Tillering a Bow from a Cherry Tree Branch

Two winters ago I pruned my ornamental cherry tree; the maroon colored variety you often see in and around neighborhoods and some business parks. It was getting a bit out of hand so I knocked it back a bit. I don’t care much for this tree because it clogs my roof valleys and gutters each fall. But it provides excellent afternoon shade of our front porch in the summer so for now, it remains in tact.

A few of the limbs had sizable shoots growing straight up, which is the norm with any fruit-bearing tree. I decided to keep a few of these nicer shoots to make walking sticks for my girls and I.

One of the shoots was pretty interesting as it had a sweeping “S” shape to it. I thought it might be neat to attempt tillering a selfbow from it so I glued the ends and left it to season for two years.

12% moisture content is about perfect for bow-making

A few weeks ago I came across it while shuffling some things around in the “archery bay” of my garage. I looked it over and decided it was time to start turning this stick into a shootable bow.

My digital moisture meter read 12%, which was about perfect for most bow-making. So I began removing wood. I used an aggresive rasp and a Stanley(R) SureForm to do the bulk of wood removal. Once I was able to see some bend in the limbs by floor tillering (bending limbs against the floor) I slowed down, narrowed the limb tips to 3/4″ and worked the fadeouts near the handle.

You’ll also notice I left the bark on. I did this because I think it adds to the simplicity in a very literal way. You can clearly see this bow was made simply by removing everything that didn’t look or behave as a bow should. The limbs have some twist but I’m not too concerned about it for this project. You can see how the string tracks from nock to nock bisecting the handle perfectly. Also, I’ve made the belly flat to reduce compression fractures or chrysals, as they are commonly called.

Right now it pulls 65# @ 25″ draw which is a bit stout yet so I’m going to finish it around 58# @ 27″. I’m working it down slowly so when I hit 27″ draw, I won’t have any finish sanding to do. You never pull a selfbow past the final draw length or draw weight, especially if it’s un-backed.

I found this wood is resilient and easy to work with. I had it strung for over 2 hours and it had zero string follow when unstrung. Makes me want to cut the whole damn tree down and split it into staves!

A few key tools for removing wood

I made a tillering tree with a pully so I can stand back to see better plus I can work the limbs easily

Eyeballing down the length of the limb can reveal hinges or stiff spots

The string tracks dead-center through the handle section

Rough tiller

68" tip to tip, 65# @ 25"


About the Author

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle's passion for bowhunting has fueled adventures spanning the United States, Canada, and South Africa. He is an official measurer for the Pope and Young Club, NMLRA, NW Big Game Inc., and Oregon Shed Hunters.