The bowstring is how you transfer your muscle energy into the arrow. Your physical strength puts the tension in the bow, and the explosive release of the string launches the arrow towards the target.
That constant cycle of draw and release wears on your bow in the same way any other repetitive motion puts a strain on any machine with moving parts.
For safety and performance, all bows (crossbows, compound bows, recurve bows, and longbows) need regular maintenance and occasional restringing. When you need to restring your bow depends on several factors, namely:
- How often you shoot your bow.
- Your shooting environment – Range or Field.
- The type of arrows you’re shooting.
- How well you maintain and store your bow.
- How long it’s been since your bow’s last restring.
By paying close attention to your bow’s condition and performance, you’ll quickly learn to recognize when your bow needs restringing.
So, when exactly should you restring your bow? The short and simple answer is:
All bows should be restrung about every two to three years, depending on how often you shoot. Target bows are shot more often and should be restrung every year, while hunting bows can be restrung every two years. All bowstrings that show signs of breaking or fraying should be replaced immediately.
Why Does a Bow Need Restringing?
You might as well ask why do cars need servicing? A bow is a complex piece of kit with moving parts – any object with moving parts changes with time and use. If you ride a bicycle, the tires wear, the wheels wobble, and the gears begin to slip. The bicycle set up starts to decline from the optimum because of wear and use.
A bow goes through the same process – you pull and release the bowstring, you hang it up and put it down, you expose it to different temperatures – over time, the cams and the string all move and wear.
Whether it’s for target practice or hunting, a bow is a high energy weapon, and a poorly maintained and serviced bow represents a danger for the archer and everyone around them. It’s essential to restring your bow when necessary to keep your bow performing both accurately and safely.
How Often Should You Restring Your Bow?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have an automatic counter on your bow that buzzed when you fired a certain number of arrows and automatically booked the bow in for a restring? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that.
While some compound bows have timing marks on the cam that can indicate when you need a restring, there are other things to look for.
The number of times you use the bow is undoubtedly a factor, but the need for a bow restring is more nuanced. You can leave a bow in a case and open it up after a year to find it with a broken string. An archer who uses a bow every day will need to restring a bow more often than one who uses a bow occasionally – seems obvious. But how often should you restring your bow?
Plan On Restringing Every One or Two Years
Even if you only use your bow for occasional target practice, you need to consider having annual or biannual service on the bow – ask your local archery shop for recommended service intervals. The bow technician will advise if you need a restring, plus it’ll give you peace of mind that your bow has been checked over and is in peak condition.
As a rule, target bows are in use more often than hunting bows. While you can target shoot all year in many parts of the country, the bow hunting season is short in most states. A target bow restring is an annual event, and hunting bows every other year.
Keep In Mind: Individual bow use is the crucial element to the timing of a restringing. An archer may practice with their hunting bow all year round, and in that case, they would be putting enough wear on the bowstring to justify an annual restring – possibly even more often if necessary.
Remember, aluminum hunting arrows with broadheads are far heavier then lightweight target practice arrows, and therefore put a lot more wear and tear on your bowstring!
When to Restring a Crossbow?
If you mainly use lighter bolts for target shooting and you shoot frequently, you should restring your crossbow every year. However, if you use your crossbow primarily for hunting you should only need to replace the bowstring once every two years. Again, if your bowstring is showing signs of breaking or fraying it should be replaced immediately.
By the way, this is my go to crossbow string wax. Just put a little on every time you’re done shooting to extend the life of your bowstring and keep your crossbow shooting accurately.
Always Check for a Restring After Any Dry Fire
Dry firing is when you put the bowstring under tension and release without an arrow, and is a terrible and dangerous thing to do to any bow.
All that energy snaps through the bow structure, and it is simply not made to take it. The energy transfer is meant for the arrow, not the bow.
The vibrations from a dry fire can cause the bow to crack, break a string, or throw off parts at high velocity – think shrapnel close to your only pair of eyeballs. Most archers know that dry firing is catastrophic, but it still happens due to accidents, light arrows, slips, and other circumstances.
After a dry fire, if you can, get the bow into its case as quickly as possible. If any bits fly off, they are inside the case and not putting you or anyone else around in danger. Then, check for any injuries to yourself and anyone nearby.
After an accidental dry fire, the bow needs checking over by a professional for damage to the limbs, moving parts, and the bowstring. A bow may need restringing after an accidental dry fire.
Recovering from Injury
Archery is a physical sport, and you build up your draw weight as your muscles adapt and strengthen. If you are recovering from an injury or an operation or any other event that results in a loss of muscle tone, you might want to consider having your bow restrung to a lower draw weight to allow you to rebuild your strength.
There is nothing worse for your self confidence than being faced with a loss of performance. If you need to take a step back for a while, do so. You can continue to enjoy archery and let your bow practice be a positive step towards recovery.
It’s worth having a chat with your doctor, but the ‘bow and arrow’ exercise is one of a series of routines useful for building up muscle strength in your arms, shoulders and back. Most doctors will be keen for you to regain your prowess as an indication of your progress through recovery. Archery is an excellent physical rehabilitation for upper body strength – so don’t give up your archery practice, restring your bow a bit lighter and get to working those muscles.
Signs of Wear on the Bow String
Most drivers and pilots have a mental checklist when they get ready to drive or fly. In the case of the pilot, it is a formal checklist of the pre-flight conditions. Every good driver has the same type of routine. When you were learning, your instructor probably made you verbalize – seat position, rear view mirror, side view mirrors, and so on.
When you pick up your bow, before use, you need a visual checklist. Check for signs of damage and wear on the bowstring (fraying and splitting) to make sure your bow is safe to use. If the bowstring is showing signs of wear or damage, it may be time for a restring.
