Making basic SCA legal Arrows for the tyro

Written by RJ Bachner

Part 1: Decisions, decisions.

So you want to make some arrows for SCA target archery? Cool, Well this is the place to learn. First I would like to cover some topics for sake of clarity, then I would like to explain the process to follow long before you get to laying hands to wood. Heck, this should be decided before you have even ordered your fixings.

Hopefully this will allow you to make the right decisions now and avoid mistakes later on.

  1. The arrows I will describe here will be for target archery, not combat archery and I do not recommend you use them for hunting as they needs must achieve different goals, one will not suffice for the other.
  2. The Arrows I will teach you about are what I will call Modern Traditional. I will leave the strictly period for another time. Feel free to experiment but here, our goal is to get you shooting with a minimum of muss, fuss and delay.
Ok. Arrows, right, well first you need to make some decisions about the arrows you want to make, and my instructions require that we are all saying the same thing so I will define certain terms, including:
  • How Much you can afford to spend.
  • Where you live.
  • What kind of Bow do you use.
  • Spine weight.
  • Draw length.
  • Arrow weight.
  • What wood you want for the shaft.
  • What will be your color scheme.
  • What kind and style of fletching you want.
  • What Kind of nock you like.
  • Why you do not want to make hunting arrows for SCA target archery.

At this point I would like to explain some basic terms here that you are going to need soon, so bear with me:

  • Draw weight: When you pick up a bow, hold it properly and pull the string back to your jaw, you are holding the draw weight of the bow. It is the amount of force required to hold the bow at full draw and is the amount of force momentarily applied to the arrow while launching it down range.

  • Spine weight: This is the measure of stiffness of an arrow, roughly equated to the Draw weight of the bow. Generally a draw weight of 50lbs requires a spine of 50 lbs. The physics is some what complicated and I won't bore you with details.

  • Cast: The distance a bow can fling an arrow. Each bow is different, cast is as much a measure of a bow's efficiency as it is about draw weight. Recurves are generally more efficient than longbows of equal draw weight and therefore usually have a better cast.

  • Parallax: On certain types of bows, most longbows for example, there is no shelf or a minimal one which forces the arrow to rest against the side of the bow, slightly away from the centerline of the bow. This measure of how far the arrow is from the centerline is Parallax. Parallax forces you to shoot around the bow, making the arrow bend rather than a center shot bow which allows the arrow to fly though the centerline.

  • Center shot: This means that the bow is designed so that the arrow can fly through the centerline of the bow, That mythical centerline that intersects the bow from center of one nock through the center of the other. This requires a shelf cut into the riser that is deep enough to cross the center line by at least half the width of an arrow.

  • Arrow mass weight: An arrow's mass weight is an important factor for a number of reasons, such as it's function in resisting the initial push of the bow against the arrow which affects the bows efficiency and arrow speed. The lower the weight, the faster the arrow is accelerated but this is not always the most efficient use of the bow and the limbs may be required to absorb a good deal of the available energy. A heavy arrow takes more force to move and therefore is easier on the bow but is slower moving. Compromise is what is needed here and that depends on the task at hand.

    A good rule of thumb is draw weight + a zero is a good arrow weight for general use. a 42 lb bow shoots a 420 grain arrow most efficiently. usually. This can be taken to extremes of course and you have to experiment to see what works best.

How much can you afford to spend and where do you live?

Ok this is the first thing you need to consider, what will this cost you? A dozen redimade arrows purchased from an American fletcher will run you from +/- $30 to over a $100 in US Funds.

We Canadians cringe every time we even think of ordering from the States (figure a 75% price increase when we finally get our stock)

So price is an issue. The fixings for a dozen arrows will cost about $30- $50 depending on what kinds of volume you order in. We in Dragon Dormant are lucky because we have a Canadian distributor, Tele Transactions Traditional Supplies that gets the big volume discounts and so passes them along to us when we order as a company, If you are in Canada I highly suggest you give Gabriel a call.

If you are in the States I can recommend by experience Diana's shaft shop in Sterling CT. or 3Rivers archery in the Midwest. There are many other distributors in the US but I haven't tried them so can't recommend them.

What kind of bow do you use?

Longbow or recurve, flatbow or some fiberglass Wal*mart special, do you shoot off your knuckle or is the bow center shot? It really doesn't matter right now what you use so long as it is your regular bow. This is important because your bow will dictate the draw weight and mass weight for your arrows. as well, it dictates the leeway within which you can allow variations from the best case arrow.

If you use a different bow every time you shoot, you cannot hope to have a set of arrows to match the bow unless you make a dozen for each bow (very expensive). So choose one and stick with it.

Ok now do you have one particular bow in mind? Good, now what is the draw weight? You will need this later so write it down, on the bow if you can do it without damaging it, is best. You want the bow and arrow to match as closely as possible most of the time but there are times when you will want to deviate from this.

Each bow, as I mentioned before, has it's own preferred spine range. Longbows have much less leeway than recurves in what spine weight they can use safely and generally require a somewhat lower spine to allow for the arrow bending around the bow. A recurve can safely shoot arrows with a broader range of spine weights but will prefer something a little heavier than the draw weight of the bow, Bending less under the force and thereby making the arrow more responsive to the initial push of the bowstring.

I could get into force vector diagrams and fancy explanations of why this works the way it does but not here. If you want to know, email me and I would be glad to explain it to you.

Now that we have got that done we need to consider the arrows themselves and so, on to

What about your arrows?

As you read these many pages, we will discuss the various components and whatnot that go in to making your arrows, but before that, I wanted to finish this off with a bit of advice.

I would first pose you a question, What do you plan on doing with the arrows? Target shooting, stumpshooting, hunting? Well I suggest that you decide now because what I can teach you will work for any of these good and fun activities, however the main goal here is to help you make a reasonably well made set of SCA legal target arrows. I warn you now, that if you try to make your arrows do multiple things, they will do none of them as well as they could if you specifically designed them for one task only.

Hunting arrows need to be heavier than target arrows to maximize penetration into your quarry. Extreme durability and longer range abilities really do not matter so much. Most of the time we wouldn't shoot at our quarry beyond 20 yards or so. At this range a flat shooting arrow isn't really needed and if it does it's job, it is not so important if it gets broken afterwards.

Stump shooting or roving needs the short range power of a hunting arrow and the durability to allow it to be used over. If the stump you thought you were shooting at turns out to be a rock, your fine cedar shaft will be ruined where an ash shaft will bounce off and be ready to go again.

For target shooting in the SCA, we need different qualities in our arrows. They must be fast and flat shooting because we shoot out to 40 yards with some hope of accuracy and we do not want to have to lob the arrow into the air to get there. The less time an arrow is in flight, the less time it has to be affected by air resistance, the wind and gravity. We do not need punching power and though durability and reusability is an issue at the target, the primary concern here is being struck by another's arrow while sitting in the target and as it is fairly rare, when it does happen, nothing you can do will make a difference.

I realize I have thrown a lot at you right off but I believe that this is what is needed to start you making a decent quiver of arrows. From here on in, the decisions you made will affect your shooting. In the next pages we will look at the components briefly and then get to actually putting them together.

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