Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Making a thumbring that fits

The thumbring has been an integral piece of equipment of the Central Asian archery school. It is called 'zehgir' (Persian), 'shast' or 'okçu yüzüğü' (Turkish). Among others, horsearchers and archers of these cultures used it in various forms: Ottoman Turks, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, Persians, Tatars, Mameluks, Mughals, Romans, Koreans and Chinese.

Iranian thumbring 17-18 cc, jade

The reasons are evident. As a first reason usually the fingerpinch is stated, which occurs with small bows the horsearchers use. Why did the Chinese/Manchu, for example, use the thumbdraw and thumbring? Their bows are relatively big. And what about the Japanese thumbdraw and their Yumi?

A release with the thumbdraw technique and the thumbring is cleaner, smoother and faster than a 2 or 3 finger European release. When done properly, the release can be compared to a modern mechanical compound bow release. Sir Ralph Payne Gallwey describes the advantages of a thumbdraw and thumbring in a similar way in his treatise which he wrote more than 100 years ago.
These thumbrings could be highly decorated as seen in these pictures and they could be permanently worn to distinguish oneself in Ottoman society as an elite archer. Note the ring on the thumb of Fatih Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Istanbul.

Fatih Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror

Ottoman thumbrings in Vienna,17th cc, jade

Tests show us that the same archer achieves more speed with the arrow if the archer uses a thumbring and thumb release compared to a 3 finger release. I see that a lot of European archers are very interested in this technique and the thumbring but they lack the knowledge to make one. You can buy some online but I have seen that these are more decoration than a functional thumbring. The best way to obtain a thumbring is to make one yourself. It has to fit perfectly, otherwise it will hurt you like a shoe that does not fit. You wouldn't order a shoe online would you?

So let me describe step by step how to make one. Be patient though, the first ones will be for the bin but will give you precious experience. This article will be about Ottoman thumbrings. This form of thumbring seems quite successful in history as the Persian, Mughal and Mongol thumbrings are very similar in shape. But even Ottoman thumbrings can differ in shape and size as you will see below.

Materials for a thumbring
The best materials for thumbrings are ivory, jade, agate, bone, or walruss ivory. Horn is inferior as the material is softer and the thumbring can deform after a while. Metals such as bronze or silver were used as well and once you have a good original it is easy to copy it. I do not advise antler.

Historic bronze thumbring and replica silver thumbrings

Nowadays it is hard to obtain ivory. For bows with drawweights of less than 70 lbs plexiglass can be used as well. We have had positive experience with a material called kestamid, which is a kind of polyamide. I lost my kestamid thumbring once and drove over it accidentally with the car; nothing happened, just minor scratches. I can use it for heavy bows of 90+ lbs draw weights. For an Ottoman type thumbring get a block with at least 4,5 x 3 x 2 cm (1,8 x 1,2 x 0,8 inch). This full block should be good quality.

Kestamid block

Making of a thumbring
First of all my special thanks and respect to Yıldırım Ekmekciler, a true thumbring master, who showed me patiently how to craft them. He made most of the thumbrings for the Turkish archery group in Turkey.

With a pen you can draw the simple outlines of the thumbring on the top and the sides. We will cut these parts to save time, rather than starting to file down the whole block. When you cut it, it should look similar to this.

Roughly cut kestamid block

Now you can drill a hole in the middle using a rather big drill bit. You can use the sides of the bit to make the hole a bit bigger but for now you can leave it small like in the picture.

Now use a tool like "Dremel". Use a rough bit that will let you give a more typical thumbring shape. You could use a normal file as well. Make the hole bigger now though be careful, leave it still much smaller than it would fit your thumb. The tricky part is now to make a fitting hole for your thumb. The hole is oval, it is not round. The ovalness is very slight though. In the end you should put it on, turn it 90 degrees and it should lock and fit comfortably. The thickness of the sides and back can be 2-5mm depending on the material and the style. The sides are not straight, they go a bit apart to fit the shape of the thumb, see picture.

Thumbring form

Work in turns a bit from the inside making the whole bigger, and a bit from the outside.

When you have done this, you can use a finer bit to give the final shape. Gradually use finer files/bits. When you are happy with the final shape you can polish it with another dremel bit and polishing paste until it is nice and shiny. Alternatively you can rub in on a carpet in circular movements, this takes a bit longer.

There is no notch by the way, the string rests on top of the ring as seen in the picture below. The thumbring should not be too tight.Otherwise the string will not have enough space to sit on the edge of the ring and will go off without control.

Position of string on the thumbring

Compare the two different Ottoman thumbring forms below. It is not really two types but two extremes and it shows how the angles can differ. The closer it is to type A the easier it can be to hold the lock in full draw. With type B the release can be cleaner as the string doesn't touch the ring again. With this type precious stones could be inserted as well as seen above without interfering with the string. An experienced archer can shoot both types with a clean release.

                                                  A                                                         B

Leather piece
To save the thumb when using heavy drawweights, an additional piece of leather could be glued to the inside of the thumbring as seen below on a museum thumbring. The leather is not used between the string and ring as stated wrongly in some literature. Instead it is placed between the string and thumb.

The size of your thumb changes according to weather conditions. In winter your thumbring might be too loose, in summer too tight. I recommend having at least 2 thumbrings e.g. one for winter, one for summer. An alternative solution is using a trapezoid or triangular piece of leather. You can pull the thinner side through the thumbring on your thumb until the thumbring fits tightly, as a secondary benefit the leather will protect you from the string like the conventional leather piece above.

As I warned you the first ones will be for the bin so start with cheap material. Rather than making a few at a time, make one and shoot with it for at least a week to see how it fits and if there is any mistakes. Making a thumbring will take 2-10 hours depending on experience, material and tools. Feel free to contact me if you need help or advice.



  1. This page and "Kay's Thumbring Book" explains all you need to know about how thumbrings are made and how they work. No other sources do so well. All that remains is practice, practice, practice,.... Thank you for this effort,

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  3. If you want to know more about shooting with a thumb ring you should also look at „The art. Of shooting a short reflexed bow with a thumb ring” by Adam Swoboda. The book is a comprehensive guide to shooting with a thumb ring it is even more as the author discovers the richness of Islamic archery in general. The authors page is I think it is worth reading if you are interested in thumb ring archery.

  4. Is Adam Swobodas book in english?

  5. Saracen Archery ebook

  6. I have found that this site is very informative, interesting and very well written. keep up the nice high quality writing Hunting Arrow Buying Tips

  7. I have used thumb rings with short native American flatbows may not be historical but it helps shoot those 40lb 40ln paddle bows.