One of my young archers asked if they had to use special bow string wax. He wondered if he could, in a pinch, use Chap Stick, lip balm, bees wax or something more readily available on his bow string. He readily ruled out candle wax, it didn’t feel the same, but I didn’t have a good answer for him on his other suggestions … do you?
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Okay, is he a recurve archer? Recurve archers do not generally wax their strings, unless they are expecting to have to shoot in the rain. Wax increases the weight of the string, slowing it and the arrows attached to it down. Water in the bowstring will do the same thing, so the wax is preferred over the water as being less variable. The amount of waxed used then becomes a variable, which …
If he is a compound archer, well, they do wax their strings, maybe once a year. So, what kind of a pinch/emergency are we talking about? ;o)
I remember a young JOAD archer who was earnestly waxing the string and cables of his compound bow and I asked him why he was doing that. His response was that he was told to “keep his string and cables well-waxed.” The fact that he already had enough wax on his bow to polish a good sized gymnasium floor was not considered a sign of “oops, too much.”
Modern string materials are made out of stuff very similar to that used to make plastic garbage bags (high molecular weight linear polyethylene being one the first such materials). Wax is not needed, per se, as these materials do not absorb water. Some wax, though, keeps grit from getting between the individual strands of the string which keeps that grit from abrading the individual strands, thus preventing premature string failure. Any soft wax will do, which is why candle wax did not feel right (too hard). Beeswax has been used on bowstrings since prehistoric times, I believe. I suggest playing it safe and using a commercial product as the ingredients in lip glosses, for example, may soften the string material leading to string stretch which changes a whole bunch of bow parameters. If the commercial products had any such negative effect, the obsessive-compulsive archers would have pointed that out already.
If any such substitute string “wax” is used in “a pinch” I would replace it with commercial bow wax at the earliest opportunity. Just wax over the area with the “good wax” and then loop a strand of serving material around the string, pull on both ends and slide it up and down. This will remove the excess wax. The “dewaxing” could be done before as well as after the correct waxing, first to remove the “bad wax” and the second to remove the excess. A couple of repetitions of this procedure will result in the “good wax” replacing the “substitute” almost completely.
Recurve archers can be obsessive about their strings up to weighing them to make sure they are identical in every way, down to the very small amounts of wax used on them.