Bowhunting 101: Arrow Building in 10 Easy Steps
June 29, 2016
With spring upon us, a new shooting season has finally arrived. So, it seems appropriate to kick off Bowhunting 101 with an in-depth look at the important craft of arrow building.
There are many advantages to building your own arrows. You probably won't save money doing it — at least not at first, as you gather all the necessary tools of the trade — but you will have total control over the quality of the arrows you shoot.
You'll be able to customize the look of your shafts and easily experiment with a variety of components until you find the perfect setup for the way you shoot. You'll save a lot of trips to the pro shop by being able to replace damaged vanes.
And last, but certainly not least, you'll gain a much better understanding of arrow flight and how the choices you make in terms of shaft, vane and broadhead selection impact things such as arrow speed, flight trajectory and target penetration.
The bare necessities of arrow building begin with the arrow components themselves. The choices are nearly endless, with plenty of models designed to fit just about everyone's shooting style and budget. Regardless of your direction, however, every arrow is going to include these items.
Shafts: A bare arrow shaft is simply the hollow tube that comprises the bulk of the arrow, without a nock, insert or fletching. You can buy bare arrow shafts at any number of online retailers and from any good archery shop. Carbon shafts are the choice of the vast majority of modern bowhunters, though some old-school diehards still prefer aluminum, and aluminum/carbon hybrid shafts such as Easton's Full Metal Jacket also have a loyal following.
Experimenting with different shaft styles is fun and a great way to find the best performance, flight and accuracy for your bow. Shafts are available in a variety of weights, with lighter options designed to maximize speed and heavier options designed to maximize downrange energy and penetration.
Arrow shafts are also generally sorted according to straightness, with straighter shafts commanding a higher price than those with less stringent tolerances. No matter what style you choose, make certain to consult the manufacturer's shaft selection chart and purchase the model with the proper spine (stiffness) for your draw length and draw weight.
Arrow wraps: This is the only non-essential item on our list, but they have become so popular they're worth mentioning. From popular logos, bright colors, patriot themes and more, adhesive arrow wraps placed around the shaft before the fletching is applied allow you virtually unlimited options for bumping up the "cool factor" on your arrows.
Fletching: As with shafts, you have many options regarding the size and style of fletching you apply. Again, the vast majority of modern bowhunters lean toward short, high-profile vanes such as Bohning's Blazer. But you can really get creative here. You can try longer, lower-profile vanes. You can experiment with a variety of vane shapes such as shield cut, and a variety of grooves and textures molded into the vanes.
You can use natural features instead of plastic vanes. And you can experiment with using four, five or even six vanes on a shaft instead of the traditional three. If you don't like a certain style you can just scrape them off and start over.
Inserts: Inserts are placed into the front of the arrow and have threading that allows you to screw in your fieldpoints and broadheads. Inserts usually come loose with your shafts so you can glue them in after cutting the shafts to the correct length. Although inserts are most common, some companies use outserts that extend from the end of the shaft. There are also a variety of aftermarket inserts and outserts available, and they come in various materials.
Aluminum is most common, but a variety of stainless steel models are available for those looking to increase overall arrow weight and boost FOC weight distribution.
Nocks: Like inserts, nocks typically come with your arrow shafts. They are often installed at the factory, though sometimes they come loose. And like inserts, there are a variety of aftermarket nocks available that will allow you to customize your arrows. You can select premium nocks for a better fit on your bowstring or choose a different sized string groove if the nocks that came with your shafts fit too tightly or loosely.
And of course, probably the most popular custom nock option among bowhunters is to go with an illuminated model such as the Lumenok from Burt Coyote Co. Lighted nocks make it much easier to see your arrows in flight, determine the location of the hit and recover the arrow after the shot.
Tools of the Trade
Arrow cutoff saw: You'll need an arrow cutoff saw to trim your shafts down to size to match your draw length. Do not try to cut arrows with anything other than a cutoff saw, as ensuring the arrow ends are cut perfectly square to the shaft is critical to good flight.
Arrow squaring device: I use a G5 A.S.D. on every arrow I make, just to be sure the end of the shaft is as square as possible before I install the insert. Then after the insert cures in place, I square the shaft again with the insert installed.
Wire shaft brush: Scuffing the inside of carbon shafts prior to gluing the insert will greatly enhance bond strength and prevent your inserts from coming out when you remove your arrow from a target. Although you can find brush kits for archers, the ones you may already have in your gun-cleaning kit will work just fine, too.
Fletching jig: A fletching jig is the device that holds the arrow shaft and vane during the gluing process. One of the best-known jigs, and likely the one that you'll see in use at your local pro shop, is the Bitzenburger, which uses a base to hold the arrow and a fletching clamp that holds the vane or feather in place.
In more recent years, a variety of manufacturers have created smaller, simpler jigs geared toward do-it-yourself arrow builders. And several of those, such as Bohning's Helix Tower Jig, allow users to apply three vanes at once, which greatly reduces the amount of time required to fletch 12 shafts.
With a good jig, you will be able to place your fletchings precisely where you want them on the shaft regardless of its diameter. You will also be able to adjust vane orientation (straight, offset or helical). Some jigs will even allow you to install a different template allowing you to quickly and precisely four-fletch your shafts if you want to experiment.
