Beginners Guide To Tuning An Archery Bow

The tuning process of a bow can feel like dark magic. As a beginner, there are important things to remember when tuning an archery bow. Firstly, there are so many different things to check, change, and work with on a bow, whether it’s a compound bow, recurve bow, or barebow. Try not to be too overwhelmed at the beginning, and always ask your ArcheryUP instructor if you need help or guidance.

Recurve and barebow work very similarly, as they use the same core components. A compound bow has different ways to check arrow tune and bow tune. When tuning a bow, there are different techniques to do this. Such as, paper tuning for compound, limb alignment for recurve and barebow, button stiffness, nocking point changes, and changing arrows if they are too weak or too stiff for the poundage being shot.

What is bow tuning?

Whether you shoot compound, recurve, barebow for target, field, 3D or bowhunting, you should ensure your bow is tuned. A new bow or an old bow, they should always be checked for tuning. During the season, at the beginning of the season. Tuning is important to ensure the bow is working to its full potential to help the beginner shoot their best and progress within the sport.

Tuning a bow is making adjustments to arrows, vanes, the bow, bowstring, tiller, stabilizers and weights, cam position and timing, arrow rest height, and blade. Essentially setting it up and making sure it has the correct weighting, making sure arrows fly as well as they can to get the best possible score with your equipment.

Bow setup is essential to having a bow that will shoot properly and ensure your arrows fly well, getting the best results possible.

Bow tuning and maintenance

Arrow spines

When tuning a bow, archers, coaches and pro shops will talk a lot about arrow spines. Correct arrow selection is essential to well tuned equipment. So, what is an arrow spine? In archery, arrows have a natural flex and bend during the arrow flight when they are shot out of a bow.

The ‘spine’ is the measurement of this flex and bend. Different manufacturers have different measurements and numbers for this. The correct arrow spine that an archer requires depends on your draw weight, draw length, arrow length, and point weight.

The smaller the number (the spine), the stiffer the arrow is. A stiffer arrow is a thicker arrow shaft, causing less bend. However, archery is never that straight forward, so there are two numbers associated with arrow spin. The static and dynamic spine. The static spine measures how stiff the arrow is. The dynamic spine is the bend during the arrow flight.

Arrow spines on the arrow

Static spine can be measured using a spine meter. It may seem old fashioned, but it works. An 880 gram weight is hung at the center of the arrow. The spine meter will show the inches of arrow deflection. Taking the arrow shaft bend and multiplying it by a thousand gives the spine rating. For example, the bend is 0.65 inches, the spine is 650.

Now we will move onto a dynamic spine. While this is a lot more difficult to measure, as arrows react differently when being shot from a bow, the important factors are:

  • Arrow shaft length. If the arrow is shorter, it has less chance of bending and thus making it more difficult.
  • Bow poundage. The higher the poundage, the easier it will bend.
  • Point weight. Heavier points will cause an easier bend in the arrow.
  • Brace height. A lower brace height will have more energy and bend easier.

So, having that information, how do you pick the right arrow for your set up? Having a weak arrow spine will result in too much bend and won’t be able to tune, vice versa with a stiff spine.

A starting point for getting the perfect arrow is;

  • Knowing your peak weight. This is the maximum poundage that is pulled when drawing the bow. Having a higher poundage will result (usually) in a stiffer arrow.
  • What is the length of the arrow that you will need? A longer arrow and draw length will result in a stiffer arrow.
  • Point weight that will be used in the arrows. The heavier the point, the more it will flex. And you guessed it..the heavier point weight, the stiffer the arrow.

You have the numerical data that you need. Next, you need to know which arrow manufacturer you want to be shooting. Easton is the most used arrow on the market, so we will use their arrow selection chart for an example.

Arrow shaft selection

Using the spine chart for each arrow manufacturer will help you get the perfect arrow for your set-up. But, make sure you talk to your Archery UP instructor about which model is best for your level, commit to a brand and if you can, try the arrows at a pro shop before purchasing.

