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How To Make A Serious Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

Image source: YouTube

Image source: YouTube

The bow is an amazing weapon. Of all the weapons which have been handed down through the centuries, the bow is one of the few ancient weapons that are still in use today. While we don’t see armies taking to the field armed with bows these days, there might be times when using a bow would make more sense than using a rifle. If you want to hunt silently, the bow is the way to go.

In the case of a major disaster with no access to ammunition, it would be natural to revert to the bow for hunting and defense. While shooting a bow accurately requires more practice than shooting a gun, and the range is more limited, it is still a formidable weapon. We should all know how to use a bow as part of our survival training.

Bows were traditionally made of wood, and you can still find some that are made of wood today. In a survival situation, you may want to make a bow out of wood. However, there is a modern material that is excellent for bow making.  PVC pipe is not as attractive as wood, but it can be highly effective.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

PVC pipe is inexpensive, readily available and easy to use. It also contains potential energy when bent, making it an excellent bow making material. You can mold it using nothing more than your hands and a heat source. On the off chance that you make a mistake forming it, it’s really not a problem. All you have to do is reheat it and form it again. Once cooled, it will hold the new shape, while maintaining its combination of flexibility and rigidity.

PVC Survival Bow Design

PVC bow designs fall into three different categories:

  • Longbow. The longbow is the simplest of all designs. It consists of a straight piece of pipe, which has been drilled at both ends for it to be strung. When the bow is strung, the pipe is bent to form an ark.
  • Recurve bow. The recurve bow is probably the best combination for PVC. The curved arms and reverse curved tips greatly increase the potential energy stored in the bow, while making it more compact and easier to use.
  • Compound bow. Modern hunting bows are compound bows with a pulley attached to each end of the arms. This design allows much more force to be stored in the bow, while making drawing and holding the bow easier.

Theoretically, PVC bows can be made out of any size PVC pipe. but reality poses some limitations on us. While I have seen a few longbows made out of one inch diameter pipe, most are made of 3/4 inch, schedule 40 pipe. This pipe provides a nice balance between rigidity and flexibility. Don’t use thin-wall PVC, as it isn’t strong enough to provide any true energy when released. It is also much more likely to kink when the bow is drawn.

Making the PVC Recurve Bow

The basic difference between the recurve bow and a simple bow made out of straight PVC pipe is that the recurve bow is curved to increase the amount of velocity it can transfer to the arrow. This curve is made by heating the PVC with a heat gun, bending it to the desired shape and holding it there while it cools. No special tools or jigs are needed, with the exception of the heat gun and one large can.

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I used a four-foot  piece of 3/4 inch, schedule 40 PVC pipe for my bow. You can use a longer piece if you like (up to six feet long), but I wanted a compact bow. Mark the center four inches of the bow, as that will be your handle. Also mark eight inches from each end, as those will be the curved tips.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

The first bend is to make the main curve of the bow arms. You will be heating and bending one arm at a time. Heat the section from the edge of the handle to the mark for the curved tip, stopping a little short of the curved tip. Rotate the PVC as you are heating it, so that it heats evenly all the way around.

Please note that if you are heating the PVC with a back and forth movement of the heat gun, you will end up heating the ends of the stroke more than the middle. Make a portion of your strokes shorter (about 1/4 of them), covering just the center of the area, to ensure even heating.

Once the PVC has softened, bend it to form a curve. This curve should make the end of the arm point about 45 degrees from the original direction. Perform the bending on a flat surface, such as a workbench top, to ensure that you keep the entire bow on the same plane and to avoid a corkscrew shape. Hold until it cools, and then repeat for the other side.

It can help to mark the actual curve you end up with from the first bend on a piece of cardboard, so that you can use that location as a template for the other side. That way, you can ensure that both arms are bent evenly.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

With the primary bend in the two arms, it is time to reduce the amount of depth of the bow by recurving it at the handle. This will be a short bend, only heating the four inches of pipe that is directly adjacent to the handle. Push the curve back in the other direction, making a bump in the overall geometry of the bow.

Please note that we haven’t changed the original curve of the arms by doing this; we have just changed the beginning of the curve. Since the rest of the curve hasn’t been heated, it shouldn’t change.

The next step is to recurve the ends. In the process, they will become somewhat flattened. Many people do this by flattening them first and then curving them. I find it easier to just curve them, allowing the flattening actions to come about as a natural part of curving the piece. This also makes the transition from round to flat gradual, eliminating stress points.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

To recurve the ends, you’ll need a coffee can or other large can and a vice. I used a woodworking vice in the picture, but you can use any large vice you have available. If you don’t have a vice available, you can hold it by hand as long as you are wearing insulated gloves.

