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BILL CUNNINGHAM
Captain - Staff Writer

 

The North American Frontiersmen

1750-1843

Smoke Signals

Nov./Dec. '09

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MAKING ARROWS ON THE CHEAP

By: Bill Cunningham

If you do enough shooting you will find that you are using up more arrows than your finances can easily afford. This will be due to shafts hitting something that is too hard for it and it splinters or breaks. When this happens you might be one of those folks who gets out the five minute epoxy and glues the shaft back together. Well, I suppose that works for some, but what has happened in addition to a very unsafe practice, is that the spine and weight of the shaft has been radically changed. Accuracy will suffer and who knows what it does to the bow!

Another thing that eats arrows is a succeeding arrow striking the previous one right on the nock. It usually breaks the plastic or self nock and splits a significant piece out of the shaft that no amount of trying with glue is going to fix. If the shaft is a tad too long for your draw length and breaks at an end, then sometimes it can be saved by shortening to the correct length. Of course, if you are in the habit of making all of your shafts too long, then make some shorter by repairing them, you have ended up with arrows of varying lengths, in which case you will be really screwing with your form. And we all know that consistent form is everything!

Then there are those arrows that become crooked or twisted. There are a number of arrow straightening devices out there. Some of them work. I like the brass hook that you run up and down the shaft to heat and crush the wood fibers so that you can manipulate the wood back to a straightness. I do this by putting one end of the shaft on my shoulder and the other on the heel of my hand. I sight down the shaft, find the out of plumb spot or spots, put the hook on with some gentle pressure and run it back and forth over the spots a half dozen times. Then I use the hook to bend the shaft to a straight position and let it cool. Sometimes I have to do this several times to get it right.

I have another little jewel that works fairly well. It is a double wheel-like object with a groove in the middle between the two round ends. The whole thing is a solid machined piece with no moving parts. I lay the shaft on a firm level surface and run the tool quickly up and down it several times. Evidently it heats the wood and crushes the fibers. It does a pretty good job of it as the shaft is usually straight when I finish.

And of course perhaps the most difficult to repair shaft is the one that gets away. Not much you can do with it if you canít find it! Shooting in grassy or weed covered areas without using Judo points is a great way to lose them. Of course, if you shoot the same areas year after year, you will sometimes come across one of those shafts you lost a year or two ago. They will probably be gray with exposure or have broken tips or other problems. And donít count on finding them all. Ainít gonna happen!

Soósince Port Orford or other type shafts cost so much nowadays thanks to someoneís lobby and the tax that Congress put on wood arrow shafts, it seems another way can be found to continue to use up shafts without breaking the bank.

You might go to the hardware store and buy dowels. Hardwood or soft, they are usually crooked and require lots of work to straighten. Because crookedness is their natural state, they will always be trying to get back to being crooked no matter how much labor you expend in getting them plumb. I know that at the factory where shafts are made, they begin as a fairly large diameter. Inspectors check them and if they are not plumb they send them to the next smaller diameter machine and so on down to 5/16". If they donít pass inspection at that point they become a stickósometimes a crooked dowel.

I like an approach that is perhaps a bit more labor intensive but is cheap and once the shaft is finished, more satisfying. What I do is to go to a major building supply store or garden center and for a couple bucks purchase a large bundle of cane (or reed or bamboo, whatever you choose to call them) tomato stakes. I get choosy, picking the most desirable diameter and the straightest I can find. That is a relative thing because by the nature of their growth they are crooked.

Okay. Once the bundle is at home I begin by separating the ones with the diameter closest to what I want. I usually get one arrow shaft from each stake although sometimes I can get twoónot often though. I measure the portion of the stake to my draw length and cut it at the nodes closest to what I want. Now what I have is a crooked piece of cane that looks as if it is pretty much useless. But Au Contraire!

