Today, very serviceable arrows can be made from assorted hardwood shoots. As a matter of fact, I have come to prefer these arrows for stump shooting and small game hunting because of their durability. I lose more than I break. I have made countless shoot arrows and an excellent arrow can be created in 1-2 hours using modern materials and tools.
Oak, wild cherry, birch and maple shoots make fine arrows but almost any wood will do. Be discriminating . Look for the straightest finger size shoots that you can find. Cut them when you need them but cutting them when the leaves are off makes seeing the straightest easier. Snip them about 36 inches long with a pruning tool to allow you to find the straightest and most defect free part of the shoot. Cut more than you think you will need to allow for culling later on. Remove all the leaves, imperfections and scars with a pen knife. Now is the time to do some preliminary hand straightening. Next, tie or tape the shoots in bundles of six or so and allow them to dry for about a month. Shoots held longer than 2 months for me become very brittle and break easily. While they are drying, straightening by hand every week is the key to achieving the straightest shafts. I must confess that sometimes I forget to do this. However, all is not lost because straightening with heat can be quite successful. I work one or 2 shafts at a time through the entire arrow making process.
When you feel they are dry enough, remove the bark with a sharp pocket knife held at right angles to the shoot. Be sure to scrape away from you. Straighten the shoots over your kitchen range or a very stable propane torch. My torch is one that has an extra wide tank so I do not upend it on my work space. Before you begin, be sure you have a fire extinguisher, a cup of water and a very understanding wife if you are using the kitchen stove. Grease them with butter or margarine if you want, but I do not bother. While wearing some gloves or using a pot holder, slowly rotate the shoot over your heat source for 1-2 minutes until it is hot. I often use an arrow straightening tool to help with the really crooked bends at the end of the shaft. Make one from scrap wood by drilling a 1/2 inch hole near the top. Simply slip the tool over the shaft and apply pressure. Sighting down the end of the shaft allows you to evaluate its straightness. At this point, do not aim for perfection as the straightening process will continue later. I like to cut my shoots about 3-4 inches longer than my draw length using a hack saw. Cut all the way around the shoot before cutting it all the way. This will prevent splitting.
Your initial straightening will make sizing the shaft easier. Obtain a scrap piece of wood and drill a whole corresponding to the size point you prefer. I use 125 grain, 11/32 inch blunt points for my arrows so I drilled an 11/32 inch hole. Also, drill a 5/16 and 11/32 inch hole in your scrap wood. For my stumping arrows, the blunt end is the end closest to the ground as the shoot is growing. The nock end is, of course, the other end. This makes for a naturally tapered arrow that is extremely strong. Since we will be making self nocks, be sure the nock end is at least 5/16 of an inch in diameter. Slip the 5/16 inch hole over the shoot if you must . Be sure to discard your shoot if it is not wide enough at the nock end. The maximum width that I prefer for my self nocks is 23/64. The sizing process will bring your really large shafts to that diameter. Now is the time to discard any shafts that appear to be unsafe. Reasons might include cracking, too small a diameter or bends that are too sharp. Take some time now and evaluate your shaft. Better to be safe!
I use a small 3 inch block plane to size the shoots. Hold the nock end in your left hand, and the plane in your right hand. The plane should be placed on top of the shoot. Beginning about 6 inches from the blunt end , remove wood rotating the shaft slightly with each stroke of the plane. Check it with your 11/32 inch sizing hole until the point end fits snugly in the hole. Also, check the nock end so that it is less than 23/64. If you prefer, you may use a pen knife held at right angles to the shaft to scrape away the wood. This a good time to flex the arrows by hand as you sight down the end. If the arrow does not snap back to its original position, then it is not dry enough. Also, check the spine with a spine tester. Check all the way around until you find the point of greatest spine. Make a vertical line on the nock end of the shaft at the point of greatest spine. If you do not own a spine tester, then check the stiffness by hand. Compare your shoot with an arrow that you normally shoot from your bow. Aim for a spine 5-10 pounds above what you normally shoot. Remove wood from your shaft until you have reached the proper spine. Keep in mind that removing wood from the middle of the shaft has a greater effect on spine than removing it from the ends. Grain weight may be controlled by removing wood near the ends and will have very little effect on spine.
To cut the nocks tape three hack saw blades together. Place the shaft in a vise in a vertical position. Be sure you cut the nock at right angles to the point off greatest spine. That is at right angles to the line you made while spining your shaft. Cut down about 3/8 of an inch. Widen the cut with your 3 hack saw blades taped together.The initial cut you made makes this easier and allows for a straighter cut. Be sure you have the same amount of wood on both ends of the nock remaining. Using a small round file, slightly widen the top of your nock. Use sandpaper to blend everything together. Folding the sandpaper once or twice will make this easier. Try to fit the arrow on your bow string. Widen the nock with the sandpaper if necessary. Remember, if it is too tight, the serving on your string might fray. As matter of fact, when making hunting arrows, my preference is to have the nock fit snugly enough for the arrow to remain on the string with no pressure from my left hand. For roving, I like the nocks loose on the string. Remove the shaft from the vise. Hold it vertically and inspect the nock that you cut. Be sure it has no jagged edges. If it does, then sand them. While still holding the shaft vertically, rotate it a quarter turn and look at the remaining wood at the nock end. Compare it to an arrow that shoots well from your bow. Sand it until it is the same width. If it is not, then the arrow might porpoise (where the nock end moves up and down) as it travels toward the target.
