Thursday, January 28, 2010


I am of the firm belief that arrows should be beautiful.

They may be primitive, they may be rough, and it may be only in the eyes of their maker, but arrows should always be beautiful.

And that includes the nock.

There’s nothing wrong with plastic nocks. Not everyone has the inclination or the skill to craft a nock out of bone, antler, horn, wood, or to make a self-nock in the arrow material itself.
But for those who do, these nocks should add to the beauty of the arrow, not subtract from it.

I’ve seen some arrows that looked pretty good, until a glance is given to the nock. Then I see a self-nock made with a string slot that has been cut with two hacksaw blades taped together, wood splinters and fibers have been left standing proud where the cut was made, carpet thread is wrapped haphazardly about the shaft below the nock, and a sloppy soaking of super glue is given to the thread for a finish.

If a self-nock is beyond the skill of the arrow maker but he or she has given it a go anyway, it would still look better than this nock. This is not a beautiful nock. This is a nock where no beauty has even been attempted.

I do ok with making self-nocks, particularly self-nocks reinforced with a sliver of water buffalo horn. I do the initial steps of forming the nock on a little table saw but the balance of the work is done by hand. I take a lot of pride in what I make and thought I’d share the process and results with you. I’ve also got pictures of a couple arrows I did not make, but that exhibit skill, pride in workmanship, and the desire by their makers to create beauty.

Here's the Dremel table say I use along with a jig I cobbled together to hold the shaft while cutting the slot for the horn and for rough cutting the string slot.
This is a very basic jig and is nowhere near as nice as some I've seen people put together.

With the blade as high as it will go this operation is for cutting the slot for the horn. I use a single cut here the width of the saw kerf.
It's important that this cut is in line with the shaft's grain. The bowstring needs to be perpendicular to the grain so this one is necessarily in line with it.

Not much to look at yet but it's an important step.
The other hole in the jig is for 5/16" shafts.

This water buffalo horn is actually marketed for knife handles. It's just the right width for making nock reinforcements and looks great polished with a finish applied to the arrow shaft. Texas Knifemaker's Supply is one source for this horn.

There is some loss when cutting pieces this thin. The cut piece of horn typically falls down next to the blade and not all survive this trip. It also takes a little trial and error to cut the sliver the right size. Too tight in the arrow and there won't be enough glue to hold it in, too loose and the glue won't fill the voids.

I use the same 12 minute epoxy I use for tips to glue the horn into the arrow. It's important that epoxy is applied to all the surfaces so there are no holidays.

I guess I could use fancier equipment but these clothespins work as great clamps while the epoxy sets. If the clothespin is weak I spruce it up a little by wrapping a rubber band around it.

After the epoxy sets I use my Woodchuck to take off the extra horn as well as any epoxy that's leaked out.

Another trip through the table saw gives me the rough string cut.
This cut is perpendicular to the first.

Now we're into the hand finishing. I use a variety of small files and sandpaper to shape the nock into something pleasing to the eye and to fit the nock to the string. By using care and a short sample string I can create a snap action nock without a lot of trouble.

Almost done (my apologies for the overexposed picture).

And the nocks are finished. Now I just have to make the rest of the arrow.

Obviously, my way for making self-nocks is not the only way.
Here are some beautiful self-nocks made by Curt Cabrera (Guru on TradGang) of New York (photo used with permission).

These antique Persian arrows take nocks to a whole new level of art.

This antler nock is on an arrow made by Art B. and owned by Steve Gardner of Torrance, CA. While the nock itself is beautiful, the whole arrow is very much a work of art.

The nock of an arrow may seem somewhat insignificant. But it's the interface between the arrow and the bow; it must be strong and sound, there's no reason why it can't be beautiful as well.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Making a simple (!) canvas bow sock

I used to sell arrows and archery accessories at local Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) events a few years ago. While business wasn’t bad, for various reasons I kind of faded away from the SCA.

Since I no longer have a “day job” I’ve been looking for ways to build up my arrow making. I recently learned of an SCA archery event happening on February 21st in Van Nuys, CA. After getting the information regarding selling at the event it looks like I’ll give it a try: Greenman Archery is headed back into the SCA and we’re dragging Greenman Gourds along with us!

