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All legendary weapons have proper names such as Excalibur, Gonturan, or Orc-Slayer. These weapons made famous their heroic journeys through trial and combat — but first their makers gave each a name to help inspire greatness. I don’t forge steel and gun-smithing is beyond my talents, but give me a little timber and I’m in my element. My first baby-step into weaponry repair is this worse-for-wear Ben Pearson “Palomino” target recurve that my old man found at auction.

I’m a third generation archer. I’m not kidding when I say that everyone in my family owns and maintains at least one bow. I’m not particularly good at it, to be honest. I’m just average among my kin, but we of the O’Hara clan are trained (almost from birth) to send an arrow more or less where we want it to go. So when we find a bow that needs help we can’t stop ourselves from setting it right.

You can’t see it very well, but this little 35# has been put through hell. Someone gouged the crap out of it from front to back, and it’s also been very wet at one point because the grain was lumpy and raised on the back of the riser. The good news was the limbs weren’t cracked and had plenty of life left in them still, so a resto’ was possible. Add to the pot that this particular Palomino isn’t the prettiest one ol’ Ben ever cranked out, and it may explain why I like it so much and felt the need to save it.

The gouges were the biggest problem. The cuts weren’t very deep, but they were all over the bow and deep enough that I wasn’t going to be able to completely remove them easily. The worst of them were on the back of the handle.

Normally, preserving the finish is the best course of action but in this case, because of the damage done and the fact that whatever finish that was there was completely gone in some places, fine in others, and holding in moisture/mold in a few areas, the entire upper surface needed to go.

80-grit sandpaper was about the roughest I felt comfortable applying. It would be big enough to get down to the scratches but not too big as to create a bigger problem than the one I was fixing.

There’s a great tendency to hesitate here. Once you start sanding on something that had a shine in places or had a certain “finished” look it can be scary to strip that off the first time. Just remember the great thing about wood is you can get shine back with a little effort. That said, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Once the surface is stripped of finish, you can start smoothing it out and fixing the issues.

Switch to a foam sanding block and step up the grit to 100, then 150.

Next, break out the 00-grade steel wool and start getting in the hard-to-reach places remembering to keep the strokes in the direction of the grain. What you are trying to do is remove as many imperfections as you can while keeping the shape of the piece intact.

After you’ve gotten it smooth to your satisfaction with sandpaper and steel wool, wipe the piece down and take a look at what you’ve got. If you’re good to go at this point, move on to finishing. If not, step back down to sandpaper and work the problem areas until they’re smoothed out. This process may cycle more than a few times as you clean off the latest round of dust and find areas you missed. Don’t freak out about it and take your time –- it will be worth it in the end.

For our little Palomino, the end was not anywhere close to being in sight. I chose to use a high-gloss tung oil based concoction to finish out this bow. It was a fateful decision which then sealed my evenings on the couch polishing up a shine after each of the seven applied coats. This led to its eventual naming by my other half –- “Ever-Rub.” Of course, that’s the name that stuck.

Despite the rather suggestive name, the bow turned out great. Most of the scratches came out and only a handful of tiny pits not worth worrying about were left. It has a soft glow just like an old recurve should, and all the water-damaged areas are smooth as silk now. Plus, the wood is properly oiled, which means it will fight off future damage better now.

Now “Ever-Rub” will return to my dad’s place to be fitted with a hand-made Flemish string he wove himself with threads that match the dark and light of the riser coloring. I will also rewrite the bow specs, but on the lower limb as is the style now — in part because I hate to deface the wood, but also because it won’t ever leave our family and resale value is a not an issue.

Just after that, in our family’s traditional manner, this refreshed recurve will be sending a few arrows down range towards Dr. Pepper cans, just as it was built over fifty years ago to do.


13 Responses to Project: +1 Recurve Bow – A Refinishing

  1. 99octane says:

    Nice job indeed. I own several bows myself.
    I have an old Browning compound in unknown conditions sitting in my attic. I used it years ago. Then I have a Jerry Hill longbow (55#), a Kassai Hun bow (40#), an old Browning hunting recurve, a Black Widow target take down, and my favourite: a Wing Archery Swift Wing 60# which is the strongest bow I own. It was my father’s favourite and sadly it’s recently become mine, like the browning and Black Widow. It’s still in my father country house, and I’ve yet to go and get it, but I know it will be in mint conditions, like all others (but the compound).

