Making a Homemade (DIY) Arrow Spine Tester

Making a Homemade (DIY) Arrow Spine Tester

I’m making a batch of arrows for the upcoming archery season– with my own shafting from lumber.

Whoop-de-do you might say, but for some reason I’ve always bought my arrow shafting and just assembled them, something I intend to remedy this time around! However, I know how important it is to have matching arrows. . . which led me to making a spine tester. Another project to build something that will assist in making something else!

What is Arrow Spine?

Spine is simply a measurement of how much an arrow flexes. When you shoot your bow, the arrow absorbs the energy from the string and flexes dramatically as it launches from the bow. If it is the incorrect spine for your draw weight your arrows will not recover as quickly and accurately as they should. If your arrows are impacting the target on an angle (the back is either to the left or right) you have arrows that are not spined correctly for the bow you are shooting them from.

Traditionally, spine is measured by bracing your arrow shaft exactly 26 inches apart and suspending a 2 pound weight from the center. The distance that the shaft deflects when the weight is placed on it will tell you your arrow spine– you then match your spine to your bow draw weight. There are several modifications to this principle that you can do to get perfectly tuned arrows for your set-up, but in general, if you get them close and have a matching set that are all similar that should be good enough. Or at least that’s my opinion. That said, I’m not a world class archer winning shooting competitions so I might not be the person you want to listen to. Basic other principles though: the further from centershot your bow is the lighter spine arrow you’ll need since it will have to flex more to get back to a straight line so if you have an extra wide handle maybe go down a little to accommodate. This assumes you have a 28 inch draw length, if you shoot significantly longer or shorter arrows you will need to shoot a different spine– look up information on dynamic spine to figure out how much, and to see a list of a couple other factors that could change the arrow spine that works best for you.

Design and Materials

First off, don’t get hung up on trying to make yours exactly like mine. All you need is to suspend the arrow shaft 26 inches apart, you need a 2 lb weight to put in the middle, and you need a way to measure how much it has moved. How you do that is entirely up to you, this is simply how I made mine. It was inspired by this one over at poorfolkbows.com and if you want to see a few other testers people have made he has compiled sample pictures of a few on the next couple pages following that link. It’s a great resource to see a few different options.

As you’ll see, I built mine attached to the side of the shelf that holds the scrap wood in my garage. Why? Good question. Mainly because it was convenient and right about the height that I wanted plus I was too lazy to fight past the junk in my garage to get to the wall. You could attach it directly to the wall or build a small stand for it as well. I almost suspended mine from the bottom of the shelf that is above my workbench as well…. And may move it there next time I want to use it. We’ll see.

I modified one eye screw so I could hook it over the arrow shaft

I used eye screws to balance my shafting on (or run through in this case)– a 5 pack was about $3 at the hardware store. My 2 lb weight? An empty glass salsa jar filled with miscellaneous items: bag of copper powder, allen wrench set, chunk of antler, extra eye screw, etc. The only downside to this arrangement was that the salsa jar is somewhat taller than would be ideal if you were to build a tester that doesn’t have tons of room under it for the jar to sit. Of note would be the fact that I took one of my eye screws and cut out the side of it so it could hook over the arrow shaft and then screwed it into the center of the lid. You need to make sure that your method of hooking the weight onto the shaft is accounted for when weighing. To measure deflection I used a digital caliper because I already had one. Total cost for this project: $3 for the eye screws. Time: maybe 15 minutes (to set it up, longer to actually test all my shafts). Well worth it to ensure I have a matching set of arrows.

Making the Spine Tester

To begin with, I measured out and marked the end points (26 inches apart) as well as the center mark (at 13 inches). Then, I drilled a pilot hole at both of the end points and installed my eye screws. Don’t worry about how far in they are at the moment, just screw them in until they are solid. Above the center point I now installed a ¾ inch thick piece of scrap wood that will give me something to clamp my caliper to. Now run an arrow shaft through your eye screws (obviously, you will need them to be oriented so that the holes face each other….) and clamp your calipers to the scrap board above the center mark and bring it down until it touches the shaft. Does it hit it exactly on the center? If not, screw your eye screws in or out as needed until the tip of the caliper hits the center of your arrow shaft.

Using Your Spine Tester

Using the spine tester is pretty straightforward. Begin by setting your caliper (if you have a digital version like mine) mode to decimal inches. Then insert an arrow shaft into the two eye screws that mark your end points and orient it so that the grain on your arrow shafts is going vertically. Now, slowly bring the tip of your caliper down until it lightly touches the arrow shaft, then zero it out. Attach your weight as close to the center as you can and let it hang freely. Carefully extend the caliper until it just barely contacts the shaft and read the deflection amount. From here, your arrow spine = 26 / deflection. . . Or, you could go the simple route and just look at the spine chart I have posted at the bottom of this page. No sense in doing the math for each shaft, just get your deflection amount and compare it to the chart. Actually, in the long run I would like to make one that’s a little fancier and has a dial/pointer that simply tells arrow spine in 5# increments. That way I wouldn’t even have to look at the chart. Maybe in the future when I have time to think about it. For the time being however, as a $3 last minute way of double checking my shafts to select ones that match, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got!

Here is the spine chart as promised. As you can see from my picture above, I had a deflection of 0.56 inches and when we look at the chart that corresponds to about a 47# spine (ie for a bow with a 47# draw weight).

Traditional Snowshoes Part 2: Making the Frame

Traditional Snowshoes Part 2: Making the Frame

I’ve always loved being outdoors exploring…. and have always been somewhat limited during the winter months. Not to say that I didn’t do things outside, but it primarily revolved around snow forts, sledding and the like. Not quite the freedom of wandering for hours away from home that summer presented. Snow is what kept me back (and perhaps the lack of warm clothing as well, it’s amazing how much I’ve learned about staying warm over the last two decades!), I had no ability to stay aloft in the feet of snow which blanketed the mountains and so kept me meandering the drier foothills instead.

In later years I acquired a pair of cross country skis, and have loved the greater freedom to enjoy the winter that they gave me. However, here in northern Utah we have steep terrain that is oft ill suited for skiing, in addition, I did not get a pair of truly backcountry skis which I most assuredly need for the powdery snow we have here. Hence the desire for snowshoes– better in deep powder and hilly terrain, and hopefully easier to make.

My desire for a pair of snowshoes has existed for years, my desire to MAKE a pair of snowshoes has ebbed and waned over that time. I always like making things, but sometimes I resort to coveting the modern outdoor gear instead….. I am, at heart, a gear nut! This has been tempered both by my monetary restraints and, in the case of snowshoes, the lackluster impression that the modern specimens have imparted upon me on the few occasions I used them. For example, 3 years ago I went snowshoeing for the afternoon with my friend Ryan, he had just received a pair for Christmas and was anxious to try them out, I had borrowed a pair from another friend (rated for someone 30 lbs heavier than me incidentally). We were out snowshoeing for a good 4 hours or so– and made it 1 mile. Total. Out and back. Keep in mind Ryan is the friend that I go do things with when feeling like I need an epic adventure– we’ve done 37+ mile day hikes, climbed many a ridiculous peak, and moved to Alaska. At that at that point I was also training for an ultramarathon and would be considered by the majority of people to be in phenomenal shape. Our issue was not ability… it was gear. Even wearing snowshoes we were sinking up to our hips in fresh powder with every step. Sometimes deeper. We spent more time struggling to get out of each hole than we did making forward progress. Which I intuitively sense should not be the case– if snowshoes were that ineffectual would people have continued making and using them over the centuries? Logically, the time investment wouldn’t be worth it if they weren’t more beneficial than that.

And then I read The Winter Wilderness Companion late last year and got overtaken by the drive to spend more time out in the winter practicing traditional woodsmanship and relying on gear I have made and can maintain/repair. More especially, I got re-attuned to the idea that modern equipment does not always necessarily represent an improvement on traditional gear. Snowshoes in particular. Having years of experience guiding and conducting snowshoe excursions in Canada and the N.E. United States, the authors flatly reject the idea that modern snowshoes compare to traditional counterparts (as well as many other varieties of equipment), and contend that traditional snowshoes are lighter, quieter, and work better in deep snow than modern snowshoes do. Which I quickly grasped as a glimmer of hope that I could have snowshoes that actually allowed me to be mobile!

Making snowshoes is a fantastic example of skills and abilities I want to revive– a generally forgotten folk craft that provides genuine useful benefit to the life of whomever makes them. So I decided to make some. In the previous article I discussed how to make the form you use to bend your snowshoes to shape (using Gil Gilpatricks’ book as a basis). Here I will continue the process and discuss making the actual traditional snowshoe frame.

Ash is the the traditional wood used for snowshoes– anyone know the reason why? I don’t. Part of it must be that it is strong, bends well, and grows commonly over much of the northern U.S. and Canada. That could also be said for several other hardwoods though. At any rate, I used ash simply because that’s the traditional material I’m sure that you could use many other hardwoods as long as you chose boards with straight grain. I used lumber because, quite frankly, it’s easier to get. I have no objection to harvesting my own wood, but it seemed illogical to cut a tree for such a small amount of wood. Besides, hardwoods are not common where I live. When selecting your lumber get the board with straightest grain you can find and no knots– you will be subjecting it to a dramatic bend and don’t want it to break on you. You’ll need a 10 foot long board.

Once you have selected your lumber rip it to 7/8 wide strips and and plane them down to 3/4×3/4. Or slightly larger (Gilpatrick says 13/16ths, I went a little small on accident….. and decided to just finish them at ¾). Mark a centerline. Now lets make a pattern to help mark out where we are going to reduce material! Take a scrap piece of wood that’s half the length of your frame strips and reduce it to the same dimensions of the frame material. You’ll want to thin both ends of your pattern on opposite sides to make it easier to bend without splitting the wood. One end will need to be 5/16ths of an inch thick for 2 ½ inches before gracefully curving up to full thickness 12 inches from the end. 32 inches from that same end you’ll begin drawing a nice smooth curve that reduces the board thickness down to ½ inch over the remainder of it’s length. As noted, the reduction should be on opposite sides of the board so that it looks almost like a shallow “S”. Now you need to reduce the pattern to follow those curves– I used a bandsaw. If you don’t have a bandsaw you could use a drawknife, rasp, sureform, jigsaw or whatever. Just make sure you keep it square to the sides and with a nice even curve. Now take your pattern and lay it with the 5/16ths end on the centerline of your snowshoe frames, flush up the edges and then clamp it down so it doesn’t move. Trace it. Now flip it end for end (keeping the 5/16ths end on centerline) and repeat. Do this for both frames and then reduce them like you did the pattern– Your frames will need to be smoother, however, so sand them thoroughly after to remove tool marks. While you’re at it, break the edges down so they aren’t as sharp, this will make them less likely to pull apart while steam bending. The main frame is now ready!

Now you need to find a way to boil them (wood softens and becomes flexible when boiled– thus allowing you to bend it). This stymied me for awhile…. How do you go about boiling something that is 10 feet long? Not wanting to spend the amount needed for a steel pipe that was both large and long enough I went wandering home depot… And found a 10 foot steel rain gutter downspout for about $10. Not perfect, but it worked! I blocked the end with a sponge and then shrink-wrapped the end (duct tape would be a good option as well). Admittedly, it leaked and I had to replenish the water as I went, but this will get you by if you don’t want to spend much. I set the bottom end of the downspout over a borrowed double burner camp stove and propped the other end up on a bucket to keep it on an angle. Put your frame strips in and turn the stove on high and let it simmer for a couple hours (checking the water level occasionally). I left mine in for about 3 hours– but it wasn’t constantly boiling as I ran out of propane at one point without realizing it.

While your snowshoe frames are boiling, you need to get the rest of your setup ready. You’ll need your snowshoe form, some scrap wood wedges, a hammer, potholders, 2 metal strips to back your frame with while bending and a few clamps (I used small vice grip style pliers). The metal strips don’t need to be much, you use them on the outside of what will become the toe section of your snowshoes while bending to help prevent the wood from coming apart there. I used a couple of 16 inch long perforated steel strips at home depot for just over one dollar apiece (look by their small metal section), they were meant to be strapping/supports for something I don’t recall at the moment. Mark a centerline on them as well.

Ready? You’ll need to work quickly, wood cools fast enough that the thicker sections will be difficult to bend if you dawdle. Pull one of the strips out of the boiler, set it on your frame clamp the metal strip to the outside edge of the toe section with the center lines matching up. Using your hands to bend the frame at the center and then hook it over the toe of the frame. Moving quickly bend each end back and down, fitting them inside the blocks of wood you secured outside the frame. You will need to give tips a sharper bend with your hands in order to fit them between the blocks at the heel end– it is especially difficult to bend and fit the second one it. Sometime in this process you’ll need to use the hammer and a scrap block of wood to pound the toe up flush with your frame, I waited a little too long and it cooled down to the point I couldn’t quite get it in all the way. Now, working from the toe back on each side, pound a wood wedge between the frame and your securing blocks (hopefully the pictures make sense of this) thereby pressing your frame tight against the interior form. Simple enough right? Now take the clamps off the toe area, flip your form over and repeat. You’ll need to leave your frame to dry in place so that it keeps its shape, give it a few days before taking it off the form.

Sometime during the drying period you need to make yourself a few crossbars for your snowshoes, make them 3/8 of an inch thick and 1 ½ wide. Front crossbars are easy to determine the length of; if, for example, you are making a pair of 13×48 snowshoes the dimension inside the frame at the widest point would be 13 minus 1 ½ (because each frame is ¾ wide) or 11 ½. However, you will want to mortise each of the crossbars into the frame ¼ inch to secure them in place, so you would want to make a 12 inch long crossbar. Do your own math following this example if you’re making a different size of snowshoe. I decided to put a curve in mine (this is for aesthetics only, you can leave yours as a straight bar if you want) and so created a shallow curve that started one inch from the ends and maxed out at ¾ inch in the center. Doing this will obviously mean you need a wider board to begin with as you still want them to finish as 1 ½ inch wide crossbars. For the length of the rear crossbar I just measured the width of the form where I had cut it across at the back and then added ½ inch to allow for the mortise into each side– it came out to be about 6 3/4 inches. Since it’s shorter you won’t want to curve it as much, once again starting one inch in from the ends draw a curve that peaks at 3/8 of an inch off of straight. You now need to cut them out, using whatever method you used to thin the frame at the toe and heel areas remove wood down to the lines you just drew then sand it completely smooth (I used a belt sander on the outside curve, the inside curve was a little more difficult and required me to wrap a dowel in sandpaper).

When the snowshoe frame is dry mark the locations where the crossbars will be (you did put these marks on the form right?) and remove it from the form. If you have any places where the grain split and started to lift up now is your chance to repair those, smear a little wood glue under the splinter where it is coming up and clamp it down. I had two areas the grain was separating but nothing serious. After the glue dries it’s time to make the mortises for your crossbars. You already marked where they will go right? Using these marks, delineate a rectangle that’s 3/8 wide by 1 3/8 long (your crossbars are 1 ½, but you’ll shave down the end a little to make a snug fit). I centered my mortises in the frame. I then used a 5/16 drill bit to make a few ¼ deep holes along the mortise location, making sure I stayed within the lines, and used a chisel to square the sides up and clean out the bottom. Repeat and keep them at about the same depth– you’re aiming for ¼ inch deep.

Once your frames are mortised decide which crossbars will go where and which side will be facing up. Mark them accordingly then begin shaving down the end of your crossbar to fit. I measured and marked 1 3/8 on the end of the crossbar and then used a pocket knife to shave the end down until it was close to that line. After it was close I just fitted them by trial and error and kept shaving more off until they were snug but I could squeeze them into place. I took all the material off on the side that faced the center of the snowshoe (rear of the front crossbar, and front of the rear one). Once they are snugly sliding into the mortise it’s time to adjust the fit: insert the front crossbar into one mortise and then squeeze the tail portion together while fitting the crossbar into the other side. When you have them both in, hold the snowshoe at arms length and visually check to see if the crossbar looks square to the overall shape– if not, adjust the tail of the frame past one another until it does. Now take a pencil and trace a line along the inside of the frame onto the crossbar. Take it out and you’ll see that since your snowshoe is round the line will not be even. Ie, it will slant from ¼ inch on one side to barely on the crossbar at the other side. Cut the end of the crossbar along that line so that it is now angled to match the angle of the inside of the mortise. Repeat until it seats evenly down along the length of the mortise on both sides (this may require you to shave a little more off the side with your knife as it will change the fit). Towards the end I also realized that it was no longer hitting on the end of the crosspiece, my issue was that the mortise was going into the frame at a 90 degree angle while the crossbar would not be, so I adjusted the inside of my mortise so the end was slanted and allowed the crossbar to slide in better. Once you have the front one in and fitting well, do the same thing for the rear crossbar. Congratulations, your snowshoes are ready to assemble!

Holding your snowshoes together at the rear, make sure the crosspieces both look square to the overall shape and then clamp the tail ends together. Now measure back and mark the overall length of the snowshoe (48 inches in my case, adjust as necessary). I also marked where the frames were initially supposed to come together, about 42 inches from the toe. Now layout and mark where you want to secure the tails of the frame together. I think I went 1 ½ inches in from each of those previous two marks. Drill a hole and bolt or rivet the snowshoe together. I originally used ¼ inch bolts…. but I think I will swap them out for rivets– either that or countersink them, I don’t want to have the bolt head and nut out where they can catch on things. They look pretty sweet don’t they??

Once the frames are officially together, it’s time to drill some holes in them….. for the lacing. Using a 1/8 inch bit, you need to drill 4 holes in the rear crossbar (on the side towards the tail) and 5 holes in the front crossbar (side towards the toe section). I centered mine 3/8 of an inch back from the edge and put the two holes to the outside at 1 inch in from the frame, then evenly spaced the other holes over the remaining distance. After you have the holes drilled in the crossbars you’ll need to mark and drill the ones in the frame around the toe and heel sections. In the front section I measured and marked 1 inch up from the crossbars on each side, then determined and marked the center point on the toe. After that, I once again even spaced three more marks down each side between the center of the toe and the mark near the crossbar. For the tail/heel section I once again marked 1 inch back from the crossbar and then added 3 more holes evenly spaced going back…. I don’t know that it matters where they end in particular, I just laid a ruler across and made a mark for the furthest back line. Once you have everything marked out, go through and drill one hole on either side of that line in such a way that it will look like they’re set on a line that is on a 45 degree angle to the frame. I set mine ¼ inch down/up from the top and bottom of the frame. Pictures will make this more explanatory, basically you need two holes so you can go out one and in the other while lacing. Once you get these holes drilled your frames are all set to lace!

Lacing a Traditional Snowshoe

A written description of how to lace the frames would be confusing and difficult to follow…. I’ll post a link to a video showing how to do it. A brief written description follows though to help you interpret what is going on in the video. If that still doesn’t make sense, you can find step by step photos in Building Wooden Snowshoes and Snowshoe Furniture by Gil Gilpatrick, which is where I learned how to do it. First, using nylon cord (I believe mine was called gardening cord in the local hardware store, about 1/16 in diameter) tie off on one side of the front crossbar. Melt the end so it cant come undone. Now go in the closest of the two holes you have just up the frame, out and back in the other. When you have it back in loop behind the string where it enters the first hole and pull tight as you continue on (this will cross them/twist them). Now go in the closest hole on the next set up the frame, out and back in the other. Do this all the way around the toe section. When you get to the other crossbar go down the hole, back up on the inside of the crosspiece and through the loop you just made. Do this across the crossbar and tie off in the corner you started at. Once again, melt the end to keep it in place. Do the same thing with the heel section. Now you are ready for the actual lacing, I used ¼ inch flat nylon, you could use something wider or even go with a round nylon cord if you wanted (round would be easier in that you wouldn’t have to worry about it keeping it flat while working). You’ll need a couple of netting shuttles: I made mine from 3/16 thick maple scrap, the big one to hold more lace for the main part of the snowshoe is 10 inches long by 1 1/8 wide, the smaller one for toe/heel sections is 8 inches long by 5/8 wide.

