While you can’t shoot a bow without a bowstring, it might just be the least glamorous part of the bow. I’ve spent countless hours looking at bow limbs, risers, rests, sights, and even cams, but I never really payed a lot attention to bowstring. That is until I started simple archery. Now I leave no piece or archery unexplored. It turns out that there is a lot to know about bow string. So if you’ve been wondering what bowstring is made of, you’ve come to the right place. Prepare your brain for a knowledge bomb.
A bowstring is attached to both limbs of a bow and is what launches arrows. What do you want in a bowstring and what is bowstring made of? First, because a bow is a portable handheld instrument, you want almost every piece of it to be lightweight.
What Bowstring is Made Of
As we look at what bowstring is made of, it’s incredible to look at the materials used thousands of years ago and to see how bowstring has advanced. The traditional material used for bowstrings came from fibrous plant materials. Linen and hemp were two of the traditional materials used for bowstrings. These fibers are comparatively strong and less affected by water which is why they were used for fishing nets and general cordage.
While hemp and linen were the best material were the best for making bowstring thousands of years ago, people have always searched for better bowstring material. That led to trying out silk, and even rawhide and sinew which didn’t work well if they got wet.
Someone might still use natural fibers on a longbow if they wanted to, but most opt for modern materials, as there are stronger materials with better stretch and reliability.
Just about any fiber could be used for a bowstring in pinch (and I’m sure most everything has at one time or another), but historically, those using longbows for weapons and hunting would want to use the most reliable material available.
Modern production and materials have made bows lighter than ever. Of course, you want the bowstring to be strong. I have never had a bowstring snap on me, and I hope to never experience it. A weak bowstring could cause significant injury to the shooter and bystanders. It’s also important that the material used be resistant to tearing, stretching, and elements such as water.
The challenge has always been finding the material that best meets all of these properties, and it was much harder to do with natural fibers. Today synthetics are widely used, and different fibers are even blended to provide a combination of the best properties.
Darcon is a polyester fiber that is used for bowstring. It is durable and stretches well. Because of this, Dacron is good for wooden bows, older bows, and bows used by beginners. Since it stretches well when shooting, it gives less shock to the bow limbs. Dacron is a low maintenance fiber and is also very durable. It will usually last for several years.
Kevlar and Vectran
The synthetic polymers Kevlar and Vectran are also used for bowstring. These fibers are smaller in diameter and less durable than Dacron, but they provided a faster speed for arrows. These polymers do not stretch well which causes greater stress to the bow limbs when shooting and cases the bowstring to have a shorter lifespan.
The string failure is usually gradual not sudden, so you don’t have to worry about it snapping in your face. That being said, the string is said to be reliable for 1000 shots, though it can last longer.
Spectra and Dyneema
Two other types of synthetic fiber, Spectra and Dyneema are also used for bowstring. These fibers are ultra high molecular weight polyethylenes (you don’t have to remember that!), and they have been used for bowstring since the 90’s.
These are lighter than Kevlar which means they are faster and have a much longer lifespan. Today, composite fibers, like a combination of Vectran and Dyneema, are used for bowstrings to give the best properties of both and also reduce the weaker properties of one or the other.
We cannot really understand what bowstring is made of, especially modern bowstring, without also understand how bowstring is made. No single string strand would work well for bowstring, so strands are combined in different ways to optimize their performance. The string forms used are integral for the strength and performance of the bowstring.
A part of making bowstring more reliable was coming up with the best form of the fibers. A simple string, as the name suggests, was the most basic form process used for bowstring. The fiber used is simply twisted together into a single cord. While this is the fastest way to make a bowstring, it is not the strongest form of the fibers, and if not held in tension on the bow, the string comes apart.
Reverse Twisted Strings.
This process presented the strongest form for natural fibers and is still used for some bowstring. The process looks similar to braiding but is different. A simple explanation: imagine 4 chords tied at one end. Taking two chords in each hand and twist each set of chords toward the outside. Once they are good n’ twisted, you wrap them together. Done and done. Well, hopefully, you get the idea. This makes for a much stronger presentation of the string.
Looping strings is the process most commonly used for modern day material. Think of looping an extension cord, or a climbing rope when you are done using it, or you want to store it.
Once you’ve got most of it looped, you can put two sides of the loop together and wrap it with some of the remaining cord. (This is the correct way to store climbing rope)
That is a simplified version of the looped string process that goes into making a bowstring, and the special wrapping string around it is called serving. Servings are used to reinforce areas of the bowline that may wear faster such as the end sections and in the middle.