort, figuring that the longer piece of PVC I used for the handle would still add more draw weight than what I had before.  I deflexed the handle of the bow (making it curve in) a bit to make it more forgiving to shoot (less likely to shoot up in weight in the last few inches, a.k.a. “stacking”).  At a 32 inch draw, it still pulls a modest but respectable 40 pounds and is comfortable even for my organutan arms.

I was curious to see how fast it would be, so used a phone app chronograph to get an idea of the speed.  I think there’s probably some variability in how well these apps work (they cleverly use the sound of the bowstring twanging and the sound of the arrow striking the target to estimate the bow speed), but they probably give you some idea.  Using 446 grain arrows, or about 11 grains per pound for this bow, here were some of the results:

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So between 190-200 fps according to this app with that weight of arrow (446 grains) – on the higher side for the bows I’ve made with PVC, but given this one has light fiberglass rod limbs (capable of moving faster with a thinner profile than heavy PVC), I guess it’s not too surprising.

Interested in making one of these for yourself?  Go for it!  You can do it in a few hours, and even if you mess up, you’re only out a few bucks, making it easy to give it another go.  It’s pretty easy, though: check out the last video for a walkthrough, and see the parts list in my last post or in a copy of Backwoodsman magazine (where to find it).  Let me know if you have questions!

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 

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How to Create Your Own Three Piece Takedown PVC-Fiberglass Bow

When I was writing and drawing the pictures for The Thirteenth Hour, I thought I’d give Logan and Aurora, the main characters, some unique gear.  Not to the level of James Bond-style stuff, just something a little distinctive.  Kind of like how Indiana Jones had his whip and hat, Luke Skywalker had his lightsaber, Marty McFly had his Delorean and flying hoverboard, etc.  I’ll cover some of these things in future posts, but this one will be on archery gear.

It’s not a huge part of the book, but I do have a few mentions about a three-piece takedown bow that Logan is issued (meaning a bow that can be broken down in to three pieces for ease of transport).  I figured these special soldiers should have something special up their sleeves when it came to their armament.  Something functional and compact, but with a bit of, how shall we say, elan (pardon the French).  Bows are, by nature, kind of bulky, and despite characters on TV using their bows as maces and staffs for braining people, they’re actually kind of delicate in some ways: large dents in the limbs from using the bow as a club would probably compromise the integrity of the wood; the string and wood are subject to temperature and humidity changes; bows should ideally be unstrung when not used so the limbs don’t take a set (and so on).  So I figured someone on the move without a lot of time to fuss over equipment would appreciate something that could be easily taken apart and packed in a backpack and wouldn’t be much longer than a quiver of arrows.

Hence, the three part takedown bow (nothing new from a modern perspective; but probably pretty neat in a less technologically advanced world, like the one in the book). Below is a picture of a generic Imperial Ranger with a typical loadout – note the bow in the upper left-hand corner.

Imperial Ranger LoadoutWM

So I figured, why not try to make one myself?  Although this is another topic entirely, it’s not difficult to make a bow quite cheaply and easily using PVC pipe that is heated and bent into the desired shape.  If you search on youtube (there is also a corresponding google+ community), you will find many such examples.

Although I’d made a number of PVC bows, the takedown ones never quite worked out until recently.  Luckily, PVC pipe is so cheap that experimentation is fairly painless.  In any event, this design, which did work, was so quick and easy I thought I’d share it.  It doesn’t look like the one in the picture above (that’s for a future project), but captures the spirit of what I was going for in the design: quick to take apart and put together, easy to use, and compact.

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This is an aside, but archery gear is, in my opinion, incredibly overpriced.  I can understand paying for bows that are handmade or made using difficult-to-work with materials (like horn).  No complaints there.  But most archery tackle is produced on a larger scale and with prices in the several hundreds of dollars for a bow (much more for a competition or top flight hunting bow); it’s beyond the reach of most people.  So although not related to the book, for this project, I wanted to make a bow that could be made quickly and easily out of readily found or re-purposed household items (in keeping with my roots of making bows out of household materials).

Here’s what you need to make it:

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The youtube video below documents the process of making the bow:

http://youtu.be/9NVO4Sc8YMs

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on it – via this site or through my email address (writejoshuablum@gmail.com).

Interested in making more PVC takedown bows?  I’d highly recommend looking for other examples on youtube as well as checking out the book Takedown Archery by Nicholas Tomihama for more details of making takedown PVC bows and more.

If you’d rather buy a takedown bow, there are, of course, many commercial examples to choose from.  You can also buy handmade PVC takedown bows from the following sellers at very reasonable prices:

1.) LLBows and Archery (see the takedown option)

2.) Jaycubl (see “Takedown Survival Recurve Bow Set”)

Happy creating and safe shooting!

bow hunter

Before you go: want a free podcast on the creation of this takedown PVC-fiberglass rod bow?  Click the picture above for more details! 

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