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PVC Survival Gear: How to Make It – Part 2, by J.H.

PROJECT 2: The PVC Recurve Bow

There are several different types of PVC bows that can be made using heat, minimal heat, or no heat. The example I will be using here is a recurve bow, using heat, that has an approximate draw weight of 35 pounds. You can change the draw weight by changing the length or diameter of the PVC pipe you choose. I have built bows with a draw weight of up to 70lbs, and I have seen others that have made bows with a pull exceeding 100lbs. There are variations of this bow. It can be made as a take-down bow, or it may be made with fiberglass or PVC reinforcements for which there are multiple tutorials on youtube. This particular bow is simple and effective, and it works well for adults and youths alike.



  1. You are going to build a jig with the 1” or 2” x 4” and the little blocks you have pre-cut to 1” x 3/4”. This jig will only be usable for 3/4” or 1” schedule 40 PVC pipe. I use an adjustable jig now to fit various pipe sizes but started with the jig I’m describing for this project because it was the cheapest way to go. For an adjustable jig, check out BackyardBowyer’s channel on youtube.

    Attach the two blocks at one end of the board, in the corners, with the 3/4” thickness setting the depth for the pipe to slide between the jig board (being the top surface) and a ground surface (whether that be a work table, bench, or a flat, hard surfaced floor. So it will look similar to a ramp with 3/4” space at the “open” end. The corners and edges of the blocks should be flush with the corners and edges of the board. Use glue to attach the blocks to the board. Using hot melt glue will allow the easy removal of the blocks by heating the glue (with a heat gun) enough to take them off. This way you can flip the blocks to use them as 1” spacers.

  2. Now that you have your jig made, you can mark your pipe for flattening. The jig will create a nice tapered limb on either side of the bow, making it more powerful as well as begin to give it a nice, sleek, eye-pleasing design. First, use a marker to mark the center of the length of pipe (with a 48” overall length, you would mark at 24”). Around the entire diameter of the pipe, draw a line.

    QUICK TIP: I use electrical tape to keep the line even, and then I follow the tape line with marker and remove the tape.

    Next, measure out 2 1/2” on either side of the center and mark the pipe in the same way as the center. So, at this point you should have a center mark and two marks that are 2 1/2” each from center with five inches between them. This 5” area will be your handle. Then, measure 6 inches in from either end and mark as before. This six-inch length at each end will be where the recurves are formed. You should now have a total of five separate lines, marking all of the major points for shaping and the center.

  3. Begin heating one limb of the bow. This is the length from one end to the 2 1/2” point from center, closest to that same end. Do NOT heat past the center line! Heat slowly and evenly, rotating the pipe in quarter turns. You want the pipe to be fully heated and softly flexible. You do not want to over heat or touch it directly to your heat source. This may cause burning or scorching and will ruin the project. When the pipe is completely flexible and malleable, set the heated limb on the hard flat “ground” surface and lay the jig down on top of it. The “open” end of the jig should line up with the 2 1/2” mark that you heated to and the narrow or “closed” end should point in the same direction as the end of the heated limb. The pipe should be between the two 3/4” blocks. The edge of the board that lines up with the edges of both blocks should also align with the 2 1/2” mark. Put enough weight or pressure on the board, at the middle of the limb, so that the limb cools with the blocks firmly against the ground with the same pressure over the length of the limb. This can be done by kneeling on the board, or with clamps, or holding it down with your hands. Do whatever works for you. After about 90 seconds, pick the bow up and look at the limb; make sure it looks straight. Sight down the limb from end to center and make sure it looks nice. If the pipe starts to swell back up slightly, it’s okay. Just set it back under the jig just as before and let it set for a few more minutes. When the limb is completely cool, flip it end for end and repeat the same process as you did for the first limb. Make sure that when you go to put the second limb in the jig for flattening you pay attention to how you lay the limb down. One side of the bow will be the back and one will be the belly. When you are shooting the bow, the belly side is the side that you are looking at and the back side is the side that faces your target. The back side will be the side that the jig was pressed directly on, and the belly side will be the side that was pressed directly to the ground. Accordingly, the jig will leave a depression mark in the pipe on one side; this is the back side. When you press the second limb, heated, in the jig, be sure it mirrors the first limb. The depression from the jig should be made on the same side (the back) of the bow. So at each 2 1/2” line there should be a depression from the jig. They will mark the top and bottom of the handle area as well as the backside of the bow. Remember to check the second limb for straightness after approximately 90 seconds.