Once the correct spine has been chosen with point weight, nocks, it’s time to decide on fletchings. There are different lengths of fletchings, so it is essential to pick correctly for your poundage and arrows.

Smaller fletchings will help keep speed in the arrow, as there is less to get involved in wind drag. This goes for all bow styles, compound, recurve and barebow.

There are, however, tricks to get your arrow tuned, even if they are slightly the wrong spine. Bare shaft tuning will give a step-by-step analysis of how your fletched arrows and bare shafts shoot.

Bare shaft tuning
The bare shaft might not go into the fletched group at first, keep trying! Photo credit: Online Archery Academy.

If your bare shaft is not in the group of fletched arrows (try and shoot at least 2 bare shafts when doing this), then you can do a number of things to the arrow and bow to bring it into the group.

  • Increase or decrease poundage on the bow depending on whether the arrow is weak or stiff.
  • Try different point weights.
  • Different arrow length.
  • Move the nocking point. If the bare shaft goes high in the group, move the nocking point with the bow square.
  • Put pin inserts into the back of the arrows to stiffen them. These pins go under the arrow and give them a bit of length.

A big factor to remember with tuning a bow is that right and left handed archers will get different results. Left handed archers will get the opposite result to right handed depending if the arrow is weak or stiff. This is due to the riser being the other way around, depending on right or left.

Also do a few ends when bare shaft tuning, to make sure mistakes have not occurred and there is consistency.

Beginners steps to tuning a recurve or barebow with a plunger button

Tuning with a plunger button for a recurve bow or barebow has some simple steps that will give better and more fine tune and get you shooting straight!

Beiter plunger button

The plunger button or pressure button is a great place to start in bow setup. The button affects how the arrow flies, it is a contact point of the arrow. Start your set up with setting the plunger on a medium tension (ask your ArcheryUP instructor to show you have if you are not sure). This could be too stiff or too weak, but that will be found out soon enough.

To begin, the center shot needs to be set up. Start by having your bow placed on a chair where the bottom limb does not touch the floor and nothing can interfere with either limb or the bowstring. Only the riser and stabilizers should be touching a surface. Nock the arrow onto the string and under the clicker if you use one.

Checking center shot
Photo credit: Online Archery Academy

Stand directly behind the bow, line up the bowstring through the middle of the riser (without moving it). The tip of the arrow should be in line with the string (as long as you are using normal points, not broadheads). If the string does not run down the center of the riser, loosen the locking mechanism on the plunger button and screw it in or out, depending which side of the string the point sits.

The next step is ensuring the arrow touches the center of the plunger button. If it is not, you will need to lower or raise the arrow rest. If the arrow rest you use is a simple one, do not worry as much as these cannot be micro adjusted.

Next step is a bare shaft tuning test. Set up a target with a big target face about 10-15 meters away and have three or four fletched arrows and two to three bare shafts. Make sure these arrows match up to your poundage and draw length on the arrow chart.

Bare shaft tuning is beneficial because bare shafts do not have fletchings to help with their flight, giving them freedom to go where they need to. Make sure to note down for a few ends where the bare shafts go and where the fletched arrows go. There should be a trend occurring.

The bare shafts should be either above, below, right or left of the group of fletched arrows. The height groups will be due to the nocking point position, left and right is plunger button tension.

When tuning, it is important to move the nocking point before changing tension on the button. With a group of bare shafts that is below the fletched, the nocking point is too high. When the arrow is shot, the arrow is facing too far down and therefore resulting in a low group. If the nocking point is too low, the bare shafts will have gone high of the fletched group.

Have a watch of the video below by Online Archery Academy about how to tie a simple nocking point. Alternatively, ask your ArcheryUP instructor to help you to move your nocking point depending which way it needs to be.

Once the new nocking point has been tied, shoot the bare shafts and fletched arrows again, to see how they have been adjusted and if the nocking point has moved enough or too much. Keep doing this process until the unfletched arrows are the same height as the fletched ones.

