Arrow Crafting
Not only does building your own arrows save money,
but it can greatly improve the quality of them.
By Mike Veine

I’ve always been a stickler for details, and that panache for near perfection is readily apparent with my bowhunting equipment, especially my arrows. I’ve been building my own arrows for 30 years. I save $10 or more per dozen by building my own and I have fun in the process. I also use premium components, and by following proven techniques my arrows are always the best they can be.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was bowhunting for whitetails from a ground blind when a good buck presented a high percentage, close-range shot opportunity. At the shot, the buck recoiled and scampered away a short distance before stopping to look back at what had scared him. The buck then snorted an alarm and ran away unscathed.

Baffled, my friend recovered his arrow and upon examination he was shocked to see that all of the vanes had torn loose. In fact, all the arrows in his quiver suffered from the same malady. He had just purchased those rather expensive, new, carbon arrows from a discount sporting good store and had not shot them yet. Because they were the same model and size as the ones he had been shooting, he just assumed that they’d be OK. His lack of attention to detail cost him dearly. Savvy bowhunters that properly build their own arrows can avoid such a disaster.

Shaft Selection and Cutoff
Bulk shafts are typically purchased by the dozen, which is where the main savings comes in when building your own arrows. Depending on the manufacture, raw shafts are typically sold in 34-inch lengths. Unless you have exactly a 34-inch draw length, then you’ll need to size the shafts by cutting them off.

Shafts can be cut off using two different methods. The cheapest, and the one I mostly use, requires a shat cut-off tool that functions like a pipe cutter. These tools cost $20 to 30, but will only work on aluminum shafts. The cut must be perfectly clean to provide proper alignment of the insert or bushing. After cutting my shafts with such a tool, I then smooth off the end that was cut off using a jig made from scrap 2×4. The jig has several holes drilled through it to fit various sized shafts. The holes hold the shaft straight while I lightly file the end until it’s smooth and flat. I then use a dremel rotary tool to ream out the interior of the cut to remove any burs.

For carbon arrows you’ll need to use an electric arrow cut-off saw. Those saws also work great on aluminum shafts. An electric cut-off saw represents the largest investment that an arrow builder might consider. The A1-Arrow Saw made by Apple Archery Products is a good saw that retails for about $115. I’s sometimes wise to get together with a few friends, pool your funds, and buy one together. I just take my carbon shafts to an archery pro shop to have them cut. Even with a cut-off saw, though, the edges sometimes must be smoothed out using a dremel tool.

Installing Inserts
Inserts should fit snugly and must align perfectly. I prefer aluminum inserts like the ones made by Easton. For aluminum shafts, I use Bohing Ferr-L-Tite hot glue. Screw an old field point into the insert and then clamp onto it with vice-grips. Using a small propane torch, heat up the insert and the end of the shaft. Apply a small amount of the glue to the insert and then push it into the shaft until seated fully. Before the glue cools and hardens, wipe the excess off with a rag. Installed in this manner, the inserts can be rotated for broadhead alignment or removed by simply reheating them.

Carbon shafts require the use of an epoxy to adhere the inserts. I’ve used Bohning’s AAE Epoxy, which is a flexible adhesive ideally suited for inserts and bushings on carbon shafts. Once inserts are installed, screw n a broadhead and spin test it. I use an arrow straightener for this function, which will also check shaft straightens in the process. Spin the shaft by quickly rolling it and if the head wobbles at all, remove the insert and install a new one. With carbon shafts, this process must be done before the epoxy sticks.

Vanes or Feathers?
Bowhunters have been debating the virtues of feather fletching versus plastic vanes for as long as I can remember. I started out using feather as they provided more forgiveness off the crude arrow rests used in those olden days. When tests evolved to allow total fletching clearance, I switched over to plastic vanes and haven’t looked back since. Vanes are just about impervious to the weather and much more durable than feathers. Feathers are also much noisier in flight and the racket made from brushing anything against feathers has been the undoing of many bowhunters. I may take some flack for this, but unless you’re having arrow flight problems, I recommend using quality plastic vanes for bowhunting.

Many top archer use feathers. Scott Purks, one of the country’s best 3-D archers, prefers feathers even with his Mathew’s bow equipped with a drop-away rest. He says, “Feathers are kind of a pain, but they seem to shoot a little more accurately, especially at extremely long ranges.” Feathers are lighter than vanes, which equates to slightly faster arrow speeds.

When you build your own arrows, you can pick and choose from various fletchings. I prefer vanes that are very thin and flexible. Because arrows will be smashed in bow cases and otherwise bent and folded, vanes that pop back to their original shape are especially desirable. I’ve been using Easton vanes for many years and have been very happy with them. Bohning, Duravane, Arizona, Sims Vibration Labs, Flex-Fletch and others also make high-quality vanes.

Fletching color choices are virtually limitless and arrow builders have the ability to mix and match what ever colors they desire. Some bowhunters prefer colors that blend in. For them, camo fletching is available. Years ago, I used olive-drab fletchings, but today I prefer bright-colored fletching and florescent nocks so that I can watch my arrow flight better. Red and orange colors are my favorites as they provide good visibility, yet they still blend in with the fall woods as the leaves turn colors. Bright colors also make it easier to find arrows on the ground.

