How to Select a Flea Market Bow

© 2002 Copyright Master Thorfinn Graybeard. All rights reserved. Previously published in the Tosspot, this article was published with permission. It may be reproduced for use in the SCA only. Contact Master Thorfinn before publishing.

There are many quality used archery bows out in back yard America, and they can be purchased for a few dollars at a great discount to the price of a new bow.

For SCA purposes, the bow cannot be a compound bow. The most commonly available bow is usually the solid fiberglass or the composite recurve made of fiberglass with a wood core. You will also occasionally run into solid wood bows.

I will discuss the detailed selection of each type of bow separately. However, for all bows you should start with a careful visual inspection, looking for cracks across the grain, splits with the grain, and large dings on the edges. These dings weaken that area, and over time start splits or cracks. If the bow contains glued up layers look carefully for signs of de-lamination where the layers are separating. This is death to a bow. Check the back and edges for places where the grain is starting to lift up. Even a small sliver can quickly grow to break the bow, usually at full draw.

Solid Wood Bows

Generally these should be avoided by the SCA archer. They are often very brittle due to being too dry from our arid western climate, and are thus easily broken. They also have a lower cast for a given draw weight, and often have a high antique and collectable value.

Solid Fiberglass Bows

These bows usually work well for SCA archery. They are cheap and very durable. They are often of the long bow shape with reflex tips which add to the bows cast.

The problems to watch for in these bows are splits or raised fibers along the bow's edges due to abuse of the bow. These can easily grow into vertical cracks. However, if the bow is clean and not abused, they seem to last forever, and are usually very cheap, $5 to $15 for a nice bow. These do seem to make good starter SCA target archery bows.

Usually the general visual inspection is enough to qualify one of these bows. If it has a string, then do string it and check over its shape and look. Pull it a few times, a little at first, then build up to a full draw. However, never over draw a bow. The old saying is "a fully drawn bow is nearly broken", meaning that there is little safety margin in a full drawn bow.

Solid fiberglass bows make good combat archery bows. They are very tough, and cheap enough that being abused in a melee situation is not a financial disaster. I would not want to put a hundred plus dollar composite fiberglass and wood core bow on the combat archery field.

Composite Fiberglass and Wood Core Bows

These bow can be found at reasonable prices, though they are becoming very collectable, which is pushing their prices up with time. Wither a recurve or long bow design, they usually have excellent cast as compared to a solid wood or solid fiberglass bow. A good one at a cheap price is a real find.

However, finding a good one is a real art. The problem with these bows is that they are easily ruined if improperly strung. As a consequence, many of the used composite fiberglass and wood recurve bows are worthless because of a twisted or broken limb. The more recurve in the bow's limb, the greater chance that a limb has been twisted.

So to buy a used composite fiberglass and wood recurve bow, you must always test the bow for a twisted limb. To do this the bow must be strung. This means it must have a string or you must provide one to test it. In addition you do not want to damage the bow by improperly stringing it, which means that you or the seller needs a bow stringer.

I solve these problems by carrying a bow stringer and a long single ended bow string. The single ended bow string is a universal length string. It is put on the bow with a bowyers loop on the bottom limb so that the loop is about 4 to 5 inches short of the bow's knoch. The bow is then strung and the bowyers loop adjusted to get the height of the string from the bow to be about 6 inches.

Then look for any twist of either bow limb. Be very suspect if the string does not lie exactly down the center of both bow limbs. Make sure that each loop at the ends of the bow string start in the center of the limb. If the string appears to be well centered, then draw the bow a few times, watching that as the bow is slowly relaxed, that the string returns to lay down on the center of the bow limbs. If the string tracks to one side of the limb there is a good chance the limb has a twist.

Twists usually get worse with time, until the string actually lays down off the edge of the bow. At that point the bow will turn itself around, usually very violently. The first time that happens, you will be very surprised, and You will not forget the experience. Such a bow is worthless. You cannot keep it properly strung beyond a single shot if even that long.

When in doubt on a used composite fiberglass and wood recurve bow, you are probably better off to pass on it. However, a good used composite fiberglass and wood recurve bow that is well matched to your strength is a sweet thing to shoot. They are very fast, and work well for SCA archery.

Finally, Ebay is a good source for used bows. Though many of the bows sold on Ebay are relatively expensive collectable bows, some are good solid cheap shooters. A bow will usually not be a steal on Ebay, but they are often very reasonable priced compared to a comparable priced new bow, and because of the large selection you can often find exactly the bow you are looking for in just a few day. I worked with one of our local archers to find a $45 Composite Fiberglass and Wood Core Bow of exactly her desired draw weight and color. With Ebay you will often take a month or so to actually receive the bow unless the seller takes credit cards which can really speed up the sale.

A problem with with buying Ebays bows is that the sellers are not always knowledgeable or honest. So you have to check out the bow very carefully. Look for pictures of the strung bow. Ask questions about bent limbs and the seller's return policy. It is much easier to avoid a bad deal than to try and recover from one after you have paid your money and the bow is shipped. Ebay is also one of the best sources for SCA crossbows. I have purchased 3 Wham-o Crossbows, which work well for SCA open division crossbow within a few months in the $50 range. Before Ebay I had looked for two or three years in the local flea markets without seeing any of these crossbows.

In Service,
Master Thorfinn Graybeard

© 2002 Copyright Master Thorfinn Graybeard. All rights reserved. Previously published in the Tosspot, this article was published with permission. It may be reproduced for use in the SCA only. Contact Master Thorfinn before publishing.

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