OF MAKING WOODEN ARROWS
C. A. SHARP
MY GUIDE IS INTENDED AS JUST THAT AND IS BY NO MEANS EXHAUSTIVE, BUT TO GIVE THE NEWCOMER TO ARROW BUILDING A STARTING BLOCK
Making wooden arrows
This is intended as a guide to making your own wooden arrows.
Wooden arrows are made from four basic components;-
Choosing which size, type and colour is purely personal, but built to match the bow you intend to use them with.
Arrow assembly is a more accurate description today, as all the above four items are readily available from archery suppliers.
Your finished arrows
When your arrows are finished they must have a minimum of your name and initial, plus markings that identify them as first, second and third arrow shot.
Why build your own arrows?
There three reason I build my own arrows and are as follows:
- Economy, to buy a dozen wooden arrows suitable for your needs will probably cost you around £70 – 100, but making your own you can reduce the cost to somewhere in the region of £40. You can also reclaim bits of broken or unusable arrows further reducing the cost.
- You can be pragmatic in your approach, making arrows that are purely functional, or go the whole hog including making them highly decorative and eye-catching.
- The third reason for me is that I consider it part of the game making as much of my own equipment as I can and I love making things.
Shafts – these come in several different diameters and are graded by relative stiffness (spine). Cost anything between £15 – £25 maybe slightly more.
Points or piles – field (in brass or blue steel) bullet, mod bods, push on, screw on or taper fit. Average cost of 1 dozen – £4 – £5.
Personally I would go for field or 3d point when making your arrows as I have seen on many occasion bullet points bounce of 3d targets. Nocks – cost £1.50 per dozen again here loads of choice in colour and type.
Feathers – in virtually every colour imaginable. Cost depending on size and shape, £2.50 – £ 5 for 12. You will need 36 at least for a dozen arrows.
There are two tools that I would consider essential but the cost of these will be repaid many times over the period you make your own.
Taper tool – this is used to taper the ends of your cut shaft to take the nock and pile; it has two different angles, five degrees for the point and 11 for the nock. They look like a double pencil sharpener and the more accurate ones look like a metal tube with collets to keep the shaft centred whilst cutting. The cheaper versions are a couple of pounds and the better one can cost £20 – 30.
Fletching jig – this is a piece of kit that enables you to stick all the feathers at the same angle. They come in straight, left or right helical clamp versions; there are also versions that allow you to stick all the feathers on at the same time.
Other tools and jigs.
I have three other jigs that are home made, whilst not essential they do make the job a little easier.
Shaft cutting jig – this is really a wooden vice with an adjustable stop so every cut I make is the same.
Arrows stand – when I have either, stained, varnished or crested my arrows this is used to stand them in whilst they dry. My cutting jig above has been adapted for two functions and has holes drilled in it of suitable sized holes to put the arrows in.
Cresting jig – a very simple home made affair with a clip for a painting template, two V cut blocks and a stop so that the arrow can be rotated whilst putting decorative work on my arrows.
Shaft cutting jig diagram A
Cresting jig diagram B
Other items needed are a Stanley knife; some rough and fine sandpaper one of those foam sanding blocks can be useful and a small saw.
You will need glue to stick on your feathers; several brands are available but check that is compatible with the things you want to glue together, this cement can also be used to glue your nocks.
For gluing on your points/piles you can use either hot melt glue (brilliant stuff for glue internal piles into aluminium and carbon arrows shaft), but I think you just cant beat two part epoxy glues for wooden arrow points, Araldite is brilliant but the cheaper versions such as Wilkinson’s is excellent stuff and half the price.
You can make you arrows on bare shafts and shoot them if you like, but some sort of protection goes a long way to increasing the life of your creations. Paints, varnish, lacquer, oils are all good but check that if you intend to use any together that they are compatible and don’t react with other applications to your arrow finish. If you can’t get any information, try the two components together on an off cut when you trim your shafts to size before putting them together on your finished arrow.
