How to choose the right bowstring

A string seems like a relatively simple product, doesn’t it? Well, there are a lot of things you must consider when buying a new string. Some things you should consider are length, materials, and thickness of the string. Therefore, buying a new string is more complicated than it seems at first. Therefore, I will explain how to choose the right bowstring. If you don’t have time to read the entire article, read at least the bold paragraphs in the text for a quick summary of the most important parts.

The parts of a bowstring

If you are an experienced archer, you might want to skip to this section. I will discuss the different parts of a bowstring which you are probably already familiar with. If you are new to archery, keep reading, because we will discuss some basics you need to understand for tips later in the article.

[picture with the parts of a string]

String fibers

The main part of the string is what we call the string fibers or strands. Most bowstrings are made of 10 to 20 strands of string materials depending on the draw weight and the material used. Almost all archers shoot with synthetic strings nowadays, later in this article, we will discuss the different string materials in more detail.

Since the string material is constantly under tension when you are using your bow, the string needs to be strong and durable. Since this material consists out of fibers, we need to regularly wax the material to prevent damage to the string.

String loops

The string has both an upper and a lower loop. These loops allow you to attach the string to your bow. On recurve bows, the lower loop is often smaller than the upper loop. As explained in this article this is mainly to store the string on the limbs.

Serving

The strands of your string are vulnerable to abrasion. Therefore, we protect the string with serving in some key places. On a recurve and traditional bows, we put serving on both loops and in the middle where we nock the arrow.

On compound bows, when a peep sight is used, it’s also attached with serving wire. Some compound bows have a string stopper. Since the string stopper might damage the string, there is also some serving where the string touches the stopper.

Serving wire is made of strong synthetic materials that are very resistant to abrasion. Just like the string, serving wire is available in different thicknesses. What thickness you need depends on the thickness of the string itself and the size of the nock you want to use. I will discuss this in more detail later in this article.

Nocking points or D-loop

When you buy a string online, the seller will never install nocking points for you. Because the nocking points differ per bow, you either must install them yourself or visit an archery shop. The same is true for compound archers that shoot with a D-loop since the D-loop also acts like nocking points.

Nocking points are often tied with serving wire, but some archers prefer to use metal nocking points. These metal nocking points are attached with special pliers. A D-loop is tied from D-loop wire, which you can buy separately.

So, if you don’t buy your string online, make sure that you also order nocking points, serving wire, or D-loop rope. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use your new string.

String materials

There are a plethora of different string materials available to archers. Each material has its pros and cons which I summarized below

  Dacron Kevlar Spectra Blended materials
Price Cheap Average Expensive Expensive
Reliable Yes No Yes Depends
Arrow speed Low High High Depends
Amount of stretch High Low Low Depends

Dacron and spectra are the best two materials for bowstrings these days. Dacron is a cheap option that tends to shoot slower and stretches more. Spectra (also known as fast flight) shoots faster and stretches less than Dacron, but is also more expensive

Below, we will discuss these materials and their absurd number of different names in more detail.

Dacron

Dacron is one of the first synthetic materials that was used as bowstring material. The material is also known as terylene or polyethylene terephthalate (often shortened as PET or PETE). Previously the materials were also shortened as PETP or PET-P. Luckily most archers simply use the word Dacron for this material which is the brand name of the manufacturer of the material.

This material is cheap to produce and is reliable string material. Additionally, it dampens the amount of vibration, which prevents damage to the limbs. It does tend to slow down the arrow a bit compared to other materials, but for most archers that isn’t an issue, since the difference is hardly noticeable.

The biggest drawback of this material is that it tends to stretch a lot. This stretch decreases your brace height which changes the dynamics of your bow. Archers that use these strings check their brace height quite often. To fix the brace heigh you must add twists to your string.

Because this is a cheap material, it’s still one of the most used string materials, especially for beginner, traditional, and recurve archers.

Kevlar

Although you barely see them today, a while ago Kevlar strings were all the rage. When this material was introduced it was a better alternative to Dacron because it stretches less. Today you barely see this material used, mainly because it’s unreliable.

Strings made from this material tend to break quite fast (about 1000 uses). Additionally, it doesn’t show physical marks that it needs replacing. Therefore, the material can snap which causes major damage to the bow.

Another related product is Vectran, it’s chemically related to Kevlar. Therefore, it has similar properties and is, therefore, not safe to use as bowstring materials.

Spectra

Since Kevlar didn’t turn out to be a suitable replacement for Kevlar, string manufacturers started to look at other materials. This led to the introduction of Spectra and the similar product of Dynema. The strings were first sold under the brand name Fast Flight which refers to the increased arrow speed of these strings. Chemically, these materials fit under the Ultra High Modulus Polyethylene umbrella. For this reason, you sometimes see manufacturers refer to this as UHMPE.

