Stabilizers – how they work and what to buy

People that are new to archery often don’t understand why there are long sticks attached to our bows. Experienced archers know that this greatly reduces vibration and increases accuracy. It not only makes the bow feel better, but you actually get better scores by using it. For most experienced archers stabilizers are still a black box. We know what they do and that they increase our accuracy, but we don’t know how. Therefore we can’t make an informed decision on what stabilizer we should buy. Most archers therefore buy a bunch of stabilizers and just test it out.

In this article I want to take a different approach. I will first explain how a stabilizer works and why vibration is bad for you and your bow. Next I will discuss the anatomy of the stabilizer and how to pick the right one. I will finish of this article by explaining how I wrote this article, for those who are interested.

Summary

A stabilizer removes vibration which makes it easier to keep the bow steady while aiming. In most situations a long stabilizer with side stabilizers is sufficient to remove vibration in all different orientations. Longer stabilizers suppress more vibration, but also make the bow more bulky and unwieldy.

How does a stabilizer work?

When you are holding your bow at full draw, you can never hold it completely still. This is because you hold the bow far away from your body. If you hold anything far away from your body and don’t support your arm by anything you will start to vibrate a bit. Try it with a full bag and you will notice that it’s impossible to hold it completely still. If you but your muscles under tension, this effect intensifies because we tend to shake when our muscles are tired. Therefore the bow tends to vibrate a lot without stabilizers.

How the long stabilizer works

The big driving mechanism behind stabilizers is inertia. Things that are heavy require more energy to move. Bigger things are also more difficult to move because of air resistance, this is also how a parachute works. Stabilizers mainly use the first part of inertia in a smart way.

Because heavy things are more reluctant to move, you could think that it’s a good idea to make the bow very heavy. This however will make it very hard to move the bow, which can increase muscles strain and can actually increase vibration. This is of course under the assumption that the bow is too heavy for the archer.

A better way to make the bow vibrate less is by placing a smaller weight on a stick. This is basically what a stabilizer is. By placing the weight on a stick the stabilizer uses a leverage effect. This means that you will require more energy if you want to change the orientation of the bow. If you try a bow without a stabilizer you will notice that it’s quite easy to change the orientation. With a stabilizer this requires more strength, because of the weight and the leverage effect.

Because it requires more energy to change the orientation of the bow, the vibrations are suppressed. A stabilizer won’t remove all vibration but will suppress it as much as possible.

How the dampener works

Now you know how the stabilizer works, you might wonder what the rubber knob between the weight and the stabilizer shaft does. This is the dampener of the stabilizer and absorbs additional vibration. Some stabilizers don’t have a dampener, because it makes the bow lighter.

The ideal flexibility of the dampener and the weight of front weight together can create optimal absorption. If you have a too flexible dampener and a too heavy weight, the tip of your stabilizer will start to flop, which can increase the amount of vibration. If you have a too resistant dampener and a too light weight your dampener will not absorb as much vibration as it could. Therefore you should carefully select the right dampener in combination with the weight.

Why vibration is bad

We briefly discussed that vibration decreases accuracy. The problem with vibration is that you can’t anticipate it and you can therefore not correct for it. It will therefore create random variance in your shot, decreasing your accuracy.

Vibration is not only bad for your accuracy it’s also bad for the durability of your limbs. That is why many compound archers use dampeners on their limbs. These are also called limb savers for obvious reasons. Vibration before the shot is unlikely to cause any damage to the limbs because it’s so minor. But vibration after the arrow left the bow is quite intense. Limbs break often when the arrow has already left the bow. Dampeners and stabilizers also decrease this vibration and can therefore increase the lifespan of your limbs.

Excessive vibration is also not good for humans, in particular our joints. Excessive vibration can cause a lot of joint problems like tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. For most archers this is no serious issue, because most people have healthy joints. If you however have weaker joints, shooting with a stabilizer will feel a lot better and can prevent joint pain.

My experience with vibration: when I was 18 I worked part time in the wood industry. I was cutting different types of wood with a reciprocating saw all day. If you have ever handled such a saw you know that it vibrates a lot. At the end of the day I would get sore fingers and it got hard to move them. This was caused by the vibration of the saw. Since I now work in the orthopedic industry, I have learned how bad that actually was for my joints.