This is the first thing I use on my arrows after I have cut them to size and sanding, I stain my cut shafts and it has two functions; firstly it enhances the timber grain and makes the finished product more aesthetically pleasing and greatly assists you in positioning the nock at the correct angle to the grain so that the arrow shoots well, the later being one the key factors to making decent arrows.
The archers’ paradox
Before we can start building arrows we have to know a few things about what happens to an arrow when it is shot. (There are some really good shots of the archers’ paradox on YOU TUBE)
When an arrow is shot the back end begins to move first pushed by the string which causes it to bend. First it bends into the bow and then in the opposite direction, on clearing the bow and string it continues to vibrate as well as begin to spin. So when choosing our shaft to build arrows an amount of flexibility in the material is desirable. This phenomenon happens to all arrows shot and is probably the single most important factor to consider when choosing arrows to match your bow.
How much flexibility?
If you hold your bow in front of you hold it so that the back of the bow is facing you and held central you will notice that on a longbow you will not be able to see the string, on an AFB you may be able to see a little of it, but on a recurve you can often see all the string.
How much bend in your shafts depends how much bow your arrows have to travel around when shot, on a long bow there is all the bow to go around, and AFB has a shelf cut up to but not passed the centre line of the bow so a stiffer shaft can be used and finally a recurve often is centre shot and very stiff materials are better.
There are charts to help you choose the correct spine shafts to make your arrows, but they are only a guide. Most archery specialist in their catalogues and online have the charts available.
How is stiffness/spine measured?
The shaft is suspended centrally over a 26″ or 28″ gap and a weight applied to it, the amount of bend is then measured and this determines the spine rating. It doesn’t matter which gap is used the calculations work out the same.
A rough guide to spine choice
Let’s assume that the bows in this scenario are all 40lb at 28″, them being a longbow, AFB and a recurve. Starting with the longbow our arrow has to go around the whole bow and a lot of flexibility is necessary, the AFB less and the recurve in most cases is centre shot, so stiffer shafts are required to match. Wooden arrow shafts are sold in five pound increment groups for instance:
11/32″ diameter 40-45 lb spine, the next group will be 45-50lb etc.
Therefore the following table should give you an idea of where to start.
Longbow – approx 2/3 of bow poundage.
AFB – approx the same as the bow poundage, or one group above.
Recurve – the next group above bow poundage.
If in doubt, ask before you make a purchase. Some suppliers will sell you a dozen shafts in differing spine ratings to make some test arrows, for instance 1 dozen 11/32″ 4 x 35-40, 4×40-45 and 4×45-50. You would then make them all up with the same size feathers and weight points and see which ones shot the best, then you could purchase the best matched shafts from your tests.
Most shafts come in 32″ lengths; there are lighter shorter shafts available for really light bow.
Assembling your arrows
Before you start, work out the length you want your finished arrow.
To do this you need to know your own draw length and then add two inches, I draw 27″ so I make my finished arrow 29″.
Next take off ½” so that we now have a figure of 28 ½” this the measurement I use to cut my 32″ shafts down to.
Straightening your arrow shafts
Your arrow shafts should now be straightened if necessary, this is done by applying heat to the shaft, either directly, by friction or in some cases it can be done by simply bending against the curve by hand.
Cutting the shafts – FIG 1
Once you have determined the length of your finished arrow and knocked of the half inch, mark both ends of the full length shafts, biro, marker pen will do, it only acts as an indicator whilst cutting to size. Because the wood dries out quicker from the unsealed ends, I cut the shafts from both ends, if you wish you can cut just one end.
Next – work out how much you need to cut off the full length shafts, for my arrows this works out as follows:
Length of finished arrows 29″
Reduced by ½” – cut shafts down to 28 ½”
32 – 28 ½” = 3 ½” to cut off
3 ½” divided by 2 = 1 ¾”
I set my cutting jig to 1 ¾”
Now cut off the 24 marked ends or cut off 12 ends if you’re just making one cut.