Adhesives: Regardless of your arrow style, you're going to need some glue to build them. For inserts/outserts, you can never go wrong using epoxy or Bohning's Ferr-L-Tite hot melt glue. But for your vanes or feathers, you'll need to consult the instruction manual to find the best process (prepping and adhesives) for attaching their products to your shafts.
Generally speaking, a quality instant adhesive such as Pine Ridge Archery's Instant Arrow Glue will work well for most popular plastic vanes used by bowhunters.
Last month, we dove into the topic of arrow building and why it is a skill every serious bowhunter should learn. Building your own arrows gives you total control over the quality and specifications of your projectiles, allowing you to customize them to fit both your budget and your bowhunting style.
Knowing how to build arrows will also save you some trips to the local pro shop and let you easily handle tasks such as repairing damaged vanes and experimenting with different types of vanes, nocks, inserts and other components to see how they impact arrow flight and in-the-field performance.
Step 1: Install the nocks if they weren't already installed at the factory. This step takes only a few seconds. The nocks press into the rear end of each arrow. The number one requirement is that the nocks be aligned perfectly with the shaft. As long as they aren't damaged, and the manufacturer has maintained tight tolerances so the nock slides in snugly, that should be a given.
Step 2: Prep your shafts and vanes for fletching by cleaning them. The fletching manufacturer may recommend a specific cleaning agent, but if not, use denatured alcohol. Clean both the rear of the shaft where the vanes will be applied and the base of each vane.
Step 3: Place the shaft in the fletching jig. The nock will fit into a receiver in the jig's base. If using a jig that applies one vane at a time, you will turn the nock receiver to index it before each vane is applied.
Step 4: Align the vane clamp. On traditional fletching jigs, a strong magnet will normally hold the clamp in place. If needed, adjust the clamp so the rear contact point where the vane meets the shaft is in the center of the shaft. You can then adjust the forward position of the clamp to control the degree of helical offset applied to the vanes.
When using newer jig styles that attach multiple vanes at once, the clamp alignment and amount of offset or helical vane orientation will be built into the jig design. If this is the type of jig you want to use, I recommend a model that produces a helical vane orientation, such as the Bohning Helix Tower Jig shown in the photos at left.
Step 5: Place a vane in the clamp or clamps. If you are using a traditional jig, you'll want to slide the vane up or down inside the clamp until it is roughly one inch from the rear end of the shaft when you place the clamp on the fixture. For subsequent vanes, remember to place them into the clamp at exactly the same point. You can experiment with the exact positioning of the vanes later, if you wish, to see if different positions produce a more stable, accurate arrow. This ability to experiment is the main reason to build your own arrows.
If you are using a newer jig that applies all three vanes at once, however, the placement and orientation of your vanes is likely built in and not adjustable. In this case, simply place a vane into each slot and move on.
Step 6: Glue the vanes in place. While the vanes are still in the clamp(s), apply a thin bead of adhesive to the base(s). Depending on which style of adhesive you use, less can be more. So, start with a thin bead.
If you are using a jig that applies all the vanes at once, simply bring the jig's clamps up against the shaft and follow the jig instructions for securing them in proper position for the vanes to adhere to the shaft. Wait at least a minute (it can take much longer with some adhesives) before opening the clamps and sliding them gently out of the way.
If you are using a jig that applies one vane at a time, position the clamp so the vane is pressed solidly against the shaft and wait the required length of time for your adhesive to set before gently opening and removing the clamp. Then, rotate the nock receiver on the jig fixture to rotate the shaft into position for the second vane and repeat the gluing process. Simply repeat this process until the prescribed number of vanes (three, four, etc.) is applied.
Step 7: Cut your shafts down to size. Start by drawing back one of your arrows and having someone carefully mark the shaft roughly half an inch in front of the rest. Next, set the guide on your cutoff saw to the measured length and cut all your shafts. If you have a previous batch of arrows and want your new ones the same length, you can also use one of your old arrows as a guide. Make sure to wear eye protection while using your cutoff saw to prevent injury from any flying debris.
Step 8: Square the front end of your shaft using an arrow-squaring tool such as G5's A.S.D. This will remove any uneven edges and ensure your arrow inserts or outserts seat perfectly against the end of the arrow, or in the case of a hidden insert system, that the broadhead seats perfectly square against the shaft.
Step 9: Glue in the insert or outsert. First, prep the interior of the shaft by using a small wire brush to scuff the shaft walls. This will result in a much stronger adhesive bond between the shaft and the insert and prevent the inserts from coming loose when you remove your arrows from targets.
Next, use a cotton swab and alcohol to clean the inside of the arrow shafts. Finally, use the hot melt glue or epoxy you purchased for this job and install your inserts. Be careful to wipe away any excess adhesive from the shaft once inserts are installed.
As with the adhesive used on your vanes, your inserts will need time to cure. Although hot melt glue and some instant adhesives cure very rapidly, epoxy and many other products require significant setting time. Follow manufacturer instructions carefully. Generally speaking, I like to let new arrows sit overnight before handling them again just to be sure everything is secure.
Step 10: Square your inserts. Repeat the same process you used on your bare shaft ends to square up the end of the insert or outsert to ensure the broadhead seats perfectly straight against it. You can skip this step if you are using a hidden insert system, since you already squared the end of the shaft itself earlier.
That's it; your new, custom-made arrows are ready to shoot. Simply install your fieldpoints or broadheads and hit the range!