Onto adjusting the plunger button. The outcomes will be different depending if the beginner is right or left handed. If they are right handed and the bare shaft groups are on the left of the fletched group, the plunger tension is too stiff and needs to be weakened. If the bare shaft group is on the right, the button needs more pressure. This is the other way around for left handed archers (right is too stiff and needs weakening with left being too weak and needing tension).

To adjust this, simply use the tools provided with the button to stiffen or weaken it. Buttons have a spring inside and creating a stiffer or weaker button will stretch or condense the spring inside.

Keep shooting the bare shaft and fletched arrows until the bare shafts are within the fletched shaft group and make tweaks and changes to the button as needed.

There we have the beginners tuning guide to a plunger button!

Beginners step to paper tuning a compound bow

To tune a compound bow, there are many things that need to be remembered. They are very different from recurve bows and barebows. Different equipment will be needed, such as a bow press, to make adjustments to draw length.

Bow press for compound bow

When tuning a compound bow, a ‘bullet hole’ tune is often spoken about. But what does this mean? Beginner compound shooters need to be careful with paper tuning. If there is any torque in the bow hand, these will give a tear in the paper.

Ensure that proper technique and shooting form are applied. Shooting with a consistent release is critical to getting the true results.

To set up a paper tune, set up a target with a piece of paper in a frame in front of it. The frame needs to keep the paper rigid to shoot through. The target should be 4-6 meters beyond the paper, ensuring the arrow will pass all the way through the paper before it hits the target. The beginner shooter should stand about 5 meters away from the paper. Make sure their stabilizers do not touch the paper.

By shooting through paper, arrows will leave a tear as they have passed through the paper. The results of these tears will give indication of what needs changing on the bow, if anything.

When using the paper tuning test, you will likely get arrow tears in the paper such as a high tear, low tear, left tear or right tear.

Each one of these tears means something needs changing on your equipment. Always remember to make changes in small increments and note down when and how changes are made. This will make it easier to back track if needed.

If there is a high tear, try the following;

  • look at moving the nocking point down (remember to move your peep sight and d-loop down as well as everything is lower)
  • move the arrow rest up
  • decrease the launcher stiffness
  • shorten the arrow shaft

If there is a low tear, try the following;

  • move the nocking point up (along with the peep sight and d-loop)
  • stiffen launcher stiffness

If there is a left tear, try the following;

  • move the arrow rest or center shot towards the riser for a right handed bow and arrow rest or center shot away from the riser if left handed
  • move the cable guard towards the arrow, this will decrease the load on the cable guard
  • adjust cam lean
  • try a stiffer arrow
  • lower draw weight

If there is a right tear, try the following;

  • move the rest and center shot away from the riser for right handed archers and towards the riser for left handed archers
  • move the cable guard away from the arrow, giving a bigger load on the cable guard
  • adjust the cam lean

Beginners step to paper tuning a compound bow

Cam timing is essential to tuning a compound. With out of time cams, arrows could randomly fly out of the group, even when a shot was executed with proper form.

Cams on a compound control the strings and cables, from full draw to execution, everything should be in time. When talking about cam timing, this is talking about how the cams roll over, and ensuring they are in sync with each other, at the same time.

If one cam reaches full rotation before the other, full draw pull and stop will be uneven, with one cam reaching the draw stop before the other.

An easy way to check the cam timing is to get someone to watch or video your cams when you draw the bow and get to full draw. They will need to focus on the draw stops and see when they are hit during the shot cycle.

Another way to check is using a draw board. Simply put, this is a device that the compound bow will go on and with a mechanical crank, the bow can be drawn and you can watch the timing yourself and with your coach. The draw can be slowed down as well, to check and have a close look at the draw stops and cycle.

On a single-cam bow, twisting and untwisting the cable on the cam that is out until the cable hits the stop at the same time will do the job. With dual cam systems, putting twists in the cable connected to the cam that hits the draw stop first will fix the issue.

Like with all aspects of tuning, make small adjustments and test until it is correct. Make sure to test each time something is changed, to ensure that the adjustment is going in the right direction.

Have a watch of this World Archery video for a better understanding of cam timing, and why it is important.