The formulae above is arrived at by taking into account the distance from the end of the nock taper on the arrow shaft to the bottom of its slot and difference in the depth of the pile internally and its actual length.
Cutting the nock and pile tapers – FIG 2
The tape tool has two different angled cutters blades; they are set at 5 and 11 degrees, the first for cutting the pile end and the second for cutting the nock end taper.
To cut the tapers, hold the tool still whilst rotating the shaft, then reverse the shaft and tool and cut the opposite end with the other taper setting. So you end up with an arrow shaft with two different angled tapers one on each end.
Take your time and don’t rush this process, tapers that are cut well will ensure that the nock and pile sit central on the finished arrow.
For push on piles you only need to cut the nock end, that is the steeper taper 11 degrees and the other end left square.
Marking the arrow grain – FIG 3
The next step is to find and mark the grain in the shaft, this enables the nock to fitted and align the grain of the arrow at 90 degrees to the bow.
Staining the arrows shaft at this point really makes the wood grain stand out and helps you to find and mark the best position to glue on your nock.
I personally mark the arrow shaft on the nock taper with a biro or similar that won’t rub off, because I next finish my shafts and might cover the mark up
Cresting and hard finishes
If you are going to crest you shafts or give them a lacquer/varnish coating it is best to do it before you start fletching the shafts, so now is the time to apply them. You could crest your arrows so that they act as a brace height gauge.
Fitting the nock
To glue on your nock use your fletching cement.
Put a small ring of glue around the nock end of the shaft, and then push on the nock rotating it to spread the glue.
Align the nock so that it sits at 90 degrees to the grain in the shaft and push home. Wipe any excess glue.
Put the arrow shaft on a flat surface so that the nock over hangs the end and roll it checking that it is aligned with the shaft.
Set to one side and allow the glue to set.
Fletching the arrow
For your arrows you will need 36 prepared feathers, 3 per arrow seems to be a universal accepted configuration.
There are many variations of feathers arrangements on arrows for differing archery application, but sticking to the three feathers set at 120 degrees is probably the best starting combination.
When you buy your feathers they should all be from the same wing, either left or right.
To check look at the feather from the pointed end (hold them so that the feather flue slopes away from you) if they curve left they are left wing and visa versa.
How feathers work
The feathers that are used on arrows are wing primary feathers.
They are curved with a smooth upper side and a rougher underside, when air flows across the feather it creates lift so the original owner had the ability to fly.
When we fit feathers to the arrows we utilise the same properties to guide our arrow making it spin (like the riffling inside a gun barrel) and giving it stability.
The fletching jig
The jig needs to be secured to something a piece of timber, MDF anything like that will do. When you look at the jig it has a rotating recess to place the nock of our arrow in, this can be set up with positive stops at 90 and 120 degrees by screwing in or out the appropriate grub screw. So set the jig up for 120 degree stops. On the jig there is a rest to take the arrow for fletching; this has magnets set into it to hold the clamp in place, while the glue dries.
The clamp has a scale which is used to set the feathers on the arrow all in the same place.
Put an arrow into the jig and push the nock solidly home into the recess, next fit a feather into the clamp and apply a thin line of cement to its base, position the clamp on the jig and slide it into position and push it as far back till it hits the stop and down onto the shaft.
When fletching an arrow it is best to have the feathers as far back as they will go, but you will need to leave enough room between the nock and feather for finger clearance. Some archers may need to leave a little extra if room for the feathers to miss their noses, my son has this problem!
The feathers can be put on an arrow with a straight jig offset. This can be achieved by altering the angle of the magnetic bit on the jig; it usually has some form of adjustment. But remember the underside of the feather needs to catch the air and also if you offset your feathers you are now gluing onto a curved surface so leave the feather proud in the clamp so that it will adhere properly.