    Most fathers tell their little sons fairy tales. My father told me excerpts from the old greek epics of Odyssey and Iliad, and of norse Edda, with the feats of Ulysses and Achilles, Thor and the Giants, starting a passion for ancient mythology that lasts to this day. So, when I was a kid, he called the Wing “Ulysses’ bow”, ’cause it was the only one I couldn’t pull. When I finally managed to pull the string all the way back, that was a day! 🙂

    I never restored a bow, but I always custom finished the grips of all of my handguns, particularly the Smith & Wesson revolvers, sanding away the standard finish and applying tru-oil finish. Even such a small piece of wood requires a lot of patience to get a good finish.
    Personally, I like a smooth, satin finish to a brilliant, glossy one. And that requires a lot of extra work. 🙂

  2. Mrten says:

    I got a tip: if you do the wiping down with a little white spirit or mineral spirits you’ll see remaining dents better, you’ll see how the finish will make your wood look like and because of that you can see whether you’ve forgotten to remove any old finish.

    If you wipe down with a moist rag and let dry you’ll raise the last remaining irritating loose wood fibers (which you subsequently sand off of course) to make the finish just that little more smooth in the end.

  3. Frank Townend says:

    Very enjoyable read, thank you.

  4. j says:

    nice post! any hints on preserving a finish? i have a recurve that has the finish worn off in areas around the grip… i would like to restore it but i am not sure if i should sand the whole thing down or not.

  5. Sean O'Hara says:

    What type of finish is it? Oil based, bow tuff or laminate?

  6. Averatu says:

    Wont heat generated by the friction from the sanding negatively affect the pull of the bow?

  7. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Averatu Well the short answer is no. There’s just not really any heat to speak of 1. Because it’s all hand sanding and 2. It’s 40 degrees in the shop right now. Also I’m not sanding the limbs just the riser which flexes a shade but almost none at all. The power is in the limbs.

  8. Jack says:

    What did you do about the glass surfaces on the limbs? Did you sand and refinish them as well, and if so, what did you use?

    Or did you sort of “work around” the limbs?

    Nice job on what happens to be my favorite bow of all time. I have one coming, after many years of not having one, and it’s going to need some work; that’s why I’m asking.


  9. wayne lundman says:

    just reading through saved sights realized this the same bow as mine. I just purchased a Palomino 727 66″ 27-43 XX 45#-28″ Some one had painted it black and I’ve restored it.
    Now I have two question what is your finish you used and what is the final brace hight for this bow.

  10. Chuck Cravotta says:

    I refinished several vintage recurves following the prescribed sanding procedure, with preliminary and intermittent cleaning by mineral spirits, and followed by 6 to 10 coats of wipe on polyurethane (instead of tung oil) over the entire bow (limbs included). Light sanding between polyurethane coats with extra fine steel wool (000 or 0000) removes minor imperfections and improves adhesion of successive coats. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe the bow with mineral spirts, another to remove steel wool fibers, and another for polyurethane. For the latter (to save on materials), cut the cloth into small 4×4 squares (burn the cut edges to eliminate stray fibers). The polyurethane soaked cloths can be reused if rinsed with mineral spirits or stored with a little mineral spirits for a couple days or less inside ziplock bags. Before applying polyurethane, use nylon monofilament fishing line (20# or heavier) to suspend the bow with a slip loop over one tip and the other over a cabinet knob; prop open the cabinet door to keep the bow suspended freely (during and after application of polyurethane). After drying, slip the bow off the line to sand and clean, and rehang from the opposite tip before applying the next coat of polyurethane. Repeat. Wear latex gloves for all steps, and clean up is quick and easy. When satisfied with the finish, add bow string and optional arrow rest (I like flipper rest for plastic vanes). Use furniture polish (wax or oil based) to keep the bow looking new and improve water repellency.

    After refinishing, if a limb is twisted, use a hair drier to heat the limb and repeatedly overtwist the heated limb in the needed direction. Hold the limb tight the last time until cool. Repeat as needed.

  11. CoachT says:

    cool stuff indeed. A word of caution though about that hair dryer on the warped limb trick. Pearson bows (and probably many others) weren’t laminated using much heat at all. A hair dryer is hot enough to de-laminate those old bows in a lot of cases. Warm works as well as hot if it’s not warped beyond about 30degrees. If it’s less than 10degrees no heat is needed at all – twist and hold.

  12. Dustin O'Hara says:

    Very nice work. Ive been making an assortment of wood based toold over the years and just got into bow making in the fall. Im luck to have inlaws that live across the street from an orchard full of osage orange trees, so needless to say i am spoiled when it comes to bow making wood. I was just rummaging through the google images and came across this thread. Nice work!And its nice to hear similar histories about another O’Hara clan with bows in hand since birth. Keep up the good work.

  13. Ian McAlister says:

    I am wondering if you could advise me on a Ben Pearson Sherwood that was my father’s years ago. Aside from needing some finish work, the riser has delaminated from the limbs. I can send a picture or two if it will help.

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