The archer’s thumb ring – part 4

Figure 1: The completed thumb ring.
Figure 2: The tools needed to make a thumb ring.
Figure 3: Using a round file to enlarge the inside of the ring.
Figure 4: Fashioning the groove.

In the fourth article of his series on the archer’s thumb ring, Johnny Snyman tells how to make your own ring.

Horn as a material for thumb rings has been used for thousands of years. It is durable and readily obtained, it is an easy material to work, and it can be polished to the smoothness of glass. With a few basic hand tools, one can make a horn thumb ring in an hour or two.

When planning to make a thumb ring, keep in mind that its fit to your thumb has to be perfect. If the ring is too loose, it will move around on your thumb, resulting in an inconsistent hold and inconsistent release of the bowstring. As we all know, aside from good form, the release of the arrow is the most important facet of shooting any bow. If the fit is too tight, it will prevent the thumb from curling with ease around the bowstring to form the lock in conjunction with the index finger. This will result in much discomfort. Also keep in mind that when shooting with a thumb ring, the thumb does swell a little, so your thumb ring needs to fit comfortably enough to allow you to remove it with ease. The solution is to make the inside of the thumb ring slightly oval in shape.

Figure 2 shows the tools needed to construct a thumb ring. Use the caliper to first measure the width and depth of the knuckle of your thumb. This will give you an oval circumference.

Virtually any horn which is solid enough can be used. Cow and gemsbuck horns lend themselves well to the making of a thumb ring. Before you do anything, inspect the section of horn you intend using, checking for cracks or other blemishes that may point to weakness in the structural integrity of the material. Then mark your cutting line with a pencil and use a hacksaw or band saw to make the first cut. This cut is at an angle of approximately 60 degrees. Leave about ten millimetres of excess material on the opposite side and do your second cut at a five-degree angle, angling inwards and towards, or in line with, the first cut. When planning your initial cut, bear in mind that the closer you cut towards the tip of the horn, the more solid the material will be and the less diameter the thumb ring will have.

Use a round file and begin enlarging the inside diameter of the rough horn blank. See figure 3. If you are working with a solid section of horn, pre-drill a hole to a size large enough to fit your file. Try not to clamp the blank in a bench vice, as the pressure may cause it to crack. Rather, support the blank as you work it on top of the vice with the jaws slightly open.

The use of a Dremel tool fitted with a conical or parallel metal-cutting bit will help speed up the enlarging of the inside diameter and the shaping of the sides of your thumb ring. Keep removing material from the inside of the ring to within a millimetre of the thumb measurements you took using the caliper. Next, switch to 100-grit sandpaper wrapped around a section of 10-millimetre dowel. This will help you remove any marks left by the Dremel tool and bring you closer to the final internal diameter.

If you have access to a belt sander, you can now remove excess material from the outside of the ring and from the foot piece. Failing that, the Dremel tool and plenty of 100-grit paper will suffice. The end thickness of the ring should be no less than two millimetres, with a minimum width of ten millimetres. Ensure that when you rough out the blank, you leave ample material for the filing of the groove.
Another important feature of the thumb ring is the lip which will hold the bowstring in place. Without it, the string will pinch the skin of the thumb against the edge of the ring as you bring your bow to full draw; this in turn will result in you speaking in a dialect not suitable for the ears of women and children. Traditional archery is a clean sport; let’s keep it that way.

The shaping of the lip is done in two simple stages. First, use a 4-millimetre chainsaw file and carefully begin filing a groove eight millimetres from the edge of the underside of the ring. See figure 4. The groove should span along half of the ring’s outside diameter. The depth of the groove along the underside of the ring should be half the diameter of the chainsaw file. Gradually file the groove shallower towards the sides of the ring, blending it neatly with the surface.

Now for the second stage of shaping the lip. Use a flat file to level the concave area of the groove, thereby creating the lip of the ring. A minimum of two millimeters thickness and four to five millimetres width for the lip is more than ample. If you intend using the thumbring to shoot heavy bows, make the lip is at least three millimetres thick. Final finishing of the lip is done with a small one-millimetre thick flat file and a two-millimetre rat’s-tail file.

Depending on your thumb size and what works best for you, you can make the foot piece up to 25 millimetres in length and five millimetres thick.

Trial run
At this point, before the final finishing, you are ready give your thumb ring its first trial run. A very important aspect I would like to stress is that, for the first shot, you should draw your bow with an arrow nocked to the string, while standing in front of your target butt. The majority of first-timers new to the thumb ring will accidentally loose the arrow halfway through the draw. If this happens without an arrow on the string, a dry fire will most certainly be the result. The hold of the thumb ring onto the bowstring is much like a hair trigger on a rifle – one of the reasons why shooting with the thumb ring is so consistent. So when you’re ready to loose that first arrow, ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the shooting technique explained in the previous articles in this series.

Once you’re familiar with the drawing and shooting technique, use a pencil to mark sharp corners or irregular areas that might cause your thumb discomfort. Sand or file them smooth.
To finish, use 180, 220, 320, 360, 400 and 600-grit sand and water paper to do the end sanding and polishing. Finally, a liberal application of boiled linseed oil using a soft cotton cloth will bring out the beauty out of the horn. You may apply linseed oil to your finished thumb ring as often as you please.

If you made your thumb ring too large, you can fix the problem by glueing a thin leather pad of sufficient thickness onto the inside of the foot piece where the thumb rests. If the lip area of your ring happens to be too thin and you’re in doubt, rather make a new ring. Remember that this area of the ring is subjected to a lot of stress, as the entire draw weight of your bow will be centralised onto this small section.

You are now are ready to tread a road less traveled, as mentioned before. Thumb ring shooting certainly isn’t an easy undertaking, but as with all good things, practice and persistence along with the desire to master it will have you reap the rewards of a different dimension of traditional archery.
For those interested, the following on the subject of shooting with the thumb ring can be searched on the YouTube channel: “Thumbring Shooting: Bullseye shooting with thumbring”

Updated: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 1:17 PM