Ok, arrow shafts can be made out of many different materials, wood, aluminum, various carbon fiber wraps, lots of things. Only wood is considered SCA legal and so we will limit this discussion to Wood.
Wood is a natural material and as such is not completely consistent in the way it is made. No two shafts are exactly alike and so consistency is measured in spine and weight ranges. Wood is measured in spine ranges such as 45-50 lbs. This means that all the shafts in that range will spine out to within 45 and 50 lbs spine weight. This is as close as most suppliers will go when selling arrow shafts. You can pay a lot more to get them spined closer than a 5 lb range but generally you will not notice the difference.
Then there is weight; since wood density varies a lot with so many different factors involved, getting arrows that all weigh the same is even more difficult than getting them spined the same. The standard weight range is +/- 10 grains, again more than this is usually unnecessary as you won't see it in your shooting unless you are really good.
Make sure and I do mean make sure that you never buy shafts that are not grouped by weight as well as by spine. I have seen a dozen arrows of the same spine range vary their mass weight by more than 50% through a single dozen.
A number of years ago there was very little choice in shaft materials for constructing wood arrows, Port Orford Cedar (POC) was king. It was a good choice for consistent, straight arrows and, of course, the best part of the arrow was the aroma. You didn't seem to mind as much when you broke one because you got the added benefit of enjoying the aromatic cedar.
These days, Port Orford is still around, but in addition there are numerous other woods that are successfully being used to construct good quality arrow shafting. The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention applies here.
In the last 5 years there has been a marked decrease in the availability of quality Port Orford cedar shafts. Some may argue that that has not been the case, but even the perception of a shortage has sent inventive people out looking at different shaft options. Just look at any traditional archery magazine, ads for folks selling alternatives to POC are everywhere. Just a few are Ash, Chundoo (Sitka Spruce), Norway pine, Ramin, Birch, Maple, Yellow Cedar and the list continues. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages as we shall see.
Port Orford Cedar - These shafts are probably the standard by which all others are measured. There used to be two major manufacturers of Port Orford Cedar, Rose City and Acme. Acme hasn't made these shafts for several years, presumably because of difficult getting quality raw material. Rose City is still making these shafts and supplying them to various suppliers.
Port Orford Cedar is best know for its wonderful aroma. The shafts are light to moderate in physical weight and are generally pretty straight grained. A number of shaft suppliers are offering Port Orford Cedars that are tapered for about 9" on the nock end from 11/32" to 5/16". These tapered shafts are said to clear the bow riser for better arrow flight. You can also get barreled shafts that are tapered at both the nock and point ends.
Douglas Fir - Douglas Fir has a lot more grain that PO Cedar and the shafts are heavier. I myself have little experience with it though and can't really tell you much about it except that is is reputed to be difficult to get straight round shafts, that being said, if you do get the good stuff, it supposedly does make a nice arrow.
maybe someone will send me some so I can test them and see.
Maple - Some of the American hardwoods are starting to show up as arrow shafting material. Maple shafts are very smooth and uniform and have a very pretty grain. They are not as heavy or as durable as the Ash but seem to make a nice compromise of weight and strength. I think they are going to become my favorite stumping shaft.
Try Maple. I could only find them listed at Allegheny mountain woods.
Ash - Ash is one of my favorite woods next to POC. I use it for my medieval period arrows and for hunting and stumpshooting and just for the snorts and giggles of it. It is next to indestructible though I have managed to break some. It is really heavy, only available in 23/64ths diameter shafts (that I can find) and did I mention it was heavy? I have some 50 lb spine shafts that hit 8-10 inches lower than poc off of the same bow at 20 yards. They are nice and consistent but ohh soo slow.
Southeastern Alaska (yellow) Cedar - These shafts aren't yellow at all, they're white. I have made several sets of shire arrows from Yellow cedar and was very happy with the way they turned out. I have to say though that this stuff stinks something horrible when cutting or grinding it, for those of us accustomed to the Cedar buzz from POC, this stuff was a real let down.
Chundoo - Again I don't know much about Chundoo (I've heard it called Sitka Spruce and I have it on the good authority of a Canadian distributor that it is actually Lodgepole pine so I do not know who to believe.) other than what I have read in some of the references I use. I understand that it is a little bit heavier than POC, but is straight and consistent and I am looking to get my hands on some to try.
Laminated Cedar or Pine - Shafts made from pieces of pine or cedar that have been laminated together to form a more homogeneous material are said to be made so that weight, spine and straightness can be controlled in the manufacturing process. I would be interested to know what people who have used these shafts think about their quality.
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