So this is a little different than any of my other posts. Normally I post about something having to do with technology, but this time I’m focusing on something that is decidedly not technological. I recently took up archery as a hobby – specifically shooting the longbow. Why the longbow? Because I’m actually a closet (or maybe not so closet), Renaissance Faire geek. My close friends already know this about me, but many in the tech community do not. This is my “coming out of the 16th century closet” post.
Let me start with my issue: I want a safe way to transport my longbow over long distances without it incurring damage. Since both Dana and I only have small cars, it’s more difficult to transport a 6 foot piece of delicate thin wood for hours without banging it up.
In Search of a Solution
I spent way too much time on the interwebs looking around for ideas to protect the longbow. The simplest is a bow sock – which works for both a long- and a recurve bow. However, that’s really to protect the finish of the bow, but not so much the bow itself from damage. This is because a bow sock is just that… a sock which is large enough for a bow. So that was off my list.
Finding a Solution
Luckily enough after scouring a bunch of sites for a solution, I eventually found one in the form of a PVC pipe build. This is something that professional bowyers use when they have to ship a longbow over great lengths via a traditional carrier or when archers want to check their longbow as part of luggage. Most of the information that I read indicated that traditional Schedule 40 PVC pipe has a 4,000 lb. crush rating. I guess technically that means that I could drive over it in my smaller car and not break it. (I did not, nor will I try this).
This was a great find, but a 6 foot tall PVC tube doesn’t exactly look like it belongs at a Renn Faire. So I found a few people who gave some suggestions on how to get PVC to look like wood. This was much more acceptable.
- 3x 3″ x 24″ sections of PVC Pipe
- 2x 3″ couplers
- 1x 3″ cap
- 1x 3″ threaded coupler
- 1x 3″ clean-out cap
- Dust mask (this is critical!)
- 100 Grit Sandpaper (a goodly bit)
- Metal rasp (two different patterns)
- Metal bristled brush
- Rubber Gloves
- Clear PVC Glue
- Leather Tool belt
- Grommet kit
- Oil paints (2 colors – Burnt Umber & Burnt Sienna)
- Spray Varnish or Poly
- 2x 1/4″ x 1″ Bolts
- Washers, Lock Washers, & Knurl Nuts
Cost: Around $45.00 between my local home and art supply stores
First we need to dry fit everything together to make sure that your bow will fit. I did this in the store before I even got the parts home, so I know that my 72″ longbow will fit in this setup.
Prep the PVC
The first real step in assembly is to sand down the PVC. For this step use a dust mask! I cannot stress this enough. Your area will have thousands upon thousands of near microscopic pieces of plastic floating in the air. You do not want these in your lungs. Be kind to your body and use a mask.
You need to sand down the PVC until the “shiny” coating is gone. Like, completely gone. You should also sand down all of the printed and raised words on the PVC. When you are sanding, sand in the long direction and not “around” the pipe. This better imitates the direction that wood grows.
How can you tell you are done? When held in the light, the PVC does not reflect cleanly. This is harder to do in low light, so be sure to have plenty of light in your area.
I went so far as to remove the “bumps” on the 3″ threaded adapter to make it look smoother. I did this with a very sharp knife always working in a direction away from my body.
The next step is to “groove” the PVC. For this step, you’ll need your metal rasp and the metal brush.
The rasp that I used was rounded on one side and flat on the other. At this stage, put on your gloves. They aren’t required before, but here you can do yourself injury without. Do not run your hand along the length of the pipe until after you’ve done the next three steps.
Take the rasp and using the more aggressive surface drag it forcefully down the length (not across) of the PVC. If you see PVC pieces “peeling” off the tube, you are doing things right. What you are doing here is cutting in little grooves that should look like the distinctive rings in wood. If you find that the rasp isn’t working as well as it did before, use the wire brush to clean it off and try again.
After you’ve scarred up the area suitably enough, switch to the less aggressive side of the rasp and repeat in the same direction. Be sure to keep things moving in the same direction.
