This is a guest post by Gypsy Birch about a project he is working on for Raven’s Knoll.
How It Started
A couple of months ago, sometime around mid-February, I was visiting Auz (Austin Lawrence) and the topic of archery came up. He mentioned to me that he and a few others had recently tried to make a bow out of PVC pipe. Due to circumstances, they had been unsuccessful. Personally, I found the idea of a bow constructed of PVC pipe to be rather ludicrous. A bow made from materials that weren’t naturally occurring? Of course, a moment of introspection had me realize my notion was flawed. My own hunting bow is made of composite materials, and my arrows are aluminum. I had no reason to feel so negatively about what I assumed would be a crude piece of work.
Undeterred by my hesitation, Auz had me sit and watch an online tutorial for making these bows. The video was straightforward with simple, easy-to-follow instructions. After seeing how plausible they would be to make, and how functional they really were, I decided that perhaps I would give these bows a shot. Auz still had his supplies from his recent attempt, and sent them home with me to get started. In retrospect, I believe that this had been his plan all along: get me interested in making PVC bows, and rather than risk that I not follow through, he put the supplies directly in my hands so that I had no excuse. The fact that I am writing this right now is testament to his successful efforts.
One of the ideas that Auz and I discussed was a game that would essentially be archery dodge-ball. Put simply, people in a field shooting padded arrows at each other. This was my primary driving force behind making an assortment of PVC bows. Make enough bows for two teams of players, get some foam safety arrows, and play some games. Masks would be purchased from an outside source. The entire concept, still in its infancy, was entirely dependent on my success or failure at making the bows, and I got started right away.
I struggled, at first, at not only making the bows, but understanding the entire process. I watched and re-watched the videos to make sure I had everything right, but my failing was patience. Waiting until the PVC was heated through to a properly pliable state took too long for my short attention span. Understanding that this was the issue, I decided to pair my bow making with watching old episodes of Star Trek. This proved to be a very wise idea.
After a few weeks of off-and-on attempts, I had created my first two bows. They were very simple, with slightly recurved limbs, and while they were functional, they were not nearly flattened enough to be of proper use, and I was using a crude rig of polypropylene rope as a bowstring. I showed my work to Auz, and his delight in seeing functional PVC bows was quite infectious. We set off to the hardware store and procured all the supplies needed to keep making more. For reference, a standard length of PVC pipe is 10′ long, and we cut ours in half to make two 5′ bows. In terms of diameter, 3/4” pipe was the way to go; I tried using some 1” pipe, but the amount of time needed to heat it entirely through was frustrating. Plus, that additional 1/4” made the bows significantly more powerful, beyond anything that I was looking to make for this project. One of the most important factors in making these bows was ensuring that they were not too powerful for shooting safety arrows.
As I worked on this project, the weather had begun to turn towards the warmer side, even if only slightly. This allowed me to begin constructing the bows outside in the garage, providing me with the proper work space needed. I was becoming significantly more successful with creating higher-quality PVC bows, but the problem still remained that I did not have anything resembling a quality bowstring. So, back to the online tutorials. I looked at the two most common methods of making a bowstring, and was really hoping that I could pull off making a “Flemish twist” string. I can’t. Laziness is a factor in this inability.
I moved on to the other style, the “endless loop”. I was very hesitant to learn that nowhere on the bowstring is there a knot. Of course, this makes sense, because typically a knot will reduce a string’s strength significantly, and having weak points on a bowstring is a bad idea. It turns out that a combination of twists and wax keeps everything quite solidly in place. Beeswax, one of the suggested waxes, was not too hard to come by, but I also picked up a stick of actual bowstring wax to get started. For the actual string, I used 50-lb braided fishing line. As per some of the tutorials, this was a suggested alternative to professional bowstring material, and much easier for me to come by. The last item for this was some basic cotton string to hold it all together, not much bigger than basic thread.
Suffice it to say, working with waxed, tightened strings can be very painful on the fingertips, especially when constant pressure is required. I will say with some measure of pride that I think I might actually have a talent for making bowstrings, as this was the most immediately successful of all my undertakings related to this project.
Bows and bowstrings made and ready, the last step for me was the acquisition of arrows. I priced out LARP safety arrows online and spoke with the organizers of the local LARP, and while the options were not quite as expensive as I had feared, they were still pricey enough to make a large-scale purchase rather daunting.
Fortunately, just as online tutorials provided me with instruction on bow-making, I was able to find numerous sites that showed how to make safety arrows using regular arrows. Completely remove the arrow’s point, permanently secure a piece of flat metal (pennies were often recommended) across the end of the shaft, and use a combination of open-cell foam, soft-cell foam, and copious amounts of duct tape, hot glue, and superglue to seal it all together. In my case, I elected to use a screw and washer at the end of the arrow. The screws were able to thread into the shaft of the bow where a typical point would screw in, which gave the washer additional security beyond just glue.
