Arrow Building and Fletching

I will describe below the background and method for correctly building your arrows. I have been fletching and cresting arrows now for many years and there is a right and wrong way to go about it from a safety perspective. How creative you become and what you select is compeltely up to you in the end as far as your arrow design goes. The equipment and materials I choose to use are in no way the only way to build arrows, but it is the path that I have decided to follow. Just as in bow shooting, repeatability in arrow building is extremely important.

Picking The Correct Arrow Spine For Longbows & Recurves

One of the most common asked questions I receive is "what spined arrow should I shoot out of my bow.? This is a very important question because to achieve good arrow flight having the correct spine is a necessity. Picking the correct spine can be confusing and down right frustrating at times, but once you understand the variables involved it is much easier. In the following article I will focus on those variables and how they affect the spine of the arrow. After reading this article you should be able to pick a spine range that will be a good starting point in your quest for proper arrow flight. A statement that I have made before and will probably make again is "I have never helped someone correct arrow flight problems by going up in spine weight." This statement has more bearing when it comes to tuning the arrow to the bow, which is something that I will discuss in a following article, but it is something that should be brought up now in the early stages of picking a spine. The problem I see most people make is they start with a spine that is border line to stiff. When they can't get the arrow to fly correctly they automatically think the spine is to weak and therefore proceed to make the problem worse by going up in spine. When picking a spine you should consider that most of the shots you will take while hunting are not going to be in the best of situations. Things such as cold mornings, extra clothes and awkward positions will not allow you to draw the bow as far as you normally would under more perfect conditions. When you don't draw the bow back as far it does a couple of things that in effect make the arrow to stiff. The conditions that are faced while hunting have always made me advise a person to go a little light when picking spine.

There are many variables that affect arrow spine. I will list the most common variables and tell how they affect the spine. Keep in mind that some of these variables do not drastically effect the spine but when several of those variables are added together it can drastically effect the spine. Fast Flight Strings affect spine probably more than any one factor. Fast Flight may only add 5 or 6 feet per second in the speed when compared to a Dacron string however it's effect on spine are enormous. Fast Flight has virtually no give and literally "hammers" the arrow, conversely Dacron has give and acts as somewhat of a shock absorber on the arrow. As a general rule if you use Fast Flight you will have to increase your spine weight by 15# with wooden arrows or go up two shaft sizes on aluminum arrows. Weight Of Broadhead: This is not near as big a factor as what most people would make it out to be but it can make the difference between an arrow flying good or not flying good. When trying to pick a spine weight consider that if you use a heavier broadhead it will in effect weaken the arrow and therefore you will need to increase your spine. If you use a lighter broadhead you will in effect stiffen the arrow and therefore need to decrease your spine. How much should you increase or decrease? Well that is more or less an educated guess. Over the years this is what I have found, the vast majority of people prefer a 125gr broadhead and when I recommend a spine that is what I have in mind. If you have the perfect spine for your bow you can probably shoot a 110gr to a 140gr broadhead and get acceptable results. If you go down to a 100gr or up to a 150gr I would suggest adjusting your spine weight by #5 on wood or by 1 size on aluminum. If you are going to use a 190gr broadhead you will probably need to go up in spine weight another #5 on wood or go up another size on aluminum. You will have to adjust the above suggestions if you are shooting an arrow that is borderline too stiff or too weak. Draw Length also comes into play when selecting spine. Keep in mind that draw length and arrow length are two separate things. Most all bows are marked a certain poundage at 28" (50#@28"). When selecting spine you need to know your exact draw length and the poundage you are pulling at your draw length. The best way I have found to determine exact draw length is to actually shoot the bow you are getting arrows for. Loosen up by shooting a few times then have a friend grab the arrow at the back of the bow while you are at full draw, then ease down on the string and let your friend take the arrow off the bow. Now measure the arrow from the nock to the spot on the arrow that he is holding. The most effective way to do this is to let the friend grab the arrow without you knowing when he is going to grab it. Most of the time when a guy gets his draw length checked he will overdraw the bow as to make sure his arrows are long enough, this only gives you a false draw length. When a person grabs the arrow when you are not expecting it the results will be more accurate. For most people the above exercise is an eye opening experience. I have found that most guys overestimate their draw length which can really mess things up. If you do this your draw weight calculation will be more than it should be and you will have to add spine for the extra length. What you will end up with will be a grossly overspined arrow. When I deal with someone on the phone I have a test I give them to find out if they are giving me their correct draw length. To do this I ask them in a very casual way how tall they are and if they wear a "regular" or "long" in a jacket. I am positive some people have scratched their head upon hearing these questions but the test has never failed me. Here is how it works. It is no coincidence that a bows weight is marked at 28", the vast majority of guys out there have a draw length within 1/2" of this. In fact most guys have this draw length. The reason for all this is that the average Joe is 5"10' tall. If you are 5"10' and you wear a "regular" jacket you have a draw length of 28" whether you believe it or not. I have proved this to so many people I am extremely confident that you are no exception. If you do not have that long of a draw you are probably short drawing the bow by not spreading your shoulders. If this is so you need to work to correct that because you are losing alot of performance by short drawing a bow when you don't have to. To take this test a step farther to adjust for every 1" in height add or subtract 1/2" in draw length. If you are 5"8' your draw length should be very close to 27". If you are 6" tall your draw length should be close to 29". Give this formula a try you'll be amazed at how accurate it is.