Now is the time to fine tune your arrow with heat to get it as straight as possible. The straighter the arrow the better it will shoot. However, removing all the bends is pretty impossible. The arrow should still shoot properly, anyway, as long as it is reasonably straight and has no side to side movement. Here is how I check for straightness. First, sight down the arrow and be sure there is no side to side bending. Slowly rotate the arrow. Next , hold the arrow in a horizontal position across your body and turn it slowly. You might see some spiral bends. If the nock and the point end move in unison the arrow should shoot well. Taper the point end to a 5 degree taper with your tapering tool of choice and attach your blunt with hot melt glue especially if you are fresh out of pine pitch. Tapering tools are available from most dealers. I do not like the plastic ones. Remember you get what you pay for so buy a good quality tool. I clamp a piece of scrap, set at the proper angle, onto the fence of my belt sander. Turn on the sander and rotate the shaft and your taper is perfect! I suppose you could use a pen knife in a pinch. Be sure you heat the point slightly. I usually put on a field point so I can break in my arrows on my targets. Use a pair of insulated pliers to hold it. I like to heat the stick of glue in an old pot and dip the tapered shaft in the glue. Follow the safety procedures discussed earlier and have your safety equipment handy when using torches. Rotate the shaft to be sure the point is on straight, dip it in water and remove the excess glue. I just use my fingers but you can use your knife if you wish.
To fletch the arrow, I use artificial sinew and household cement. If this offends you, then use hide glue and sinew. Hide glue is not very good in the rain and I shoot and hunt in all types of weather. Hence my preference for artificial glues. If no artificial sinew is available, any nylon thread will work quite well and will be quite durable. Cut your feathers to 5.5 inch lengths. Trim off 1/8 of an inch of feather material on each side leaving the the vane intact. I prefer bright colors such as red, yellow and chartreuse for my feathers. Your shoot arrows should prove to be very durable and you worked very hard to create them. You will probably lose more than you break so do yourself a favor and use bright colored feathers to help you locate your errant shots. Cut off a 24 inch piece of thread. I like to pull apart the sinew into thinner strands. You will need four strands for each arrow. One is needed for each feather and one is needed to reinforce the nocks. Tie the end of the sinew on to the protruding piece of vane that you trimmed earlier. Hold the arrow nock end out under your left arm and position the cock feather at right angles to the nock about 1 inch down from the nock end. Wind the thread around the shaft a few times and secure it with 2 half hitches. Apply your glue to the feather all the way down its length. Wind the sinew around the feather and shaft at about 1/2 inch intervals. Tie it off at the other end. Offset the feather to the left slightly for left wing feathers and to the right for right wing feathers. A spinning arrow stabilizes quickly and forgives minor bends in the shaft. Tie on the first hen feather in the same fashion winding the sinew through the cock feather. Winding the sinew on the preexisting windings of the cock feather makes the process easier. Repeat with the last hen feather. Winding through the cock feather and the first hen feather is difficult . Be patient and take your time. Adjust your feathers until you are satisfied with their positioning. Apply glue to all the exposed sinew on all three sides of the fletching. Wind a few turns of thread just below the nock to reinforce it. Tie off the thread and add a drop of glue. When the glue is dry, trim the front of your fletching to remove rough and jagged edges that might cut your hand or bow shelf. These jagged edges might also cause erratic arrow flight. Trim your feathers to your favorite shape. See the diagrams for my favorite. I trim them right there on the arrow using a scissors.
String your bow and go outside and test your arrows. Bring your knife and sandpaper with you. Test shoot your arrow. If your arrow fishtails in a left to right movement, then the spine is probably too stiff. Either sand the middle of the arrow by folding the sandpaper over the shaft or scrape the wood by holding the knife at right angles to the wood. Remember you left the spine of the arrow 5-10 lbs. heavier. I like to go through this process because I find much variation in allowable spine weights between shafts. I feel that I achieve better arrow flight this way. If the arrow porpoises, check the nock end as mentioned previously and trim it slightly making it rest somewhat higher on the bow string. One final note regarding spine weights is that if you go through this process and find your arrows continuing to fishtail, since you left them 3-4 inches longer than your draw length, consider cutting a half inch from the end and reapplying the point. If the flight of your arrow improves, then repeat this step. A shorter arrow has a stiffer spine. When you are satisfied with the flight of your arrow, then sand your arrow with fine sandpaper and apply the finish. I do not crest my stumpinÍ and small game arrows but now is the time if you so desire. If you missed your bear last fall and have no bear grease handy, then do what I do and apply one or two coats of water based polyurethane. Shoot arrows have a tendency to warp over time. Periodic hand straightening should keep them zipping towards those stumps, rabbits and squirrels.
This article was excerpted from an article published in Insinctive Archer Fall 1998. All rights reserved. George C Tsoukalas