Strings from these materials tend to be significantly more expensive than Dacron strings. But since they have almost no stretch they are preferred by experienced archers.

Blended materials

Manufacturers have started blending different string materials to further decrease the amount of stretch and increase arrow speed. How a blended string behaves depends on the composition. Some strings are almost 100% Spectra while others have more Kevlar or Dacron.

The price of blended strings also depends on the composition. Some blended strings are cheaper than Spectra strings, while others are more expensive. Time will tell what blended string works best.

Cheap versus expensive

I believe there are two choices, you can buy a cheap Dacron or an expensive Spectra string. You can of course opt for a blended string, but then you must first find some credible positive reviews because it can be hit or miss.

A Dacron string does make a lot of sense for a beginner, while a Spectra spring makes more sense for an experienced archer. Professional archers are experimenting with blended strings, but since it’s hard to compare these materials, you must rely on the feedback of others.

Serving materials

In the archery community, there is a lot of discussion on what the right material is to use as a bowstring. Serving, on the other hand, is something that isn’t discussed all that often. That is the case because it’s much easier to make good serving material than good bowstring material. Because it isn’t under constant tension.

Therefore, I don’t think you have to worry too much about serving materials. In general, if you buy a good string it will have good serving on it. In most cases, the bowstring needs replacement faster than the serving

How to pick the right bowstring length

When you buy a new bowstring it’s important to choose the right bowstring length. Both a too short and too long bowstring can damage your bow and severely decrease your accuracy.

To determine the length of the bowstring you should measure the length of your existing string, consult the owner’s manual, or contact the seller of the bow. Traditional and recurve archers can also subtract 3.5 to 5 inches from the AMO bow length, to determine the right length of the string.

Below, I will discuss in more detail, how you pick the right bow length per bow type.

Traditional and recurve archery

If you are replacing a string, you can use this as a reference for your new string. Just measure the length of your string from the inside of the loop to the other inside of the loop.

If you don’t have a string yet the best way to find the right string length is to consult the owner’s manual. When you don’t have an owner’s manual you can ask the seller or the manufacturer.

In some cases, you might not be able to get a concrete answer. In these cases, your only option is to estimate the length of your string. Luckily, we can easily estimate the string length based on the length of the bow.

For this, we need the AMO bow length, which is a standardized measurement within archery. AMO stands for Archery Manufacturer and Merchant Organization. In most cases, you can find this measurement on your limbs.

On recurve bows, you often see two numbers (for example 70 and 68) because there are two standardized riser sizes (25 and 23 inches). Most archers shoot with a long 25-inch riser and must use the highest number.

Measure from both sides from the inside of the loop!

In some cases, it might be difficult to find the length of your bow. Luckily, you can measure it yourself by following the video guide below.

When you have your AMO bow length, you can use the formula below to determine the length of your string.

Bow type String length
Recurve bow AMO bow length - 4 = string length
Longbow AMO bow length - 3 = string length

Compound archery

For a compound bow, the best way to determine the length of your string is by measuring your old string. Lay it flat and measure from the inside of the loop to the other inside of the loop.

If you don’t have a string to measure, you should consult the owner’s manual or contact the seller/manufacturer. If that isn’t possible you have to test different string sizes, since there is no other way to measure what string you need. Therefore, the best option is to visit an archery store and ask for advice.

You should know, however, that you need a bow press to remove the string on most compound bows. On some compound bows, you can use the screws retaining the limbs to get the bow unstrung. But if you use this technique, you must completely retune the bow.

I use a simple cheap bow press, which you can see below. Click here, to check the current price on Amazon.com

How to pick the right string thickness

Finding the right string thickness is just as important as finding the right string length. A string that is too thick will not fit your nock or severely reduce your accuracy. When your string is to thin, it will not retain the arrow, which makes it impossible to shoot your bow correctly. Therefore, I discuss in this section how you can find the right string thickness.

Most compound and recurve strings are similar in thickness. Traditional bows on the other hand often have a thicker string. To make sure that you have the right string thickness only purchase a string that is clearly labeled for your bow type.

Although string thickness can differ slightly within shooting styles. Some recurve archers like to shoot with a thicker string while others like to shoot with a thinner string. But in general, these differences are minor. You can see the average string thickness in the chart below.

Type of string String thickness (excluding serving) String thickness (including serving)
Target archery (compound and recurve) 5/64 inch (2 mm) 1/10 inch (2.5 mm)
Traditional archery 1/10 inch (2.5 mm) 1/8 inch (3 mm)

Pros and cons

Most archers only mention the advantages of a thin string, that it shoots faster. But there are also some significant advantages of a thicker string.

