Arrow design and construction

Written by Sir Toen Fitzwilliam, Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 4, Apr-Jun 2002.

This is really for the beginning archer and or fighter/archer who don’t get out on the “line” very much.  If you’ve been shooting for several years, I’m sure you’re already aware of which arrows are which, but maybe you’d like to try to make some.  This article is for you then.  I’ve written this article based upon my own experience and the experiences I’ve had to draw on from other archers here in Calontir.  Many techniques are different than mine and I don’t promise to have the “right” way, but this stuff does work.

This is intended as a short series of articles on Calontir/SCA archery, so keep looking for more information.

Oh, PS, I can’t guarantee that you’ll shoot well, but you look better.

First the basics about arrows.  In Calontir/SCA we use several types of arrows and it’ll help if you know which arrow is which and what they are used for:

Your standard target arrow – these are your typical 3-4 fletched arrows that we use when shooting on the “line”.  The length is based upon your draw length and the weight of the arrow (in grains) will typically correspond with how heavy your bow is.  That is to say, how heavy your draw weight or pull weight is.  This arrow is designed to do your basic shooting at targets.  I’d highly recommend having at least 2 doz. (24) of these arrows, because you’ll break several or lose several and this will help you not have to make another set of arrows for a short while.

Flight arrow – This arrow is sometimes a little longer than your standard arrow to allow for an overdraw.  An overdraw is when you pull further than you usually do to shoot the arrow.  This allows for more distance.  Flight arrows typically are as light as you can get them (depending upon your pull weight) and usually have only about two fletches.  A flight arrow is designed to go as far as you can shoot it.  Hence, only two fletches.  I would recommend maybe a 1/2 doz. (6) of these.  We don’t shoot very many of these, but it’s always good to have some on hand just in case the event you’re going to is going to hold a flight shoot.

Flu-Flu’s – I have no idea who named this one, but we use them.  This arrow is typically a little longer than the standard arrow too, but it’s usually for a dual purpose.  A flu-flu arrow has made for shooting targets that are suspended above the range or shooting Poppin-Jay’s (a bird on a stick).  The “flu-flu” is the fletching that is on the arrow.  You typically make these with much bigger fletchings which cause the arrow to slow down enough that if you shoot it into the air, it should land standing up or at least on top of the ground.  We also put bird blunts on the end of our flu-flu’s instead of regular tips.  Bird blunts are hard rubber tips that will hit the target, but should not penetrate the target.  They are designed to hunt small animals and to stun them, but not to penetrate the flesh.  We use them to shoot at poppin-jay targets that are suspended on a pole.  This way you can go to the bottom of the target to get your arrow instead of raising and lowering your target each time.  Flu-flu’s may also have a different tip on them called “Judo tips” or “grass catchers”.  These tips look like something from a sci-fi movie because they’ve got a regular tip with several little wire “arms” sticking out to catch the grass and keep the arrow from being lost in the grass.  I would recommend about 1/2 doz. (6) of these arrows.  We don’t do Poppin-Jay shoots very often, so these are nice to have around if you’ve made them.

Bolts/Quarrels – these are much shorter arrows that are used by crossbows.  They are usually 2-4 fletched arrows with standard field points on them.  They are usually made of a thicker shaft to take the punishment of the increased pull poundage of the crossbow (usually 23/64, I think).  If you shoot a crossbow, I would suggest that you have at least 2 doz. (24) of these on hand, since the crossbow is able to lose/loose the bolts a lot further than a bow.

Now for building an arrow.  If any of the terms below are unfamiliar, just keep reading and you’ll see a small list of definitions.

Measure your pull length and then use that measurement to determine how long your arrow shafts should be.  You might want to add just a little bit for trimming down later in case the nocked end or point end breaks.

Depending on your pull weight of your bow will determine the thickness of your arrow shaft.  Now this will vary depending upon your preference, but as a general rule up to 35lbs. = 5/16, 35lbs. – 55lbs. = 11/32.  55 and above = 23/64.  Crossbow bolts are usually at 23/64 because of the increased pull weight, although some crossbow bolts may be smaller in diameter depending on the size of the roller nut or how wide the horns of the roller nut are.

Taper the ends of your arrow shafts with a shaft taper tool (looks like a pencil sharpener) and choose the straightest part of the arrow for the nock end.  You can always straighten the rest of the shaft later.  (The nock goes on the shorter of the two tapered ends.)

**Try not to taper the tips too much because the nocks and the tips may not fit properly.  This will take a few tries, but is not too difficult to determine.  Just taper a little at a time until you get a nice fit.

Lightly sand/steel wool the arrow shafts before any painting, cresting or staining.  Use 000 steel wool for this.