Draw Weight: Once you have determined your exact draw length you can now discover what your draw weight is at that length. The best way to do this is to put the bow on a bow scale and draw it to that length. Make sure you measure it to the back of the riser because this is the way you checked the draw length.A bow scale is the best way to check the poundage because sometimes, and I stress sometimes, the bow is marked wrong and the bow weight is something other than what you think it is. If you do not have access to a bow scale you can take for granted the bow is marked correctly and use this formula. For every inch of draw above or below 28" add or subtract 5% of the draw weight. An example is 50# x 5% = 2.5# per inch, if you drew this bow 30" the draw weight at your draw length would be 55#. On the other side if you only drew the bow 26" the draw weight would be 45# at your draw length. Arrow Length: When you lengthen the arrow it weakens the spine, when you shorten the arrow it stiffens the spine. This is very simple to understand, like taking a stick and breaking it in two then taking one of the two pieces and trying to then break it. The short piece is very hard to break because it is stiffer. How much will length affect spine? Again this is a guessing game but this is what I have found. The average guy shoots a 281/2" arrow, for every 2" over that you will need to increase the spine weight by 5# in wood or by 1 size in aluminum. For every 2" under that you will need to decrease that same amount. Off Set In The Riser is another big factor in determining correct spine. You can shoot a stiffer arrow out of a more center shot bow and you have to shoot a weaker arrow out of a bow with more off set. This in fact is the reason you can shoot a stiffer arrow from the average recurve than you can from the average longbow of the same draw weight. How much does it affect the spine? You know the answer, it's an educated guess. All bows are different and the amount of off set varies but here is the general rule. For longbows shoot one step weaker in spine than the average center shot recurve. There is a difference between a center shot and a past center or true center shot. The true center shot is cut 1/2 the diameter of the arrow shaft past the center line of the bow rather than just too the center line of the bow. On a bow cut past center go up one step in spine compared to an average center shot recurve.

