Checker That Bow Handle
You Can Add Beauty And Accuracy To That Bow
With A Few Tools And A Lot Of Patience.
By Tommy L. Bish


 One of the most irritating and distracting occurrences that can happen to a nervous archer during a tournament shoot or it hunting session is to have the handle section of his bow become as slippery as a greased hog, allowing that hold to slip just when that all important shot is about to be released.

 Some shooters have wrapped their bow handles with black friction tape or adhesive, others have eliminated the slick surface by wrapping the handle with leather strips.

 In the majority of these cases of “applied preventatives,” they look like …!

 To wrap a beautiful bow with tape or similar foreign material in order to prevent hand slipping is unnecessary.  There are methods of improving both the bow’s appearance as well as your shooting potential.

 For several hundred years the art of checkering has been applied to wood and metal surfaces.  In some cases this checkering is executed solely for ornamentation, while in others, it is strictly for utilitarian purposes.  Checkering on a pistol grip or rifle stock is put there for the purpose of providing a better gripping surface for the hands.

 I suppose that there are hundreds of bows in existence that are adorned with checkering, but to date, I have yet to see my first one.  I do not claim that my idea of checkering the handle section of a bow is original, but I can attempt to disclose a few hints on just how this jov may be done by the novice on his own bow at minimum expense.

 The first requisite is to have reasonably good eye sight; second is the ability to concentrate solely upon a tedious, precision-type job with unlimited patience!

 The tools necessary for the job are few.  The ones I utilized in preparing this article are those produced by the Dem-Bart Company, of Tacoma, Washington.  Those tools are precision made and are highly efficient in turning out professional type work, providing they are properly used.  They are available in most gunshops and are inexpensive when one considers that they will last literally a lifetime, periodic replacement of the dulled cutting heads being the only requirement to return these tools to service.  The set of tools shown on these pages are something like fifteen years old and still as efficient as thy were when brand new.

 All checkering tools are classed by size as to how many lines they will cut to the inch.  The tools best suited for a bow handle, to my way of thinking, are those that cut sixteen lines to the inch.  While this size tool will create larger diamonds that the eighteen, twenty or twenty four lines-to-the-inch tools, they will prove to be the easiest for the amateur to handle in his first attempt at checkering.

 The components of the sixteen-line tool set are classified as 2-16, 3-16, and 4-16.  In addition to this three piece set, you will need an S-1 tool which is necessary for getting into the tight corners during the “cleaning-up” operation when the checkering job is almost completed.  You will also need a B-1 bordering tool and a three-cornered Swiss needle rifle, the latter bent slightly on the pointed end.  A soft-lead pencil and a bench vise will complete the tools required.










 The beginner, after assembling the necessary tools, should obtain a piece of seasoned walnut or some similar wood that has been smoothed on one side for the purpose of laying out a simple design on which he can practice the use of the tools.  It is best for the beginner to draw a simple, straight-sided design, then completely checker and border this design before attempting to tackle the job of working on his pet bow.  Practice makes perfect, and this especially applies to the use of checkering tools.  Perfection comes only after long practice with these particular tools.

 After considerable practice in handling the few tools necessary for a good checkering job, the amateur then may lay out a simple design on the bow handle, itself.  This is possibly best achieved by grasping the bow just as you normally would in shooting, then trace an outline, with a soft lead pencil, completely around those sections of the hand that actually contact the bow.  It is this outlined area that should receive the checkering treatment.

 Following this sketching of a rough outline of your hand, the bow then is placed in a bench vise having jaws protected with either felt or cork.  Here the outline is retraced and refined into a simple design that will add to the bow’s beauty when finished.  Next, take the Swiss needle file in hand and lightly scribe this penciled outline until you have a V-shaped slot completely around the design.  This slot created by the needle file now replaces the previously penciled line and will act as the master outside guide line for the checkering tools.  This line means stop for the checkering tools so don’t over run it.  In the final phases of the job, this slot will be utilized to guide the bordering tool in its final outlining.  To overrun this guide line will result in unnecessary “touch-up” work.

 The checkering tools are so designed, that if properly used, they will cut perfect little diamonds in perfect alignment, providing the workman has used the tool properly and has used common sense in his design.  Too, the cross-cut, which actually forms the diamonds when the cutter is passed across other lines at a fifteen degree angle, must be made carefully.  Care should be taken to make certain that the cutters are clean by occasionally brushing them with a bronze suede brush.  This assures that none of the tiny diamonds are chipped out due to a clogged checkering cutter.

 A well layed out design  will produce a matting of hundreds of tiny, sharp, peaked diamonds upon the surface.  This can be accomplished only if three things are kept in mind:  First, the angle of the cross cut must be compatible with those that they cross in order to form perfect diamonds.  Second, cutting heads of the checkering tools must be kept clean.  Third, the checkering, itself, must be kept free of wood dust and cuttings by brushing often with an old tooth brush.  If these requisites are followed, a beautiful, professional appearing job will result.

 The cutting heads are used with a short, gentle stroke on the first cutting, then this stroke is lengthened as the cut is deepened.  With each stroke of the cutters, gentleness of touch is absolutely necessary.  Otherwise, the small diamonds being formed under the cutters will be torn loose and a sloppy job will result.

 After checkering of the necessary area, it is finished off by following the initial guide line around the outer perimeter with the bordering tool.  This tool will add “that finished look” to the checkered area by outlining it with a bead-like border which is finally touched up with the use of the Swiss needle file.  The “V” slot mentioned earlier is now utilized as a guide rail for the bordering tool.
 With the final bordering completed, the entire area is given a thorough, but gentle brushing with an old tooth brush, or some similar brush, to rid it of wood dust and cuttings.  A mild dressing such as lemon oil is then applied to the raw wood.  Never use a thick dressing such as varnish or lacquer on checkering as this tends to fill in the slight cuts forming the diamonds, rendering the checkering ineffectual for a better holding surface on the bow’s handle.

 It was found, during the course of checkering the illustrated bow, that the Bubinga wood in the riser and handle section was much harder than any used in gunstocks but in spite of the cutters being slightly dulled by the ordeal of cutting this iron-like hardwood; plus slicing through sections of laminated glass used in this bow’s construction, they still cut perfect diamonds.

 To prevent having to replace your cutting heads, I would suggest that you lay out your design so that it will eliminate the possibility of having to pass your cutters over the glassed sections where possible.  That laminated glass is murder on any type of metal cutting tool, including a metal cutting hacksaw or bandsaw.,