by: Johnathan Karch
Building your own arrows is a very rewarding hobby. Having that extra confidence in your gear puts confidence in yourself, which will lead to better shooting and more enjoyable practice sessions.
One of my many joys in life comes from watching my oldest daughter, Bella (age 6), shoot her bow. She has always known Dad shoots his bow (not to mention grandpa, grandma, and uncle), but thanks to the Disney movie Brave she found a new way to connect to the sport of archery. She even quotes lines from the movie before taking her shot. She shoots the Pilgrim Squirt longbow (in pink, of course) with 3Rivers Youth Wood Arrows.
My second daughter Alexa has a really small bow she got when she was 3 years old. She is now 4 years old and has the same bow that her sister has, but in purple.
Now, I stopped building wood arrows many years ago when I switched over to shooting carbon arrows. It was not that I did not love building wood arrows. I just like how much stronger carbon is for an arrow shaft. I still have at least one from every dozen of arrows I have built in my life hanging on the wall. I can tell you right now, it is the wood arrows of which I am most proud.
With that in mind, I saw the chance to break back into the wood arrow building adventure that I used to love so dear. For arrow building supplies I started this project with the Bitzenburger fletching jig and Fletch-It fletching glue that I used for building carbon arrows.
For my girls’ arrows I started by getting two bottles of True North water based stain, one pink and one purple, because as everyone with more than one kid knows, kids will fight over anything. I went with water based as I saw some finished arrows with this stain and the colors were bright, plus it does not smell, it’s easy to clean up, and eco-friendly. For an arrow sealer, I used the 3Rivers Gasket Lacquer. Though it does smell, in my opinion it is the fastest drying sealer on the market, and it applies a great finish that is durable and really highlights the colors underneath. Exactly what an archer wants out of an arrow sealer.
I chopped my own fletchings with a 3Rivers Little Chopper, as I wanted the 3″ length in shield cut, so my girls’ arrows would match mine. With a full length TrueFlight feather I was able to get two 3″ fletchings out of each feather. This was a great benefit, as it limited my feather purchases to one dozen of each color; solid purple, solid pink, and Traditional Barred. I planned on doing a 3-fletch with two solid color hen feathers and the barred cock feather.
The shafts are 3Rivers Port Orford Cedar shafting in the 5/16″ diameter. This is the smallest diameter offered by 3Rivers in wood arrows and the lightest arrow spine. Having a light arrow spine is preferred, as the girls’ bows are not that heavy (about 10-12 pounds), but they can really shoot an arrow.
For nocks I used Snap-On nocks in white for both sets of arrows. They are easy to see, and the tighter grip will work better for youth bow strings that normally have fewer strands.
I chose 3Rivers 70 grain steel field points for tips. This is the lightest weight in the 5/16″ diameter that is a steel field point. I like the shape and weight of these points over bullet nose parallel points as I can easily put the point taper on the arrow shaft, the point shape will stick in targets better, and the heavier weight will weaken the spine which is good for the lighter weight bows.
Additional arrow building tools needed were the 3Rivers Arrow Dipping Rack with metal arrow clips for holding the arrows while they dry after staining and sealing, a 12 ounce rubber mallet for using with the Little Chopper, a couple of cloth rags for staining the arrows, masking tape, Traditional Only 5/16″ Taper Tool for tapering the nock and point ends of the arrows, Ferr-L-Tite point glue for the field points, and Fletch-It Archer’s Adhesive for gluing on the fletchings and nocks.
The first step was to straighten the cedar arrow shafts. Being wood, they are a natural material and will have slight bends to them. Using my hands and sighting down the wood shafts, I found any bends and used light pressure from the palm of my hand to straighten each arrow shaft until they ‘spun-true’ on my fingernails. Being light spine shafts, it did not take much pressure. I even broke one shaft by applying too much pressure. So be careful.
I really wanted these arrows to stand out as custom and special for my girls. Knowing I would be staining the arrows I thought a cap dip, also known as a crown dip, would be a great choice. This is the process of having the nock side of the arrow shaft a different color than the rest of the arrow. Instead of doing another color I wanted the natural beauty of the Port Orford Cedar to shine from under the finish. This would also require cresting the arrows where the stain and unstained sections meet, but that is a fun project in itself. I used masking tape and taped off around the arrow shaft at 6″ down from the nock end. I normally do 10″ down when I built adult wood arrows with 5″ fletchings, so with 3″ I figured 6″ would look best.