Bow Quivers are probably the most overlooked variable when it comes to picking spine. They do however have the affect of stiffening the spine. The ones that bolt to the riser section are not as noticeable as the ones that slide on the limbs but you should take them into consideration. When you are going to use a quiver that slides on the limbs of the bow you definitely need to go down one step in spine. The Way You Shoot A Bow has an affect on the spine. If you pause before you release or for whatever reason let the limbs ease forward just before you shoot you will hurt the performance of the bow. If this is the way you are comfortable shooting by all means do it, but keep in mind this has the effect of stiffening the arrow. Of course the amount it stiffens the arrow is relative to the amount in which you do these two things. At any rate it is something to keep in mind and it is not out of the question to have to drop down a size in spine if you do these things. Feather Size has an effect on arrow spine also. Bigger feathers have the effect of stiffening the shaft. You have heard that if you shoot a big heavy broadhead you need to shoot a big feather to stabilize it. Most people don't realize that the reason it stabilizes the arrow is because of the stiffening effect it has rather than the ability the bigger feather has to stabilize the arrow thru rotation. This may be a little hard to comprehend but I have come to this conclusion thru much experience and evaluation. I have no set rule for this variable I only figure it into the mix when I am trying to pick a spine. Crown Dipping has a stiffening effect on arrows also. The reason is that you are adding weight to the back half of the arrow. This is another "figure it into the mix" variable. String Silencers add weight to the string and slow it down. This has a stiffening effect on the arrow as well. Some of the more noisier bows need a couple of sets of silencers to quieten them down. Some of the material that string silencers are made from is heavier than others also. While we are on the subject of making the string heavier, if you are using more strands in your bowstring than usual (having an 18 strand string when you could be using a 14 strand)you will also slow down the bow a little. Take these variables and figure it into the mix. With all the variables that make a arrow stiffer as opposed to those that make it weaker is it any wonder why so many people come to me with an overspined setup. I believe now you are starting to understand why I feel it is better to underspine a little when picking a spine. After reading all the things I have just said you are probably thinking "I need to be shooting a 30/35# arrow out of my 55# bow." Don't panic it isn't as bad as it sounds. I only listed all the variables to show how many things can and do affect arrow spine. Alot of the variables are figured in already when you are picking a spine as you are about to see. The spine recommendations that I'm about to make take into account that you are going to have an average set up. What is an average set up? The arrow is 28 1/2" long (or within 1/4" of that) it has 5" feathers and a 125gr point. The bow has a dacron string with one set of silencers on it and no bow quiver. With that in mind use the above information to adjust for your particular set up. Remember the poundage of the bow needs to be taken at your draw length so on this set up the poundages listed are at 28?. The wooden recommendations are for cedar arrows(all wood does not shoot the same,I discuss that some other time). I personally do not like shooting aluminum arrows off of dacron stringed longbows because you have to shoot such a weak spine to get them to fly good. The weaker spined aluminum shafts do not have a lot of mass weight and therefore the bows will generally have excessive handshock. If the longbow has fast flight the spine weights you shoot will have more mass weight and will help absorb the handshock. The spines listed below for a longbow are for dacron strings remember to adjust for the fast flight.

Part 1: The Shafts.




Okay, arrow shafts can be made out of many different materials, wood, aluminum, various carbon fiber wraps, lots of things. Only wood is considered SCA legal and so we will limit this discussion to Wood.

Wood is a natural material and as such is not completely consistent in the way it is made. No two shafts are exactly alike and so consistency is measured in spine and weight ranges. Wood is measured in spine ranges such as 45-50 lbs. This means that all the shafts in that range will spine out to within 45 and 50 lbs spine weight. This is as close as most suppliers will go when selling arrow shafts. You can pay a lot more to get them spined closer than a 5 lb range but generally you will not notice the difference.

Then there is weight; since wood density varies a lot with so many different factors involved, getting arrows that all weigh the same is even more difficult than getting them spined the same. The standard weight range is +/- 10 grains, again more than this is usually unnecessary as you won't see it in your shooting unless you are really good.


Make sure and I do mean make sure that you never buy shafts that are not grouped by weight as well as by spine. I have seen a dozen arrows of the same spine range vary their mass weight by more than 50% through a single dozen.

A number of years ago there was very little choice in shaft materials for constructing wood arrows, Port Orford Cedar (POC) was king. It was a good choice for consistent, straight arrows and, of course, the best part of the arrow was the aroma. You didn't seem to mind as much when you broke one because you got the added benefit of enjoying the aromatic cedar.

These days, Port Orford is still around, but in addition there are numerous other woods that are successfully being used to construct good quality arrow shafting. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention applies here.

In the last 5 years there has been a marked decrease in the availability of quality Port Orford cedar shafts. Some may argue that that has not been the case, but even the perception of a shortage has sent inventive people out looking at different shaft options. Just look at any traditional archery magazine, ads for folks selling alternatives to POC are everywhere. Just a few are Ash, Chundoo (Sitka Spruce), Norway pine, Ramin, Birch, Maple, Yellow Cedar and the list continues. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages as we shall see.

Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages. Shaft sizes can now be obtained in 5/16", 11/32" and 23/64". I will try to concentrate on some of the more popular shaft materials and discuss some of the characteristics.

Port Orford Cedar - These shafts are probably the standard by which all others are measured. There used to be two major manufacturers of Port Orford Cedar, Rose City and Acme. Acme hasn't made these shafts for several years, presumably because of difficult getting quality raw material. Rose City is still making these shafts and supplying them to various suppliers.

Port Orford Cedar is best know for its wonderful aroma. The shafts are light to moderate in physical weight and are generally pretty straight grained. A number of shaft suppliers are offering Port Orford Cedars that are tapered for about 9" on the nock end from 11/32" to 5/16". These tapered shafts are said to clear the bow riser for better arrow flight. You can also get barreled shafts that are tapered at both the nock and point ends.

Port Orford Cedar - Summary

Light to moderate in weight

Not very durable

Fairly Straight Grained

Takes a stain well

Fairly easy to straighten







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Douglas Fir - Douglas Fir has a lot more grain that PO Cedar and the shafts are heavier. I myself have little experience with it though and can't really tell you much about it except that is is reputed to be difficult to get straight round shafts, that being said, if you do get the good stuff, it supposedly does make a nice arrow.

maybe someone will send me some so I can test them and see.


Douglas Fir -Summary

Heavy weight

Moderately Durable

Lots of grain, less straight

Takes a stain well

Hard to straighten





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Maple - Some of the American hardwoods are starting to show up as arrow shafting material. Maple shafts are very smooth and uniform and have a very pretty grain. They are not as heavy or as durable as the Ash but seem to make a nice compromise of weight and strength. I think they are going to become my favorite stumping shaft.

Try Maple. I could only find them listed at Allegheny mountain woods.


Maple -Summary

Heavy weight

Very Durable

Straight

Hard to stain

Hard to straighten





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Ash - Ash is one of my favorite woods next to POC. I use it for my medieval period arrows and for hunting and stumpshooting and just for the snorts and giggles of it. It is next to indestructible though I have managed to break some. It is really heavy, only available in 23/64ths diameter shafts (that I can find) and did I mention it was heavy? I have some 50 lb spine shafts that hit 8-10 inches lower than poc off of the same bow at 20 yards. They are nice and consistent but ohh soo slow.


Ash -Summary

Heavy weight

Very Durable

Not very straight

Hard to stain

Hard to straighten





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Southeastern Alaska (yellow) Cedar - These shafts aren't yellow at all, they're white. I have made several sets of shire arrows from Yellow cedar and was very happy with the way they turned out. I have to say though that this stuff stinks something horrible when cutting or grinding it, for those of us accustomed to the Cedar buzz from POC, this stuff was a real let down.


Yellow Cedar -Summary

Moderate to Heavy weight

Very Durable

Straight

Takes Stain well

Relatively easy to straighten





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Chundoo or Sitka Spruce- This is my mainstay for arrow shafts. I like the way it shoots and is strong and easy to work with. It is a little bit heavier than POC, but is straight and consistent and well worth the bit extra weight.

Chundoo -Summary

Moderate to Heavy weight

Moderate Durability

Straight

Takes Stain well

Relatively easy to straighten





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Laminated Cedar or Pine - Shafts made from pieces of pine or cedar that have been laminated together to form a more homogeneous material are said to be made so that weight, spine and straightness can be controlled in the manufacturing process. I would be interested to know what people who have used these shafts think about their quality.


Laminated Cedar or Pine - Summary

Heavy weight

Very Durable

Straight

Takes Stain well

Difficult to straighten



Part 2: The Fletching

For the purposes of this discussion I will only be addressing feathers. There are other methods of fletching to include plastic vanes but I will not discuss their use. It is not period for the SCA and frankly feathers work much better than any plastic vane I have tried.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY FEATHERS ARE RIGHT OR LEFT WING?

First method: Look at the nock end of an arrow (as though it is about to be shot), and rotate it so that one fletching is on top of the shaft. If the "catch lip" is to the left of the web, it is a right wing feather. If the "catch lip" is to the right of the web, it is a left wing feather.

