As a traditional archer, I find that the phrase “getting there is half the fun” applies perfectly to most things relating to the topic. This is especially true for wooden arrows. I enjoy making them as much as shooting them. In some cases, even more so.
Fatherhood has kept me quite busy since the birth of my first born in May. It has been a lackluster hunting season as a result. I’ve only been out a handful of times as there is simply too much to do between work and family to plan a hunting trip or weekend excursion. Doing so means paying for daycare or leaving my wife home alone with a cranky seven month old. Both unacceptable options.
I’ve been sitting around the house a lot as a result and have been spending that time making arrows (budget permitting). While I’m far from being an accomplished arrow-maker, I’m becoming proficient at building functional wooden arrows on the cheap. So much so, they are all I shoot.
Building arrows is fun, simple, and cheaper than most would have you believe. I’d like to dedicate the following information as a resource for those of you who would like to try wooden arrows but feel they lack the know-how and resources to do so.
To build cheap, efficient arrows, you will need the following essentials. Remember that getting into anything requires an initial investment but you do not have to break the bank. Buy the best that you can afford and be cognicent of the fact that your purchases will produce dozens of arrows and hours of enjoyment.
Here are the bare essentials…
1) A fletching jig – Make sure you get one with the clamp you need. It helps to have a few if you do not have a RW or LW preference. You can then buy bulk fletching on clearance and have the clamp to accommodate it. I have tried every jig with the exception of a BPE and have found the plastic Grayling or Bohning jigs to be reliable, adjustable, and perfect for any archer/arrow builder on a budget. The JoJan jig is a slight upgrade for a few dollars more. It is metal, but less adjustable.
2) Shaft straigthener – I think the heel of the hand is best. No tool exists that applies the necessary heat, amount of force, and tenderness the human hand can produce. For those shafts that have kinks on the ends of the arrow, I reccommend the Bohning plier tool. I’m not sure if they are being made anymore but for $20 they are worth the money, especially if you buy non-premium shafts that are a little snakier. However, I find that if an arrow is kinked on either end, it is best to just cut that end off, as you are just as apt to break the arrow than straighten it.
3) Denatured Alcohol Burner – You can pick these up at a thrift or craft store for around $10 (or less). They are the perfect heat source for arrow building – cleaner than a candle, safer than the burner of your stove.
4) Taper tool – The cheapest options are the pencil-sharpener models and there are a variety of brands. I find that the Traditional Only tool is the best as it incorporates wings to make the turning process easier. I would buy both the 11/32″ and the 23/64″ for higher-spined arrows. You never know what your options will be as stock seems to fluctuate from month to month.
5) Tape measure and a saw – You probably have one of each and I would hope that their application is obvious. I use a hacksaw for cutting shafts down. They work fine if you are careful and rotate the shaft after a few passes to avoid snapping the arrow off in a jagged fashion.
1) Fletching – You can save money a variety of different ways when buying fletching, but it ultimatly depends on how involved you want to be in the process. If you are new to arrow making and would like to keep it simple, buying pre-cut feathers in bulk is your best option. You will save the most money by buying packs of 50 or 100 and sticking to solid colors. Barred fletching will cost you 40-50% more. That is just the way it is. Barred makes for a more attractive, natural looking arrow, but will ultimately cost you.
Buying packages of full-length feathers can also save you money. I can usually produce 24 feathers from a dozen full-lengths if I use a 4.5″ fletch, but this varies per package and per feather. I suggest investing in a burner or chopper if you intend to go this route, but it isn’t necessary. A pair of sharp scissors will work, but will not be as precise.
2) Nocks and points – You will accumulate these after awhile and they are inexpensive = $4.25 per dozen points, $1.50 per dozen nocks. Note that 11/32″ points do not fit a 23/64″ well. I’ve had store owners give me 11/32″ shafts when I’ve requested 23/64″ on several occasions. They will not fully cover the taper. Nocks are purely preference but I prefer the opaque plastic glue-ons. I yet to see 23/64″ nocks. While 11/32″ nocks work, you need a bit of force to attach them and the transparent nocks tend to get brittle and break. The plastic on the opaque nocks is a bit more flexible.
3) Adhesive – I only use Duco Cement. For wooden shafts, you cannot beat it. It doesn’t get brittle in cold weather like other adhesives and is a lot cheaper at $1.49 a tube than the other archery-specific compounds. You will save a couple of dollars if you buy it from a Family Dollar or something similar. Archery stores tend to raise the price to match whatever the other stuff costs.
4) Shafts – Most prefer premium cedar (POC) shafts, and with good reason, it is a superior arrow wood. That being said, I hardly ever buy premiums. I am simply too cheap and like to make arrows far too often.
“Premium” usually means that you are paying for the straightest, most consistently matched, and most cosmetically appealing shafts. This is a great option if you have the budget, but I have found that non-premium shafts and 2nds fly very well with extra work. I’m the sort that likes to get a lot out of a little and have had plenty of success with non-premium shafting.
You can also save money by simply choosing other woods. Pine, for instance, is a great alternative. Lodgepole pine or “Chundoo” may not be as pretty but its durable and cheap at $18-$24 a dozen. It also looks great with wipe-on finish. I buy them whenever possible. German pine also makes a fantastic arrow for the money. I have also made arrows out of Douglas Fir, ash, and Ramin (the latter is getting hard to find). Don’t be afraid to experiment and jump on bargains when you see them, especially if a reputable arrow maker is the seller.
5) Finish – I usually start by staining or dying the shafts with a basic wood stain or leather dye. I then apply 3-4 coats of wipe-on polyurethane. It is cheap, can be applied evenly with an old rag or sock (without dripping), and sets up quickly. While it is more prone to target rash than gasket lacquer, it leaves a natural finish on the arrow. Finally, I apply a top coat of some kind – usually Shellac or Polycrylic. All of the above costs approximately $30 from any hardware store and will coat approximately four dozen arrows depending on the number of coats applied.
6) Steel Wool – Steel wool is essential for light buffing between coats and $5.00 worth lasts a long time.
I have yet to find a more comprehensive guide to building arrows online.
The folks on Trad Gang and Traditional Bowhunter also serve as excellent resources, and I would like to cite Rick from www.thefeatheredshaft.com (Fletcher) for his expertise on the subject. The man makes an incredible arrow and is wonderful to talk to whether you are buying arrows from him or not. The knowledge he has shared with me has been invaluable. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I would be shooting carbons.