How Do You Spot Wear on a Bow String?
The wear on a bowstring is gradual – until the damage builds up and catastrophic failure happens – your string breaks.
One of the first signs that your bowstring may be getting worn out is that your shooting is off. You may feel that you’ve lost form, but it could be your bowstring. Some archers unconsciously adjust their technique to accommodate the gradual wear on their strings. Either way, don’t assume that the fault automatically lies with you. If you regularly use your bow, consider the possibility of wear.
As part of your pre-shooting checks, run your fingers gently down the bow and follow them with your eyes, so you look and feel for dryness, fraying, splitting, serving separation and stretching.
Any of these can indicate excessive wear on the bowstring and a need to restring. If your compound bow has timing marks and these are not aligned, then it is either time for maintenance or a restring.
Waxing Your Bowstring
A bowstring should feel slightly waxy if it is in good condition. Part of maintaining your bow includes regular waxing of the string. A wax stick applies an even coating of wax, and your warm fingers work the wax into the bowstring.
While we’re at it, this is my personal favorite string wax. Give it a try, I think it’ll you’ll dig it too.
Historically bowstrings came from animal hides or plant fibers, and these natural materials need wax to ‘feed’ the strings and keep them soft, supple, and waterproof. Today’s bowstrings are made from synthetic fibers, but they still need waxing as a regular conditioning and maintenance treatment.
A wax coating protects the bowstring from water getting between the strands – untwisting them and increasing string weight. A dry or fuzzy string needs the wax to smooth the fibers and perform at its best. Most professional archers wax their bowstrings at least every two or three weeks.
In fact, it’s good practice to wax your bowstring a little after every time you shoot. Try to get into the habit so that it becomes second nature.
Wax will not sort out fraying or splitting – these two signs mean the bow needs restringing. You can never tell just when the tipping point is for a frayed string to snap. It will happen without warning, so always err on the side of caution and change your bowstring first if you’re in any doubt.
In use, the bowstring stretches and stores potential energy, on release the potential energy converts into kinetic energy. You expect a bowstring to stretch, but there is a point when a bowstring overstretches when the fibers lengthen. The bowstring becomes slightly longer, and the transfer of energy from bowstring to the arrow is less efficient – archers call this bowstring creep.
The bowstring can stretch for other reasons:
· Extreme temperature variations between cold and heat.
· Deterioration through storage for months or years at a time.
· Under use – A compound bowstring is left under tension, and this stretches the string over time.
A stretched bowstring can ruin your accuracy and performance. Keep a look out for this with regular checking of the string length and maintenance. A stretched bowstring needs replacing.
Check Your Servings
Serving areas are the areas reinforcing the bowstring with an additional thread tied over the bowstring for avoiding excessive wear in high friction areas. In a compound bow, these serving areas include the nocking area and places where the bowstring can rub on parts of the bow like the cams, roller guards, and string stops.
The fibers can break in the bowstring and in the reinforced serving areas. The serving areas contain tight coils or rings of threads that butt up tight to each other with no gaps. If these start to separate, then the fibers are beginning to breakdown.
Fuzziness on a bow is an indicator of the beginning of fraying. Fraying is when the individual fibers in the string split – like split ends in your hair. You can smooth fuzzy or furry strings with wax, but a fray is a sign of breakage, and bow wax can’t fix it.
The nocking area is the vital part of the bowstring, and any evidence of damage to this area is a warning sign that the bow needs restringing. The risk of a bowstring breaking in use is something that every responsible archer avoids.
Age, Use, and Maintenance
After a year or two of use, a bowstring need to be replaced. Even if it’s not showing any clear signs of wear, after a couple of years of semi-regular shooting – a bowstring simply needs to be changed.
As I’ve said before, safety is always first priority in archery. If in doubt, don’t risk it – Change your bowstring!
A compound bow is always set up, which causes it’s bowstring to be more susceptible to changes from climate and moisture in the air. Regular restringing is part of general maintenance to keep a compound bow in peak condition, along with checking for loose screws, cams, cracks, and breaks.
You can keep your bowstring in top condition by only using approved bow wax, storing your bow in climate controlled conditions, and using a hard shell case to protect your bow when it’s not in use or being transported.
Can You Restring Your Bow?
If you have a recurve or longbow, yes you can restring your bow at home with the use of a bow stringing tool like this one. There are plenty of videos on Youtube showing how to do this, as it’s quite easy.
If you have a compound bow or crossbow, you’re probably best off to bring it down to your local archery shop, there you’ll have a trained technician who can easily do it for you.
If you have the right equipment and the proper training you can restring your compound bow at home, in the same way, you could build a car or forge a knife. It’s not a question of can you? But should you?
Restringing is a potentially dangerous activity because the string is under tension, and to do it safely, you need the right bow press. Inexpert restringing attempts can result in the breakage of your expensive bow and damage to your irreplaceable self.
Besides, it can be fairly cheap to have it done for you, as the bulk of the cost of restringing is the string itself, expect to pay around $50 or more for cheaper strings, or $150 plus for more for high-grade professional strings. The labor cost of a qualified bow technician is modest, and you can throw in a full service check of your bow’s set up at the same time.
You can restring your bow yourself, but unless you invest in the right equipment and training, it is probably best to employ a professional. A bow technician routinely restrings bows every week, where you would only get the experience once a year.
I hope that’s cleared up any questions you had about restringing your bow. Archery is a fun, healthy, outdoor exercise that is more safe than golf, as responsible archers never forget to take care of their bows. The bowstring is the key to successful shooting, but it has a limited lifespan and needs regular restringing to keep your bow shooting straight and true.