August 19, 2011
Mass-produced arrows often leave much to be desired. Common themes include fletchings set too far forward and a lack of adequate helical to ensure broadhead accuracy.
Fortunately, bowhunters need not depend on mass-produced arrows to get the job done to their satisfaction. A world of options exists for the "do-it-yourself" archer. Here are my tips for building your own hunting arrows from home.
Fletchings steer arrows. The farther back they're situated on the arrow, the better job they'll do. Fletching helical also can translate into improved accuracy, as faster rotation promotes added stability. Drop-away arrow rests mean too much helical isn't the problem it was in the days of dual-prong launcher rests.
Fletching your own arrows solves these problems, and it allows you to save time and money. Raw shafts run less than ready-fletched arrows, and basic components will cost only pennies per arrow.
Fletching your own arrows from a single jig also ensures each arrow is identical to the others, which promotes accuracy, and it allows you to add a distinctive style to your quiver.
Equipping yourself for at-home arrow construction doesn't have to break the bank. Your largest start-up cost is likely to be $100-$150 for an arrow cut-off saw, with a quality fletching jig a distant second. These tools pay for themselves with time.
Afterwards, all you need is a supply of fletchings, the correct adhesive for the shafting material you prefer, and if you like, arrow wraps to add flair and visibility. Splitting the cost of a quality saw, jigs and bulk material can allow several hunting buddies to share in the savings.
THE JIG IS UP
A fletching jig holds the fletching and arrow together in a repeatable position while glue cures. After the adhesive sets, an indexed dial clicks to the next position. Jigs are typically built for a three-fletch (120-degree) setup, though a four-fletch (90-degree) option is also possible on some models.
Some jigs are capable of multiple clamp settings, thereby allowing you to choose the orientation of your fletching on the arrow among three options: straight-fletch (off-set to produce arrow spin), right- or left-helical.
Metal models such as Bitzenburger's Dial-O-Fletch or Jo-Jan's Mono Fletcher are built to last decades, and they offer a high degree of fletching options and adjustability. Conversely, there's nothing wrong with molded plastic models, from those with a high degree of adjustability, to those with set fletching attitude to make things easier for beginners. Examples of inexpensive, functional plastic models come from Bohning, Bearpaw Archery, Arizona Archery Enterprises (AAE), Martin, Grayling and Arizona Rim Country.
In the big picture, fletching choices boil down to natural feathers or plastic vanes. Feathers are the most forgiving around arrows rests and provide a stabilization edge, but they can prove noisy, fragile and more costly than other options. Vanes are weatherproof and durable, but rest contact creates arrow kick, making tuning more difficult. Too, feathers are lighter, which translates into faster launch speeds, while the superior aerodynamics of vanes overtakes feathers at about 55 yards.
Feathers of all shapes, sizes and colors can be had from TrueFlight and Gateway. Vanes come from a larger array of manufacturers.
Standard, 4- to 5-inch vanes range in offering from Flex-Fletch, Duravanes by Norway Industries, AAE, Bohning, PSE Archery and GoldTip/VaneTec. These are what most pro shops use for day-to-day fletching. They get the job done, are highly affordable and available in any size imaginable. Of these, Flex-Fletch and PSE vanes require prep, Bohning's include primer and require no prep, and the others include adhesive activator for faster set-up.
Specialty vanes have also burst onto the scene with designs that are meant to address specific bowhunting concerns. Bohning's Blazer vanes, for instance, have a higher profile but shorter length. The two-inch vanes are designed to accomplish what standard four-inch vanes once did, even when using fixed-blade broadheads. This translates into a lighter vane that does the job of a heavier model, which means more downrange speed and increased FOC.
Bi-Delta vanes include racy double-tiered designs, a smaller leading vane connected to a larger rear vane by a thin web, creating more surface area in a lighter package when a heavy helical is applied. They get their name from the dual triangle, or bi-delta, seen when viewed from the rear of a three-fletched arrow. Another worthwhile innovation is Duravanes' Xeon, made of special material that makes the edges glow like fiber-optic sight pins, for better low-light visibility.
NAP's QuikSpin vanes use aerodynamic engineering to create faster rotation resulting in increased arrow stabilization. One face of the QuikSpin includes grooves that help air flow over its surface more efficiently. The other includes a kicker lip or "spoiler." Combined, they increase spin rates up to 300 percent over standard vanes.
More recently, Firenocks introduced the compact Aerovane, an off-set design using strategically-placed patches of smooth and rough texture and divots that also increase spin.
Vanes use release agents during manufacturing to assure they won't stick to molds. Many manufacturers treat vane bases with primer (Bohning) or adhesive accelerator (Duravanes, VaneTec, AAE, NAP), but many do not (Flex-Fletch and PSE). Release agents can retard adhesion, resulting in lost fletchings after abuse. For fletchings without primer or accelerator, simply rough the bases with sandpaper and wipe them with acetone afterwards to improve bonding.
Arrow shafts also carry contaminates that can foil adhesion. Prep agents from Bohning (SST arrow shaft surface cleaner) or NAP (QuikSpin Fletch-Prep) are obvious solutions. Or simply scrub shafts with an abrasive cleaner and Brillo pad, rinsing with warm water before drying with a clean paper towel. Some slick carbon surfaces make tight bonding difficult. Try dulling the fletching surfaces with steel wool or simply add an arrow wrap.
THE RIGHT ADHESIVE
Use the right glue for the job. Aluminum shafts are compatible with nearly all fletching glues, but slippery carbon is more problematic.
Fletching cements include slow-cure, solvent-based glues (Bohning Flex-Tite, Flex-Fletch Flex-Bond and Saunders Archery NPV), or quick-set cyanoacrylate, also known as "super glues" (Bohning Quantum XT, AAE's FastSet Gel, Goat Tough, Steel Force's Beyond Bond and Pine Ridge's Instant Arrow Glue). In general, carbon shafts call for cyanoacrylates. Vanes including adhesive accelerators always require cyanoacrylate glues for reliable results.
Cyanoacrylates and two-part epoxies work well to install inserts into carbon arrows, but bonds aren't reversible. Aluminum-arrow shooters can use hot-melt glue, like Bohning's Ferr-L-Tite or Saunders' Hunt-Bond, allowing the bond to be quickly reversed with heat.
Fletching your own shafts isn't difficult, and it can allow you to create better looking and higher quality hunting arrows for less money than it would cost you at the local bow shop.