Heat the end eight inches of the arm. Clamp the last 3/4 inch of it in the vice, with the coffee can and bend the pipe around the can. You want about a 90 degree angle between the tip of the arm and the end of that recurve. Since the idea here is to recurve the bow, the direction of the curve should be the opposite of the main curve of the arm. The flat at the end should be crosswise to the plane of the bow, so that when you are holding it, you see the flat and not the edge of the flat.

You need to be very careful at this point, as it is easy to make this bend in such a way that the tip goes off to one side, rather than being on line with the bow. If that mistake happens, the problem can be rectified by reheating the pipe just at the beginning of the tip recurve and adjusting it to align with the rest of the bow.

Allow the pipe to cool and then remove it from the vice. Repeat for the other end. If the very end of the pipe is not totally flattened or if it still has an opening after recurving the tips, you may want to reheat just the very tips and flatten them again.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

The ends of the bow arms need to be notched to hold the cord. This can be done by drilling 1/4 inch holes through the flat of the ends. Then, cut the material out between the hole you just drilled and the edge of the flat on the pipe.

You can paint the finished PVC pipe bow as desired to make it harder to see when you are stalking game through the woods.

How To Make A Survival Bow From PVC Pipe

The last step is to put a string on your bow. If I was planning on using this bow regularly, I would have a real bowstring made for it. But since this is a survival bow, I’m going to use something that I would normally have on hand in a survival situation —   paracord. Tying a loop on each end of the paracord allows it to be attached to the ends of the arms, where it can be held in place by the loops. The cord should be a little shorter than the natural span of the bow, so that you have to bend it slightly to string it.

You will notice in this picture that the PVC at the tip of the arm is somewhat brown. This is what happens if you overheat the PVC while working it. That happened while I was reheating the PVC to flatten the ends.

By following these steps, you will have created an inexpensive and durable bow. Now you know that you can build an effective survival weapon with materials you already have on hand in your home.

Have you ever made a PVC bow? What tips would you add? Share them in the section below:

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  1. This is an interesting artilce, but I have a question. The article says to use a heat gun to heat the PVC so it can be bent. If the grid goes down unexpectedly and is down long term, you won’t be able to use your heat gun because you won’t have power. I suppose you could do it with a propane torch, or a fire, but how do you control the heating of the PVC and still keep the PVC from becoming crooked while you are shaping it over an open fire when you can’t put it on a flat surface to shape it?

    • I have been looking at the same issue. I’m going to try making a long narrow solar oven. I have made a few PVC bows and really enjoy shooting them. Check YouTube for pvc bows. Lots of good stuff there.

    • I’ve seen it done using a wooden mold that was heated with fire.

    • are you really that serious about losing electric for about 30 or so mins while bending pvc for a bow? that’s the stupidest question one can ask. just to be safe, don’t make a bow.

      • What a stupid reply, ray james. This is I believe MI Patriot is considering the fact that not every one who lives off the grid has acces to electricity, and also that considerably fewer people will have access to electricity in the event that our national grid goes down. What if our grid is down for some reason such as in an emergency/conflict situation. Where will you plug in your heat gun? How will you make a bow? Just to be safe, don’t use fire.

        • most of this is not if you have Electricity now or lose it for days the story is how ot make a bow you do not plan to use it daily it just in case thing. for that day we all never comes

    • Several ideas come to mind. One could perhaps heat brick/rocks in a fire, then use their radiant heat to soften the PVC. Might take a while, but better to go slow and not overheat it. Another, perhaps better possibility would be to use heated sand, either in a metal bowl/pot, or perhaps heating it and pouring it into the pipe itself.

      You might also use the reflector oven principle with an improvised reflector of aluminum foil shaped around the pipe. You could then pass the pipe through a “hot zone” between the reflector and the fir, keeping the pipe in constant motion.

  2. To perhaps answer your question, consider using a torch -flame on a stick.

  3. Great, now the Feds will outlaw PVC pipe….

  4. You could use a bending iron used in guitar construction. I made one out piece of a 2″ iron pipe. I elevated it using long bolts and a wood base. You just point your propane torch into the pipe till it gets hot. I covered it with an old wash cloth to keep if from being too hot.

  5. What is the draw weight on the 40″ recurve?

  6. I had a thought of placing a thinner PVC inside of a larger one and then doing this. Obviously it would be harder to heat but would it be possible to do while this action might make the bow a lot stronger and have more potential energy?

