This whole making your own archery equipment is something I wish I had tried years ago. One of the most daunting things about archery is the cost of arrows, especially when you are learning. An experienced archer can hit the target ‘most every time and knows how to pull arrows from targets without bending them. Neither of these is true for novices, who can go through arrows at a scary rate, or for field archers – my preferred discipline. Field archery has been described as like golf but with bows and arrows and involves walking around a course, often in woodland or along the side of a hill, shooting at targets at various angles and distances to mimic hunting. There are many opportunities to lose arrows ! With arrows costing £5+ a walk in the woods can be very expensive…….
It turns out that you can ‘grow your own’ arrows – well kinda. Several species grow straight stems suitable for arrows, privet, for instance makes dense, heavy shafts, while my personal favourite is hazel. Cut straight stems about three feet in length, as many as you need, and then bind them tightly in a bundle, with the stems all lying straight – they will keep each other straight as they season. Once they are seasoned, peel them and sand them smooth – I like to leave the bottom two inches with the bark on but only because I like the way it looks. You will find that the stems are very easy to bend straight by hand, but be aware that they will need tweaking back into shape from time to time.
It is VERY important that you cut the stem at a thickness that suits the power of your bow – the arrow bends as it is pushed by the string. On a traditional bow this is a good thing as it allows the arrow to bend around the handle of the bow and still go straight at the target (Archer’s Paradox – the arrow should be bounced sideways by the bow but instead bends around it and goes straight). A modern target bow handle is cut so the arrow does not have to negotiate the handle – shoot-through-centre bows – but spine is still important – too bendy and the power of the bow can snap the arrow on release and splinters of arrow shaft in your arm and hand are most unpleasant. Anyway, that is why you cut the stems so long – you can cut them down to suit your needs, the nearer the base of the stem you go, the wider (and stiffer) the shaft will be. Cut the same wood-species with the same width base or top and the shafts will match for weight and taper.
Now this is where I got lucky because it turns out that antler makes great nocks and tips, and I have a small quantity of antler plates from on-going projects, but you can purchase feathers, horn strips, nocks and tips on-line and inexpensively. I cut a slot in each end of the shafts and super-glued in a tiny chip of antler about 10mm long into each end then shaped each one – one to strengthen the tip (target-blunts, not hunting heads), the other to carve into a U shaped nock. They work really well.
Now, fletching is straight-forward but is not done the way I first thought, that is to say just gluing the fletching onto the shaft. Do this and when the leading edge of the feather droops, it will catch something (like your hand) and rip off. If it catches your hand it will hurt, a lot – surprising how something so small and soft can cut you quite badly when its moving really fast……Feathers are sort of sewn on, fix the end of all three feathers with a tiny dab of super-glue then wrap several turns of cotton around to seal them in place – spinning the arrow is easier than passing the thread around. Now, move the thread along the arrow shaft, pulling it into the feathers as you go – open up the tines, drop in the thread, close the feather up and snug the feather into place. Once the feathers are sewn on, make sure you wrap the ends of the feathers in several passes of thread, tie-off the thread and secure the knot with a dab of glue. Check the feathers are all aligned then trickle in some super-glue. This sounds complex but really takes about five minutes.