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To straighten the favored piece, pick an endóI usually begin with the largest. You will have to choose a heat source. This can be the coals of a campfire, a kitchen stove, a back-packerís stove or even a heat gun (my choice). Heat the nodule forward of your beginning end until it just begins to glow a very dull red or as much as you dare. It shouldnít turn black or burn. Gloves are a help! Next, straighten the second section to match the direction of the first. The cane will feel just like nearly melted plastic. Hold it in place until it cools. Go on to the next section and so on until you have a straight shaft. You may need to go back to the beginning and do it over just to fine tune it.

Some folks basically stop right there and affix a point on the smaller end and fashion a sinew bolstered nock in the node on the other end with a file or knife. I donít like the idea of using a lightly reinforced cane nodule nock I suppose that works some but not for me. It is at this point that I prefer to check the things for spine weight and put them on a scale so I know how much each one weighs. This way I can eventually get matched sets.

For lighter bows the practice of wrapping the ends with sinew or perhaps linen thread and covering it with hide glue is probably alright, but I donít do that. For one thing, some of the shafts come out with a weight that makes them unsuited for a light bow but very useable for heavier ones and I donít feel comfortable with the idea of letting the pressure of a fifty pound bow be taken up by a cane nodule).That results in that niggling little feeling I get that tells me for safety sake Iíd ought to do betterónever mind the extra labor.

To make the arrow safer and, I believe, more functional, not to say more period authentic, I like to make hardwood inserts for each end. This is the time I use hardwood dowels. I begin by drilling a hole through the nodules. Then with a piece of dowel about three inches long and as close to the diameter of the shaft as I can get it I determine the length of the nock I want and mark it. I do the same with the end I want for the point. I put the piece of dowel in a drill press (Iíve also whittled them down with a knife and have even put them in a drill motor that I clamp down in a vise. You have to do the best you can with what you have). I use the coarse side of a horseshoe rasp to get most of the excess wood off the remaining length of the dowel, usually about two inches. (The point here is to make an insert that will go into the hole youíve drilled in the shaft). Once Iíve removed the bulk of the wood (and that ainít all that much) I use the fine side of the rasp to get it down to its finished size. I tape three hacksaw blades together to cut the nock and because Iím sort of a nervous Nellie when it comes to safety I put some sinew in the bottom of the cut as reinforcement and glue it there with epoxy. When it is dry I use a small round file to make a comfortable bed in the glue for the string. I then put some hide glue on the insert and put it in the hole I drilled in the shaft, making sure the shoulder section fits snug against the nodule. I then wrap hide glue impregnated sinew or linen thread from about a half inch below the nodule of the shaft up to the bottom of the nock slot. Once the glue has dried completely, I give it another coat.

On the point end I taper the dowel and glue on whatever type and weight point I want. If that happens to be a broadhead of any kind I split the shaft back to the deepest distance where the point will be inserted. Once the point is in place I wrap it with sinew just as if the shaft were of wood. I coat the sinew with hide glue, let it cure and then give it another coat.

Regardless of the type of point, the dowel will eventually be inserted into the shaft. If you are going to glue it there, be sure to align it properly with the nock end. I donít glue my point dowel into the shaft. The major reason is that should the point break off as sometimes happens to all of us, the job of repairing it is time consuming. I coat the insert with beeís wax and insert it, being sure the larger end fits snugly against the nodule. The diameter of the tapered end should be such that it fits tightly (but not so tight that it cracks the cane) into the hole drilled through the node. The wax will help hold it in place and also help prevent debris and moisture from entering the shaft. Now should the tip end break it is the insert, not the shaft itself, that is destroyed. The damage is easily repaired by shaking out the tapered piece if it hasnít already fallen out, cutting and inserting a new tapered dowel. Indians used to carry a number of inserts with them as a matter of course.. As the Indian fellow is famous for reputedly saying, "Anyone can make a bow but to make an arrow is a heap of work!" Thereís wisdom there.

True, making arrows this way takes some labor and some trial and error to get it going smoothly. But. . . the arrows donít cost much and as you get better at making them the labor becomes rather minimal.

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