Finishing and assembly

Written by RJ Bachner

Part 5: Finishing the shafts.

Ok, now it is time to put all this together into a set of arrows you can be proud of and again I will present you with a list of things you will need.

  • Assemble all of the assorted pieces before you.
  • A fletching jig to mount the feathers.
  • A dip tube to seal the shafts and a rubber squeegee top to scrape off the extra sealer.
  • The Sealer of your choice, such as Flecto brand polyurethane.
  • A ruler to measure your shafts.
  • A very fine toothed (+/- 40 teeth to the inch) cutoff saw.
  • Heat melt glue for the heads and Cyanoacrylic glue (CA) for the feathers and nocks.
  • Some tool for straightening the shafts such as a hook or a roller.
  • Some very fine 0000 steel wool and a 3 inch square of hard flat leather.
  • If you wish to crest the arrows, some paint, a fine brush and some method to turn the shafts.

Wash your hands well. No oil should get on the shaft and wash them often if you have to.

Start with fresh clean shafts, give them a final inspection for imperfections, straighten any that are not right and decide which end will be the nock end for each shaft. Give each one a quick wipe with the steel wool to clean off any dirt and splinters.

Carefully cut the nock taper as I described earlier, do not bother with the other end for now. Make sure that the taper is neat and clean with no torn wood. If the taper tool is tearing the wood, get a new blade for it. Clean each cut with the steel wool.

We are now going to dip the shafts in a sealer. I will describe the way I do it, some folks do it differently and nobody is any more right than any one else. I use a Little dipper from 3Rivers to do the crown only, I finish the rest of the shaft with a rubbed oil finish. Some folks will dip the whole shaft, I do not but you can if you wish. I also use a mason jar lid on the dipper and instead of a hard lid, I replace it with a rubber squeegee with arrow size holes in it. This allows you to wipe of the extra polyurethane and it dries almost instantly.

I have mentioned my choice of dip, Satin finish polyurethane. I like it cause it works well and is cheap but do not use the full gloss version, no glue will want to reliably stick to it. If you can get it, undiluted auto lacquer also works very well but it really isn't available in Canada anymore. You can also use the Bohning brand stuff from 3Rivers but it is much more expensive and I never saw an advantage to it. To a certain extent, what sealer you chose will dictate what glue you use, fletch tite works with the Bohning brands perfectly. Duco cement works with Polyurethane quite well but I find it a bit slow to cure.

Recently I stumbled upon another solution and I think it is best. Super Jet brand cyano-acrylate, medium viscosity for wood modeling such as airplanes and boats. it is fast but not instant like crazy glue which is a little safer for those of us who tend to be clumsy. It takes about 25 seconds to bond, is thick enough that it doesn't run too much and works very well with Polyurethane. I can fletch a dozen arrows with a single jig as fast as anybody can with a six jig and fletch tight.

The dipping

Take a shaft and put it in the dipper, nock first, and slide it all the way in. Let it sit for about 10 seconds so that the shaft can absorb the Polyu then draw it out and repeat it a couple 3 times, this allows a thin coat to build up on the shaft. Remove it from the dipper and carefully wipe off any extra with a dry lint free cloth with a fast wipe towards the nock and set it aside to dry. Repeat with the next until all have been done once.

Let them sit for about an hour, when completely dry move away from your dipping area and give then a good polishing with the steel wool. This will start to give them a nice sheen. Once this is finished, wipe them with a dry cloth to remove any dust and redip them as before then dry, sand, redip again, sand and you should get a nice smooth glossy surface that is 3 to 4 coats thick. Depending on the wood, sometimes more than this is needed but for POC, 4 is as much as you will want as it adds weight.

Note: A thing to remember here is if you are going to do it this way with just the crown dip. you want a clean neat border between the wood and the end of the dip. any build up here is messy looking and hard to get off once dry. Try to make sure it stays even and smooth and it will look fabulous when finished.

