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Let’s get this out of the way right up front: You don’t have to list arrow building among your skills to be a great bow hunter. You can order finished arrows from any of the major manufactures or, even better, buy them from your bow shop and leave the arrow building to the local pro. That’s all well and good, and your arrows will almost certainly fly just fine for hunting.
So why learn arrow building at all? Well, because you’ll have more options if you make your own arrows. A manufacturer or shop may not offer the exact finished arrow you’re after. Also, there are little tricks you can employ in the building process to help ensure perfect arrow flight. Finally, in the same way that it more fun to catch a fish on a fly you tied, there’s an extra degree of satisfaction that comes with taking a critter with an arrow you built yourself.
So, here is your arrow building guide, which starts not with building but with first asking yourself three questions. Let’s take them one at a time.
Three Questions to Ask Before Arrow Building
1. Do you want a three- or four-fletch arrow?
I shoot a four-fletch arrow. Why? Because testing with a high-definition microphone has proven to me that four low-profile vanes are a tad quieter than a higher-profile, three-vane setup. My accuracy is also a touch better when I step back to practice at distances beyond 70 yards. But that doesn’t mean you should choose the four-fletch option. I’ve killed hundreds of critters with arrows sporting three vanes at various ranges. If you prefer to keep things simple, a standard three-vane setup is all you need.
2. Do you want to wrap your arrow?
I shot wraps for 20 years, and I love them. They help with fletch adhesion, look cool, and make the arrow easier to see in flight and on a target. I’ve also recovered many arrows I would not have otherwise by spying a section of a bright-colored arrow wrap in the grass. They are fun and don’t add enough weight to the back of your arrow to matter.
I stopped adding wraps over the last couple of years to save a few bucks, and because I build so many arrows for testing, I don’t want the added task. But this is totally a personal decision. If you want wraps, go for it.
3. How to do you want the vanes oriented for your arrow building?
Many arrows fletched at the factory come with what is known as a straight fletch, which is just as it sounds: the vane is glued straight in line with the shaft, without offset or helical. A straight fletch will provide some added speed, but it won’t do much for arrow stabilization. Because the vane is straight, the wind doesn’t grab it to initiate arrow rotation. This is the least accurate vane choice, especially for shooting with broadheads.
With an offset fletch, the vanes are still straight, as in not curved, but they are set at a slight angler to the arrow shaft. This orientation stabilizes arrows well, even with a fixed-blade head, especially at close distances. Another benefit of an offset fletch is that it doesn’t pull speed from an arrow as quickly as the third option, below.
And that brings us to the helical fletch, which basically means that the vane is glued onto the shaft so that it has a slight curve to it. Plenty of helical options exist, and every archer has their opinion on what is best. In every case, that added helical or curve increases arrow rotation, improving arrow stabilization and accuracy. Most archers who shoot fixed-blade broadheads and want supreme precision shoot a helical fletch. Plenty of accuracy-obsessed mechanical fans do, too—myself included. I shoot mechanical broadheads at all big-game animals, and I prefer a 2-degree right helical fletch. The reason is simple. I’ve spent years testing every option, and this one simply works best for me.
Arrow Building in 4 Simple Steps
Now that you’ve answered those key questions, it’s time to start building your arrows. If you’ve never done it before, it can seem a little daunting. But the truth is, if you are even a little handy and have the right tools, you can do the job perfectly well and save some money in the process. Personally, I get a little extra satisfaction, too, in tagging a buck using arrows that I’ve built myself. Here’s the four-step process.
Step 1. Cut the shafts to size.
For the first step, you’ll need an arrow-squaring tool and an arrow saw, or you can have your shafts cut and squared at a pro shop. My method for measuring arrows before cutting is simple. I set my release in a mode that will not fire, draw my bow back, and have a friend make a mark with a silver Sharpie on the shaft where I want the cut—usually anywhere from 3/4 of an inch to 2 inches in front of the arrow shelf.
When doing this, consider what type of insert or outsert you’ll be using. If you’re shooting an outsert, which protrudes from the shaft, remember that it will add a little length to your finished arrow. The most important thing here is that you don’t cut your shafts so short that an attached broadhead will interfere with or come back too far into the shelf. This can cause damage to the bow—but, much worse, it could slice up your bow hand. Be careful. For reference, I shoot a draw length of 29 inches, and my finished arrows, with nock and insert, measure 28-1/4 inches.
When cutting arrows, leave the nock inserted and then square the cut end with the squaring tool, which is nothing more than sandpaper attached to a perfectly square piece of metal. Afterward, you need to remove the nock and square the arrow’s backend. Don’t skip either squaring step. In order for your nocks and broadheads to spin true, those cuts need to be perfectly square.
Step 2. Install the insterts.
After your arrows are cut to size and squared, use a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol or acetone or clean any carbon residue from the inside the arrow shaft. Allow the cleaning solution to dry, and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding insert attachment. (For simplicity’s sake, “insert” refers to both inserts and outserts in this section.) In most cases, inserts can simply be glued in using any approved aftermarket insert glue. You just apply some adhesive—not too much—to the part of the insert that goes inside the arrow. Twist the arrow as you push the insert into the shaft to distribute the glue against the shaft wall evenly. Once the insert is seated, take a paper towel and remove any excess adhesive. Then allow the glue completely dry via the instructions.
Step 3. Add a wrap, if wanted.
If you plan to add a wrap, this is the time to do it, after the inserts have had time to dry. Lay the wrap down on a flat surface, line the back end of the arrow (below the nock) up with one edge of the wrap and roll your arrow across it slowly while using downward pressure. That’s all there is to it.
Step 4. Fletch your arrows.
The last step is to fletch your arrows, which is basically just a matter of gluing on your vanes. For this, you’ll need a quality arrow fletcher. I have used the well-known Bitzenburger fletching jig for years, but there are lots of other good options out there. All come with or provide the option to purchase various arms to create different fletch orientations (straight, offset, or helical). One of the reasons I like the Bitzenburger is because while some jigs do not give you the option of easily switching from a three-fletch to a four-fletch configuration, it does.
The fletching process is slightly different with various jigs, but very straightforward with any of them. The first step is applying a bead of fletch glue down each vane. Don’t get carried away; a little goes a long way, and you don’t want much excess running out from underneath your vanes. Then follow the jig’s instructions to attach the vanes to the shaft. The jig will align the vanes perfectly in the correct orientation and hold them there until the glue dries enough to remove the arrow from the jig.
That’s it, when you’re done fletching, you have completed the arrow building process—and ready for the next step, which is bow setup. Stay tuned.