Making arrows

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Not every archer wishes to, or enjoys, making arrows but it is a skill that all archers should master at least to some degree if for no other reason than that they can then talk with authority to members of the public. Below is a step by step account of how to make an arrow, it is not the only way, each archer will have their own little variations and opinions but it will get you started.


You can buy wooden shafts from an archery supplier or you can make your own, it is cheaper to make your own especially when you consider that you may well have 10% of your arrows broken at each battle when they are stood on by the warriors. Most warriors will avoid this if they can and even move your arrows out of their way but it is unreasonable to expect them to put your arrows before protecting themselves from enemy blows. 9mm dowel from your local DIY store works well.

Step 1. Cut the dowel to the length required, this will vary slightly from archer to archer depending on your height.


To work out the length hold the dowel in your drawing hand as you would when drawing an arrow and rest the body of the dowel on you bow hand made into a fist as if holding the bow.

Now come the tricky bit, with you drawing hand grasp the dowel body in front of your bow hand, you now have to approximate length of the shaft, add another two inches and make a mark.

Cut the dowel at the mark and you will have your master shaft of a length that will allow you a full draw for those really long shots you will be asked to make at the Battle of Hastings.

Step 2. Use you master shaft as a guide to mark out the cutting points on the remaining dowel, usually you can get three shafts from each length of dowel that is sold at most DIY stores.

Step 3. Dowel shafts are dry and this increases the likelihood of them breaking when impacting a shield, soaking them in linseed oil helps prevent this.

Soak the dowel in linseed by rubbing them with an oil soaked rag several times, better still find a container that you can fill with oiled and shafts and leave to soak for 24 hours. In the latter case you can make a suitable container by returning to the DIY store and purchasing a drain pipe and end cap.


Next allow the oiled dowel to dry for seven days, don’t allow the shafts to touch each other as they dry as this delays the process. After seven days use a dry rag to remove any excess oil and if necessary allow more drying time.


Step 4. Next cut the nock. Arrows should be self-nocked, that is the nock is cut into the wood, you could fit a horn nock or reinforce a self-nock with horn but this is a lot of work and expense for an arrow that is going to be trodden on by men and horses in battle! There are a number of ways of cutting a nock, hack saws, drills and grinders have all been used, and each of you will have a preference. Before working on your shafts find the scraps of dowel that were left over when you cut your shafts and practice on them to find your preferred tool.


The nock does not need to be deep, the depth of your bow string is sufficient, no more than 5 mm.

Thirty years making and shooting has proven to the author that a shallow knock is less likely to split but we still need to reinforce the nock to reduce that chance further. Heat a piece of metal such as a wire tent peg until it is hot enough to burn wood, press this into the nock to burn the bottom and sides of the nock, a second or two is long enough unless you want to start a small fire! As well as hardening the wood this removes rough edges that will increase wear on your bow string.

Now you need to whip the nock, just below the nock wrap six or more turns of thread around the shaft, the same thread you use to make bow strings works well, a little clear glue on the shaft before you wind the thread round helps hold it in place and once you have tied the thread off some more glue rubbed over the whipping also helps keep it in place.

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Purchase full length turkey feathers from an archery supplier in the colours you want, from each feather you can usually get two 4.5 inch or three 3 inch flights but it is wise to buy a few spares. For re-enactment use you will need to use full flights, you must not trim them, if you are making sharp arrows for displays the trimmed flights are permitted. How many flights you need will depend on the current safety standards, in the following example we will assume you need four 4.5 inch flights.


Step 1. First cut the flights to length.


Step 2. Trim about 5mm of feather from each end of the flight.

Step 3. Mark two lines on your shafts between which you will place your flights, the upper mark should be at least two inches from the nock, three inches is even better. Modern arrows have the flights as far back as possible but a modern archer is not trying to pull and arrow from a quiver wearing bulky combat gloves. The long length of shaft above the flights makes it easier to draw and reduces the chance of you dropping a second arrow to the ground each time you draw an arrow from the quiver.


Step 4. Using clear contact adhesive spread glue on the shaft between the two marks.

Step 5. Spread glue along the spine of the flight and fit it to the arrow. Some people use a fletching jig for this stage to get everything precise, these can be purchased from an archery supplier. It is not necessary to use a jig as you will soon develop the skill to quickly align the flights.


Step 6. When fitting the flights do not fit any that will align with the nock and bow string or at right angles to the bow shaft.


Step 7. The flights now need to be whipped, that is tied on.

Thread approximately one metre of thread onto a needle.

With the arrow held up right with the flights to the top tie the tread around the shaft and over the trimmed section of the flights at the bottom, as with the nock whipping a little clear adhesive should be applied first.


Wrap the thread around until all of the trimmed section of the flights is covered.


Next with the needle pass the thread through the flights spiralling upwards with approximately 10 mm between each winding of the thread.

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At the top apply some more clear adhesive over the trimmed section of the flights and wind the thread around until they are completely covered, as you approach the end start to tie the thread off, three half hitches, one with each of the last three twists followed by a granny knot to prevent slippage works.

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Finally a little glue over the whipping at the top and bottom of the flights helps keep everything together.

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Blunt. – Before fitting the blunt use a piece of sandpaper to smooth of the edges of the shaft, this will reduce the chance of the shaft cutting through the blunt, if the arrow survives long enough the shaft will eventually cut though and become unsafe to use requiring the blunt to be replaced. Some archers place a small piece of cloth in the blunt before fitting as this extends the life of the blunt.


Markings. – You may think that the colour of your flights is sufficient to identify your arrows, there are however only a limited number of colour combinations and many people find the same colours attractive, plain white feathers seem to be very popular. An additional mark on the shafts with help identify them. Coloured bands just below the flights and above the blunt works well, also popular is the archers initials in runes. The latter is best marked using a pyrography, which is using a hot piece of metal to burn the rune into the shaft.

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For more information, consult the Archers Handbook.