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.