How to straighten your wood arrows.

Written by RJ Bachner

One issue that plagues most traditional archers and Medieval ones as well is crooked shafts. After all, we make our arrows out of wood and wood bends fast and furiously under certain conditions so we must adopt some skills and strategies to combat this pain in the patootie.

There are a few factors involved in keeping your arrowshafts straight, such as moisture content, elastic memory in the wood, training, storage, gravity and most importantly, the consistency of handling.

Moisture content

Firstly I think I will discuss the effects of moisture on wood, as far as it concerns us anyways. Wood loves moisture, it will soak it up as fast as it can till saturation then it rots. This is natures way of recycling woodfiber, not what you want to have happen to your hard earned arrow shafts. to prevent moisture from soaking into the shafts we seal them with varnish, polyurethane, oils, waxes, something, everybody has their favs. This seals the shaft and holds what moisture and oils exist in the shaft where they belong while keeping the balance from changing as external conditions change.

Someone asked me why we should care about moisture content and the answer is both simple and complicated. Totally dry wood is brittle and splits easily when the moisture content is at 0% which is a bad thing considering the stresses we place our arrows under. As well, too much moisture can weight a shaft down and cause the individual wood fiber cells to swell which changes the internal stresses and causing the shaft to bend into new and weird shapes as these stresses try to work themselves out.

Imagine a handful of tiny balloons, each filled with water to a 1 inch diameter. Now we know water does not compress so as this jumble of balloons tries to settle itself in your hands, each balloon will change shape slightly to accommodate it's neighbors. If you could by some means now increase the volume of each balloon, you would see them all change and grow. This would not just change the shape of the balloons but of the whole jumble and so it is with wood fibre.

Elastic memory in wood fibre

Since wood is an natural material subject to a myriad of natural stresses during growth that we have no control over, wood shafts are naturally a wildly varying lot. Each shaft is slightly different as the wood grain runs through it differently and subjects it to internal bending stresses due to less than even moisture content in the wood. All is not lost though so bear with me.

Every material has a certain amount of give to it, where, when a force is applied to it, it will bend out of the way then snap back when the force is removed. This is called "elastic memory" and is what keeps the shaft in whatever shape it holds. There is a limit to this elastisism though, it is called the "elastic limit", beyond which the material will have taken a new shape and will not spring back to it's old shape. This is also called "plastic deformation" and is a property we use to force a shaft back to straight.


Arrow shafts are not straight by nature, they are wild, untamed and will go all willy-nilly as conditions allow. However you can train them to be straight by straightening them properly and keeping them that way. After a while the shaft will accept the new condition, that of being naturally straight and they will want to stay that way. If you comb your hair the same way all the time, it eventually will want to naturally fall that way.

There is a technique to training your shafts that I have learned over the years and it is as follows:

  • Store unsealed shafts in a place where the moisture level does not vary much but is about an average for your area. For example Montreal, where I live, is a very humid place so I let my shafts equalize with the environment in a closet where the moisture level changes little over time.
  • keep these shafts in firm bundles with elastic bands so that they all may support each other and all take the same shape. The bundles should be stored flat on a shelf or in a box so that the whole length is supported and not allowed to sag.
  • when ready to work with the shafts, straighten each one then dip them in your favorite sealant with 2 or 3 light coats. Do not allow the shafts to soak up huge amounts of the sealant. When dry, straighten them again and re bundle them so that they may once again come to balance with their new condition as the sealant fully dries into the wood.
  • From that point on, as you work on them, each step should be followed by straightening until the naturally want to stay that way
  • Once completed they should stay straight but just before using them you will want to make sure each and every time. Something in the way they were carried or laid down or maybe they were squished during the ride to the shoot, anything can put a new bend in them so make sure, take care and they will hold straight.

Straightening the shafts

Up till now I have given you some of the theory behind straightening a shaft because I do not believe that you can really do a good job if you do not understand what is happening. I do hope I have not bored you too badly :) but now we get to the meat of this page. Just how do we get these ratsafratit kinks out of my expensive arrows shafts, you ask? Well it involves applying pressure to the bend in such a way as the bend is reversed, along the length of the bend with sufficient force to alter the woods shape (Plastic deformation).

First off we need to identify the location of a bend and to do that we have a most excellent tool. Our eyes. What I teach is to hold the arrow up to some light or well illuminated surface and while holding one end close to your eye, turn it as you look along the entire length. Unless the bend is very subtle, it should be plainly obvious to the naked eye and you will be amazed at just how little of a bend will show up under such scrutiny.

Now, you want to support the shaft on both sides of the bend if you can with the bend facing away from you. Using light pressure from whatever tool you choose to use, try to bend the shaft back towards you, reversing the kink. To do this you will rub the tool up and down the shaft from one end of the kink to the other. As you rub the shaft it will bend at that point, compressing some of the fibres and stretching others, ironing out the kink by deforming the wood and introducing a new state to those fibres. Do not press too hard or the shaft may snap but you do not want to go too light either. A little practice will show what works best.

When supporting the shaft, I usually put the point on something solid and hold the shaft just above the section that kinks so that when I apply the tool, the whole shaft is not bent but just the kink. If you only hold the shaft at the ends, when you force it, you loose efficiency as the whole shaft bends and you have to use more force. You can also mung up other areas of the shaft and then you have more work to do or even over stress the shaft and snap it. (Been there done that)

The tool I use is, of course the cheapest solution that I can find and I am very satisfied with it's performance. It cost me 69 cents and I can carry it with me everywhere while shooting. It is a 6 inch threaded hook bolt , the hook is nicely rounded and I have polished it a bit with a very fine 3/4 inch round file. This allows a good grip on it because it is long enough to fit my big hands and the round hook does not press any flats into the wood when being used. The wood compressed is rounded and does not mar the finish of the wood.

My hook tool

Some folks insist on using such things as shaft tamers® or brass hooks sold specifically for the job but they do not work better than the hook and cost way more. I have also seen people use their hands and the field point of another arrow but it is hard to gauge where you are pressing with your hand and if you have many to do this can be hard on your hands. As well I have broken arrows trying to use a field point so I prefer my simple tool.

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