  Thin string Thick string
More comfortable to shoot   X
Less noisy to shoot   X
Stretches less   X
Absorbs more vibration   X
Higher arrow speed X  

The major reason why most traditional archers us a thicker string because a thin string can damage the bow.

Nock fitting issues

When you bought a new string, you should always check whether they are a good fit with your string. Even if they fit the string, they might still influence your accuracy if they are on too tight. To check this, you can use the test you see down below.

Nock throat too tight

Nock throat loose enough

If you can’t get the arrow off the string by tapping it, you have serious issues with your nock fit. To solve this issue, you need to either find new nocks or replace the string. Sometimes, you can also replace the serving on your string with thinner serving to solve this issue.

Read the article below if you want more information on nock sizes and string fitting issues:

How to choose the right nock (size and fitting)

Conclusion

So, in most cases, you will be fine to just buy a new string without knowing the exact diameter of the string. Most compound and recurve strings are similar sized. The same is true for traditional bows. If you buy a string that is made for your bow type, it should have the right diameter.

In general, I would only consider a thicker string than recommended in the graph if you have sensitive fingers. Thicker strings are more comfortable to shoot, but with a thick glove or tab, most archers don’t find it uncomfortable.

Going with an a-typical setup, such as using a thick string on a recurve bow, make things a lot more difficult. Because you will have to do a lot of research to find nocks that fit this thicker string.

The color of the string

A lot of archers merely choose the string color based on what they think looks nice. For compound bows with peep sights, this isn’t an issue because you don’t use the string for aiming. Most recurve archers, on the other hand, do use the string to aim.

Some colors are more visible than others in certain environments. Dark colors are more visible outdoors, while more light colors are better visible indoors depending on the lighting. Some recurve archers don’t want to see the string at all and therefore choose white.

For new archers, I would recommend a black string because that color is most visible in light conditions, and a string in this color is easy to find. I run a red string on my recurve bow because that is a good color for both inside and outside archery. But I don’t think that it makes a huge difference

Tips for buying your string

In the next section, I have some recommended string that I like. But if you want to buy your string somewhere else, I have some tips:

  • Don’t buy a string that isn’t meant for your shooting style: buying a traditional string for a recurve bow is a bad idea since most nocks don’t fit the thicker string of traditional bows.
  • Buy your first string premade: making your own string allows you to completely customize the characteristics of your string. But this requires a lot of tools and knowledge. Therefore, buy at least your first string premade.
  • Don’t spend too much money on a string: in general, paying about $10 to $30 for a new premade string is fair.
  • Buy some wax for your string: don’t forget to buy some wax for your string. When your string gets fuzzy it will need a new layer of wax. Read this article, for more information on how to maintain your bowstring.

Recommended strings

Although you now have all the information to find the right string, it might still take a while to find what you are looking for. Therefore, I have three recommended strings below, that I would buy if I wouldn’t make my own strings.

Traditional archery

For a traditional recurve bow, the SAS Flemish Fast Flight is a great option. The fast flight material significantly increases the arrow speed over Dacron strings. Since traditional bows are less efficient than recurve bows, this helps a lot. This string will work with most traditional wooden arrows.

If you have a traditional bow which is 45+ LBS, I would buy the 16-strand KESHES Dacron string. Using a fast flight string might damage some 45+ bows. A Dacron string is due to its stretchiness quieter, more comfortable, and safer on heavier bows. The 16-strand version will work with most traditional wooden arrows.

Recurve archery

For a takedown recurve bow I would recommend the 12-strand KESHES Dacron string. This string is made from B55 string material, which has become the standard on beginner’s recurve bows. The material is forgiving a safe to use on any bow type. The 12-strand version is suitable for most target arrows.

Compound archery

For compound bows, I would recommend the D-75 Extreme Gear bowstring. This string is stiffer than Dacron, which is perfect for a compound bow. The serving is made from high-quality material; therefore, the string is a bit on the pricy side. But it’s worth it.

Wax

Don’t forget to buy some wax for your new string. If you can’t wax your string it will degrade the fibers overtime which shortens its lifespan. I always use Bohning Seal-Tite on all my strings and it always kept my strings in perfect condition.

Learn more

If you want to learn more about bowstrings, I would highly recommend reading the following articles:

Final words

Man, that was a long article just about bowstrings. I could even make it a lot longer because there is so much to tell about the material of bowstrings. For most archers, that would be too many details. Therefore, I couldn’t discuss how different materials feel when you shoot. That is something we must discuss another day.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them down below. I will respond to your question as soon as possible and send you an email with my reply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *