QUESTION: I am getting back into archery after 20 years and I would like to build my own arrows. Can you offer a step-by-step approach to building arrows? — Donald Anderson
STEP-BY-STEP ARROW BUILDING
Building your own arrows is much easier than most people realize. In fact, with a few pieces of equipment, you can get started immediately. You can experiment with all the components, with the various fletching styles and shaft sizes until you find the perfect arrow for your bow and your goals.
Building arrows is also fun, not to mention the satisfaction you’ll gain from taking game with arrows you’ve built yourself. Anyone can do it — and do it well. Armed with only a few basic tools and the information offered here, you’ll have no problem turning raw shafts into top-quality hunting arrows.
Most shafts come with nock adapters (and even nocks) installed. If not, simply buy those offered by the shaft manufacturer to complement that shaft style. You have a few options here, but it is not worth pursuing them. The manufacturer’s nock system will work great.
APPLY THE FLETCHING
You need a fletching jig, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. I’ve had good luck with the $20 plastic Martin jig I bought in 1989. Bohning and Bitzenberger are good names in the fletching jig category. You have three clamp options: left helical, right helical and straight (no helical). For hunting, right helical is the most popular choice. If you’ll be using feathers, make sure to order feathers from the same wing as the clamp (right helical takes right wing). Vanes are manufactured straight and can be used with any clamp, so you don’t have to specify left or right when selecting vanes.
The best fletching adhesive I’ve used for vanes is Fast-Set Gel made by AAE. This is a super-glue product that sets up in only 10 seconds allowing you to use a single-clamp jig and still fletch a dozen arrows in less than an hour. Fast-Set Gel will work on most popular shaft styles and fletching brands. Fletch-Tite from Bohning is still the best choice for feather fletching, however.
Place your fletching in the clamp so that its back edge will be about 3/4 inch ahead of the nock bushing on your arrow. Adjust the back of the magnet on your jig (the magnet holds the clamp in place while the glue dries) inward or outward until the tail of the fletching sits squarely on top of the arrow. Next, adjust the forward end of the magnet to achieve the desired amount of helical offset. Easton’s technical representatives recommend four to five degrees of helical. I use a bit more myself — as much as I can use and still achieve correct contact between the base of the fletching and arrow.
When using a straight clamp, (as opposed to a helical clamp) you don’t have as much leeway and must either install your fletching perfectly straight or with a very slight offset. I don’t recommend straight fletching clamps when building hunting arrows. Helical is much better and with today’s drop-away rests, you can easily get them out of the bow without contacting the rest.
After you install your fletchings, apply a small dab of adhesive to both ends of each for a little added insurance against tearing loose.
You have more freedom to experiment with your fletching style and degree of helical than with any other aspect of arrow building, but it’s still best to observe a few general ground-rules. When making aluminum arrows for hunting, stick with four to five inch fletching. Five inch is a bit better because (in theory at least) it offers a small amount of added stability, which can make a difference when shooting broadheads.
Carbon arrows, because of their smaller diameter, work well with shorter fletching (four inches is a good starting point). You can also experiment with various fletching orientations, such as 70/110-degree four-fletch, (you make this change by inserting a different indexing template into your fletching jig). But the basic 120-degree, three-fletch will do just fine under almost every shooting situation.
A note of caution: it is very important when installing the fletching to set the clamp exactly the same way every time. The Fast Set glues will take hold immediately when the base of the fletching is set against the arrow. If you don’t take this step carefully, you will get inconsistent gaps between your fletchings. Rather than being 120 degrees apart, some gaps will be 110 and some will be 130 degrees. This won’t affect short-range shots, but it will produce an unbalanced arrow that will decrease consistency at long range.
CUTTING ARROWS TO LENGTH
Draw an arrow and have someone mark it about a half to 3/4 inch in front of the rest. Cutting arrows is easy with the right equipment, but with the wrong equipment, it can be a real headache. Your best bet is to pool your money with a couple of buddies and buy an electric cut-off saw. You can also take your arrows to a pro shop (that’s equipped with a cut-off tool) to have them sized — usually for a price.
INSTALLING INSERTS AND OUTSERTS
Inserts and outserts (outserts are used with some types of carbon arrows) shouldn’t be taken for granted. Consistent accuracy with broadheads can be difficult to achieve when these components fit loosely. Inserts and outserts should install without any free-play. Usually you don’t have too many options with outserts — you get what the arrow maker offers — but you do have options with inserts. Make sure the ones you use fit snugly.
Aluminum inserts used in aluminum or composite carbon and aluminum arrows should be installed with hot-melt glue. Composite inserts in aluminum work best with epoxy, and the same applies for aluminum into carbon shafts or when installing metal outserts on conventional all-carbon shafts. When you’re finished you can install a broadhead and spin test your arrows to make sure the inserts are properly aligned.
Equipment List for Making Your Own Arrows
- Fletching jig with clamp (right helical to start)
- Shafts (most come with nock bushings installed)
- Fletching (four inch for hunting)
- Inserts or outserts (outserts for some all-carbon arrows)
- Small propane torch (for use with hot melt glue or when removing components installed with epoxy)
- Arrow cut-off tool
- Hot melt glue (alum. inserts and bushings into alum. shafts)
- Rubber-based epoxy (carbon inserts into alum. or metal inserts or outserts with carbon shafts)
- Fletching cement (Fletch-Tite or AAE Fast-Set Gel for vanes and Fletch-Tite for feathers)