The primary point of contention among the instruction sites was the material that the arrows should be made of. Some said only fibreglass or carbon fibre, some said only wood, and some said only aluminum. While each of the sites gave some reasoning as to why they felt their material of choice was the safest, my personal experience is that aluminum shafts would provide the most safety. Fibreglass will split over time and leave painful, invisible splinters. Wood arrows have too much potential to snap and create sharp points, especially if accidentally stepped on. With people running through the playing area, this would be a risk. I have personally (accidentally) shot an aluminum arrow at a cinder block from less than twenty feet away with my compound hunting bow. The result was that the end of the arrow shaft was nearly crumpled, having bent at an unfixable angle. No sharp exposed points and no splinters. For this reason, I settled on aluminum arrows.
Despite the cost-saving methods I had devised, I still had the issue of finding the core components of the arrows. For the price of a new aluminum arrow, it would have been just as worth buying the pre-made LARP arrows. My best bet was to find someone I knew who might have a few extra arrows sitting around. After contacting a few people, I managed to find someone willing to trade fifty used aluminum arrows for the price of one of my highly-coveted thrift shop finds, to which I agreed. The arrows had all their points removed (which was, in fact, ideal), and were missing a few fletchings, but they were straight and ready to be worked on. Once I got them in hand, I began to try my hand at the safety arrows.
With the exception of my first attempts, the arrows were also made in the garage, on the same table that I make the bows. The arrows did not require standing still with a heat gun, for which I was very thankful, and I was able to make safety tips that I was personally comfortable getting struck with. I have taken the bows and arrows with me when visiting people, and I have personally been hit in the right butt-cheek with one of my arrows, and have struck others square in the belly. Regrettably, my poor aim is to blame for accidentally hitting the funny bone in my wife’s arm (the padding minimized the tingling sensation). I can land four padded arrows within a four-foot radius from thirty-five paces away, but I can’t hit between the shoulders from seven paces. Regardless, I was confident in the safety of my arrow design.
Now that most of the supplies were ready, it was time to decide on how the game was going to be played. While there are multiple variants that will be tried over time, the next section will detail the core game setup and rules that we will start playing with.
Of the utmost importance to all aspects of the game is safety. Any equipment that shows signs of excessive wear or any damage will be immediately removed from game-play. Players must be over 18 or have signed permission from their legal guardian.
Protective face equipment is to be worn at all times when playing. While every effort has been made to ensure the full safety of the bows and arrows, face-masks are required. Masks designed for Paintball or Airsoft games are acceptable. Some masks will be provided, but supply is limited. If participants are able to bring their own, it would allow for more players on the field.
The game variant we will start playing with will be more akin to dodge-ball than the individually-focused game of tag, with the playing area set up in an open field. Teams will be split evenly (ideally by skill level), and each team will be assigned half of a large, rectangular playing area. In the middle of this space, bisecting the rectangle and separating the teams, will be an area somewhere between ten to twenty feet across (dimensions to be determined). This space is considered a “No-Man’s Land” or “Neutral Zone” in which players are not allowed to enter (except in certain cases, as to be explained). The purpose of the space is to ensure that no arrows are fired from very close range.
The exception to entering the safe zone is to retrieve arrows. Any player entering this space is to leave their bow behind. These players are also not eligible targets for the opposing team.
Once the game starts, players will shoot safety arrows at their opponents. A hit anywhere on the body aside from the head counts as a hit and the player is “out”. Any out player must immediately leave the playing area. An arrow striking a player’s bow does not count as a hit. This also leads to the rule of not using heads or bows as a shield. Furthermore, players are not allowed to catch airborne arrows. If an arrow bounces up off the ground and makes contact with a player, it does not count as a hit.
When a player is out, they are allowed to remain around the outside border of their team’s playing area to retrieve arrows for the players still active.
While it is desired to have referees present at each game, this may not always be feasible. The Honour System will be in effect. Any player found to be cheating will have to leave the game.
That is the core game to start. Future variations may include players being armed with safety/boffo swords for close-quarters combat, or some players being in an unarmed “Monarch” role that their teammates must protect.
Aside from the bows and arrows themselves, the following is a list of equipment:
- Thick shirt
- Running shoes
- Arm guard (or form-fitting long sleeves)
Well, there it is. Archery dodgeball will be at Raven’s Knoll sometime this year. For those that are interested, I will be posting a series of photos detailing how I made the safety arrows.
I won’t be posting a step-by-step process of the bow-making; check out the Backyard Bowyer’s Youtube video for that. I followed his process for the making of basic PVC bows. His videos are very simple and straightforward with easy-to-follow instructions. He has a number of bow-making projects that I may someday feel experienced enough to try.
I also recommend this guy, Tim Piatek. He does PVC projects beyond just bows, and tends to lean a lot more towards the artistic side of bow-making and painting.