Most bowhunters use either 4- or 5-inch fletchings. As a rule, use longer fletching on larger-diameter shafts. For skinnier shafts, 4-inch or smaller fletching usually work best. It often pays to experiment though for optimal broadhead flight.

Applying Fletching
A fletching jig is required for proper fletching alignment o the shaft. I recommend a single arrow-fletching jig, which will ensure identical fletching alignment on every arrow made. I’ve been using the same Jo-Jan Mono Fletcher for as long as I can remember, and it works great, costing less than $40. Bitzenburger, Cabela’s and Bohning also offer quality fletching jigs.

When purchasing a fletching jig, you’ll have three options: right helical, left helical and straight fletch. Most bowhunters prefer a right-helical fletching. Right helical means that if you look down the shaft from the nock end, the fletching will angle to the right. Right helical will spin the arrow clockwise. Feather fletching users should be aware that the wing of the feather must match the helical direction. For instance, right-wing feathers require a right-wing helical fletching jig. You can also choose from three-fletch or four-fletch models. Most bowhunters use three-fletch arrows.

Ron Quick builds custom arrows at Outdoorsman (317/881-7446) a full-service archery pro shop in Greenwood, Indiana. Ron says, “Cleaning the shaft thoroughly before gluing on the fletching is the key to making them stick properly. We fist soak both aluminum and carbon shafts in acetone prior to fletching them. After that we go over the shaft with a Scotch Bright pad and water. The final cleaning step is wiping the shaft with denatured alcohol. Be warned, though, that acetone and alcohol are both highly flammable liquids.” Bohning offers a product called SSR Surface Conditioner specifically designed to degrease and prepare aluminum or carbon shafts for painting and fletching. I use acetone, but I just put some on a rag and then wipe the shaft with the stuff.

Quick added, “After the alcohol dries we glue on the fletching using Bitzenburger jigs. We just started using the new Bohning Fletch-Tite Platinum glue and love the stuff. It will glue any type of fletching to any shaft material, even the slippery carbon ones. Some of the quick-set glues that we have tried have not held well to graphite.”

For release shooters, place your fletching in the clamp so the back of the fletching is 3/4-inch from the end of the shaft( not the end of the nock). Finger shooters should use a 1-inch spacking. I set my fletching jig for a five-degree right helical, which is a common setting for a bowhunting arrow. I lay a very small bead of Fletch-Tight glue down the length of the vane and then gently press the vane in place on the jig.

With Fletch-Tire glue, I wait about five minutes before removing the fletching from the clamp, rotating the shaft and then repeating the process for the next fletching. It takes about 15 minutes for the glue to harden completely and that’s when I apply a small dab of glue on the from and back of each vane for added durability. After the fletching are installed, check for any excess glue that may have bulged out along the edge of the fletchings. I use a scalpel to trim away any excess.

Fletching Removal
Just about every one of my shooting sessions results in damaged fletchings. Arrow maintenance is another good reason to get into building your own arrows. If I had to take my damaged arrows to the pro-shop for repair, I’d go broke in a hurry. I remove my fletching with a dull knife. However, for those that need a special tool for everything, Cabela’s, Saunders and Norway offer fletch strippers. Bow & Arrow Hunting Editor Joe Bell really likes the Zip Strip model by Norway Industries.

After scraping most of the glue off the shaft, I then go over it with coarse steel wool and then follow the same procedure as described earlier for cleaning the shaft prior to applying the fletchings. Incidentally, for small tears in the vanes of my practice arrows, I sometimes just use a little Super Glue to reconnect the tear. The next time I replace a fletching on that flawed arrow, though, I replace the cobbled vane.

Dipping, Cresting and Wrapping
Dipping, cresting and wrapping arrows allows archers to customize their arrows. Adding a personal touch to your arrows is fun and the colors and designs one can create are limitless. I personally don’t bother to dress up my arrows anymore, although I’ve experimented with dipping and wraps in the past. Before cresting, dipping or wrapping, it is highly recommended to clean our shafts using the same procedure used prior to gluing on fletchings. In fact, dipping and cresting is typically done prior to installing the nock and fletchings.

I’d recommend buying a cresting kit like the one offered by Bohnng. Their kit contains everything needed to create personalized arrows including a motorized spinner to rotate the shafts for painting. Bohning also sells an instructional video for customizing your arrows.

Arrow wraps are also available through Bohning or Easy-Eye. Wraps are stickers that are rolled around the arrow shaft to create designs. Buying and applying wraps is much easier and cheaper than cresting arrows, but the degree of personalization is limited to the wrap designs available.

Dipping arrows is nothing more than painting the end of the shaft under the fletchings. Most bowhunters dip their arrows in paint to allow better visibility of the arrow when shot at game. The proliferation of video taping of bowhunters has certainly increased the number of bowhunters dipping their arrows. It’s much easier for the camera to pick up arrows dipped in brightly colored paint. White is the color choice of most pro videographers.

As a final step in the arrow building process, I apply a light coat of silicone to my arrows. This serves three purposes: First, it causes water to bead up on the shaft and run off. It also allows the arrow to be drawn over the rest with much less friction and resulting noise. Lastly, the silicone may enhance penetration.

Building your own arrows allows you to experiment with different components, helical settings and other arrow nuances to fine-tune your setup for optimal performance. It’s a lot like a rifle reloader working up a particular load to perform best in their firearm. Arrow builders fine-tune their load as well, but we just go about it a lot quieter.

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