My arrow-building has become increasingly better with a little bit of patience and a whole lot of experimentation. The latter made possible by a fellow TradGanger who happened upon 30 ramon wood dowels and didn’t have a use for them. They varied drastically in spine and diameter so I matched them the best I could, made a dozen from the heavier shafts for a friend and used the rest to improve my cresting skills.
Cresting is basically a fancy way of marking an arrow in an identifiable way so that other archers know it is yours. It has been around almost as long as the arrow but gained popularity in Europe nearly a century ago during the golden age of target archery.
Native American tribes were also cresting their work but for a more spiritual purpose. Many believed the arrow to be an extension of themselves and took a great deal of pride in their crafting. Arrows were sacred objects. You can read about Ishi and his cresting methods in Saxton Pope’s Hunting with the Bow and Arrow (an oldie but a goodie).
Things really haven’t changed. Cresting is still alive and well whether you are dipping and cresting your arrows with an automated cresting machine, spinning the shaft by hand, or wrapping them with a Cap Wrap (for modern shafting). There really isn’t an incorrect method.
When working with wood I prefer not to work with lacquer and usually stain the first nine inches of the fletch-end side with a darker or lighter finish for contrast. I then crest over the area in which the stains meet to create the traditional “dipped” effect that is popular amongst most archers today.
For the actual cresting, I use American Accents Craft & Hobby Enamel by RustOleum because (like Minwax) it is fairly cheap and easy to find. It is also water-based, making cleanup easier.
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to using it: 1) It is fairly sloppy and will dry if you use too much water. Brush it on with a dry brush if possible and use separate brushes for different colors. 2) It doesn’t work well when applied over polyurethane. If you use this type of finish, complete your cresting first. 3) It must be applied in thin coats or it will not dry evenly (if at all).
In fact, stopping at two coats results in a stain-like appearance that is fairly pleasing to the eye if you are seeking that effect. I recently applied this newfound technique with great results (below).
Add one more coat to achieve a less transparent look. Each coat dries quickly and only requires approximately 5 minutes to set up in the right conditions.
When cresting, I generally like to do so in layers by starting with lighter colors and overlaying the darker colors.
Because I roll the shaft by hand, I have trouble painting extremely thin lines accurately. I use a layering method instead. I start with light paint (white, yellow, etc) and a wide brush. I apply a thin/wide coat as a base layer and let it dry. Once completely dray, I transition to a slightly thinner brush with a darker color (red, blue, green, black) and carefully apply it in the center of the lighter layer so that only two narrow slits of light colored paint remain. These act as my accent lines. I usually have to apply two coats of darker paint to keep the white layer from showing through beneath the dark.
If you shoot aluminum shafting and dislike the wrapped look mentioned above or want to get more hands-on; spray-on RustOleum is also a good option. I like to use a base coat of white primer and follow up with the color of my choice. I then accent with a black sharpie to give the final product that “racing stripe” look. You can brush or spray a top coat of the craft/hobby enamel right over top and it covers nicely. I highly suggest using sprays if working with aluminum. Lightly sand between coats with steel wool to get rid of the gritty texture caused by the spraying (if you apply thick enough, this will not occur). Give each coat a good 20 minutes to dry and coat with Polycrilic when finished. The result isn’t as pristine as a wrap but the legitimacy factor more than makes up for it. You’ll turn more heads at the range than a guy with a wrap, I guarantee it!