Feather Fletching

Written by RJ Bachner


Part 3: The Feathers.


Ok so now we have covered shafting, you need to consider the fletching: Feathers by another name. There are types and sizes and shapes and what wing to use and all this will become as second nature to you later on but for now trust me.

First you must have actual feathers on SCA legal arrows. Plastic vanes are not only ugly but they are not period, no matter how much duct tape you use.

Real period feathers were duck or goose or peacock if you believe Chaucer but today most comercial feathers are made by either Gateway or Trueflight near as I can figure and they both use commercially farmed turkey wing pinion feathers.

'...he was clad in cote and hood of grene; A sheef of pecok-arwes bright and kene Under his belt he bar ful thriftily: His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe), And in his hand he bar a mighty bowe. A not-heed hadde he, with a broun visage. Of wode-craft wel coude he al the usage. Upon his arm he bar a gay bracer, And by his syde a swerd and bokeler, And on that other syde a gay daggere, Harneised wel, and shap as point to spere; A Cristofre on his brest of silver shere. An horn be bar, the bawdrik wqs of grene; A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.'

Chaucer.

Now when buying your feathers, you are going to be presented with the choice, Right wing or Left wing. Which do you prefere? Some will tell you righties should use right wing (RW) and southpaws should use left wing (LW).

The wing choice will affect primarily in which direction the arrow will spin once released from the bow but since high speed photographic evidence has proven that the arrow doesn't start to spin noticably until after it has cleared the bow, old arguments are moot and to be honest it doesn't matter one bit which wing you use as long as you are consistant on the arrow.

Do not mix wings on any one arrow. For that matter do not mix wings on any matched set of arrows.

Actually being able to tell the difference between one wing and the other is a useful skill to have about now and to be honest it is hard for me to remember which is which so I printed this picture and put it over my workbench.

Which wing is which

Now we need to chose which shape and size you want on your arrow and since shape is the easy one, we will do it first.

The shape of things to come

There are many shapes of fletching but they all are based on 3 simple ideas:

  • Primitive - The simplest of shapes, you take a feather and cut a 3-6 inch length and glue it in place.
  • Shield
  • Parabolic

Feather shapes

Which you chose is up to you, me I like the parabolic as do most of my compatriots in our archery company which you visited first to get here.

The size of the fletching is also important, a bigger feather will catch more air and stabilize the arrow faster but with more air resistance and therefore less velocity down range. This is good if you have a big heavy arrow with a bladed broadhead and your ranges are short.

However, for our concerns, this is not, or at least should not be the case. We shoot no broadheads at SCA targets and since we desire the fastest arrow we can manage, we should look to smaller feathers as another way to maximize our arrow speed.

The drawback to this approach is that there is less feather to stabilise your in-flight arrow and so it is less forgiving of mistakes.

I myself have been using 5 inch Parabolics for convenience but I have come to realize that that is too much feather and I am moving to a smaller size by way of experimentation.

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