March 27, 2023
By Joe Bell
When an arrow flies at high speed, it is subject to air resistance. This is what allows the arrow’s fletching to produce drag. Fletching that is larger and has a strong degree of helical will consequently produce increased resistance — an element that optimizes flight recovery and stabilization. This aids in steering the arrow better.
The same can be said with the surface area of a broadhead, whether it be a fixed-blade or mechanical. It has the ability to “catch air” and steer the projectile one way or the other. However, as long as the fletching does its job of catching more air than the broadhead, it will remain in control and guide the arrow with as little oscillation as possible. Of course, this only applies if the broadhead turns on a centralized axis. If there are any irregularities in how the broadhead rotates, air-drag suddenly changes, and so does the arrow’s flight and steering dynamics. This introduces a phenomenon known as “planing.” This is why sufficient fletching size and precise broadhead-to-arrow alignment are crucial for shooting consistency. If one or both are lacking, poor accuracy will result.
To ensure top forgiveness and accuracy out of your hunting setup, you must align each broadhead to the shaft perfectly, so it rotates smoothly to eliminate steering problems. Here are a few different ways to true-up broadheads with the arrow shaft. Not every method works for every arrow and broadhead combination, so I suggest using as many of these techniques as needed to achieve perfect alignment.
Keep in mind, if your bow is not tuned for straight arrow flight, properly aligned broadheads will make little difference in improving shooting performance. For this reason, you must tune your bow prior to using broadheads. If you know little about bow tuning, I suggest reading “Bow Tuning for Beginners.”) This article will pave the way for easy and effective bow-tuning.
Secondly, you can’t true a broadhead without spinning the shaft. There are two simple ways to do this. You can spin the arrow on its nose like a child’s top and then look for any signs of misalignment or wobble. Or, better yet, you can use an arrow-rolling device, which allows you to rotate the shaft slowly or quickly. Arrow rollers are clearly more precise, since you also can position the broadhead’s nose next to a reference point, such as a mark on a wall or box, to detect the smallest misalignment. Pine Ridge makes a quality spinner that breaks down easily, so you can take it on hunting trips.
Lastly, arrows are cut to size with a cut-off saw. Each cut is rarely the same, leaving the surface slightly off-camber and not square. To polish the end so it’s flush, you’ll need some sort of squaring tool. G5 Outdoors makes a great Arrow Squaring Device (ASD) with a built-in cradle. Simply lay the shaft into the device, and then spin the end against the friction-bit several times to clean up the surface. You can shave the face of the insert or each end of the shaft using this tool. Lumenok’s F.A.S.T. Tool is another quality product for squaring off both ends of your arrow.
You also can square off inserts or ends of the shaft with fine-grit sandpaper taped to a block of wood. By placing this block of wood against a level surface, you can then line up the arrow spinner so it’s 90 degrees to the wood, then place the shaft in the spinner. While keeping the shaft against the sandpaper surface, rotate it and smooth-out the end. Be sure to position the spinner exactly perpendicular to the wood to obtain a perfectly even surface.
Screw On And Rotate
Once the preliminary steps are in place, you can begin screwing on broadheads to shafts and start spinning and checking alignment. Usually out of six arrows and broadheads, you’ll get lucky and have one or two that spin perfectly without further modification.
However, for the other arrows and broadheads, you’ll have to troubleshoot to see if you can improve the seating between the broadhead and arrow. I’ve found the simplest and most effective way to do this is to rotate the broadhead’s washer by 90 degrees, then tighten the head back up. Then try spinning again. I usually do this over and over again, using different heads with different shafts until I find the right combination. Most of the time it works like magic. If the washer is off by one-thousandth of an inch, it probably won’t square-up well, causing alignment problems.
If rotating washers is ineffective, or if your broadheads don’t use washers, you can try re-squaring the insert or shaft to see if it makes a difference.
Swap Out Replacement Blades
Like washers, I’ve found that replacement blades are sometimes out of tolerance, causing the butt of the blade to dig into the washer and insert face. This causes poor alignment, despite rotating the washer in different positions. When this is the case, I often swap out blades, trying them in different broadhead ferrules, hoping for a better result. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If the broadhead you’re using doesn’t have removable blades, try one of the following steps.
Change The Surface
There are aftermarket washers available that can improve broadhead-to-shaft alignment. Nylon washers, such as those made by Cir-Cut, or rubber O-ring washers sold by 3Rivers Archery, give just enough to improve broadhead seating. Firenock also makes precisely machined titanium spacers to improve seating tolerances between shafts and broadheads.
Any type of insert that gives a little can also help. I was a big fan of Easton’s Polycarbonate arrow inserts when they were offered years ago. I found them to be tough yet malleable enough to make proper broadhead alignment a breeze.
Gluing in inserts with slow-cure epoxy is another trick to improve alignment. By attaching inserts to broadheads, then gluing them in, you can rotate the insert and broadhead combination in small 90-degree positions until the broadhead spins better.
Some bowhunters prefer hot-melt glue for this same reason. Once an insert is installed using hot-melt glue, it easily can be heated up again and then rotated with the broadhead already seated. By twisting the broadhead, the insert usually will seat more flush, improving alignment. Bohning and Easton both make quality hot-melt glue that is safe to use with carbon shafts.
Flex The Nose
Gold Tip offers an additional method for improving broadhead alignment. Using the arrow-roller and reference point, you can rotate the shaft slowly while placing the nose of the broadhead next to a reference point. There will be a high and low spot in how the broadhead rotates. Take a pencil and mark the high spot on the arrow shaft or broadhead. You can then remove the shaft and press the high spot of the broadhead against a firm, non-marking surface in an attempt to improve alignment. You are only applying a light amount of resistance with this technique. Be cautious, making sure you’re holding the shaft safely behind the broadhead area to avoid injury.
Using this method allows the threads to mash slightly, eliminating the unsquared surface between the insert and broadhead shank.
Switch Broadhead Brands
Sometimes, switching to a higher-grade product is what’s needed to improve broadhead alignment. I used one particular brand of fixed-blade broadheads for close to a decade, when suddenly the quality seemed “off.”
Out of six broadheads, only three or four would align perfectly with my arrow shafts, no matter what I did, so I switched to a different brand that was more precisely made. Besides improved spinning and concentricity, quality broadheads are more consistent in weight. I prefer broadhead brands that weigh within plus or minus 1 to 1.5 grains of each other.
No arrow performs well unless it’s perfectly balanced. Broadheads that don’t sit flush with the shaft will cause the arrow shaft to flex and vibrate unevenly as it launches from the bow. These mild disruptions will produce drastic point-of-impact differences. Such impact problems are not only bad for a bowhunter’s confidence but absolutely deplorable for hunting. We simply owe it to ourselves and the animals we hunt to be as accurate as possible. By insisting on true-spinning broadheads, you’ll become more effective and ethical as a bowhunter.