Walk back tune test

A walk back tune test is an easy way to check alignment and tune in a bow. It is a quick way to check the center shot on an arrow rest.

To set up a walk back test, simply put a target face at the top of a target, starting at 10 meters/yards away from it. Set your bow sight to 10 meters/yards and shoot aiming at the target face.

Making sure the arrow is shot with good form, take 10 paces backwards. Keep your bow sight exactly where it is and shoot again, aiming at the target face. Keep doing this going back until you run out of target space. Your arrows will go lower and lower as you move back.

As you move back, your arrows should be going in a straight line if your bow has a good center shot. If, however, your arrows start to move down and left, your rest needs to be moved to the right for compound bows, and your button needs to have button tension reduced (for right handed archers) and vice versa for left handed archers.

Walk back tune test results
Results from a walk back tune test should give results like this. Photo credit: Online Archery Academy.

If your arrows are going lower and to the right, move your rest to the left on a compound and button tension increases on a recurve or barebow, for right handed archers. Move the rest to the right on a compound for left handed archers and decrease button tension.

Make sure that small increments of movement happen, not big movements. It is easier to move it more than move it back to where it was.


Different vanes on arrows will affect how they fly. This is why different vanes or feathers are used for indoor and outdoor shooting. Different bow types also use different profiles or vanes.

As a rule, the longer distances that are shot, the smaller the vane wants to be. This helps speed up the arrow and create less drag over the distance. Indoors is a shorter distance, for compounds with thicker and heavier arrows, therefore longer vanes or feathers should be used.

With so many different types of vanes on the market, here is a quick run down that should help with tuning and explanations as to why each specific one is chosen.

Feathers are great indoors. As explained above, heavier and longer arrows such as indoor arrows work well with feathers. There is no wind to interfere with the arrows. They also slow down and stabilize the arrow quickly. Making them ideal for indoors, for all bow types really.

Plastic vanes are another option that are usually used on beginner arrows and compound arrows. They usually need a lot less maintenance than spin vanes. There are different profile sizes, again depending on the length and diameter of the arrow that is being shot. They can, however, be heavier and stiffer on arrows than spin vanes. So recurve and barebow archers who are shooting longer distances want to avoid these as it will affect tuning. However, for compounds they are great.

Spin vanes are the last commonly used vane. The flexibility and thinnest they offer give a great option for recurve and barebow archers, at all levels. They help spin the arrow in the air, making them light and easily travel the long distance they need to. They are made to stabilize the arrow quickly and do not affect the arrow speed very much due to their light weight. There has been a lot of research in creating the spin vanes and how they can help arrows perform to the best of their ability.

It is important to get the right vane for your arrows. Talk to your ArcheryUp Instructor about what would help your arrows and talk to your local pro shop as well. They will be able to give the best advice about which set up to go for with your ability and poundage.

Round up

Tuning seems like a daunting job the first few times it is done, and it is usually not something that needs to be done every week or even every month for beginners. Make sure that an ArcheryUP instructor is present whenever bow maintenance and tuning takes place, simply to ask questions and to make sure it is done correctly and safely. Pro shops are always on hand to help as well, they will also have things like a bow press or draw board, should you need one for your compound.

Tuning should be done in small increments. Also write down what has been done, so if you need it later down the line, looking back is easy and can be undone or reverted if needed.

Bow maintenance and tuning is key to a successful archer. It takes time to get the hang of, and can take a long time to complete the process. Hang in there and keep your cool. Your bow will be tuned in no time!

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Mimi Landstrom

I have shot since the age of 7, after starting archery at a summer camp. As a junior I won National and county titles, whilst breaking county records throughout the years. As a senior, I still compete at a national level and travel to compete at the Indoor World Series.  After university I went to Summer Camp in Pennsylvania, Camp Westmont. I taught summer to all ages throughout the summer and loved every second!  Being able to stand on the shooting line and have myself, my bow and arrow is my idea of heaven. It’s peaceful, calming and an escape from work and life stresses.