Ever since building a replica of Katniss' silver arena bow from the Hunger Games movie, I have received countless requests to create more. The original replica I built was just for decoration, but everyone understandably wants a working version. Though it appears quite simple in design, the complexity arises in the types of materials and manufacturing processes that have to be used in order to create the thin limbs that actually have strength enough to produce a reasonable draw weight. The hundreds of dollars in specialty bow-making fiberglass and the weeks of labor are far more than what anybody would have been willing to afford. In addition, since I do not own the rights to the bow design, I cannot profit from it. So, instead, I have put this together to show how a working replica can be made from an existing bow. It is not an exact replica, but only the diehard Hunger Games fan would know the difference. I normally work from a sketch or photo and make up the process as I go, so this is a change of pace to document a process. If I miss a step photographically, I will do my best to make up for it verbally. Note that if you want to do this right, it will require lots of patience. Set aside a week to work on it, even though some of those days you will only touch it for half an hour or less. There is periods of drying time required between some of the steps.
As mentioned, this tutorial shows how to modify an existing bow: specifically the PSE Chief Longbow. I purchased mine from here
, but they can also be found on eBay
. As far as I can tell, the Bear Archery Titan should also work the same for this tutorial, but don't hold me to that.
What you will need:
PSE Chief Longbow set
Varying drill bits from 1/8" up to 3/8"
Chisel- I used 3/4", but most sizes will work
Knot free block of wood 13" x 1.5" x 1.25"
1/4" square x 28" wood dowel (the square one, not the circle)
Epoxy (I used JB Weld)
Epoxy putty (optional)
Countersunk screws- (2) #10 x 3/4, (2) #10 x 1/2"
Rotary tool (Dremel) with 1/4" grinding bit
Sandpaper, #40 and #220
Spray primer for wood
Spray Paint, Testors Model Master Metalizer Lacquer Aluminum Plate Buffing Metalizer #1451
Spray Sealer, Testors Model Master Metalizer Lacquer Metalizer Sealer #1459
Polishing cloth (old t-shirt)
After purchasing the bow set, this is what you should have in it. Put the two arrows off to the side, because we will revisit them in a separate tutorial:
Notice that the bow string is held on by an o-ring type rubber band. Completely remove this and the bow string from the bow.
Using the coping saw, cut the handle as close as you can to the fiberglass rod. Although I didn't in this example, I would suggest cutting on the back side (convex curved) of the handle. That way, if you accidentally scratch up the fiberglass rod too much, it will be hidden in later steps of the process. Avoid cutting into the fiberglass rod though. Making it thinner does make it weaker.
If you cut it close enough, with a little force, the front and back half of the handle should pop right off the rod. If not, cut a little closer until the handle separates. It is not glued on, it is only held on by friction from the molding process. Once the handle is removed, you can set the rod aside.
The block of wood you use to make the handle should measure 13" x 1.5" x 1.25" (picture is wrong, ignore the tape measure). I cut mine out of a piece of 2 x 4 lumber, so the 1.5" side was already correct. Try to cut a piece that is as free of knots and blemishes as possible. This will save some extra work later on. If you have a power saw of some sort, great. If not, the coping saw will do okay with this.
Download the PDF file of the handle design and print it out. Make sure and print it at 100% so the measurements stay correct. It is set up for a piece of 11 x 17 paper. Cut out the handle front and side templates, but leave the arrow fletching pattern. It will be needed as-is for the arrow tutorial.
On the 14" x 1.5" side of the wood, align the side template along one edge, with the dotted line on the template (not the bottom edge of it). Trace the curvature of the template onto the wood with a pencil.
On the bottom (front) side of the wood, line up the front template. There are arrows on the templates pointing which direction will be "up" on the handle, so make sure the templates are applied going the same direction. Put a pencil dot where the center mark on the circle that makes up the arrow rest goes. Then trace the tapered edge that leads out from the arrow rest up towards the top of the handle.
Using varying sizes of drill bits, drill a hole for the center mark of the arrow rest, ending with the 3/8" bit. The hole from the 3/8" bit should come nearly to the edge of the wood. It is okay if it comes through the side a little.
With the coping saw, cut along the template line to create the shape of the back side of the handle.
Next, using the coping saw, cut along the tapered line from the edge of the handle to the arrow rest hole.
If you have a way of clamping the wood to something sturdy for this next step, it would be best (in a vice, or against a table). With the chisel and hammer, gradually trim down the edges of the handle's back side. The idea is to round them off as best you can. Hold the chisel almost flat against the wood, only a very slight angle. Then tap the handle end with the hammer, grazing off a little bit of wood at a time. The more precise you can do this, the less work sanding and finishing it will require in the next steps. Make sure the front side of the handle remains flat.
It should look like this when you finish chiseling:
With the 40 grit sandpaper, sand the handle until it is smooth. Just to give an idea on how much to sand, I spent over an hour sanding to this stage. Whenever you think you have sanded enough, sand it some more.
Cut your 1/4" square dowel according to the sizes measured out on the front template. You will have two long pieces and a very short piece.
Apply wood glue to the front side of the handle accordingly.
Position the dowel pieces along the edge of the handle as shown and leave them alone to dry.LET THIS SIT OVERNIGHT!
This is where the patience part comes in. Just leave it alone. Don't touch it.
The next day: guess what? Sand it again! Where the dowels meet the edge of the handle, you want this to make a smooth, seamless transition. I don't have a picture of this step, but hopefully you get the idea.