The anatomy of the stabilizer

Some archers use all stabilizers possible because they want to remove as much vibration as possible. Other archers prefer a more minimalistic approach to reduce the weight of the bow. In this section I will discuss the function of the different stabilizers and discuss the different components.

Long stabilizer (front stabilizer)

The long rod stabilizer is screwed in at the front of the bow an points towards the target when firing. This stabilizer is by far the most important stabilizer to have on your bow because it decreases the most vibration in all orientations. A long stabilizer front stabilizer can make a bow less easy to wield and carry. Hunters or 3D archers therefore often prefer a short front stabilizer or use a dampener instead. I would recommend at least a front stabilizer for all target archers. Although it can feel strange at first, you will notice that it helps a lot with aiming.

V-bar

The v-bar doesn’t reduce vibration in itself but allows adding additional stabilizers to the side. Some v-bars are already integrated in the front stabilizer and sometimes they are a separate piece. Some v-bars allow you to change the orientation of the side stabilizers. To be honest I don’t see why you would want to do this since the standard angle, of 45 degrees, is ideal to remove additional vibration.

Reverse stabilizers (side stabilizers)

The purpose of the side stabilizer is to remove twisting vibration. If you are shooting you can tilt your bow either of the two sides. The bow therefore can also vibrate in either of these tilting orientations. If you don’t keep your bow straight and you shoot with your sight, your arrows will not land in the exact position where you are aiming at.

In my experience the twisting vibration is not a really big deal. I believe it exists and that it influences your accuracy, but I haven’t seen big differences between shooting without and shooting with a side stabilizer. If you have the money however, I would recommend a side stabilizer. What I like about the side stabilizers is that it seems to balance with front stabilizer to make the bow less front heavy.

Upper and lower stabilizers

These stabilizers are kind of forgotten in the world of archery. I actually never saw them being used in real life, only on old photos. Even in the Olympic games, these stabilizers are rarely used. These stabilizers are mounted at holes in the upper and lower part of the riser, near the tail of the limbs. Although rarely used, most risers have mounting holes for these limbs.

These stabilizers have the same function as the front stabilizer; they remove the vibration in all different orientations. Because they are fitted far away from the grip they also remove tilting vibration. This is similar to the function of the side stabilizers.

Here is why I think most archers don’t use it. Stabilizers that point forwards make the bow more unwieldy because it changes the center of balance towards the front. These stabilizers are often quite short because it would otherwise make the bow incredibly top-heavy. Short stabilizers are less effective than long stabilizers. Therefore I think olympian archers experimented with and without these stabilizers and didn’t experience a significant positive effect. They might even harm the accuracy of the archer because of the change in the point of balance.

Therefore I wouldn’t recommend buying these stabilizers. Most archers don’t use it, and I believe there is a good reason for it. You can of course always try if you want, and remove it if you don’t like it.

Dampeners

At the end of most stabilizers are dampeners. The dampeners are the rubber bulge between the stabilizer rod and the weight in front. Some archers say that stabilizers make the bow quieter. I however fired a bow with a stabilizer without a dampener and it was significantly louder. Therefore I believe the silencing effect is mainly because the dampener.

The effect of the dampener is affected by three characteristics: the rigidity of the dampener, the weight of the tip and the length of the stabilizer it’s attached to. It’s difficult to entirely match these parts; luckily most stabilizers come with an appropriate dampener already installed.

If you want to configure your dampener yourself, you need to know how these different characteristics affect the dampening. Earlier in the article I already discussed how the dampener works and how the weight of the tip and rigidity of the dampener affect the dampening effect. I haven’t discussed how the length of the stabilizer works, so I will briefly discuss this.

Earlier I explained that the stabilizer works as a lever, which means that small movements in the bow are more intense at the front. The same is true for the dampener. The longer the stabilizer the more the dampener will vibrate. This is good because it can than correct more vibration. The dampener however will also be more likely to flop. Therefore if you have a long stabilizer, you should have a lower the weight at the tip and a stronger the dampener.

Extender

In some listings for stabilizers you will see devices that look like mini stabilizers, often 6 inches or shorter. These devices are not stabilizers, but are extensions for you stabilizers. These extensions are often used when you use a V-bar, when it’s not integrated in the main stabilizer. V-bars cannot be directly mounted some bows, because of the styling of the riser. Therefore some archers need to buy an extender which is attached directly to the riser. The extender makes sure that you can clear the riser and can attach the V-bar.

