UPDATED ON: October 23rd, 2015
STEP-BY-STEP ARROW BUILDING
Building your own arrows allows you to save about 5 to 10 dollars per dozen, but there’s an even better reason for building your own. You can experiment with all the components, with the various fletching styles and shaft sizes until you find the perfect arrow for your bowhunting requirements.
Making your own arrows is easy and 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.
FEATHERS VS. PLASTIC VANES
Feathers or vanes? That has been a decision that bowhunters have had to make for nearly three decades – ever since the vane came on the market. It is still a decision worth studying.
Feather fletching advantages: Traditionally, bowhunters have long considered feather fletching as the most forgiving. Being very flexible, feathers will move easily out of the way if they contact the arrow rest. Because it is not deflected, an arrow equipped with feathers has the potential to be easier to tune. On the other hand, if you don’t have contact in the first place, feather fletching is no more forgiving than plastic vanes.
Bowhunters who shoot a recurve or longbow with the arrow resting on the shelf, the traditional method, prefer feathers because contact between the fletching and shelf (or sight window) is common. Even with a well-tuned stick bow, feathers offer the best chance for good arrow flight.
Feathers are slightly lighter than plastic vanes of the same length so the initial velocity of the arrow is higher when equipped with feathers. However, feathers cause slightly more drag because they are rougher and wider, and therefore less aerodynamic. Some archers believe that feathers offer much better down-range arrow stability than do vanes for this reason. However, from the data I’ve seen feathers offer only a very small advantage in stability.
If identical shafts, one fletched with 4-inch plastic vanes and one fletched with four-inch feathers, are shot at the same instant the arrow fletched with vanes will overtake the feather fletched arrow after approximately 40-yards. In other words, feather-equipped arrows get to the target first on shots less than 40 yards but lose their speed more quickly than vanes.
Plastic fletching advantages: Plastic vanes are more durable, and easier to maintain than feathers. Vanes are also waterproof, which can be a significant factor when hunting in wet weather. When feathers get soggy, they lay down on your shaft, greatly reducing their profile and stabilizing ability. This also adds weight to the shaft. Waterproofing powders will keep your feathers dry under the worst conditions.
In just the past five years, the variety and quality of plastic vanes on the market has really taken a turn for the better. You can select short, stiff, high profile vanes, or long, supple, low profile vanes and everything in between. Later in this column, I’ll offer a few thoughts on sorting out the options.
When choosing fletching, I suggest that you first try vanes first because they offer the greatest durability and weather-resistance. If you simply can’t eliminate rest contact and achieve good arrow flight then go to feathers.
HEAVY ON THE HELICAL
Helical fletching is required for maximum stability. A spinning arrow is much less likely to wind plane than one that knuckleballs. I remember early in my bowhunting career spending many long hours trying to get my straight-fletched broadhead-tipped arrows to group together. Out of six or eight arrows, I was happy if I could get two to hit the same spot at 20 yards. As soon as I realized the problem was my fletching, my groups instantly tightened.
With past arrow rest designs you were always concerned about having too much helical. If the helical offset angle was excessive, it was impossible to feed the fletching through the gap in the rest. However, with today’s drop-away rests, helical offset angle becomes irrelevant. The more the merrier. A fast spinning arrow is more stable than a slow spinning arrow.
With Whisker Biscuit style full-containment rests, you can still use an aggressive helical offset angle as long as you use short, stiff fletching such the NAP QuikSpin Speed Hunter ST or Bohning Blazer vanes.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FLETCHING LENGTH
For 20 years, experts recommended only 5-inch fletching for hunting. You were a heretic if you even suggested putting four-inch fletching on the same arrow with a broadhead. Today, many bowhunters are shooting broadheads accurately with 2-inch fletching. Of course, the type of broadhead, arrow and arrow speed all make a difference. But the fact remains that we have proven that you are no long confined to 5-inch fletching.
For example, if you’re shooting expanding-blade mechanical broadheads you can use short fletching at any arrow speed and enjoy good accuracy. A few bowhunters using fixed-blade heads have told us the same thing, but we tend to be more conservative. When trying to shoot fast arrows with fixed-blade heads you need more stability. Under these conditions – anything over 260 feet per second – you should start out using the longer 4-inch fletching.
Fletching length also affects tuning when using a conventional arrow rest. It is easier to tune an arrow with short fletching because it is easier to avoid contact with the rest. However, again, drop-away rests eliminate most of these tuning concerns.