    Once both limbs are completely cool (in about 10 minutes, tops), it’s time to shape the handle.

  4. Heat the handle portion from the 2 1/2” point to the other 2 1/2” point (each from the center), slowly rotating the handle as you do. The depressions made from the jig will fade as the pipe is heated and the pipe begins to take its original shape. Once you have evenly heated (and not over heated) the five inch handle area, use a pot holder, towel, or work glove to shape the handle by squeezing it lightly from point to point. The bow should be laying on a flat surface while you do this. Pinch or squeeze the handle area in the opposite direction of the flattened limbs. Check a few times for the bow’s overall straightness while you are forming the handle. Let the handle cool.
  5. Heat one limb from the end to the six inch line on that same limb. When you heat this six inch length, take special care not to over heat even slightly. You don’t want it to become completely heated and flexible. You want to heat it just enough to bend it around the outside of the six inch pot or object you have for forming the recurve. The back side of the bow should be against the pot or recurve object. Press the six inch mark on the bow limb to the recurve object. Firmly press the heated limb against the object from the six inch point to the end. Continually press back and forth, from end to six inch line and back until the rucurve is completely cool. Repeat the exact same process with the second limb.
  6. At this point, you should have a recurve bow shape, and now it is time to file out the string notches. This is where the bow string will secure around the bow. 3/4” down from the end of each limb and on either side of each limb (on the sides- NOT the Back or Belly), make a small mark for your notches. There should be four marks in all. Use either a thin saw (like a coping or hack saw) or a rounded file or rasp. ( I use a quarter-inch, though others suggest an eighth inch, round rasp.)

    Where each mark is made, make a notch that is approximately 1/8” to 1/4” wide and about the same in depth. Test the notches and take note of how well they receive the string. Make sure that the string sits centered correctly when you fully string the bow. Once you have the bow completely strung and have given the string a few light, test tugs, hold the bow as if you were shooting it, and draw the bow to full capacity. Take note of which limb bends more. This will be your top limb. Slowly release the string to set, then repeat this process 3 or 4 times. Then, practice fire the bow from full draw with no arrow knocked. You now have a completely “shoot-able”, 35lb, recurve bow. The following is optional.

  7. (optional) Now, you can really add the finishing touches. Here’s where you add your personal touch. Remove the string. Then, you can round the ends, file them to a point, keep them as is, or whatever suits you. Also, you can now paint your bow. You may want to give a light sanding of the bow prior to painting to allow the paint to adhere to the PVC better.

    You may also want to wrap the handle with cordage or leather, or something else. Another thing you may want to add is an arrow rest. For a simple arrow rest out of PVC, just cut a piece of 3/4” Schedule 40 pipe to 3” long. Next, cut down the middle of the length of the pipe, leaving two 3” long halves. Heat and flatten one of the halves. Put the other aside for another project.

    The flattened half should have the ends rounded, and one of the ends tapered to a narrow finish. File down any rough and jagged edges for a smooth rounded over feel. The thinner rounded over end will be where the hand grips it, while the wider part will serve as the platform for the arrow to rest on. Mark 1” from the wider, rounded end toward the center. Heat from the narrow end to the 1” mark. (To clarify, you will be heating about 2” of the piece.) Bend the heated PVC as if you were folding it in half. Let it come to a 90 degree elbow shape and hold in this position while allowing the heated narrow portion to form fit against the handle of the bow. Make sure you have the arrow rest lined up correctly; as it cools, look at it as though you are about to fire an arrow from it. Will it line up? Will it sit correctly? Answer these questions before you secure the arrow rest to the handle. Once you are satisfied with the arrow rest set up, you can attach it to the bow either by gluing it on or binding it on with the handle wrap.

  8. Now set your string, knock your arrow, and go get some lunch!