Wind about 25 feet onto the smaller shuttle for the toe section, tie onto the nylon cord you edged it with in the left corner by the crossbar (assuming you’re looking at it from the top), melt the end per usual. Go from there to the other corner, around the edging, twist and up to the center of the toe. Around the edging, twist and back down to the original corner going UNDER the lacing you originally started. You will then go around edging, twist and continue in the same pattern (going to different point on the edging though). The most basic thing you need to remember is that you go over the first set of lacing you cross (everything going that way), and under the second. As you finish up three parallel triangles in the toe area you’ll wrap around the bottom lace and edging and go up to the left weaving through the laces instead of following towards the right again. Here you go around the edging, twist and go across to the other side. Edging, twist and weave down to the bottom. Diagonal up to the left side, weave horizontally across and go under the edging and twist. Now take that back down to the bottom left side again. Keep that pattern going until the weave is completely filled in. One thing to keep in mind is that while you are going around the edging at the crossbar on the left side you also go around the bottom lace, while the ones to the right of center just go around the edging cord– that ensures that you will alternate every other in the weave and keep the pattern.

For the heel section you’ll need about 12 feet of lacing material. Once again, sit with the tail pointing away from you and tie on to the edging at the lower left corner. Follow the same pattern– across to other corner, up to top, down to starting corner. This time when you go to the upper left partway into your second triangle you’ll weave across to the other side and then bring it down. Basic pattern is that you go from the edging on the left side of the crossbar diagonally up and left to the edging on the lower part of the frame, horizontally across, diagonally down to the left (so both sides match), diagonally up to the top left, horizontally across, and then steep diagonal back to the left side of the crossbar. Once again, over the first lacing and under the second.

The main section is more difficult to explain then the other two. Hopefully the video shows enough detail! Fill up the larger lacing shuttle with however much lace it will hold. Make marks on the frame 3 ½ inches back from the front crossbar and then add another 9 going down the side of the frame spacing them one inch apart. Tie on at the first mark, make 3 loops back and forth between those first two marks, this will be your master cord to pivot your foot on. Now wrap around the master cord and take the lace down from the top left and around the center of the rear crossbar then back up to the right. When you get to the master cord go around it, and then back to the frame just below it where you will tie on at the second mark. You will make a general upside down triangle pattern as you continue this pattern until you have 4 diagonal laces on each side and 4 horizontal upper ones (not counting the master cord). Now take the lace down normally, but after you come up to the master cord and then down to the right side of the frame to tie on at the next mark you will come horizontally across to the corresponding mark on the left side of the frame. Then up to master, steep down to right side of rear crossbar, short diagonal up to right, horizontal across to left frame. From here it gets confusing to explain. You are sort of making three separate triangles that all interweave. Check out the video. You’ll finish up with 7 ties onto the rear cross bar, 10 to each side of the frame, and 6 between the master cord and front crossbar (with a space in the middle to allow your foot to pivot through there). Hopefully those notes help explain some of what is going on in the video!

Traditional Snowshoes Part 1: Making a Form

Traditional Snowshoes Part 1: Making a Form

After reading The Winter Wilderness Companion last month I’ve had a hankering to get outdoors and do some snowshoeing…. But I seem to lack the essentials! So I did some research and got myself another book, Building Wooden Snowshoes and Snowshoe Furniture by Gil Gilpatrick. It is a succinct book, but explains the basics of traditional snowshoe making fairly well. I have enough woodworking experience I could have made the frame alright, the info I was really interested in was how to do the lacing to fill it in…. I didn’t know quite where to start! Fortunately, the book focuses on the lacing aspect, unfortunately it seems to neglect a few details on some of the rest of the process. Not to the point that you couldn’t figure it out, he provides excellent pictures, but I feel like a few points could have been spelled out a little better, dimensions specified, lacing amount estimates given, etc. At any rate, I went and made myself a snowshoe form to bend the frames (based off the pictures from Gil’s book) and thought I would share the process I went through to make mine.