Quick connectors

If you transport your bow a lot from archery club to your home, you will assemble and dissemble your bow a lot. Some people dislike that you have to screw your stabilizers on the bow every time you want to shoot. This might seem strange for archers that never shot with a stabilizer, but it can be quite annoying to screw three different stabilizers on your bow. This requires a lot of twists which can become annoying when doing it over and over again. Quick connectors allow you to connect the stabilizer to the riser with half or even a quarter turn. I don’t think starting archers will need this connection, but it’s good to know that it exists.

Questions about stabilizers

As you can see in the amount of text so far, there is quite a lot of science behind stabilizers. Therefore starting archers have many questions about stabilizers. I would like to answer a few of those in this section.

Do I need a stabilizer?

When I just started with archery, I heard about the 7 point rule. According to this rule you should only buy a stabilizer if you shoot an average of 7 points per arrow on the 18 meters on a 40 cm target face. The logic behind the rule is that you won’t see much improvement if you are not at least that accurate. To be honest I don’t know where this rule comes from, but I don’t agree with it.

Stabilizers reduce vibration, whether you are a starting archer or an experienced archer. If you are an experienced archer you will however notice the difference. Starting archers often have more inconsistencies and are less likely to feel differences in the behavior of their bow. If I remove the stabilizer for example, I see a big difference in the stability of the bow while aiming. Even if you are a starting archer I would recommend at least the front stabilizer, because it removes a large part of the vibration.

How long should my stabilizer be?

The longer the stabilizer the longer is the leverage effect, which allows the stabilizer to be more effective. Therefore I would advise to use the longest stabilizer that is practical for you. Long stabilizers can make the bow more heavy and unwieldy. Therefore some archers prefer to use shorter stabilizers.

Do I need side stabilizers?

In general I don’t think most archers will really need side stabilizers to remove tilt vibration. But a nice feature most archers like is that it acts as a counterbalance for the long stabilizer. Therefore I would advice to use it if you feel that your bow is unbalance due to the long stabilizer.

Any other questions?

Do you have any question that I didn’t answer in this section? Leave your question in the comments below. Not only will I answer your question as soon as possible, I will also add the question to this section for other archers to read.

What is the best stabilizer?

Many manufacturers promise that their stabilizer provides the most stability, this is a marketing gimmick, however. All stabilizers work on the same principles and therefore there shouldn’t be huge differences if they have the same characteristics. The most important things to consider when buying a stabilizer are the length, weight, and rigidity of the dampener. If these characteristics are the same the exact brand doesn’t really matter.

I would recommend the following setup:

  • One long stabilizer (32 till 24 inches)
  • Two short side stabilizers (12 till 10 inches)
  • A V-bar
  • An extender (optional, depending on your bow)
  • A quick connecter (optional, depending on your preference)

How to start shooting with a stabilizer

Most archers can start with the full setup as I recommended above. Some archers however have to get used to the feeling of the stabilizer, because it becomes more difficult to wield. Also in sometimes it’s not practical to us the long stabilizer. Therefore you can also use one of the side stabilizers, which will give you some additional stabilization.

For kids it could also be a good idea to slowly work towards shooting with a full stabilizer setup. You can first screw on the short stabilizer and let him/her get used to that. After a few weeks you can switch to the full setup.

How I wrote this article

You might think, how could anyone write an article over 2500 words about stabilizers? Well, a while ago I noticed that there was very little information on stabilizers. Most articles I read where kind of superficial. They explained that stabilizers remove vibration and that they help you with aiming. But they didn’t explain how they work, and what important features you should consider.

When I did some more research I got really fascinated. They seem very simple, but the science behind it is very sophisticated and isn’t explained in other blogs. Therefore, I did a lot of research into the physics behind stabilizers. To write this article I have read scientific articles about stabilizers and summarized it.

I am used to reading scientific articles but since I don’t have a physics background, so I can of course make errors. So if you have found any or have feedback, please let me know. This way you can help me continue to improve the quality of the articles on this website!

If you have any questions regarding stabilizers please let me know, I will respond as soon as possible.

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