Tuning Your Recurve Bow – Part #4

In part 3 of our recurve tuning guide, you learned how to conduct the bare shaft test for figuring out proper arrow spine and alignment. Today, we’ll be discussing a very important aspect of any bow tuning regimen.

Proper Clearance

Clearance refers to the arrows capability to “clear” the bow without the fletchings on the arrow making direct contact with the bow. Improper clearance significantly reduces shooting accuracy and results in poorer arrow grouping, so it’s very important that we address it.

First, we’re going to need to determine if and where clearance issues are occurring. To do that, you will need one of the following:

  • Dry foot powder (for Athlete’s foot); a good and cheap brand is Dactarin.
  • Talc
  • Dry deodorant (the kind that leaves annoying white stains on your clothes)

Try not to use dry foot powder in a can, as the layer of powder it creates is way too thick, making it useless for our clearance test and also annoyingly difficult to wash off. What we’re going for here is a substance that will stick firmly to your bow and arrow (more on this in a moment), though not so firmly that no trace would be created if you were to glide your finger across the substance. The substance also needs to be clearly visible to the eye (non-transparent).

Say you decide to go for the dry deodorant. You will want to apply a generous layer to the following areas:

  1. The part of the arrow shaft between the nock and the fletchings (though not the nock itself as this won’t help)
  2. The fletchings
  3. Two inches of the arrow shaft below the fletchings
  4. Arrow rest

Now go ahead and shoot a fletched arrow, while being careful not to disturb or touch the layers of substance you applied when drawing, aiming and shooting. Release the arrow, but make sure you are aiming at a hefty-enough target that’s capable of stopping your arrow without the fletchings digging into it. The next step is examining whether there are any visible markings that have appeared on the layer of dry deodorant.

  • The most common problem is arrow fletchings not clearing the rest properly. This will be clearly identifiable thanks to the “skid marks” on the rest and the fletchings themselves. To fix this, begin rotating the nock on your arrow in the smallest increments possible, making sure to re-do the test after each nock adjustment. Repeat this as many times as possible until the fletchings achieve proper clearance. 
  • If the above doesn’t help, you should try some lower profile fletchings, such as the parabolics.
  • Make sure that you’ve completed the bare shaft test, and particularly that you’ve fixed any porpoising issues you might have had, as an incorrectly installed nocking point can reduce the fletchings’ capacity to clear the arrow  rest.
  • As a last resort, try and re-center your arrows so that the arrow point becomes positioned even further to the outside of the bowstring. This will likely cause the arrows to fly a little stiffer, however that’s better than shooting an arrow that does not clear the rest properly.

What If Nothing Works?

While the above will solve clearance problems in the vast majority of cases, sometimes nothing seems to work. In which case, the most important thing to ask yourself is this: is the fletchings’ inability to properly clear the bow having a negative impact on my shooting experience?

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up trying to fine-tune everything to absolute perfection, and this can make us forget the real reason we’re doing it – so that we can shoot more accurately and have more fun while doing it. There are cases were theory seems to be screaming “This Should Not Work!” but for some reason it does work, and works just fine. So just because you notice smudges on the dry deodorant does not always mean that your accuracy will be affected; if you are consistently shooting tight groups at 30, 40, 50, 60, or whatever other distances you think you should be doing fine at, then it means your bow setup is tuned just fine (though theoreticians will disagree of course :).

If despite all of the above you still feel that you’re not getting the most out of your bow and you strongly believe it is a clearance issue, please leave us a comment below describing the type of tuning you’ve done so far, and we’ll do our best to help (we monitor comments daily).


Add a Comment
  1. I bought a used recurve which called for a 59 inch string. That gives 11 inch brace height and makes the draw weight stronger than the rated 43 lbs. Would a 60 inch string both lower the brace height and lower the draw weight?

    1. The longer the string the less should be the bow height. Don’t forget you can adjust this about 1/2 inch either way by twisting or untwisting the string.

  2. This is the most comprehensive recurve bow tuning information I have ever read. Never heard of the arrow nock being adjusted but this absolutely makes sense. Thank you.

  3. I found your website when I decided to get into archery, with absolutely no knowledge of the sport. By following your guides, I went from absolute ignorance to owning a bow that I love and shooting it with surprising ease and increasing accuracy; your tuning and shooting guides have made incredible improvements to my arrow groups. This site is amazing! I wish I could buy you beer or something; thank you so much!

  4. Thank You! This is an excellent site. Very comprehensive guide for beginners like me. I am in the process of tuning my bow and can already see an improvement in my groupings. Thanks again for taking the time to help us beginners out.

