Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Making Arrows

I have been shooting pistols since 1976.  But before that, I shot arrows, with a recurve bow.  Today, the recurve bow is considered "traditional" along with the far older longbow.  The longbow has a long and glorious history as a weapon of war and hunting.  Indeed, the longbow archers are credited with winning the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. While the recurve bow also has a long and glorious history, going back to the ancient Mongols, the modern recurve developed in the early part of the 20th century, and eventually replaced the longbow as the preferred weapon both for hunting and sport, and reigned supreme until the invention of the compound bow. I have to admit that the compound bow is a superior design, when everything works right. But it is complex, with lots of moving parts, and getting one set up takes more work. But, if I hunted, I would probably use a compound bow because of its superiority in power and speed.

One of the interesting side hobbies to archery is making arrows.  Now, whether you are making wooden arrows, aluminum arrows, or carbon fiber arrows, the basic processes are the same.  None the less, there are differences.

If you are making wooden arrows, you can, of course, go down to the hardware store, buy doweling, cut it to size, fit a nock (the piece that fits up to the bow string), a field point or broadhead, and fletching (the feathers or vanes)  to the thing and shoot it.  But your success would be purely luck.  Rather, you buy wooden arrow shafts, which have been tested already for what is know as "spine" Spine is the stiffness of the arrow measured with specific weights at 28 inches. The heavier the bows draw weight, the stiffer the spine you need.  Unfortunately, you often have to test the spine yourself, and maybe you will find 6 shafts out of a dozen that are equally spined within some tolerance.  The closer the tolerance, the fewer shafts you will find suitable for making arrows.  But, wooden arrows can work well with traditional bows, and the artistry of some arrowsmiths is astonishing.

Carbon Fiber arrow shafts are all the rage right now.  The shafts are lighter for the same stiffness as either wood or aluminum.  They are expensive though, and do break rather spectacularly when they break. and can cut you quite badly.  Further, they don't give any warning when the shaft is damaged.  Carbon requires special care be taken when cutting it because the dust can be breathed in and cause lung damage.

I use aluminum shafts.  Aluminum is light weight, consistent, needs no special care, and ranges from inexpensive to quite expensive depending on your desires. Aluminum is also very forgiving, and when it is damaged, it is obvious.  For going to the range, I use Easton Tribute shafts.  The "Tribute" was a marketing name trying to rip off the popularity of the Hunger Games movies, but that does not take away from Easton's tradition of quality when it comes to providing arrows, and components.  Tribute shafts come with swaged ends for the nocks, and the first step is to glue on a nock.  Almost all of the glues used in archery today are cyanoacrylate glues, or Super Glue.

The next step is fletching.  I prefer to use turkey feathers as opposed to plastic vanes.  Feathers move and lay down as the arrow passes the bow, whereas vanes may tend to kick the arrow out from the bow.  But then again, since most competition archers use carbon arrows with plastic vanes, that may just be rationalization.  In the end, feathers just look better.

You need two colors of feathers.  One, known as the cock feather, is the index.  You want the cock feather point out from the bow.  The two other feathers are called the hen feathers, and they are located at 120 degrees and 240 degrees around the arrow from the cock feather. See here for an illustration of cock and hen feathers.

Naturally, if you had some sort of jig that would allow you to place the feathers at the correct spacing, and align the cock feather at 90 degrees to the string, that would be wonderful.  As it happens, such jigs are made, with a variety of features that can make them expensive.  For straight fletching with feathers, a simple jig is all you need.  Once again, you glue on the feathers with super glue.

The last thing is the point.  I use what are known as field points for shooting targets at the range. They are easier to pull out of the target, and are cheaper than broad heads. Again, on Tribute shafts you use glue in points.

So, there you have a completed arrow, that you made.  Unlike cartridges where the bullet, powder and primer are all used and only the casing can be reused, an arrow can last for years.  When the fletching gets ratty, you can refletch. You can replace nocks and points.  You can even straighten some shafts that aren't too bent.  On the other hand, one never can have too many arrows.

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