RIGHT VS. LEFT HELICAL FLETCHING
We recently received this question from a bowhunter and felt it would offer valuable insight in the context of choosing arrow fletching.
“I was told that you should use straight fletching with a two-prong rest. Supposedly, with helical fletching one of the fletchings will hit the rest because of the spinning motion of the arrow and throw your arrow flight off. Is there any truth to this? Which is better, right or left helical? How about if you use a spinning broadhead? I’ve just heard of these. Could I eliminate helical fletching by using one of these?”
Here is our answer: You can (and should) use helical fletching with two-prong launcher arrow rests. Based on Easton’s super-slow motion video work, the arrow doesn’t start to spin until it is several feet beyond the bow. As long as the helical isn’t too aggressive it will fit through the rest just fine. One of the reasons some bowhunters feel large diameter aluminum shafts are more tunable is because these shafts allow them to spread the rest farther so they can get a more aggressive helical through more easily. This applies only to conventional rests – not drop-away rests.
From a tuning standpoint, there is no difference between right or left helical when setting up a bow. Again, going back to Easton’s slow motion video you will see that no spinning occurs before the arrow reaches the rest and therefore helical direction makes no difference. When making your own arrows with feather fletching, make sure to match the helical with the fletching orientation of the clamp. For example, a right helical clamp requires right wing feathers. Plastic vanes are non-directional and therefore will work equally well with either a right or left helical clamp.
A spinning broadhead has the potential to increase the stability of your arrow slightly. But, even with spinning broadheads you still need helical fletching to make the arrow as stable as possible in flight. Just make sure the broadhead and the fletching have the same direction of spin.
Over the past several years arrow wraps have made building your arrows even more enjoyable. Now you can get a variety of custom-made arrows wraps in virtually any color you want and add an extra touch of individualism to your arrows. These wraps are made from durable vinyl material and only take seconds to apply. In addition to looking cool, arrow wraps in bright colors such as white and yellow help increase your arrow’s visibility in flight and make it easier to see where you hit your target. This can be very handy when it comes to properly trailing a wounded animal.
APPLY THE FLETCHING
You need a fletching jig, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. Fletching jigs range from $20 to $75 and are available from Bohning, Bitzenburger and Grayling. You have three clamp options: left helical, right helical and straight (no helical). For hunting and 3-D shooting, 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 ordering.
There are a variety of fletching glues available as well. Some are super-glue type adhesives that set up in seconds, such as the one made by Pine Ridge Archery. Others are more traditional glues and can take several minutes to set up. One of our most popular brands is Fletch-Tite Platinum from Bohning.
Place your fletching in the clamp so that its back edge will be about 3/4 inch ahead of the nock taper or 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. Easton’s technical representatives recommend four to five degrees of helical. We use more ourselves – as much as our clamp allows while still providing solid contact with the arrow – but that’s because we are also shooting drop-away arrow rests. With conventional rests, we would stay closer to Easton’s standard.
When using a straight clamp, (as opposed to a helical clamp) you don’t have as much lee-way and must either install your fletching perfectly straight or with a very slight off-set. This is not our recommendation.
After your fletching is installed, apply a small dab of adhesive to both ends of each for a little added insurance against tearing loose.
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. For limited quantities of aluminum arrows, you can get by with a small rotating pipe cutter. Be careful though, if you don’t watch what you’re doing you can end up with some pretty rough edges and possibly ruin some arrows. You’re far better off pooling your money with a couple of buddies and getting an electric cut-off tool. It is the only choice for cutting carbon arrows.
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 small price.
Don’t take your inserts for granted. Consistent accuracy with broadheads can be difficult to achieve when these components fit loosely. Inserts should install without any free-play. If they are sloppy, look for other brands of inserts before you ever install them. Sloppy inserts will result in very inconsistent accuracy. They should have a slight press fit with the inside of the arrow shaft so they center automatically.The final step when building your own arrows is to square their ends with G5’s Arrow Squaring Device (ASD). It removes material from the end of the insert (or the end of the arrow, with hidden insert systems) and that produces a very square surface against which your broadhead can shoulder. A square arrow gives you a much better chance of achieving a perfectly straight broadhead installation – a prerequisite for good accuracy.
Building your own arrows is not hard and it will open up a whole new world of experimentation in which you can tweak and fine-tune your ammo to perfection.