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.


Garith said...

That is it. Wow I thought it was tougher then that. Looking forward to more posts on the finer points of arrow making.

Guy Taylor said...

Making arrows really isn't difficult. The necessary steps are pretty basic.
But to make them beautiful takes skills that could be a while in developing, attention to details small and large, and most of all, a desire to turn out a beautiful arrow and the drive to learn as much as you can about the craft.
That's why I only make wood arrows. Aluminum and carbon make fine, accurate arrows, but they'll never have the beauty of a finely crafted wood arrow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting a hint what to do with horn stripes.