Sticking with Strings

QandA logoAs a follow-up on my last post about waxing bowstrings I received a query about breaking in new bowstrings.

* * *

First, a separation must be made between modern and post-modern bowstring materials (my definitions). I say this because no one is using traditional materials (silk, hemp, linen, cotton, sinew, etc.) in target archery so we do not need to talk about them. (Yes, primitive archers are using such materials but not to seriously compete against others in ordinary target archery venues.) And, there is a big difference between the first-generation modern string materials and those that came after.

So, the first “modern” string material and the only one worth considering is Dacron® (still available for purchase, by the way). Dacron® was much stronger than most of the materials and cheaper and more regular, etc. But Dacron® was also “stretchy.” So, when a new Dacron® bowstring was placed on a bow, several procedures were used to remove some of the stretch. One common technique was to place the strung bow, back down, in one’s lap and press down on the limbs. After some of the stretch occurred, the string would be twisted up and shot. Unfortunately, Dacron® never stops stretching so one needs to keep twisting over the life of the string.

The first post-modern string material (in my scheme of things) was Spectra® marketed under the brand name “Fast Flight.” This string material was primarily ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, a slightly modified version of the material used to make black plastic garbage bags. And, there was Kevlar® (poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—Aramid fiber), and yes the stuff used to make bullet proof vests, but Kevlar strings had the nasty habit of breaking … at full draw so achieve only a temporary popularity.Recurve bow string

Most newer bowstring materials are made from two such materials, their fibers twisted together to make “blended string materials.”

The point here is that once you get past Dacron®, the “stretchiness” is much, much less. (There are technical terms used, such as “creep” which have technical definitions (stretch that doesn’t recover, stretch that does recover, etc.) but my argument doesn’t require a foray into the itty-bitty details.) Because of the low level of stretch in these materials “string break in” is a simple procedure: string the bow and shoot it.

The “old” rule of thumb (Fast Flight came out in the late 1980’s, so we are talking about the last 30 years or so) was 100 shots and you were good to go. Basically 30 will probably do it. After that adjust your brace height or eccentric positions and you are good to go. Yes, you still need to check these things regularly because things do go wrong, but don’t expect large changes after break in, they just don’t happen with these “post-modern” materials.

And, if you keep your ears open you will hear old-timers talking about things like “sinking in” their new bow by shooting their heaviest arrows. These are traditional self-bow archers who are not talking about their strings so much as they are their bows. But keep listening, just be sure you associate what you hear with what is really being talked about and don’t just extrapolate that to you and your archer’s archery.

PS I still use Fast Flight string material for compound strings and cables and the occasional recurve or longbow strings. Good stuff. But (Warning!) do not use modern string materials on older recurves or longbows that do not have limb tip reinforcements. These materials are so unyielding that they can cut right into the bare wood of such bows. Most archers use dacron strings on those older bows as the springyness of the string lessens the shock on the limb tips. (No charge for that tip.)








Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

4 responses to “Sticking with Strings

  1. Someone should start a competition for traditional self-bows with self-strings made of traditional materials. I would totally compete in that. It would be a competition of both traditional bowmaking skill and accuracy.

    • There are some primitive archery competitions that would qualify but I suspect you are talking about more modern equipment.

      On Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 12:39 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


  2. Thanks for the information! I’ve thought about starting archer lessons for my family so that we can start going on bow hunting trips. I thought that the information about breaking in strings was really interesting. It never occurred to me that bow strings had to be broken in, and that the material for the strings could make such a difference. I can see how strings made from hemp would be good to use since it’s a really durable material. I’ll look more into getting strings that aren’t made from traditional materials and how to break them in properly for an optimal hunting experience.

    • The requirements for hunting are often quite different from those for target. The prime difference is in the number of shots taken at a time. whereas a hunter might shoot a dozen arrows in camp to “warm up” they are unlikely to shoot many arrows in a single day. So, for hunting the key is to preserve the string for one shot, while for target it is to ensure optimal performance for many, many shots. Since hunting bows are generally higher drawing they use thicker strings which are heavier and sturdier but many of the same conditions apply. Hunters, though, might wax their bowstrings heavily to prevent water penetration (if they were going hunting in damp, rainy, or or dewy conditions) where as recurve archers would not want their strings weighed down with all that wax.

      So make sure you get your advice from people on the same task because recurve target archers will say one thing, compound target archers another, and traditional hunters yet another (and so on).

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