Beginners guide to buying recurve stabilisers
Buying your first set of stabilisers can be pretty confusing, and especially so at the moment. But should you be looking to level up your beloved bow, Tom Hall is here to try and give you a head start on what to think about.
Why are there so many different parts?
There’s a lot of options for stabilisers, but the good news is you don’t need to know your top-rods from your TFCs just yet. The core element in any set up is a long rod, and the name describes it well.
The long rod does two main jobs. Making the bow resist torque (rotating from side to side), and moving the center of gravity forwards so that the riser stays vertical as the arrow leaves the bow. For adult archers these are normally 26-34” long with some weights and often a rubber damper on the end.
You may well have used one on a trainer bow, or already have one from the first time you bought your own kit. For those shooting up to about 30lb or junior archers, this might still be all you need. The higher your draw weight (and draw length), the more stabilisation the bow requires, and at a certain point putting more weight on the long rod would make the whole system too front heavy. So as you progress up in draw weight it’s natural to add some counterbalance to the system.
By far the most popular way to do this is to add a v-bar, two side rods and extender at this point. At this point many archers will also choose to upgrade their long rod to “match” the rest of the set.
This helps the bow look good, which is clearly worth at least 3 linecutters per round, so if your budget allows then go for it. But since all almost all stabilisers work from universal 5/16 UNC fittings, it is entirely possible to mix and match your parts. Indeed stabilisers are one of the best bits of archery equipment to try and pick up second hand. They last a long time and don’t wear out with use.
My own set up from last season including top rod, riser counterbalances below the grip and above the bottom limp and an extra mushroom damper for kicks. I’m trying to balance out a 50lb bow here so I need the extra weight and vibration damping.
Of course you can go further down the rabbit hole, and continue to decorate your bow with more and more bits of steel, carbon and rubber. Add-ons in the form of top rods, riser weights, end dampers and more are everywhere in shops. But these aren’t needed at moderate draw weights, and choosing which combinations of them to use is complex.
Individual preference, the archers technique, and existing choice of riser, limbs and stabilisers all need to be taken into account, so I wouldn’t worry about them yet. In fact beginner and intermediate risers often don’t have the extra fittings for them to screw into for that reason!
Why is there such a big range of prices?
As you spend more money on a rod, it will generally get lighter (to a point), stiffer, thinner (and, better looking). Thinner rods will present a bit of a smaller cross section to the wind for outdoor shooting.
This is a very marginal gain that the pros look to exploit, not something you need to worry about when getting started! Likewise, top grade rods often compete on their stiffness with a “more is more” sale pitch. Ignore it, if you buy a rod specifically aimed at recurve shooters you don’t need to worry about it.
A good manufacturer will have used the right grade material to make it “stiff enough”, and that will work best. Super stiff rods are for compound archers who are busy bolting 15+ oz of weight directly onto their setups.
Sara needs to make sure her rods are stiff enough to take the weight she needs. You don’t probably don’t!
Lightness is worth paying a little bit extra for, as it gives you a bit of flexibility in your setup. Either you can keep the bow mass down very low (especially important for returning from injuries) or distribute more weight out to the ends of the rods to get better stability.
Most manufacturers don’t publish the mass of their rods, but some specs can be found online. Multi-rod stabilisers in particular are a lot heavier than single carbon tube designs.
Three different side rods from my own collection; these get progressively thinner and stiffer from top to bottom. They also increase sharply in price! All of them would work well on my current set up with about 6oz of weight on them.
A bonus hint from me; a lot of beginner’s rods have an integrated damper that screws into a recess on the end of the rod. Avoid these, as they are only intended for use on trainer bows using just the end weights they are sold with.
If you try to add extra weight you’ll find the damper is way too soft to take it and it won’t accept other dampers. This means you’ll have to replace the whole rod when you progress up in bow weight. For this reason it can be worth spending a little more on your first long rod if you haven’t already bought it.
A good intermediate rod will still work well by itself even at light poundages, and then as you progress in draw weight and add the v-bars you’ll be able to keep using it.
How do I know which sizes to get? There are a lot of options…
Luckily there are a few shortcuts to help narrow down the choices. Remember though, these are only guidelines, there is always an element of personal preference as well!
A decent starting point is to pick a long rod at or just below your measured draw length. In my case I usually use a 30” rod for my draw length of 30.5”. Next I suggest a medium size 3” (draw length <28”) or 4” (longer draw length >28”) extender. This length extender is super versatile, doesn’t lock you into any particular type of stabiliser set up and you’ll always be able to find a use for it. For side rods the size isn’t as critical but go for shorter options available if your other bits are short. Usually they’ll be around 10-12″ anyway.
Pair all this with a flat v-bar, the angle will be probably be between 35-45 degrees but really doesn’t matter much at this stage. I recommend a solid v-bar instead of an adjustable one to start with for two reasons. Firstly there is much less chance of something coming loose or falling off mid session. Secondly, adjustable v-bars are much heavier and are generally used for a dropped rods set up, which only really works at heavier draw weights. Given that solid v-bars are also commonly used by elite archers shooting heavy bows, go with a well made one and you may find you never have to replace it at all!
And with all those parts you should be ready to go! Play about with different numbers of weights on the rods, you’ll find there is a sweet spot where the bow reacts well and groups nicely too.