One of the items I carry is a nice hand-dyed canvas bow sock. These aren’t fancy but they fit the need for a classy and simple utilitarian case to protect either a longbow or a recurve from the inevitable scratches and dings that can happen with loading and unloading to go loose arrows somewhere besides the backyard. While fleece and wool are popular materials for bow socks I find our southern California environment to quickly populate them with stickers and thorns from the local flora. Using #10 cotton duck canvas avoids this sticky problem and gives the bow excellent protection.

The problem is these things are a major pain in the butt to make!

I buy the fabric by the roll and then take it all the way to a finished bow case. I thought some readers of the blog may find it interesting to see the process I go through to make these bow cases so I took a few pictures along the way for this batch.

Rather than the ubiquitous RIT dye we can buy in the local grocery store I elect to use a better quality dye from Dharma Trading Co. Dharma specializes in fiber arts of all kinds and I know the products they carry are top notch. If you go to their site be sure to visit the artist pages to see what others are using their products for. You’ll be amazed at the beautiful work there. The Dharma Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes come in a great range of colors, are very easy to work with, and give excellent results. I’ll always love good ‘ol RIT dye for arrow making, but the Dharma Procion dyes are my choice for fabric.

From here on I’ll shut up and let the pictures and their captions tell the story:

First we've got to cut an appropriate length of material off the roll. Since this is 100% cotton it is going to shrink a bit. I usually cut enough to account for shrinkage but sometimes I miss it by a little bit and the cases come out an inch or so short.

That length of fabric will need to be washed to pre-shrink it. Washing will unravel the cut edge so I run an overlock stitch there so I don't lose material to raveling.

Into the washing machine with you!

If you wash it you then have to dry it.

And since this is cotton canvas and not permanent press, now it has to be ironed so I can work with it.

Now the fabric gets cut to the proper domensions to make the cases. I really miss the big cutting tables we used at CAMP 7 where we made backpacks, sleeping bags, duffel bags, clothing, etc. I'd have been able to lay these all out in layers of fabric and use a stack cutter to cut them all at once. Those were the days...

After cutting the cases need to have the side edges sealed so they don't unravel. It's back to the overlock machine. At least these pieces are smaller than the whole roll width and easier to work with.

What is it about cats that they'll curl up in the oddest places just so they can be near you? Wallop napped in the trash can under the sewing machine while I sewed.

It's finally time to start dyeing!
The fabric to be dyed needs to be weighed so I can be sure to use the proper amount of dye, salt, water, and soda ash.

Pour in the salt...

Note: be sure to buy the big bags, this goes through a lot of salt.

Salt is such a great deal. Throughout history salt has been so scarce in some cultures that it's been used as a currency for commerce. Now we can buy a 25lb bag for less than $4.00... what a deal.
The water doesn't have to be boiling, just warm from the tap.
The dye is mixed with a small amount of water to make a slurry. This helps assure that it is completely dissolved in the bath.
Add the dye to the water/salt and mix well.
Finally, the fabric gets added to the dye bath.
The fabric gets stirred around every few minutes for about a half hour and takes on the dye color. 
To fix the color we'll add soda ash, first mixing it with a bit of water so it's all dissolved.

After the fabric is rinsed of excess dye it goes through the washer and dryer again to be sure all the excess dye is gone. A quick trip under the iron gets the cases flat and ready to be sewn into their finished shape.
I've cut the ties from grossgrain ribbon and used a small alcohol burner to heat seal the ends of the ribbon.

Now we're all ready to go out to the garage for some quality time on the industrial sewing machine. It's supposed to rain in a couple days and this is a great rainy day project so I'll set these aside for a little bit and work on some arrows and gourds that need dry weather.  I'll put up some more pictures when I get back to these.
Happy archery... and sewing!


And, as predicted, we got a little bit of rain today. Perfect for sewing in the garage.
I cleared the coolers and miscelaneous junk off the trusty Mitsubishi commercial sewing machine, ran a strip of test fabric through it, and Bob's your uncle, I'm back in the sewing business.
My hands were a little busy so Fayme took a few pictures for me to finish up this post.

Holy crap! When did my hair turn white?!

The tie for the top needs to get caught in the seam.

Then I race down the edge and close across the bottom.

Except for turning the cases right side out, they're all done.

Jeez... that wasn't hard, what am I complaining about?

Thanks for reading!