When you have finished the dip and are satisfied with the results, you will have to finish the rest of the shaft with an oil like boiled linseed oil or lemon oil or my favorite, tung oil. The oil will soak into the shaft and keep it from being affected by moisture but must be repeated periodically. Follow the procedure as with the dip but instead, soak a sponge in oil and lather it on as thick as you can, scrubbing it in like you would a hand rubbed piece of furniture. Let it dry , sand it then burnish it with the hard scrap of leather and repeat as many times as you feel it needs. This will provide a nice deep gloss that looks real pretty and the separation between oil and polyu is quite nice and rather distinctive. Spraying the wood with a little furniture polish once and a while will keep it nice and helps you draw the shafts from your target.

The nocks

We have already discussed the attachment of the nocks and now is the time to put it into practice. All you need is a tiny amount of the CA. What I do is hold the shaft nock side down and put a tiny bit of glue around the tip of the taper. Since you have about 20 seconds I put the nock on the shaft, twisting it and trying to get it on straight, check it once and correcting it quickly, making sure that it is lined up perpendicular to the grain. Repeat for the whole set.

The Fletching

This is one of the most critical steps to making arrows, gluing the feathers on. If they are not straight, the arrow will not fly right, simple as that. That being said, you have a choice of how to mount your feathers. Straight or helical. I recommend straight fletch for some simple reasons.

It is

  • Easier to glue straight fletching on,
  • Cheaper to only have to have 1 type of jig as RW and LW helical need separate jigs and
  • The arrow goes faster without the extra drag and since even straight feathers impart enough twist to stabilize the arrow, helical is really not needed.

When gluing the fletch you must decide how far along the arrow you want the feather. I like to have them start about 3/4 inch ahead of the nock with parabolic fletching, so before gluing the feather, put a feather into the clamp, put a shaft in the jig and fiddle with the set up to make sure your fingers will clear the fletch when you draw the arrow. Another consideration is feather offset or how much off the centerline of the shaft do you want the fletching.

I like to be just enough off center that the whole catchlip sits flush on the shaft because otherwise the amount of contact surface is reduced by as much as half which reduces the strength of the bond between shaft and feather and makes the glue job look a lot messier.

I know this is hard to understand but if you refer to the diagram below you will see how the catchlip extends out from the feather and can work to make the base of the fletch much more secure if considered properly.

catchlip diagram

Are you satisfied with your setup? Then lock everything down and mark on the clamp where you want the feather to fit so each successive feather will be in the same place.

Now I always start with the cock feather but this is just my own ritual. I align the jig so that the cock feather is the one to be mounted and I run a thin, even layer of glue down the feather base, making sure that you do not slop it all over. It is not hard to do but so many folks make such a bollixed job of this that I have to wonder why I don't. Make sure you don't mess up the clamp with glue either, this just complicates your life.

Note: The cock feather is the one that is at right angles to the nock, so that when strung on the bow it faces away from the side of the bow. on the diagram it is the feather that points to the left.
Now remember you will have about 20 seconds before the glue bonds so there is no need to rush, carefully put the clamp into the jig and use finger pressure to clamp the feather down on the shaft as hard as you may to make sure that the bond is even for about 20seconds or until the feather won't lift off the shaft.

There. You have just glued a feather to the shaft, feel good? you should. You have taken the first steps to understanding something of your heritage as a Human, the bow is thousands of years old yet the discovery that led to fletching may have been one of the most important ones ever made. I do hope you too can appreciate the sense of history you hold in your hands as you repeat the fletching for each arrow.

All we have to do now is measure the shaft for length, cut it to length and mount the heads. What length you ask? Well it is your draw length plus a little bit and you can measure the draw by placing the nock into the hollow spot at the base of your throat and holding the arrow by the finger tips, stretch your arms out in front of you as far as you can with the finger tips pressed together. This will be your draw length then add about 2 inches and you have your arrow length. Cut the shafts off there for each shaft and then taper as we discussed previously and mount the heads. When this is done you will be finished building your arrows, inspect them, straighten them if they need it and go shoot.

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© 1999 Renny-James Bachner. All rights reserved. suggestions and submissions