Second method: Hold the forward end of a diecut (pointed end) or full length feather (larger end) towards yourself. Look down from the top. Rotate the feather so that its web is horizontal and its natural curve droops the end pointed away from your downwards ("shedding rain" as opposed to "catching rain"). If the web is to the right of the quill base, it is a right wing feather. If the web is to the left of the quill base, it is a left wing feather.

I'M RIGHT HANDED, SHOULD I USE RIGHT WING OR LEFT WING FEATHERS?

You can successfully shoot either wing. An arrow does not rotate noticeabley until it is well clear of the bow.

Left wing feathers should be used to rotate the arrow counter clockwise right wing clockwise (as viewed by the shooter).


SHOULD I USE STRAIGHT, OFFSET OR HELICAL FLETCHING CLAMPS?

We strongly recommend offset or helical fletching on all arrows.

Offset or helical fletching causes the arrow to rotate in flight just like the rifling in a gun barrel cause a bullet to rotate. This is extremely important. The rotation acts like a gyroscope to stabilize the arrow.

Helical fletching offers more stability than a simple offset and is therefore the first choice for any arrow tipped with a broadhead.


HOW MUCH FLETCHING OFFSET SHOULD I USE?

If the forward end of a 5-inch feather is 1/16 inch offset from its rear, this equals about 3/4 of one degree. We find this words well for most offset or helical fletched arrows.

WHAT SIZE FEATHERS SHOULD I USE?

In general, for hunting arrows tipped with broadheads, we have found three 5-inch feathers or 4-inch feathers work well. Lightweight carbon arrows have been successfully flectchd with three 4-inch feathers. Due to individual differences in equipments and shooting style, larger feathers may be required. It is also possible that good flight can be achieved with smaller feathers. Test shooting is the best way to decide on any particular set up.

It is important to remember that broadheads will need more guidance than field points. It is also extrememly important that broadhead equipped arrows fly "dead straight" with no yawning or fishtailing. An arrow that is yawing own range is not only inaccurate, but if it hits game it loses much of its penetration.



HOW FAR FORWARD FROM THE REAR OF THE ARROW SHOULD I PLACE THE FEATHERS?

The rear of the feathers should be far enough forward to clear the shooter's fingers or release mechanism when releasing the string. For finger shooters this is usually about 1 to 1 1/2 inches or 25 to 38 mm.

The feathers should also be far enough forward so that their bases can be securrely attached to the shaft, not the nock.

All else being equal, the further to the rear the feathers are, the more efficient the guidance. The feathers should not be further forward than is necessary for clearance.


DO "ROUND BACK" (OR "PARABOLIC") AND "SHIELD BACK" FLY DIFFERENTLY?

We haven't been able to detect any difference in the performance of round back or shield back. It apprears that the only difference is one of appearance. Round back are more popular in the United States; shield back are more popular in Europe.


WHAT ADHESIVE SHOULD I USE TO FLETCH FEATHERS?

Any good fletching adhesive will work well with feathers. But a note here, you need to be sure that you use compatible glues with whatever shaft coating you are using. An example is, I use gasket lacquer to coat my shafts. You can not use anything but Duco cement to attach the feathers with. If you try to use goat tuff or other CA based glues it will react with the clear and not set.

Instant fletching glues are available, and very convenient "feather fletching tape" has just come on the market. All work very well with feathers.


HOW SHULD I PREPARE THE QUILL BASE OF THE FEATHER FOR FLETCHING?

The base of every "Trueflight Feather" is ground clean and dry in our processing. No further preparation is needed.


HOW SHOULD I PREPARE THE SHAFT FOR FEATHER FLETCHING?

We normally begin by wiping the fletching area of the shaft with alcohol, then lightly scuff the area with 600 grit sandpaper or fine steel wool. We do a final alcohol wipe a few minutes before fletching.


HOW CAN I WATERPROOF MY FEATHERS?

Excellent dry powder waterproofing for feathers are now available. Bob Rightnour's "Fletch Dry" adds virtually no weight to an arrow, does not stiffen the feather web and does an amazing job of waterproofing.

If you are caught in the rain without any waterproofing, a small "baggy" can be slipped over the feathers until the arrow is ready to be shot.