June 27, 2013
I've read that American Indians often marked their individual arrows so they could claim their kills. It probably helped them determine who should be a hunter and who should be a gatherer. While it's doubtful any of us will be running down a herd of buffalo anytime soon, it is nice if your arrows have their own unique look.
When I first got into bowhunting in my early teens, I thought arrows were something you bought pre-made and ready to shoot. When I got into traditional archery, a whole new world was opened to me, and a part of that world was making my own arrows.
If you have never experienced the pride that comes with making your own arrows, I encourage you to give it a whirl. I have been making my own for the last 25 years. It requires only a minimal investment to get the equipment, and the payoff is well worth it. Additionally, I have found my kids really enjoy it, and it helps build their natural fascination with archery.
First, I want to point out that the methods I will cover here will work with any arrow material. So no matter what your personal preference is, you can make your own arrows by following my advice.
Choose whatever arrow you like and purchase at least a dozen bare shafts. You can have them pre-cut to your arrow length or you can cut them yourself. I prefer cutting my own and find I use my arrow saw quite a bit. There are a few different saw models on the market and most will run you between $200 and $300. They are extremely handy for experimenting with different length arrows to match your individual bow and draw length perfectly.
Most bare carbon shafts come with nocks attached and inserts included in a small bag. Most bare aluminum and wooden shafts do not come with inserts or nocks, so you will need to purchase them separately. Nocks are $2.50 to $8 a dozen, and inserts for aluminum shafts are usually around $5 a dozen.
Bear in mind, you save a lot by buying larger quantities of nocks and inserts. I usually buy 100 at a time to lower the price. For wooden arrow shafts you can buy them pre-tapered for nock and point or you can do it yourself by purchasing a taper tool. Prices vary for tapering tools but I like the TruCenter V2 taper tool. It is about $30 and you can do both the nock and point taper with it. Additionally, with wooden shafts, you may want to add a wood stain before dipping or adding cap wraps. You will also want to seal the shaft with a poly or blue clear dip.
First off, you have to decide if you want to dip or put a cap wrap on your shaft or just go au natural. The advantage to dipping or using a cap wrap on the nock end of your arrow, besides aesthetics, is that it will help your feathers adhere to your shaft. This becomes an even larger advantage if you're hunting in wet or really cold conditions.
Since I don't have enough room in this article to go into great detail on dipping, it is basically just dunking about eight inches of your arrow from the nock end into the paint color of your choice. You will want to leave the nock off for this process, and on carbon shafts you will want to plug the end so paint doesn't go inside the shaft.
After drying, you can crest them if you choose and then dip your arrow into a clear sealer that will protect the paint. This is most commonly done on wooden arrows, but I have dipped both aluminum and carbon as well. For dipping, there are special paints and clear sealers you can purchase. You will also need a drying rack and tubes for the paints.
I prefer a cap wrap to dipping because it is quicker, easier and cheaper, and I have more options for colors and/or patterns. A cap wrap is simply a sticker that comes in various colors, patterns, and options for graphics. You simply lay the sticky side up and roll it onto your arrow. A flat surface helps ensure no air bubbles get under the wrap. It takes just seconds to put on and there is no waiting time. As soon as it is rolled on, you are ready to crest or fletch. If you're going to put a cap wrap on wooden arrows, be sure to buy the wraps made for wooden shafts. They are a bit wider to go around the larger 11/32 or 23/64 diameter shafts. Cap wraps usually cost between $6 and $12 per dozen, depending on how fancy a wrap you want on your arrow.
Making your own arrows is a great hobby to get into. In my next column I will cover cresting, fletching, and feather splicing.