September 08, 2021
I'm not a gearhead. Changing the oil in my UTV gives me anxiety. However, I am a passionate bowhunter and target archer. My geographic location — the middle of nowhere — forced my bow-tuning hand.
In my early bow-tuning days, I would've given anything for a close-to-home pro shop. The nearest was 102 miles, and when a d-loop snapped, cams went out of time, or strings and cables needed to be replaced, I couldn't hop in the car and drive down the road for a quick fix. It was either go the DIY route or don't shoot. Not shooting wasn't an option.
I'm thankful for those anxiety-riddled days — my tuning wins and massive failures. I learned a lot, and today I can do almost anything with a vertical bow without having to hit a punching bag or open a bottle of Ibuprofen.
I love tuning bows, building arrows, and the like. The process is super rewarding, and there's an added sense of satisfaction when you punch a perfect hole through paper or let the air out of a big buck's lungs with a rig you've tuned to perfection. Most of my learning was from the school of hard knocks. Don't be me. Take advantage of the resources available. There are throngs of incredible videos available on YouTube that will walk you through every aspect of bow tuning, arrow fletching, paper tuning, and the list goes on.
Before you start building an archery shop wish list, you first need to carve out some space. The more, the better, as more space increases organization. In addition to space, you'll want a large bench or table that you can work from. I had a construction-savvy uncle build me a 60x42-inch table with a sheet-metal top. This is a big, hefty table, and it allowed me to mount my bow press and arrow saw and still have ample room for my other necessary gear. Plan space, whether in the garage or basement and go from there. Once you have the space problem solved, do a little decorating, hang a banner, or three, and start getting the necessary gear you need to be an at-home bow tech.
This will be your most pricy investment, but it's a must-have item for the garage bow-goer. There are lots of different limb and riser designs on the market, and you want a press that will safely collapse any bow you're working on. My go-to is Last Chance's EZ Deluxe Press ($780). The press is a breeze to setup and doesn't take an engineering degree to use. The press mounts easily to a bench or wall, and a lever located in the middle of the main bar means you can pivot a bow quickly from a vertical to a horizontal position. I also cheer the adjustable LCA patented finger system. Depressing small tabs allow you to easily slide fingers left and right to adjust for limb width, and small circular discs individually adjust each finger forward and back. This means you're never applying extra pressure to the limbs or adding unneeded torque to the riser while pressing the bow. This press will bend bows from 25 to 40 inches axle to axle.
As with the bow press, there are throngs of D-loop pliers on the market. Find a do-all model and stick with it. A notch recessed into the end of my Easton Archery Pliers ($20) allows me to place one notch in the bowstring and the other in the d-loop. A hard pull sets the loop. With these pliers, I can also add and remove brass nocks and perform a litany of other chores.
String Serving Tool
Serving separates, frays and breaks, and there will come a time when you need to reserve an area of a string or cable. Don't fret. The process is easy — a couple of YouTube videos, and you'll be a pro. All you need is the right tool. Bohning's Serve-Tite Bow String Serving Tool ($15) allows you the ability to adjust serving tension and create smooth thread flow. This process is easy, and tool setup is a snap.
T-Handle Allen Wrenches & Torx Drivers
You won't be doing much bow work without a set of T-handle Allen Wrenches and a couple of Torx Drivers. Almost every bolt and screw on modern-day bows and the accessories that attach to these bows require an Allen wrench between ¼" and 3/32". The T-handle design allows you to apply the necessary amount of torque and not strip bolts and screws. You can get a quality set for around $35. Some bows, like Hoyt's new-for-2021 models, have Torx screws in the cam modules. Having Torx 15 and Torx 20 screwdrivers on hand will save you some headaches. Be sure to get drivers with a heavy, wide grip. A pair of drivers will run you around $15.
When it comes to levels, the more the better. I like to have a standard 4-foot construction level on hand to ensure my riser is level when my bow is in the vertical position. This tool will be a big asset when checking for second-axis leveling. Other level must-haves include a string and arrow level. This dynamic duo makes rest installation super simple. You can get all three levels for around $30.
You can't tune a bow without arrows, and if you're like me, you go through lots of carbon. Building your arrows, just like setting up your bow, is a rewarding process and will save you some coin. I use my Weston Arrow Saw as much as anything, and once your bowhunting compadres know you have an arrow saw, you can pay for your investment by cutting down their arrows. My 8000 RMP saw works like a charm, and it only set me back about $180.
You won't regret the $90 you drop on a Bitzenburger fletching jig. During my archery tenure, I've used piles of lesser jigs, and all have failed me. The amount of money I spent replacing one bad jig with another got ridiculous. Finally, I saw the light. This jig comes with the clamp of your choice, and you can purchase additional clamps. Also, the die-cast aluminum is extremely durable and allows for easy glue clean-up. This jig can create three- and four-fletch arrows by simply tightening or losing Allen keys located above the positive-click nock receiver.
If you get creative, this one won't cost you a dime, and it's an essential tool to any garage bow shop. You can go as elaborate or as simple as you want when building your paper tuner. I've seen guys use PVC pipe, clothespins, and butcher paper. Wooden window-like frames attached to a wall and then swing in and out on a door hinge are also popular. I use an old picture frame, white typing paper, and staples. You don't have to get overly elaborate. The goal is to shoot each arrow through paper and individually tune every arrow in your arsenal. Too many archers tune a single arrow and call it good. Not good practice. Testing will often show slight imperfections in some arrows. All that's typically needed is a slight nock rotation.
Paper Tuning Chart
I like to have a visual, and my garage shop has a paper tuning chart hung in it. I use it regularly, and over the years, this simple chart has saved me tons of time and helped eliminate easy-to-make tuning mistakes. There are countless charts available throughout the internet, or you can print the one below and you're set to go.
Nock High Tear
- Lower nocking point
- Move rest up
- Arrow spine too weak
Nock Low Tear
- Raise nocking point
- Move rest down
Nock Right Tear
- Move rest to the left (away from the riser for a right-hand shooter)
- Check spine stiffness. Consider a lighter spined arrow or increase point weight on the arrow
Nock Left Tear
- Move rest to the right (toward the riser for a right-handed shooter)
- Reduce arrow point weight
- Change to a stiffer spined arrow
This is a highly overlooked item but an essential one when it comes to tuning. After an arrow is built, it should be weighed. Of course, there will be times when arrow weights don't match up perfectly. Just the other day, I fletched a half-dozen Easton FMJs the same. Arrow weights were: 484.8. 484.7, 484.8, 484.8, 484.6, and 484.7. I can live with that. I've weighed finished arrows — both with broadheads and field points — and have had weight discrepancies beyond 20 grains.
Why? Once, I placed a 125-grain fixed-blade that was inadvertently placed in the packaging with two 100-grain heads on a shaft. The other time, I accidentally threaded an 85-grain field-point into my shaft. Archery is a game of inches. Check everything. You can pick up a solid digital scale for around $25.
Tools of the Trade
Of course, you'll need D-loop, serving material, brass nocks, Sharpie markers, and the list goes on. Snag this stuff before you get started. There is nothing worse than needing something and not having it.
There you have it — everything you need to get started for just a shade over $1K. Of course, you can go cheaper. Used bow presses and other equipment can be picked up on Facebook and Craigslist. I've also stumbled across garage-sale items and have purchased gear from pro shops that were looking to upgrade. Either way, once you're set up and rolling, the cost-saving and peace of mind of being able to work on and fine-tune your equipment is irreplaceable.