Traditional Wood Arrow Building

I am teaching an arrow building class this Sunday, so I thought I’d dust off the ol’ blog and make a post bringing together all the resources for it in a convenient place. This is not a “how-to”, this is mainly a shopping list, plus some useful links that helped me teach myself how to arrow build. I use the phrase “build”, because in modern times, we mostly don’t make arrows from scratch, we buy the components and assemble them. In my opinion, you’re not “making” an arrow unless you make the dowels for the shafting, cut the feathers, etc.

I might change my mind someday, but I have no current interest in making shafting. It just looks so tedious! Honestly, I get just as much, if not more, satisfaction from building my arrows. I can design them exactly to my preference, for slightly less than a commercial arrow, and much much less than custom arrows.

Useful links:

A fantastic overview, “The construction of medieval style arrows” by Karsten vo Meissen mka Karsten Shein is on point. (Ahahahahaha see what I did there?)

When buying arrow shafting, you need to know what length arrow you need. Here’s an article that teaches you how to determine it!

On to the supplies list! I am assuming only 5/16ths or 11/16ths size arrows, given that if you’ve worked your way up to requiring a heavier arrow than that, you know what you’re about and don’t need this post. 😉

Minimum Supplies:
Shafting (5/16ths or 11/16)
Feather fetching
glue on field point tips
glue on nocks
Glues: (Those attending my class are welcome to borrow mine)
Hot melt glue
Duco cement
Fletching tape
Handy tools (Again, attendees welcome to use mine, asterisking what I don’t have):
Taper tool (11/16 and 5/16)
Heat source for hot melt glue (I use a candle, a **glue gun would be nice if ya got it)
**Fletching jig, if gluing on fletchings (I don’t use one, but they are very precise and nice for glue on fletching)

thread (if you want to try spiral wrapping your fletching) Any natural fiber thread is fine, sewing thread will work.

On Field Tip Points:

You want to make sure you get glue on field point tips, 5/16ths or 11/16ths. These also come in different weights, measured in “grains”. 100 grains is a nice safe default across the board, 125 grains will do you fine especially for the thicker diameter arrows, and is sometimes easier to find than 100 grain. These are glued on with hot melt or other “point” glues.

On Shafting:

I am assuming finished shafts, if you buy unfinished shafting you will need a finishing agent of some sort. There are many options, I really like Deft Spray lacquer because of the fast re-coat time. I would personally recommend against unfinished shafting or investing in a fletching jig until you are sure you like making your own arrows. I am not going to get into the finer details of spining, etc, but if you have the choice, go for shafts that have been weighed and spined to each other. General rule of thumb: if you are shooting 30lbs or under, you want 5/16, 30lbs + you want 11/16. There are many different woods that can be used to make arrows, the key characteristics being lightweight but strong and not brittle. Port Orford Cedar is like the Rolls Royce super premium arrow shafting material, but all the arrow shafting linked here will shoot.


On Fletching:

Generally arrows may be fletched with 3 or 4 feathers. You can fletch with all the same colors if you wish, but in the most common fletching style (3 feather) the “cock” feather will need to point away from the body of the bow. Making the cock feather a contrasting color saves you a lot of time when nocking the arrow. Therefore, you want to buy as many cock feathers as you have arrows, and double that number for the contrasting color. Color is irrelevant with a 4 fletched arrow, as they are arranged so you will never foul the bow no matter which way you nock. Fletching comes in “right hand” and “left hand” varieties, depending on which wing the feather was harvested from. Some people swear by a particular kind, but I’ve never noticed much of a difference. Just make sure the feathers you buy match, don’t try to mix left and right hand feathers on the same arrows (or the same set, for that matter!). This will seriously affect your accuracy. This may seem like an obvious statement, but if you get excited about right hand fletching in the color you want for your cock feather, you might neglect to notice that the best priced contrasting color feathers are left handed…
**Tip for my fellow arrow builders on a budget: You often get better prices if you buy in bulk. If you find a good deal on white feathers, you can sharpie the cock feather whatever color you want. Will it look as good? Aw hell naw. But black doesn’t look awful, and you *will* lose your arrows eventually, so it’s honestly not a bad strategy.