Drying time for the different cements is dependant on make; I leave each feather for 20mins.
The leading edge of your feathers are extremely sharp so I like to put a tiny blob of epoxy on them to prevent them being a danger to my hand should they catch it and so that they wont pull off when deeply penetrating a target, and you have to pull it through.
Some archers like to bind the ends of there feathers with a fine twine to achieve this protection.
Gluing on the pile
Your arrows are nearly finished; all that is left is to glue in place the pile.
All points/piles are made on a lathe and usually have a residual amount of oil or grease on them from the process of manufacture, this needs to be removed. Put them into some white spirit for a few minutes then wipe the inside with paper towel.
The next step is for taper fit piles
Mix up a quantity of 2 part epoxy, only a small amount, wipe some of the compound on the tapered arrow shaft and push on the pile, twisting it to spread the glue and push into place. Roll the shaft on a flat surface to check that the pile is seated squarely and then wipe off any excess glue; this can be wiped onto your next shaft.
Push on piles
The ends of your arrow shaft should be square, using a Stanley knife take of the square edges. Next ascertain the depth of the pile internally by using a screwdriver point or something similar.
With your screwdriver gauge a channel down the side of the arrow shaft from the point end slightly longer than the internal depth of the pile. Next roll the point end of the arrow between two flat objects to compress the wood, some points may fit without this process.
Now apply glue to the shaft and the point should just push on.
The reason for the gauged channel is to let out any air pockets and the reason for rolling is that the piles are made the same diameter as the shafts.
All that is now left is to put some form of weather protection on your arrows to prolong their life, if you have not already done so previously.
If you arrow balanced exactly at its centre point it would not fly well
Your finished arrow should balance forward of centre (FOC) of the actual centre. To work this out measure from the bottom of the nock the back of the pile, then divide by two, this will give you the centre of you arrow, mark it with a pencil. Now by moving the arrow to where it balances it will be FOC, mark and measure this.
Your arrow measures 30″ therefore middle =15″
The arrow actually balances at 18″
18 minus 15 = 3″
3″ divided by total arrow length
3/30 = 0.1
Therefore as percentage 0.1 x 100 = 10% the arrow is said to have a FOC balance point of 10%
This is important because the arrow needs to be heavy enough to absorb the energy stored in the bow when it is released.
Your finished arrow should weigh a minimum of nine grains per pound of draw weight. To work this out first you need to know how many pounds you have on your fingers at full draw.
Example – you draw 28″ and your bow weight is 40 lb, you therefore have 40pounds on your fingers at full draw, if you draw less or more than 28″ for every inch you can take off or add on two pounds.
If you draw 27″ you have approximately 38lbs, 29″ 42lbs.
So if you have 40 pounds at your full draw its just simple maths to work it out.
Your arrow should weight 40 X 9 = 360 grains minimum.
Grain scale conversion chart is attached.
I try to shoot most of the time instinctively, when I aim I am focusing totally on the target and see my arrow in my peripheral vision. All the books and articles I’ve read on the subject the authors recommend that you make your arrows bright so that your brain sees them as they leave the bow and fly to the target, It helps to build a library of correct pictures in your memory for future use.
I have tried this and it in my opinion does work, so the minimum you can get away with is to put bright feathers on your arrows.
Further information and addresses:-
www.stickbow.com click on wood arrows
www.3riversarchery.com and select archers den
The traditional archer’s handbook – Hillary Greenland
The traditional bowhunter’s handbook – T J Conrads
Making wooden arrows – C D Reid
These are just a few of the information sources that I have used, put the subject into your search engine (Google or internet explorer), or youtube will uncover a wealth of knowledge out there.
My arrow making seminar is by no means exhaustive, but an insight into how they are made and hopefully give you the encouragement to build your own. So read stuff, watch the clips on the internet and ask questions how others make their arrows to become a better Fletcher.
Just a glimpse of what you could achieve if you have time or the inclination to produce them!!!!!!!!