  5. Hello.

    A couple years ago I bought a take-down recurve. Lately I’ve decided to take the next step and “tune” it. But, you see, there is a problem. I have no idea how to accomplish this arcane matter. So, because I’m lazy AND I admit it, I turn to my trusty desktop and peer with its electronic eye through the miasmic and accumulated madness that IS the Internet to behold … this website. It took many carefully worded searches performed in spare time for about a month to find this clearly written and thorough guide.


  6. This is so helpful. I recently bought 600 spine carbon arrows cut to 31amo for my 34# bow but it was too stiff, shot 6 inches to the left with bare shafts. Unfortunately the brand I’m using is cheap and comes with fitted tips, the only other option is to jump up to the next spine which is 800 spine, would I be better off keeping the 600 or move to the 800? I can’t stiffen the 800 spine because it’s already at 30.5 shaft to shaft length, which I like. I have 70 inch bow with plunger and hoyt super rest. My current arrow do not clear my rest and has tons of skid marks… plz help.

  7. Like Esteban said, I wish I could buy beer for you guys. This guide is pretty clear and easy to understand. Nice job!

  8. i first started archery as 15 shot target for 3 years took out the victorian state champianships out as 2 2nd class then forced to quit as i started work this site has taught me a lot more then what experienced archers had explained thanks love to hear about more tips currentily bulding my persional range

  9. i have 1 particular recurve 60″50#@28″ draw.this particular bow will not shoot a bare shaft without it being nok high.ok right or left is perfect.i tried 3 fingers under or split fingers and it doesn’t help,noting point up and down.if i shoot a feathered arrow the quill will get my fore finger sore (shooting off the shelf).any suggestions.

  10. This is great – I have a question – my 9 yr old kid is using a Samick Little Fox w 20# limbs, and is now using 26″ 1214 aluminum arrows (17#@23″). The arrows have improved his general accuracy over the overly stiff carbon’s we were sold originally. However, I still notice that sometimes his arrows do little dances in the air, often when they’re close to the target (at 18 meters). Any ideas? He’s working on his JOAD indoor red pin, which is 230 w 30 arrows at 60 cm/18m. His last pin was 185, so he’ll need all the help he can get at this point. His form is still patchy, but I’d love to be able to eliminate the arrow variability if there’s anything that can be done.

    1. It is generally better to have more flexible arrows than the limbs dictate than stiffer arrows, so you made the right decision switching arrows.
      Some flex is required to allow the arrow to clear the riser smoothly. However you can try and straighten the flight up slightly faster by using larger fletchings. If you are already using 3″ then this won’t apply to you. It’s just that I see a lot of youths with 1″ fletchings and wondering why they vary so much between 20m and 40m. If you have very light arrows this may reduce the speed to much.
      Good luck

  11. Question for you. My friend is shooting a Ragim Impala. 48# @ 28″. Draw length is 29.5″ Thus he is shooting right around 52 lbs (this bow holds to the stacking rule of 3 lbs per inch). Shooting 400 shafts with 20 grn inserts and 125 tips his bare shafts were quite left. But if he shot mine at full length with 225 out front he was centered (just very low). Thoughts?

  12. i myself have learned all this under my coach .. n buddy thanks fr letting people know abt this so accurately … awesome job man … i really lost myself into reading .. u r goooooddd

  13. Thanks, your post is the first one I have read the suggests moving the plunger in if the bareshaft test goes left. Mybareshaft was going 16 inches left, I reduced plunger tension, increased tip weight, and finally got it to with in 6”. The problem was the group went from 3 inches at 20 yards to 6 inches!
    Tomorrow I will increase spring tension, increase brace height from 8 1/4 to 8 1/2 get my 3 inch group and then start moving the plunger in 1/4 turn at a time

  14. I’m at my wits end. I get an arrow to shoot good, but want more FOC. So, I go to a dynamic spine calculator and enter the values of my “good shooter”, and record the value.
    Next I design a stiffer arrow with increased FOC, and hit my dynamic spine within .1 or.2 lbs. The arrows never fly the same. I have this problem with my compound/release, and fingers/trad. The compound bareshafts great and can shoot side by side with fletched, so no issues with draw length/release. What part of High School Physics am I missing???
    Thanks for any light you may shed.

  15. I’m trying to solve a clearance problem with a new Bear Grizzly 50# that came with the Bear hair rest and side plate. The nock point is set to 1/2″ above center with a T-square, relative to the hair.

    Rotating the arrow nock is probably just going to transfer the clearance problem from the hair rest (left hen) to the side plate (right hen). I have considered changing to the Bear Weather rest (removing the side plate) to move the arrow some distance above the hair. Should i then change the nock point to be 1/2″ above center, relative to the Weather rest?


  16. My fletching seems to be brushing the shelf on the riser. I’ve tried different knocking points but can’t seem to find a point where the arrow doesn’t porpoise and doesn’t brush the riser shelf

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