On Nocks:

5/16ths or 11/16ths sizes. Modern nocks are made from plastic and are glued on with duco or similar cementing glue. You have the option of buying indexed nocks, which I prefer. Theese have a small ridge on the nock aligned with the cock feather that you can feel with your finger such that you may nock the arrow correctly with the cock feather out without looking at the arrow, which is great for speed. They are more expensive, but honestly nocks are the cheapest component and the indexing makes life so much easier they are worth the splurge or me.
**Tip for my fellow arrow builders on a budget: You can sometimes find shafting with pre-cut self nocks in the arrow the same price. Self nocks are slots actually cut into the shaft of the arrow itself. This saves you a step, a bit of cash, and is actually more period. I don’t recommend the novice arrow builder cut their own self nocks, it is easy to cut off center and/or split the arrow.

On Colors, Materials, and Period Accuracy:

Colors: I like bright colors for my fletching and nocks, because they make it easier to find arrows in tall grass/buried in dirt. These bright colors (pink, purple, yellow, red etc) are not really period. If being or approximating being period is important to you, go with white, black and brown for your feathers, natural wood tones for your shafting, and self nocks or black or white plastic nocks, as this approximates the look of horn.

On Redundancy:

It is not a bad idea to get extra supplies of fletching, nocks, and tips. Nocks will fall off. Tips will break loose or get eaten by targets. Glue will loosen in your hot car or get brittle in January. Feathers will shred with all that hard good shootin’ lovin’ you’re gonna give em. But you will be unphased, with your backup pack of supplies, your glues, and your mad arrow building skills. If you can build it, you can fix it! 🙂

General Suppliers:

Pretty much all of this can be found at Three Rivers Archery and they provide quality stuff. They currently have the best prices on:
field point tips
feather fletching

and always have the best prices on:

hot melt point glue
duco cement
taper tool (actually on sale right now, you can get all three common sizes for 10 bucks, which is really good)
fletching tape

Amazon is a little more expensive  for all of these things but offers prime shipping, so is good for a time crunch.

I have found better prices on fletching, tips, and shafting shopping around on ebay and Amazon, but if you don’t want to fool with all that or take a risk on a internet stranger, 3rivers is always a reliable default. “Internet stranger” jokes aside, I have never had a bad experience with ebay or Amazon sellers. You have to be sensible and pay attention to reviews.

Shaft Suppliers:

The one exception where 3rivers is not competitive is shafting. Their prices are ruinous! You want to go elsewhere if you can.

I got my 11/32 shafts off Amazon, unknown wood, I suspect ramin. I really like them, roughly $26 so most economical, downside is they are coming from China. I got mine faster than estimated but it’s not a guarantee. Finished shafts, and you can opt for self nocks for the same price, which are more period. I prefer plastic indexed nocks, but that’s personal preference.
Cam recommended Nofrontiersarchery. They seem to have the best pricing domestically. They do Sitka Spruce and Port Orford cedar 11/32 arrows, $37 p/dozen, 5/16 cedar shafting $14 p/dozen, discounts for bulk, if people are interested in group orders speak up.
Rose City Archery is a well known supplier of Port Orford Cedar Shafts. You can find them on Amazon with prime shipping, but they don’t have 5/16ths on Amazon.
Surewood Shafts does unfinished Douglas Fir shafts. 11/32 shafts per dozen are 42 and 36 dollars for premium and hunter grades, or they sell 100 hunters for $225, roughly 27 per doz. 5/16 “kids” shafts are $15 per doz, but down side is they are unspined and unweighed. No frontiers is likely better unless you have an attachment to Douglas Fir.
Good “cheater” option: If you can get away with a 26 in or less draw length, Dicks Sporting Goods sells complete cedar youth arrows for what works out to be $36 per dozen, all you’d have to do is remove the plastic vanes and slap feathers on
For if you decide arrow making is not your game: This guy on ebay has dirt cheap complete arrows from China, I was very happy with the set I got from him but you are limited in your options and colors. Can’t comment on the quality of his bare shafts but they are probably fine

Fletching Suppliers:

As with field points, 3rivers is an excellent go to, Amazon will have similar products for slightly higher prices but generally better shipping costs and time, and you may be able to snag a great deal on ebay.

If you know anyone who raises chickens or hunts turkey, you may be able to snag some feathers for free! Wing feathers are preferred, particularly the pinions, which are the long sleek strong feathers on the edges of the wings. However, tail feathers will also make an acceptable fletch.

Nock Suppliers

Nocks are dirt cheap. Buy them anywhere. Don’t like the kind you put on originally? Pull them off, put different ones on, who cares, they weren’t even $4.

These are my favorite, indexed and bright yellow
but if you just can’t swing the extra 55 cent, the non indexed ones will do ya fine.

You can get 100 indexed for 15 dollars on ebay. Nocks for dayyyyys!