Building Safer and Better Arrows

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No matter how good you think you are at something, there is always room for improvement. It’s a fact of life. Just when you think you are making strides, something comes along to turn your world upside down and make you approach something differently. I’ve recently experienced such an event in my arrow making.

I thought I made a fairly solid set of wood arrows. They flew true, they grouped consistently, and they looked pretty good too. They may not be as cosmetically appealing as some of the more professional sets I’ve seen, but they definitely have their own style. I’ve even sold or traded a few dozen to friends and received nothing but positive feedback.

I’m especially proud of the set I made for my buddy Will at www.thewilltohunt.com. He’s a fellow b0whunter and blogger who had recently purchased a longbow and wanted to try a set of wood arrows. I had some orange Stalker Stain on hand and thought I would do something special for him. The arrows below are the result and he was extremely happy with them – to the point of not wanting to shoot and ruin them. I anticipated this and sent him a set of ramin shafts in addition, figuring he could use them as beater arrows. I’ve found ramin to be a good solid shaft for a beginner and thought they would be the perfect solution; and they were…to a point.

Will’s arrows: orange Stalker Stain on german pine with banana fletching.

A few days later I was horrified to discover that one of the shafts failed on Will while he was drawing, sending shards of wood into his bow hand. He was alright and we had a laugh or two, but I was really distraught about it. I started second-guessing my abilities and considered never building another arrow for anyone ever again.

However, once the shock wore off and the logic set in, I decided that giving up wasn’t the solution and finding out the cause of the failure was. I had a hunch the shaft had been of poor quality with excessive grain runout. A plausible solution for sure, but there had to be more to it then that. Why did the arrow have to break towards Will’s hand? Fortunately, a video posted by a fellow Stick and String forumite shed some light on the subject.

Traditional archery wood arrows – get the grain

Eureka! The logic hit me like a truck.

The grain of a wooden arrow and the direction it is pointing are important factors for optimal safety and consistency. An arrow actually has a top and a bottom. To determine the top from the bottom, simply find the sharp grains of the arrow and note where they point (up or down the shaft). If the arrow is nocked, the bottom grain should point towards the string, the top should point towards the bow. Make sure the arrow is aligned correctly by attaching your nock so the opening is perpendicular to the grain of the shaft as seen below.

Photo courtesy of http://www.stickbow.com

In theory, aligning this way should ensure that if the arrow should break along the grain, the sharp portion will not break into the shooters bow hand.

Secondly, wood shafts are generally weaker when pressure is applied perpendicular to the grain and stronger when it is applied parallel to the grain. If you spine your own arrows and want to achieve the greatest consistency, this method will allow you to locate the stiffest side of the arrow, and batch your arrows based on the spine of that particular side. You will be pairing the arrows with the least amount of spine variation and consistency will improve as a result.

I didn’t adhere to these recommendations in the earliest days of my arrow making and Will’s ramin arrows came from those batches. Had I aligned my nocks/grains correctly, I might have saved him a few slivers. Then again, I might not have. There are those who believe that it is impossible to predict how an arrow will crack or break regardless of how you align the nock. Personally, I don’t see the cons of playing it safe. If the possibility of safer and more consistent arrows can be achieved at the cost of a few more minutes per shaft, why not put forth the extra effort?

You’ve already decided to build your own, build them correctly.

Note: I would like to thank www.stickbow.com for their wonderful arrow making resources, and Woodenarrows for creating the video. I’ll be contributing more on the topic of arrow building in the future. As I get better, you’ll get better! Feel free to post a comment if you have any questions or arrow making tips.

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4 Responses to Building Safer and Better Arrows

  1. Will Jenkins says:

    No worries Nick it was merely a flesh wound! I still have the arrow I think and can send you pictures of the break if that will help. It very well could have been my virtually not existent traditional skills at their finest. I love the arrows you built and everyone that sees them are VERY impressed!

  2. Dustin says:

    Those are some great looking arrows Nick! You do great work.

  3. EcoRover says:

    Yikes. Every arrow making guide I’ve ever seen cautions about having the grain right (and it’s also the way arrows are spined).

  4. This is kind of cool and neat but yet in retrospect scary to think about. I want to build but this is what I’m afraid of!

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