Tips for Building Better Arrows
January 13, 2023, by Leigh Hauck
Learning to build arrows is no small undertaking. With so many tools involved and steps to go through, it’s no wonder that most archers are still using factory-fletched arrows and having their local pro shop put their arrows together.
I decided to start arrow building for two reasons. First, I take a lot of pride in having been involved in every fine detail of my hunts, right down to knowing that I glued my inserts and fletched my arrows. Second, I knew I could build more accurate arrows on my own. When you are putting the time into your setup, there is no doubt you will feel compelled to make every detail perfect. Every small detail adds up.
Through my first few arrows builds, I was quite discouraged. My fletchings were uneven, some arrows weren’t spinning properly, and they looked amateur.
I remember thinking, “this is a waste of time and money. I should just let the shop do it”. However, whenever I saw a guy at the range with a custom fletch job and a shiny arrow wrap, I was drawn back to trying it again. Soon enough, I was building hundreds of arrows per year for clients.
Here are five tips I have learned painstakingly over the years that will help you build better-looking and more accurate arrows.
Do you need to clean the shaft for building arrows? - YES!
It is a very exciting moment to unwrap a dozen new bare shafts and start fletching immediately. However, it is crucial to take the time to properly clean your shafts before fletching or putting an arrow wrap on.
There is a tremendous amount of carbon dust floating around in arrow factories, and as a result, your arrows will have a film of dust on them when they get packaged. This layer of dust makes it harder for your vanes to stick to the shaft or can make your arrow wraps peel off.
I use a paper towel and rubbing alcohol and scrub the last five or six inches of carbon where I will be fletching or applying an arrow wrap. It may not seem like a big deal, but after you clean a couple of arrows, you will be shocked at just how much carbon dust will be left on the paper towel. It only takes a couple of extra minutes to do and makes a big difference.
It is also important to clean the inside of the shaft before gluing an insert for the same reasons. Take a Q-tip cotton swap, and dip it in the rubbing alcohol. You will be able to clean the inside of the shaft, and your inserts will hold better as a result!
Do you need to use an arrow wrap - YES!
The first few sets of arrows I built for myself did not have an arrow wrap. I glued the vanes directly to the carbon. I remember shooting one arrow into another one day, and one of the vanes was nearly ripped off. After realizing how much effort was involved in scraping all the glue off the shaft and replacing the missing vane, I started using arrow wraps.
Using an arrow wrap allows you to peel off all the vanes on your arrow, should you have to refletch, leaving you with essentially a brand-new shaft to fletch underneath. There are more benefits than just this, though. Using a vane scraper to clean glue from an arrow shaft damages the carbon. It wears down the thin layers of carbon rolled into a tube and creates a weak point in the arrow's spine.
Using a wrap also has the benefit of making your arrow more visible. It will allow you to see your arrow better in flight, in a target, and the bush when trying to recover a lost arrow.
Understand how vanes stick to arrows
When learning how to fletch an arrow, it is important to learn how vane adhesion works through a combination of suction and glue, not just glue itself. The glue certainly holds a vane on the arrow, but the shape of the vane itself plays a more critical role. If you look at the base of a vane, it has a distinctive round shape to it. This shape, when applied with liquid glue to an arrow shaft, creates a suction. Each vane is essentially a small suction cup, and if there is air left in the space between the vane and the shaft, then no amount of glue will hold your vane on for very long.
When the suction is properly formed, pulling a vane off an arrow is nearly impossible. If you have ever been able to pull a vane off, then air had to be in between the vane and the shaft when it was fletched.
To ensure that the suction forms properly, you must manually push out any air from each vane after gluing. After I let the glue set in the fletching jig for about 10 seconds, I will take the arrow out and push on the top of the vane very carefully. You will often see small air bubbles emerge from the base of the vane. This will also push out any excess glue.
Remember, less is more with super glue. Wipe away any excess glue, and you will now have stronger vane adhesion and longer-lasting fletching!
Scratch carbon to get better insert adhesion
One thing I like to do before cleaning the inside of the arrow shaft where my insert will go is scratch up the inside of the shaft. Doing so creates small grooves and ridges that the insert epoxy will be able to hold onto, creating a stronger bond. You don’t want to overdo this, as it can weaken the arrow if the scratches you make are too deep. All it takes is a light abrasion to create a surface that glue can grip onto better than a smooth shaft.
You can buy a carbon prep tool designed for this, but sometimes these tools are too large to fit in the micro diameter shafts. I take a piece of snare wire and bend the tip with some pliers at a 90-degree angle. Then, I can stick this wire into the shaft and create some small scratches.
Doing this will create some carbon dust inside the shaft, so is important to clean the inside of the shaft using rubbing alcohol only after you have done this step.
Patience will pay off
Saying that patience will pay off applies to many steps in arrow building, but the first one that I am referring to is being patient enough to let your arrows sit overnight before shooting them. If you are using a long-set (12-24 hour) epoxy – which you should be – it is key to let the arrows standpoint down for the full cure time. Otherwise, impact from the shooting can prematurely break the epoxy and you will likely have inserts pop out.
Patience is also key when it comes to fletching. Fletching 12 arrows is not a quick task and can become mundane. I typically will do 2-3 arrows at a time and take a break or fletch while watching a Flames or a Blue Jays game. The last thing you want to do is start rushing and having uneven vanes that didn’t form their suction properly. It becomes a boring job to be totally honest, so don’t be afraid to take breaks.
Measure your improvement
As with any life skill, you will get better at arrow building through repetition. Here is a tip that will allow you to measure your improvement over time and build confidence in your arrow-building skills.
After each build I complete, I weigh every arrow (without a field point or broadhead) and write down every weight. I will then find the difference between the heaviest and the lightest arrow.
Over time, you should aim for this number the get as small as possible. The variance in weight comes from the amount of glue used on vanes, the amount of epoxy used on your inserts, and the amount of carbon that comes off when you are scratching or squaring off ends.
The best I have gotten was 1.6 grains between the heaviest and the lightest, but usually, I achieved somewhere in the 2.2 to 2.5 range. Anything under 3 grains is fantastic, and I always strive for better!
If you have any questions or would like to discuss the topic further, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are always more than happy to talk arrows and broadheads with fellow bowhunters!
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