The Mongols terrorized all of Asia and Europe with their recurved bows. Shot from galloping horseback, these compact weapons punctured armored troops hundreds of yards away.
The unique shape enabled these warriors to capture a tremendous amount of kinetic energy.
Rhett Allain over at Wired.com breaks down the math and the physics of archery for you.
Essentially, a recurve bow’s draw produces a linear power curve and transfers the energy to the arrow sending it flying.
Modern recurve bows use the same physical properties as their ancient counterparts, but unless you are a descendant of the Great Khan, it’s unlikely you were taught archery techniques from birth.
You need to first learn how to safely harness your bow’s power before you can work on your speed or accuracy.
Stringing a bow is a critical skill all archers learn early in their careers, and it can be performed in three basic steps: set up the string, apply tension to the limbs, and notch the string.
Although this necessary procedure seems straightforward, there are subtle techniques you must observe to avoid injury and damage to your bow.
Here is a quick look at bowstrings, techniques for stringing your bow, and the tool you need to make your task easier and safer.
Select and Prepare Your String
A recurved bow gets its name from the convex bend in the upper and lower limbs. When unstrung, the tips pointing away from the archer.
With the string in place, constant string tension on the limbs fights against the limb’s natural tendency to return to their natural shape. This property gives the bow its power.
In the olden days, a string might be made of hiding and woven with fibers for strength.
Today, bow strings are usually a durable synthetic fabric woven into either a Flemish twist or endless loop configuration.
The endless loop variety produces better accuracy, but some archers prefer the traditional feel and sound of a Flemish twist bowstring.
Regardless of which variation you select, always use a high-quality string. If a poorly made bowstring snaps, the tension on your bow releases unexpectedly.
You can get injured if you are drawing an arrow when it happens. The sudden release of energy may also crack or shatter the limbs of the bow.
Pay attention to the loops on either end of the string. The loops fit over the notches on the limbs, and one is larger than the other.
Perform a quick check to make sure the loops fit snugly into the grooves before you attempt to tension the limbs.
To prepare the bow, start with the larger of the two loops. Slip it over the top limb and down past the notch.
The reason this loop is larger is to make it easier to pull it a few inches below the top of the bow.
Later in the procedure, you will just slip the loop back up and over the notch once you compress the limb. For now, the other end of the string should be hanging loose.
Inexperienced archers might skip this step and instead attempt to hold the top end of the string in hand while bending the bow.
Fishing around for the top notch with the loop is clumsy and dangerous. If you miss, you may lose control of the bow.
Once the top loop is in place, put the smaller loop in its notch on the bottom limb of the bow. Pull the top end of the string upwards to take the slack out of the line.
It should still feel loose with plenty of room, but this allows you to check the placement of the string.
Pull upwards from the bottom look to center the string and seat the bottom loop. Check to make sure the arrow knock on the string roughly aligns with the arrow rest.
Inspect the string for kinks and correct any twists or irregularities in the shape of the string before proceeding.
Stringing Technique One – Bend it With Pure Gumption
You are ready to continue at this point. You need to bend the top limb downward far enough to allow the string to slip into place.
While not recommended, you might be strong enough to force the bow limbs to bend by hand. This method works best for stringing simple bows with lighter draw weights.
Do you know what draw strength your bow is? The guys over at Recurve Bow Guide have this helpful recurve bow draw weight chart to help you select a bow for your body size and application. Typically, a draw weight of 30 pounds or less is ideal for target practice.
To string your bow, plant your left foot on the ground and rest the bow next to the inside arch of your foot.
The bow should extend away from your body to right with the string facing upward.
Hold the upper limb with your right hand and push the bow down and towards your foot. Use your free hand to slide top string loop into its notch.
This method is unreliable and requires you to push the lower limb into the ground. You could damage your bow by breaking the lower limb.
Uneven pressure also causes the bow limbs to wear, and it is not uncommon for limbs to warp or crack.
It’s also difficult to control the tension on the bow. Most struggle to maintain steady
pressure using this technique, and if you slip, the bow’s energy releases towards you. Although this method can work, there are better alternatives.
Stringing Technique Two – Use the Leverage of Your Body
This alternative manual stringing method is popular for recurved bows. Although still dangerous, it at least keeps the lower edge of the bow off the ground while you fit the string in place.
With proper body mechanics, it’s possible to string heavy bows with this technique.
Once you have prepared your string, create enough slack to step through it. In a moment your bowstring will run between your feet, and you will use leverage from both of your legs to hold the bow still while you bend the top limb with your arm.