Once the arrow shafts were taped off I used a cotton cloth rag and poured some of the stain on the rag. I wiped the rag up and down the arrow shaft many times getting the stain the right brightness of color. It took about 30 to 40 minutes. I wanted bright arrows, not just a light pink, so I took extra time and extra stain. As a warning, staining arrows is messy, messy work. My hands were covered, and I got a bit on the table and floor, and even some on the crown dip of the arrow. The good news is that using a water-based stain I was able to clean up fast and easy. I used a clean cloth with some water to clean up the crown dip area I had accidently gotten stain on. You can also use light sandpaper if additional clean-up is needed.
Not intending to put a different color for the crown dip, the next step is sealing the arrow. Some would do the cresting now, then seal, but I have heard too many stories of the cresting streaking when putting the sealer on, so I chose to crest afterwards and brush on sealer over the cresting.
I used the 3Rivers Gasket Lacquer and applied it with the Eco-Dipper, as I have always used a gasket system before. Not having a lot of space at home, I like how little space the Eco-Dipper uses, and as it attaches to the can of Gasket Lacquer, you can seal up the can when done, so no need for a dip tube. I applied three coats of sealer, as I find that to be enough sealer for arrows, especially youth arrows. Nice thing with 3Rivers Gasket Lacquer is that by the time you are done sealing the twelfth arrow, your first one is dry and ready to be dipped for another coat if you would like. You can use some steel wool between coats for a thicker coat, but I chose not to. If you are not happy with the thickness of a sealer, just do a few more coats.
With the sealer now on I tapered the nock end of the arrow with the Traditional Only 5/16″ taper tool. Nocks take an 11 degree taper, which is preset with the tool. This makes it very easy to do with little effort. I then glued the nocks with the Fletch-It Archer’s Adhesive.
Since I did a crown dip (cap dip) I needed to crest the arrows. Cresting takes patience and a steady hand. Something I have more of one than the other. I found using the SpinRite crester made the experience so much more enjoyable as it offers a lot of features that allow for precision and repeatability. One tip I have is to plan your design prior to starting and measure it out. I went with a large 1/2 inch band in the middle with dual 1/8 inch bands on each side that were also spaced 1/8 of an inch apart. This pattern makes it easy to replicate from arrow to arrow. I used water-based True North cresting paint for no odor and easy clean up. I sealed them with True North Cresting Sealer to add durability to the cresting.
For fletching the arrows I use the Bitzenburger fletching jig as I find it is solid and dependable. They are easy to adjust to any arrow size and fletching. I used the Fletch-It Archer’s Adhesive to glue the feathers in place in a standard 3-fletch spacing of 120 degrees apart. I went half an inch up from the base of the nock for proper finger clearance when shooting. I put a drop of glue on both ends of each fletching for a more secure hold and better look.
Lastly, I used an arrow saw (though with wood arrows a hacksaw is ‘doable’) to cut the arrows to 24″ length, measuring from the valley of the nock (the deepest part where the bow string will sit), to where the back end of the point taper will be. Arrow points use a 5 degree taper, and I used Bohning Ferr-L-Tite for mounting the steel field points. I like that it takes more heat to soften the glue, as I believe it provides a better hold on the field point. Using an open flame (be careful), I heated the end of the glue and rubbed it onto the tip of the point taper on the shaft. Using a pair of pliers, I then heated the open end of the field point, which expands in heat, and twisted the point when mounting on the point taper. It should seat all the way to the end of the taper. Some excess glue may come out there, just wipe off with a cloth or paper towel. Careful, it will be hot. I spun the arrows on their tips to make sure they were aligned straight on the shafts. Be sure your arrow shafts are straight before you do this step. When straight, dip the tip of the arrow in a glass of room temperature water for the point to cool, including the glue underneath. It only takes a couple seconds for it to cool to the touch.
At this point the arrows were ready to shoot. The girls loved their new wood arrows and were very excited to start shooting. I hope you try your hand at building some wood arrows, either for yourself, a family member, or a friend. As the joy of the process is almost as much fun as shooting them, and really adds to the depth of the sport.