Sunday, October 12, 2008

Arrow Making

I see a lot of questions posted on archery forums asking for tool and material recommendations.

Foremost in these questions is what kind of fletching tool to buy and use. The usual answer is a Bitzenberger. The Bitz is a great tool. It is made of metal and will last a very long time. The only problem is cost; this jig will run about $74.95. An extra clamp (to use a different wing feather) is $29.95. Some folks will be happy to pay this for a very good tool that is essentially the standard of the industry. Personally, I like getting a good value for the money I spend and the Bitzenburger is too costly for that (my opinion). I use Vador jigs for $27.99. The Vador is made of injection molded plastic and is fully adjustable for how the feather sits on the shaft.
Don't get me wrong, the Bitz is a great jig. But for the price of a Bitz clamp I can get a complete jig that will give me years of service (the first Vador I bought is now about 15 years old and still going strong) and will turn out an arrow that is indistinguishable from one fletched on a Bitzenburger.

After jigs folks ask about taper tools. The taper tool performs a very important task by cutting the ends of the wood arrow shaft to match the nock and the point so they fit well and have perfect alignment. You can get little plastic pencil sharpener-type tools that are only a few bucks and they work great for occasional use. For a handful more money there is the Tru-Taper tool made of machined aluminum. Some people like this tool but I have had a devil of a time getting good results out of it. Unhappily, many others have the same results as I. I currently use the Tru-Taper to cut excess finish off the nock taper before I glue on the nocks but I do not use it for actually cutting tapers. For about $130 I settled on a Woodchuck power taper tool. Check an archery supply catalog or website for a picture of the Woodchuck but it's electric powered, reliable, and tapers any kind of hardwood or softwood arrow shaft. An individual handy with tools can also make a guide for using an existing bench sander. If a bench sander is already at hand this is a great, relatively inexpensive, option.

I've used a lot of different woods for arrow shafts: Port Orford cedar, Sitka spruce, hickory, ramin, bamboo, poplar... they all work great so long as you choose the right material for the purpose.

Store bought fletching will usually be domestic turkey. Trueflight and Gateway are the two main suppliers of fletching. I use both depending upon the color or pattern I want to use. Gateway has a beautiful 'camo' pattern available but for a barred feather I like the Trueflight better. Both companies also have a great assortment of solid colors. Besides colors, the big difference between these two companies is the way they grind their bases. You’ll want to try each one to see what works best for you. I like both.
There are some smaller feather suppliers out there so keep your eyes open on places like eBay for good deals. While feathers are available pre-cut to shape I prefer to get them full length and cut my own with feather choppers as it simplifies my feather inventory.

There are a lot of choices in arrow finish. Polyurethane, spar varnish, gasket lacquer, Bohning lacquer, Tru-Oil, tung oil, etc. Just about any clear finish meant to seal and protect wood will work well. I’ve chosen gasket lacquer for the arrows I make. It’s tough, gives an excellent finish that resists 3D target burn better than anything I’ve seen, and is easy to use. If you want to use something readily available in your area without having to order it, get some water-based polyurethane at your local paint or hardware store and have fun. Follow the directions for the finish you choose and you’ll have good results.

For staining arrow shafts I use water-based wood stains, oil-based wood stains, water-based aniline stains, leather dye, and Rit dye mixed with denatured alcohol. They all work great so it just depends upon the color I want to achieve. If I want an opaque cap dip I turn to water-base acrylic craft paint, the same stuff I use for cresting. It’s cheap, available in more colors than I’ll ever need to use, and easy to use.

I don’t really have any great arrow making secrets. It’s actually fairly easy to put together a nice set of arrows if one pays attention to details, big details as well as small details. Details add up to a fine looking arrow that goes where you want it to go, whether that’s at a gold target center at 90m or a California coastal pig at 14 yards.
If you have arrow making questions I’ll be happy to take a shot at them. I’ll be clear on what is my opinion as opposed to accepted fact and let you know if I don’t know the answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen Guy's arrows and they are works of art.

He is also the type of craftsman that will tell you how to do what he does and really makes no secret of his process.