I’ve actually wanted to make snowshoes for a few years, it just hasn’t ever risen to the top of the priority list somehow. I really enjoy being out up the mountain and covering territory during the winter, it’s just so peaceful and pure this time of year… I cross country ski and have often wished for equipment that was better suited to some of the hilly/brushy country that we have around here. Snowshoes should fit that ticket!

To begin with I drew a pattern of the snowshoes I wanted to build, I went with a classic, all purpose shoe in what is frequently referred to as the “Maine” or “Michigan” style. Basically, it’s a snowshoe that is designed as a generalist shoe for those conditions where you’re neither in a ton of brush nor in totally open country. I briefly considered making snowshoes that utilize two separate pieces of wood for the frame as they would be easier to source and bend, but I really think the bent frame of this style is too beautiful to pass up. Maybe that will be another project in the future! I can tell this is going to be one of those things I want to make several versions of. . . One thing to keep in mind while drawing the pattern is that you are really drawing the INTERIOR dimensions of the snowshoe, not the exterior. What you’re making here is a form that the actual snowshoe frame will get bent around in order to acquire it’s shape. So if you account for a ¾ inch frame it will really be 1 ½ inches narrower than you want your finished snowshoes to be. There are some patterns at the back of Gilpatrick’s book, but since I didn’t have any way to enlarge them (and the dimensions weren’t specified) I simply measured out the widest part of the snowshoe, put a mark in for total length and then sketched everything else in until it looked ‘right’. To keep your pattern symmetrical fold some paper down the middle and draw half of the snowshoe using the crease as the center line of your pattern and then cut it out. When unfolded this should give you a symmetrical pattern. My pattern ended up being 11 ½ inches wide at the widest and 42 inches long from the tip to tail.

Once I had my pattern cut out I had to go get some materials You’ll end up building an odd sled looking contraption that you’ll clamp the snowshoe frame into in order to get it to hold the appropriate shape. Materials needed? I used a single 10 foot 2×4 for the sides, a couple of scrap pieces as crossbars, and a few pine 1×3’s from home depot as the lattice to go over everything. To begin, cut your 2×4 in half, ie you should have two 5 foot boards now. I used them as is from there but you could easily cut them down further to reduce weight and bulk of your form (I figure I have about 6-8 inches extra on the end of the frame). Once it was cut in two I rounded each end off to give a curve to the end of the snowshoe (2 inches up over 10 inches distance for my curve). Keep in mind that each end of the 2×4 will need to be curved in opposite directions as this form is built so you can bend a frame on both sides of it at once. Hopefully the pictures help clarify. I cut the first one with a bandsaw and then decided to clamp them together and use a router to make the other one match exactly. Great idea except I didn’t have the appropriate router bit so I buggered things up a little. Fortunately this is just to bend the frame and doesn’t need to be fine woodworking! You’ll have a few to perfect the process with…. On my final one I hit upon a process that worked significantly better, clamp the boards together and router it about ¼ inch deep then bandsaw off everything outside of that and use the router to finish cleaning it up. This gave the router much less to go through and worked significantly better. No router? Just bandsaw carefully and call it good. If I was doing this again I would probably skip the router and just use the bandsaw as it really doesn’t need to be that clean looking. Regardless, make the four ends of the 2×4’s have a roughly equal curve.

Once you have the ends curved, secure them together with some bracing in the middle. I used some scrap wood for this and cut them so that the overall form would be 19 inches wide. Now take the pine 1×3’s and cut them all to the same width as your form (19 inches in my case). Screw or nail them to each side of the frame starting at the front of the curve. I screwed mine on and then was unhappy with how they followed the curve…. they were too wide to match it very well. So I pulled them back off the curve, ripped them down the middle and reattached them. This followed the curve much better, I suggest that you utilize some narrower strips for the curved part of the form. You should have a base that looks somewhat like the following picture now.

