08 September 2010

Cedar & Longbows

So long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men.
– The Witchery of Archery Maurice Thompson 1878

While I enjoy my longbows and their simple majesty, the warmth of the wood and the beauty of the extravagant grain patterns, it is the mystical flight of the feathered arrow that truly mesmerizes me.

Long ago I started building my own arrows. I've tried about every shaft material known, from aluminum, carbon, fiberglass, and several types of wood I keep coming back to cedar. Certainly the modern mass produced with incredible tolerances shafts are perfectly straight, perfectly round and perfectly well perfect. The reality is for me, I cannot shoot better than cedar shafts can be shot. That is to say, I can shoot as well with cedar arrows I've built as I can with more modern materials. I love the smell and warmth of cedar, I like working with it and I love the way they fly. To be sure, modern materials fly every bit as well, they just lack a certain something for me and since I shoot just as well with all materials, I shoot what I like the most.

I'm not an artisan, first to admit it.
I do make a serviceable arrow that I am not afraid to put down range.
I know there are folks who build nicer arrows and I am sure there are other ways to do it. What follows is how I do it, it's what works for me and how I like to do it.


I like tapered cedar. Why a tapered shaft? A shaft tapered on the nock end allows the arrow to pass through paradox with less lateral movement of the point end. This allows the arrow to recover more quickly. The tapered nock end also moves the center of gravity forward yielding a better flight characteristic. The taper also reduces pressure on the bow from the nock end of the arrow greatly reducing feather wear and tear. The rear taper also helps getting weight forward of center which also helps with flight.

In my case all of my bows draw the same weight, so all of my arrows are shafts/arrows are matched to that, spine weight of 60-65 pounds. I'm not going to explain spine, FOC and numerous other terms in this segment. If you are unfamiliar with the terms, GOOGLE is your friend.

Start with staining. In this case I'm using Cabot Redoak. I don't cut my arrows to length until after they are finished and read for point or broad head mounting. This gives me several inches on the end of the shaft that I can use to handle the shaft, by hand while dipping or staining, and when hanging to dry.

Hang to dry, in my case I hang 'em close to the wood stove in my shop, speeds the drying time up dramatically. Just some bowstring stretched tight and some quick-clips or clothespins do the trick.

Once the stain is dry, I dip them in a water based acrylic sealer. This stuff is great as it has no flash point, no odor, dries extremely fast and is very easy to work with. I've only found this particular type at www.3riversarchery.com and I highly recommend it. I use it in conjunction with a large dipping tube. After dipping hang to dry again, just like after staining.

While the first coat of acrylic is drying I'll usually go ahead and get my nocks, feathers, points and so on together and ready. I cut my own feathers so I put the drying time to good use.

In this case I'll be cutting feathers in the low profile banana fletch pattern. I have severa little chopper feather cutters in different patterns but I've really fallen for the banana fletch. Seems the industry is all about smaller and smaller feathers or vanes, I just really like the banana fletch.

Pretty simple to use. Load the full size feather into the cutter, align the points and square up the whole thing. Whack it with a mallet and out pops a perfectly cut feather every time.

-At this point the first dipped arrow is dry, usually hit it with some steel wool and re-dip it if it needs a second coat. If not I'll go ahead and put the nock on.
When I do put the nocks on I usually put on the cap.I used to go to the trouble of cap dipping, the practice of dipping the final 8 to 10" of the arrow into a colored paint. Time consuming and messy for me. These cap wraps are adhesive backed vinyl type material. Very easy to apply, quick, no mess, catching visually and last a long long time. In the five years of using them I've never had one peel off or fade. I have arrows five years old that still look new. Another great product.

Once I've cut the feathers I go to the Bitzenburger fletching jig, a tried and true jig that's been around for a very long time. I've had mine for close to twenty years and it still functions flawlessly. Pretty basic to use, once you have it set up. Place the cut fletch into the clamp, apply your adhesive or fletching tape, make sure the nock adapter is set correctly. Place the arrow in the jig, mount the clamp magnet and boom, perfectly placed fletch.

At this point I want to talk about adhesives. When I got started I used Bohning fletching glue and while it worked and I used it for years it wasn't ideal. Couple years ago I decided to try Bohning Fletching Tape, basically a very thin two sided tape with a thin filament backing. You strip the filament off with a sharp knife after you have applied it to the feather. I was skeptical in the beginning, but after building upwards of twelve dozen arrows and using them in all kinds of weather I must say I am thoroughly impressed with this product. Use is a breeze, no drying time, holds like you wouldn't believe. GREAT PRODUCT!

Finished fletching:

Time to cut to length and taper for the head.

I like the Tru-Center taper tool. I don't remember when I got mine exactly, or how many dozens of arrows I've used it on. Suffice it to say, it's a good tool that will last for a lifetime of arrows.

I used Kimsha Quick-Stick for the point adhesive. I like it better than normal hotmelt or fereltite because it does not get brittle in extreme cold. Other hotmelts I've tried tend to get very brittle when it's super cold. I live in Northern Minnesota, it get's a wee bit cold here. The Kimsha stick remains somehwhat flexible in any temperature.

Final set in the quiver.

First group with the new set, about 24 yards was the shot distance. As you can see the group wasn't bad with 2 that were slightly out. In the second image you can see the Woodsman broad heads where they exited the worn out bear target. All of them wreaking havoc through the hear/lungs area. Can't ask for much more than that.


  1. Top post brother.

    Really enjoyed reading this one,thanks.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.