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Making and assembling your own arrows
In this article in the series on building your own bow equipment Cleve Cheney gives instructions on how to make arrows for a traditional bow.
> Figure 1: Wooden shafts
Having made your own bow the next logical step is to make your own arrows. This is a very gratifying activity. Not only will you have the satisfaction of making something from scratch, but you can also produce something which is unique.
> Figure 2: Tapering tool
As this series has dealt with traditional bows, let's stick to traditional wooden arrows. You will have to decide on the type of wood to use (figure 1). There are a number of woods available for arrow shafts, with Port Orford cedar being the standard against which all others are compared. And let it be said from the outset that no other wood will smell as wonderful as cedar wood. This fact alone sets it apart and makes it my favourite.
Table 1 lists the woods suitable for arrow shafts as well as their characteristics. The suppliers of shaft materials are all in the USA, but they are happy to supply South African customers. The suppliers are Kustom King, Sagittarius, Cedarsmith and Bingham Projects. Their contact details, products and ordering information can be found on their websites. Shaft materials are generally available in 5/16 inch, 11/32 inch and 23/64 inch diameters.
Once you have decided on the type of wood for your shafts, you will need feathers (if you want to go the traditional route), glue on nocks with an internal cone-shaped taper, aluminium point glue on adapters, or glue on field points/broadheads, also with internal cone-shaped taper.
Assembling the arrows
> Figure 3: Nocks with internal taper
Make sure the shafts are spined to the weight of the bow they are to be shot from. Inspect the shafts and make sure they are straight. Although shafts can be straightened they tend to warp again over time. For this reason I generally discard shafts that are not straight and true. The shafts must then be cut to the length you require. They can at this juncture – if required – be stained. The nock and point end are now cut to the correct taper using a tapering tool, which is a gadget very similar to a pencil sharpener (figure 2). The shafts can be crested with your own design (crest) to make them personal and unique. A cresting tool is most helpful for this exercise.
> Figure 4: Nock alignment
Internal taper nocks come in a variety of colours and shapes (figure 3). The nock can be glued onto the taper of the nock end. Make sure it is correctly aligned with the axis of the shaft (figure 4). An out of true nock can lead to great inaccuracy. Remember this is the point of contact with the bow via the bowstring. If the "launch pad" is skew you cannot expect the missile to fly straight! As an alternative a nock can be cut into the shaft itself and strengthened with sinew and glue. For those wanting to go the whole hog instead of buying manufactured plastic nocks they can be self-made/carved from hard woods or legally obtained ivory. When cutting nocks directly into the wood it is likely to split. Strengthen this area by wrapping with sinew, strong twine or dental floss and then applying glue (figure 5).
> Figure 5: Wooden nocks
Feathers can be obtained from archery suppliers and Trueflight and Gateway Feathers in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes (figure 6). Alternatively you can "make your own" fletches from turkey, goose, duck or other suitable bird feathers. Normally the primary wing feathers or tail feathers are used. If you decide to use helical feathers – commercial or otherwise – make sure that all the feathers have the same helical twist. Don't mix them. If you are making your own and wish to shape feathers, there are four options – use a pre-shaped die cutter, which will deliver a consistent shape, a feather burner, scissors or scalpel blade. A burner will also provide a consistent shape, but if you risk burning feathers inside your home, be prepared to be banished. Burning feather emits the most awful smell that will not make you very popular with your family. It is difficult to cut consistently with scissors or scalpel blade.
You can add to the individuality and uniqueness of your arrows by splicing feathers. This means joining feathers of different colours to produce a very attractive appearance (figure 7). The technique is also called feather mending. There are two basic reasons for feather splicing. The first is purely aesthetic. A feather splice can add a very distinctive touch to your arrow making and set your arrows apart from any others. There is a practical side as well. A bow hunter may like the idea of having bright feathers to be able to see an arrow in flight, but not want an entire quiver full of brightly fletched arrows that may draw unwanted attention. A practical solution is to splice a section of bright colour to the back of one or each of the otherwise drab coloured fletches.
> Figure 6: Fletches
Fletchtite adhesive will work well for gluing feathers to wooden shafts.
You have a number of options for points. The "dyed in the wool" traditionalist may decide to flintknap hunting points from suitable stone material. This is an art and craft all on its own deserving of its own set of articles. A flintknapped hunting point is tied onto the end of the shaft with sinew and glued (figure 8). For more conventional points an aluminium adapter is glued onto the tapered end of the shaft. It has an internal thread which will accept commercial field points and broadheads. One weakness I have discovered with this system is that the shafts are inclined to break at the juncture between adapter and shaft. This could be strengthened by wrapping and gluing at this point. Alternatively there are glues on field points, Judo points and broadheads available that have an internal taper.
By the time you have finished you will have custom-made arrows that are functional, attractive and unique (figure 9) and that you can be proud of.
About the Author
Cleve Cheney, hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.
Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.
Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.
His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.