End view of the base… You can see the holes of the previous screws from when I had to take the slats off and rip them to be narrower.

Now I took the original pattern I drew and traced two copies of it onto some ¾ inch plywood…. I used maple plywood because it’s what I had available as scrap, I definitely wouldn’t use anything that nice if I was buying it specifically for this project! Once it’s traced, cut them out with a bandsaw, jigsaw, scroll saw or whatever you have on hand. Try to keep it pretty close to a 90 degree angle because this will be the form your snowshoe frame actually conforms to. After I had them cut out, I set my table saw to cut almost all the way through (maybe 3/32 shy) and then I cut slots across the toe of the form every 2 inches or so in order to allow them to bend and follow the base form– Actually, I cut mine too shallow initially and then had to recut them so they would bend, thus the ugly ends where the saw marks don’t match (take a look at the pictures below). I probably should have done this while the plywood was still square before cutting out the snowshoe pattern. At any rate, now measure back from the center of the toe on your new plywood pattern about 7 inches in both directions and cut out a notch into both sides. This is to make space for the clamps that secure a metal brace to the back of the wood while you’re bending it so it doesn’t split.

To secure the plywood patterns to the base, I first measured and drew a line across that represented what would be a 2 inch upturn for the toe (a mark to line the front of the toe up with) and marked a center line on it. After that I measured back roughly the length of the pattern and marked a centerline for the tail end as well. Attachment was pretty easy, I started at the toe and lined up the center of the toe with the center line mark and screwed it on while holding it in place. I then bent the plywood back and lined the tail up with the center mark in the rear and secured it with a few more screws. Don’t be stingy with the screws up in the toe portion, make sure it snugs up against the slats and follows the curve well– further back it’s laying flat and you should only need a couple to hold it in place. This was how the book suggested making a form… but in the future I think I would simplify things if I made another one and just use a few wooden crossbars in key locations instead of an entire plywood pattern. It just seems like it would be easier to trace the paper pattern onto the base, take a few scraps in key locations and cut them to length/angle needed and then screw them on. If anyone tries this let me know how it turns out!

Side view of the form, almost complete! Notice how each end of the 2×4 curves on an opposite side, this is to allow bending a snowshoe on each side of the form at once. Both sides are made identically.
Showing how the tail end will secure.
Tip of the form showing how I plan on securing the toe end of the snowshoe frames while bending them.

Once the inside form is on, you’ll need to find a way to hold the snowshoe frame tight against the form while it’s drying. I elected to secure some scrap plywood blocks in key locations about an inch away from the form so that I can place the snowshoe frame between them and the form and then drive in a wooden wedge to press it tight against the interior form. Gilpatrick uses wooden dowels in his book, but I decided that it seemed easier to just secure some blocks (plus I had the scrap plywood pieces….). I placed them just off the toe, about at the widest point of the snowshoes, halfway back from there to the tail, and then made some special ones (funnel shaped– see the pic) to ensure that the tail end of the snowshoe frames will come together. Make sure you round all the corners off so they don’t dent your snowshoe frame while you’re bending it. Attach something on the toe end that will secure the tip of the snowshoe frame from lifting up while you’re bending it (I used a scrap section of the plywood). After securing the blocks I also laid my original paper pattern back on the form and marked where the braces would go on the snowshoe– then I cut the form off just behind the back one. Lesson for the future, mark these when you originally trace your pattern, it would be much easier that way. Now lets go bend some wood!

UPDATE: After having bent my snowshoe frames on this form (explained in this article here), there are a few things I would change. Actually, mostly just one. The pine slats I used as the latticework to cover the 2×4’s were not strong enough to secure the plywood blocks that were used to wedge the frame against. There was enough pressure exerted in a few key spots while getting the frame to bend that the wedges actually pulled the screws out of the pine…. Use a stronger wood!