Place the bottom limb along the front of your left shin. The string should face outward, and your leg should contact the front curve of the bow.
With your right leg, step inside the string of the bow, and bring the body of the bow up behind you.
If positioned correctly, you should hold the bow with your right hand from behind while your left leg keeps the bottom limb still in front.
This position creates a lever, and the string rises from between your feet to connect with the other bow limb.
This position gives you the ability to bend the limbs, but you must still use some upper body strength.
Instead of wrestling with the bow, pull the top limb upwards to a near vertical position without changing where the bow rests on your legs.
Use your body to hold the bow still and firmly press forward with your arm to bend the upper limb.
Once the limb is bent, reach over with your left hand and slip the string into the top notch.
Check to make sure the string seats before releasing pressure. Carefully step out of the bow and give it a few tests pulls.
This method is effective but losing control it of your bow with tension applied can lead to serious injury. More massive hunting bows are particularly dangerous.
Also, like the brute force technique, you are putting uneven pressure on the limbs. A slip can crack or weaken your bow.
Know the Tool That Makes It All Easy
In the past 100 years, archery has undergone a renaissance. Though no longer a necessity for war or hunting, many still enjoy developing their skills in recreation. Archery competitions and have driven innovations in design.
Traditional recurve bows are made from wood, bone, and sinew. According to the experts at getrecurvebow.com modern materials like fiberglass and metals produce greater durability.
Engineers can create bows with even higher draw strength, durability, and accuracy. Bowstringing methods also enjoyed technological advancements.
In 1964, James A. Pearson patented a bow stringer for recurved bows. Have a look his bow stringer’s diagram and description courtesy of Google Patents.
This simple device is a set of cords that connect to the limbs of the bow allowing an archer to apply even pressure safely.
When used correctly, the string slips onto the notch and sets firmly in place.
Just about all bow stringers are inexpensive, but you should still take care to select one made of high-quality materials.
Nylon cords are the best with heavy stitching on the pockets and loops to ensure a firm hold on the bow while under pressure. Rubber tends to tear away and can break when you least expect it.
Stringing Technique Three – Use a Recurve Bow Stringer
The bow stringer is the best way to set a recurve bow. This method is much safer for you.
It keeps your bow away from your body while you are applying pressure. The limbs of the bow cannot snap back at you unexpectedly.
A bow stringer is also better for the equipment. The device applies even pressure and keeps the tension constant across the bow.
These properties limit stress on the limbs keeping your bow accurate through its life. You also do not need to place your bow near the ground where it can get damaged.
Start by setting up your string as usual. Hold the bow horizontally in front of you with the bowstring pointed down at the ground.
Attach the pouch end of the bow stringer to the bottom limb of the bow. It should slide over the notched string and seated firmly in place before you proceed.
Next, slip the flat looped end of the stringer over the top limb of the bow. Be careful not to tangle the stringer with the loose bowstring end.
The rest of the stringer’s cord should dangle loosely down to the floor. Stand on the stringer’s cord with both feet.
Pull upwards with the bow until you feel the bow stringer start to tension. As it becomes tighter, adjust the flat end in place along the upper limb of your bow.
The loop should lay flush without contacting the top loop of your bowstring.
Now that everything is in place pull upwards. Your feet hold the stringer in place along the ground, and your body weight is enough resistance to keep it there.
Both limbs of the bow flex at the same time as you pull against the stringer giving you room to position the bowstring.
Use your free hand to slip the loop of the bowstring over the notch. Check for proper seating and then lower the bow.
Your bow should remain taut as the string takes its place and the stringer should become loose.
Remove the stringer and give your bow a few tests pulls to make sure everything is working.
Inspect for twists or kinks and make sure the arrow notch aligns with the arrow rest. If you see a problem, repeat the procedure to correct any issues.
One of the key advantages of using a bow stringer is that it is much safer. The energy of the bow is kept under control and directed to the sides.
Unlike the manual techniques, you do not need to bring the ends of the bow limbs near your body or face.
When using a bow stringer, you should never need to pull the bow up past your waist. If the stringer is too long or if you have short legs, you can usually adjust the cords.
Even with simple stringers, you can always tie knots to take some of the lengths out of it.
Always Remember, Safety First
Just how dangerous is a recurve bow? The Mongols carved out an empire with these devices.
While it’s unlikely you are going to raid caravans along the Spice Road, do not underestimate the destructive power in your bow’s limbs.
Always use a proper stringing technique to avoid potential injuries. For a demonstration of all three techniques, check out NuSensei’s short instructional video.
Seek more guidance if are still unsure but master this essential technique before progressing.