    • I don’t think this would work because the two pieces of PVC would be separate. In order to make it stronger, areas would have to strategically thickened, possibly by glue and clamp after heating? Cut pvc of equal/greater diameter in half, heat and mimic curve of bow and apply. Similar techniques are used in traditional wood bows, where a rigid wood would be backed with a more flexible to reduce stress.

    • Another way to give the bow more tension is by using a bungee ( such as the ones used by semi flatbed drivers) place in center of the handle while running a 550 on the outer side of the bow. This way you are drawing on the pvc & the bungee if you need a higher draw tension. When placing the bungee venter. Use 550 cord above & below the grip ro secure it.

    • Use driveway markers, they are fiberglass rods that add strength and flexibility you tape as many as you want together and slip them in prior to sealing ends and depending how many you use, determines draw weight.

  7. I’ve done this. Try to think of a fifty pound draw weight if you want to take big game over longer distance. Thats a piece of hard wood that starts at 3-4 inches thick. Plan on a lot of carving. Be patient. It could be over a few days. Plan on making lots of really good arrows. They get lost, break, fletching comes off. If you’re not an experienced archer, practice !!! Draw the arrow to a comfortable, repeatable position. Take note of where your hand is in relation to your face, ear and neck. Dry pull the bow to determine your natural ability to repeat that position without releasing the bow string. Shoot an arrow to determine its strength of true flight and knock down power at different ranges. That way, you’ll know how close you must get to your food in order to realistically harvest it and you’ll learn how true your bow and arrow combination shoots. You’ll develop “favorite arrows” with good reason. While practice shooting, comfortably draw and note the relationship of the arrow tip to the target. Loose the arrow and note where it actually hits. Measure the distance between its actual strike and where you thought you were aming. Load a second arrow. Draw and hold to the same tip relationship as the original shot. Correct for that distance. e.g. if you originally hit low left, draw and correct to high right. Bulls-eye! Lets gut this sucker and eat it !! PS Historically, bow makers, fletchers and hunters were each dedicated careers; full time jobs. You’re probably an amature. Planning to survive off of your first bow may not be realistic. If you’re a dedicated out doorsman, you brought your bundle of camo-parachute cord and are excellet at setting snares, swing traps, fall traps and hammers and know the most likely places to score with them. David & Goliath? Remeber his sling shot? Excellent weapon-killer at almost any range….but takes a lot of practice to achieve uniform release and pre-determined targeting….but well worth it. See you tube. Easy. lite, travels well. Always looking for “perfect rocks”. Historically this was a very efficient weapon. Oh? Never throw your knife. You’ll loose it…. and die.

  8. thank you for sharing, i’ve got more information useful for me.

  9. This is a great idea and creativity. The first time I heard make a bow from a PVC Pipe.

  10. I’ve never made PVC bow, so your guides are really helpful for me, thanks for share

  11. Innovative idea! Making a bow from PVC pipe, a very easy-to-find material. I, personally, like bow because of its elegant beauty. I am sure your PVC bow is not that elegant. Besides, I wonder about its endurance when being strongly pushed? And isn’t that PVC affected by high temperature? How does PVC bows solve these issues?

  12. Very creative guide, however I think that this should comes with strict safety awareness because it will be dangerous trying to shoot an unconditional bow. Anyway, a survival bow should only be made when you are in “survival” condition, right? Don’t try to make any bow without knowing all of it potential harms.
    Thanks for a fresh perspective.

  13. So impressive , I will try to make one by VPS pipe like this for my kids to use in our camping trip. However, the arrow should be a soft pipe to avoid unexpected hurt. Thank you for sharing this so actionable guide ^^

  14. Really innovative manual, nevertheless I believe since it is likely to be harmful attempting to take an unconditional bend this must includes rigid security consciousness. When you’re in “survival” condition anyhow, a bend must just be produced? Don’t attempt to create any bend without understanding it all possible harms.
    Thanks to get a refreshing perspective.

  15. It would have been good if he had posted a picture of the bow after he got it finished with out the string

  16. Haha, looking very interesting. Perhaps I should try to do so to experience. : D

  17. Great bow, love the simplicity and effectiveness. At only a few bucks per bow and an expected lifetime of 2-4 years, given the excellent performance PVC bows offer, it’s well worth the time and effort.

  18. You can break arrows really easily, though. I broke one by shooting it against a rock and another on a concrete wall. I sharpened them again and now they’re almost good as new!

  19. When I was a kid we tried using PVC as well. But they ended up breaking too easily. Of course we used the wrong stuff, but when it worked we were amazingly glad 🙂

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