You should end up with a pretty scarred up piece of PVC.
The last step here is to sand this area down again with your 100 grit sand paper. This will remove any of the shards still left which may prove dangerous to handling and smooth the surface again. Remember to put your dust mask on!
Now repeat the process on each and every piece that you have. This is time consuming and tedious, but it makes for the best presentation at the end.
PVC to Wood Transformation
If you thought you were messy before, get ready to get absolutely filthy. Get your gloves back out and clean off any PVC “fluff” that’s still on them. Grab yourself an old t-shirt or some rags and break out your oil paints. I don’t have a specific recommendation on a paint, but you should use one that isn’t water soluble. I have my reasons and I will tell you why… later.
With your gloves on, put a small amount (about 1/2 the size of a dime) of the oil paint on the rag. Now smear that down the length of the PVC pipe.
Continue to work it in, using strokes along the length of the pipe (again, do not go “around”). After a while the “wood” texture should show through.
Repeat this process all the way around the pipe. When you are complete, you can stand it on it’s end and leave it to “dry.” Why is dry in quotes? Well, oil paint never really dries (as we think of other paints), it just gets less movable. Once the piece is no longer tacky to the touch (about 48 hours in a warm climate), you can spray it down with the varnish. I used one that’s designed by the same manufacturer as the paint for use with oil paint (art supply store find).
You may say to yourself that it seems dry enough, but don’t let it fool you. This is what happened to my shirt on my first attempt with this project:
Moral of the story – use the varnish. It’ll save your garb.
Paint and varnish each piece. I elected to use two different colors. I used burnt sienna for the pipe and burnt umber for the couplers and ends. You can do this in whatever way makes you happy.
Next we need to do a little prep work for the handles. This must be done before you glue the pieces together, otherwise you won’t have access to work with the nuts. For this, I drilled a 7/32″ hole in each of the couplers at the middle mark. If done correctly, the drill bit should exit “though” the extra bit of meat in the middle of the coupler.
Next you need to thread in one of your bolts. Now I went with 7/32″ because I wanted the bolt to have to “cut” the threading through. Start by doing this from the outside with just your hand and then you can use a ratchet or a wrench to move it through. Do not tighten this up here. You are just cutting the threads into the plastic coupler.
Remove the bolt that you just inserted and repeat the process from the inside to the outside adding a lock washer to the inside. Since you’ve already “cut” the threads this will be much easier. Note that I didn’t do it this way on my first attempt and I was cursing and spitting for quite a while. Tighten this up until the lock washer is against the plastic, but do not over tighten. You do not want to strip out the threads you just cut into the plastic.
You should end up with a post sticking out of your coupler. Do this for both couplers.
I used to do my own plumbing at my house, so I’ve worked with PVC glue before and I know the proper precautions, but if you’ve never done so, read the instructions. This stuff is not like any other traditional glue. Read the instructions before preceding. The only caveat that I want to put forward is that you do not have to use a primer. Since this won’t be holding water pressure the PVC cement is strong enough on it’s own.
The order of the pieces from the bottom to the top are:
- Coupler (with bolt)
- Coupler (with bolt)
- Threaded Coupler
I’m going to abbreviate this section because it’s pretty straight forward – smear glue, press into fitting, twist slightly. Do this for each section, making sure that the bolts at the couplers are in line with each other.
When you are all done, you should have something that resembles this:
Get a Grip
Now we’re onto the handle or shoulder strap. I elected to do both. For the shoulder strap, I took the leather tool belt and cut it in the middle, then I added 3/8″ grommets at the cut ends.
For a simpler carry handle, I used a piece of old leather belt that I had laying around. For that I just measured the space between the posts, added a few inches, put in grommets and cut off the excess leather.
Needless to say, I’m very proud of this little nerdy project. It included some DIY, some innovation, and a little bit of ingenuity.
As always, I’d love to get feedback on this or anything else.