Setting Up The Traditional Bow

One of the most exciting times for a trad shooter is setting up a new traditional longbow or recurve.  Getting a bare bow ready for the field or the shooting line will get the inner fire burning!

There are a few components that need to be addressed to get the bow tuned and shooting a perfectly flying arrow. In this post, we'll be focusing on the string brace height, arrow spine, and the string nocking point. Within each of these three main areas are more options and factors that need to be considered, and we’ll also be talking about those as well.

Before we get started, it’s important to understand “cause and effect” and how each one of the three components will affect the next. This truly is a blending of all three major factors to end up with our ideal final result:  balanced and issue-free arrow flight.

Our first objective is to start with the best guess possible for all three components to create a platform to build from. Let's start with the brace height.  String brace heights will vary with each bow type, limb options, and manufacturer. Most bow companies will provide you with a good idea where to start, or a recommended string brace height for the bow.  A good starting point for longbows is between 6-6.5”, and for a recurve, I would recommend starting at between 7-7.5” from the throat of the grip. (This is where the meaty part of your hand will be gripping the bow-the area between your thumb and pointer finger.)

Achieving the perfect string brace height unfortunately does not have an easy formula that you can just plug in. It’s dictated by the bow itself.  Shooting the bow will give you an idea when the brace height feels and sounds correct. This will be the individual shooter’s preference on how he or she likes how the shot feels. When shooting to determine my ideal brace height, I like to shoot an arrow weighing around the 600 gr. mark, and some guys may like a little heavier arrow.


  • Short brace height=Faster arrow speeds but less forgiving, louder, and more radical feel/more hand shock at the shot.
  • Long brace height=Slower arrow speeds but more forgiving, quieter, and smoother feel/less hand shock at the shot.
  • To change your string brace height, twisting or un-twisting your string will allow you to change the distance/length of your string and in turn change your string brace height. A longer string will give you a short brace height, and a short string will give you a long brace height. 

The area that we will consider next is the arrow nocking point height on the string. Having a bow square will aid in determining a good starting point. I think the ideal starting string nocking point will be at 3/8” up from a 90 degree 0 measurement off the bow square and string.  A horizontal line from the shelf, or a raised rest taken directly to the string will be the point 0 to start your measurement of the 3/8” up from the mark for the placement of the string nock. (The bow square and string will create a 90 degree angle.) All measurements will be from 0 mark to the bottom of the nock position.

**Remember, these two components, string nocking point and brace height, may not be exact and could possibly and most likely will need to be fine tuned.

OK now we have a good starting point to start shooting arrows. Deciding what arrows will be the best choice to shoot with is next. Once again, there is not a master formula that works with every setup out there. Arrow selection charts are a good reference and starting point, but the charts can only get you so close. When looking at an arrow selection chart, make sure you use one that has traditional equipment selection options. 

Things you will need to know when selecting arrows:

  • Bow weight you are shooting.
  • Your draw length.
  • Types of arrows you are choosing to shoot… Carbon, Aluminum, or Wood Shafts.
  • Arrow weight for achieving proper kinetic energy.

**Traditional supply houses have arrow test kits with several different arrow sizes, weights, and lengths that will allow you to test and develop the best arrow selection for your setup. Using the arrow kits will keep you from wasting a lot of money buying shafts that won’t work. Tip weight, arrow length, and spine are all factors that combined will be considered when developing the “perfect” arrow for your setup.

Arrow testing is a critical part of this entire scenario…  Even with exact string brace height and perfect string nocking point placement, an archer will still experience poor arrow flight if proper arrow spine choices are wrong. Under-spine or over-spine arrows will kick in flight and not give you the “Straight as an arrow” flight desired. The micro tuning with the “ideal” shafts is done several ways. Varying arrow length and the arrow tip weight are the variables that you will need to experiment with to achieve the desired flight.  Remember, shortening the shaft will give you a stiffer spined arrow, but adding heavier tips will correct that effect. The secret is to achieve balance between the two… This will give you the arrow flight desired.


  • Heavy arrows will achieve the best penetration and be the most effective arrows for hunting. Heavy arrows carry more kinetic energy…. More power at impact! 

Once all three of the components are in place and relatively close, micro adjustments can be made to get your bow and arrows shooting like a champ. When tuning is achieved and the bow is shooting as expected, make sure you log everything and mark your bow square for quick reference. Remember, like us humans, traditional equipment is a living, breathing beast that is ever changing… Constant adjustments will be necessary.

Tuning at a glance:

  1. Achieve the best string brace height where you feel the bow shoots the best.
  2. Proper string nocking point placement… Start at 3/8” above 0 mark and move if necessary to achieve good arrow flight.
  3. Develop an arrow with good arrow spine for the bow weight and your draw length.  Make sure you consider kinetic energy if you plan on hunting with your setup.