Dye or paint the shaft, as you desire, sanding after every coat to bring down any blemishes.  I use leather dye to dye my shafts (tx Master Leif), because it’s an alcohol base and can be “cut” with regular rubbing alcohol to make the color lighter.

Soak points in rubbing alcohol to get rid of any oil and then set out to dry or hold over flame to disperse the alcohol.

Put on points by using super glue, preferably a gel (supergel).  Put glue on the end of the point end and down three sides of the tapered point end.  Screw the point on and attach firmly.

Put the nocks on with super glue, preferably “Fletchtight”.  Put glue on the end of the point end and down three sides of the tapered nock end.  Attach the nock point so that the nock is perpendicular to the wood grain (cross-grain).  This is important so that you won’t split the arrow if the nock breaks.  Look at the end of the taper and attach the nock perpendicular to the grain.

Now that the nocks are on, place the arrow in a fletching jig so that you are able to attach the fletches.  A fletching jig is a tool that allows you to place the fletches on in the same place on every arrow.  This is nice when you’re doing several arrows in one sitting.  It’s also nice to be able to set every arrow fairly precise.  You simply place the arrow in the jig and attach the ‘cock feather’.  Then turn the knob on the fletching jig in the direction you need to place another fletch and place it and repeat.  It makes the manual placing of the fletching very easy.

Attach fletching by attaching the ‘cock feather’ first and then using the fletching jig to attach the other fletches.  Use double sided tape for a faster set and cut the tape with approx. 1/8” overlapping the end of the fletch spines.

*The ‘cock feather’ on a 3-fletch arrow is the fletch that sits perpendicular to the bow when the arrow is nocked.  The two other fletches will run against the bow, but the cock feather will not touch the bow.  If the ‘cock feather’ is miss placed, then you will lose the ‘cock feather’ when you loose the arrow.  (The ‘cock feather’ will most likely tear off.)

**Fletches may be cut into various shapes depending upon personal preference.  To do this you will need a fletch cutter.  This is done by inserting the fletch into the cutter and closing the cutter.  You then hit the cutter with a mallet and it cuts the fletch via small blades within the cutter.

(If you choose to wrap the fletches, cut away approx. 1/8-1/4” from the top and bottom of the spines so that you can wrap the spines as well as the tape.  Use a thicker thread than usual sewing thread and wrap the bottom of the fletch, working your way up.  Wrap the bottom and then thread the thread through the feathers carefully until you get to the top and then wrap the top spine and tape.  Put liquid super glue on the thread at the top and bottom of the fletches between the fletches.)

Finish the arrow off by adding approx. 3 coats (or more) of spray polyurethane, sanding lightly between each coat.  This will help with water resistance.  Then apply approx. 3 coats of TREWAX or any other type of rub on wax to the arrows.  This will also help with water resistance and will help the arrows slide out of the target much easier.


Parts of an arrow

Fletches – these are the “feathers” on the arrow to stabilize the arrows flight.  They cause a bit of a drag on the arrow so that the arrow will “fly” straighter.

Nock – this is a piece at the end of an arrow that the bowstring fits into.  Some arrows have a “self-nock” which means that they have a special hardwood inserted into the top of the arrow and a slit cut into the arrow so that they have a nock built in.

Tips or ‘points’ – in the SCA, we usually use a standard target point.  Which one you use will vary on how heavy you want your arrow to be.  There are standard target points and there are some target points that look like bullet heads.  The only difference between these two is really cosmetic and a little bit of more elbow grease to get the bullet heads out of the target.  Judo tips or grass-catchers are also used and they are simply a standard field point with little wire “arms” sticking out to catch the grass and keep the arrow from being lost in the grass.  I don’t really see very many of these. Bird blunts are popular with flu-flu arrows.  These are hard rubber tips without a point to basically break things or keep the arrow from sticking in the ground.  I’ve seen a few more fancier tips in the SCA like tips that whistle when you shoot them, but these are very few and far between.

**Important point (no pun intended) – Bodkins points are also used in the SCA.  Although they are used and they are very period, you might find that bodkin points do what they are intended to do when you use them on the “line”, they tear stuff up.  I have personally banned bodkin points during my shoots because I didn’t want all of my targets getting shredded before the shoot was over.  Just my opinion though.

This should get you on your way to being able to not only recognize what type of arrow you’re shooting, but also how to make something that you’d like to shoot.  If anything here is not very clear or you’d like to ask questions, just find me at an event and I’ll be glad to help.




PS: Many thanks to the archers of Calontir for their information and to HL Lynette Davejean who taught me all of this stuff.

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