Over the course of the month's worth of free moments it took to build the bow for this tutorial, some of the steps were accidentally deleted off my camera. So, bear with me as I try to explain.
Using the measuring tape, find the center point on the fiberglass rod and mark it with the pencil. On the front template, there are marks showing where to drill the screw holes. Make sure the string hooks on the ends of the rod are pointed up and mark where the holes are to be drilled. The ends should hook with the tips pointing towards the front of the bow if you were holding it (the handle will go on the opposite side of the direction the ends hook). This is very important to get right! If you are confused about this, go back to the first picture of the unmodified bow. The string goes on the back side, opposite of the direction the tips hook.
Drill through the rod on each of the four marked spots with a 1/8" drill bit. Then, using a countersink bit, countersink the holes so the screws will sit flush in the fiberglass rod.
Lay the fiberglass rod in the wood handle, lining up the center mark with centering mark shown on the front template for the handle. The handle will be offset so the arrow holder notch lines up closer to the center of the string. Find a drill bit that is the same size as the shaft of your screws, minus the threads. This will ensure they screw in easily, but still grip properly. Drill holes in the handle using the holes in the rod as a guide. Only drill 1/2" deep to avoid going all the way through the handle. A tip for gauging your bit depth is to put a piece of tape on the drill bit at the depth you want to set it. As you are drilling, when the surface you are drilling meets the tape, you know you have reached the proper depth and can stop. Test fit the handle by putting the screws in, checking that they are sitting with the heads just under the surface of the fiberglass rod. If not, you may need to run the countersink bit into it again.
Avoid stringing the bow right now! I know it is tempting, but you could break it, because the screw holes have weakened the fiberglass.
Once you are sure of a good fit, separate the handle and rod again, and mix up about a half dollar sized amount of J-B Weld Epoxy. There are other epoxies that will work fine for this, but I already know and trust J-B Weld for its strength on almost any surface. Apply a good coating of the epoxy to the place where the rod will sit. Put the handle on the fiberglass rod, making sure the hooked ends of the rod are once again pointing forward (away from the handle), and that the screw holes line up. Install the screws one last time, ensuring a snug fit of the rod in the handle. Wipe off any excess epoxy that may have squeezed out.
This next step is optional, but it is one I did. Using an epoxy putty (not listed on the material list), fill in the holes above the screws. I used a plumbing epoxy putty. It comes in stick form in tubes and you cut off however much you need to use. You mix it together until it is a consistent color (it is two parts in one), and it will start to get hot. You only have a couple of minutes to work with it before it starts to get really hard, so quickly press it into the screw holes. Try to get off as much excess as you can, but make sure the holes are completely covered. It will be sanded smooth later.
After that, coat the whole handle in a thin layer of wood filler. It is normally water based, so you can use a wet finger to smooth it out. The idea is to fill in any imperfections left from the earlier chiseling and sanding. Don't be afraid to have a little excess on this, because it will all be sanded later. If you did decide to skip the epoxy putty route, use the wood filler to fill in the screw holes instead.LET ALL THIS DRY OVERNIGHT.
The third day: Pull out the rotary tool with the 1/4" grinding bit. You may have noticed that the fiberglass rod overhangs the arrow rest slightly. Use the rotary tool to grind down the edge of the rod so it is flush with the handle and makes a smooth transition in the curve of the arrow rest.
Fill in any imperfections with wood filler and let it dry for half an hour or more. Then, use the 220 grit sandpaper and start sanding the handle smooth.
This is where you will really want to perfect the surface of the handle. Any imperfections will show up with the paint. Believe me on this! If you notice any nicks or scratches in the surface while you are sanding, fill them in with the wood filler, let it dry, and then sand again. Patience and a little elbow grease will really pay off here. You will want it to be as absolutely smooth as possible. As said before, if you think you have sanded it enough, spend another 20 minutes on it. If you are positive you have sanded enough, spend another 15 minutes sanding on it. Also sand the fiberglass rod itself, smoothing out its slightly textured surface.
Use the 40 grit paper to smooth out the epoxy putty over the screw holes, and then finish them off with the 220 grit.
Wipe down the bow with a damp cloth to remove sanding dust, and then let that dry for half an hour.
With a wood primer, spray the bow, keeping the spray can 8" away and constantly moving. Avoid letting the primer build up and possibly cause runs. Always use spray paints outdoors. Never inside!
Let this dry according to the specifications on the can, and then re-coat it with a second layer of primer.Allow this to dry thoroughly. I waited overnight.
Check the bow for imperfections that you can't live with. Keep in mind that the paint will highlight any imperfections once applied, so now is the time to fix them. Make sure the primer is thoroughly dried, and you can use the wood filler and sandpaper to fill in and smooth out any of the imperfections. NOTE: IF THE PRIMER IS NOT 100% DRY, IT WILL NOT SAND SMOOTH! Prime it again if you did have to fix it, and wait for that to thoroughly dry again
Once you know the primer is dry, use a can of Model Master Aluminum Plate Buffing Metalizer (found at high end hobby stores). This only has to dry for about one hour, and you can take a clean cloth and rub it to a polished shine. It really does look like buffed aluminum when it is polished out, making it appear that you machined the bow rather than carving it. When you are pleased with the result of the buffing, coat the entire bow with Model Master Metalizer Sealer. This will ensure that the paint doesn't rub off later.
Allow this to dry overnight again to ensure that the bow can be handled without the paint having issues. You are now finished! You can string the bow up normally and go out target practicing!