What makes a Superior Self Nocked Arrow?

Filed in Educational Seminars by on March 7, 2018 0 Comments • views: 104

ArrowsSince the early 90’s I have been involved with the Florida Frontiersmen club here in Florida and have been selling my wooden bows and arrows to members and participants of our premier event the Alafia River Rendezvous. I have always tried to impress on the participants of our Archery events the importance of using the right arrow with their bows. Most of the participants are not hunters or toxophiles like you would expect to see and be among at a traditional archery event. Generally they do not have a broad knowledge of their tackle. In an effort to enlighten them as to what makes a good self nocked arrow I wrote the following guide that I thought would help them in making there own arrows or what to look for in a well made self nocked arrow that they may have an opportunity to buy at our event. Many of the tips and instructions listed below are also good points that also apply to making any arrow and would benefit any arrows construction. What I will be describing below is what I call “Production Arrow” construction. What I mean here is arrows made from raw shafts purchased for the intent to make arrows as opposed to arrows made from cane, bamboo or shoots. Many of the techniques would apply but those arrows require extra attention to make them become an arrow shaft. Once you have learned to make these production arrows it would be a short few more steps to make more “primitive” arrows.

The following things make a well-fashioned Self Nocked Arrow in my opinion. I have now made thousands of self-nocked arrows and believe these are the items that are important and necessary to craft a quality arrow. I will assume that any one that is interested enough to read this and who intends to build there own arrows has researched arrow building enough to realize the tools and materials required, such as dip tubes, rasps, saws fletching jigs etc.

  1. Start with a shaft that is the right spine for the intended bow. This is probably the most important of all the items listed as shooting the wrong spined arrow out of a bow can never lend to consistentChoose Arrow accurate shooting. Spine of course, is a measure of deflection of a particular shaft. If you are purchasing the shafts from a supplier you will want to ask for shafts within a spine group that encompasses the spine you want to achieve.
  2. Shafts are sold in spine groups of 5# deviations. If for example you believe the shafts that are required should be 53#s, you would want to order shafts in the 50-55# range. If you are producing your own homemade shafts you will want to spine them your self with the aide of a spine meter.
  3. Choose one end of the shaft and grind a rounded surface on the end of the shaft that will receive the string. When I say grind I mean to use a rasp, file, and/or sanding to achieve a smooth rounded surface on the end of the shaft. Before you do this you should perform the first straightening procedure. This is nothing more than looking down the length of the shaft and seeing a bend, kink, or curves in the shaft. Once any are identified, simply use the base of your left hand (assuming you are right handed and right eyed dominant) to torque the shaft the opposite way while looking down the shaft. It will take a little practice but you will achieve a straight arrow in the end.
  4. Sand the raw shaft with 220 grit sandpaper including the nock end. This is important to achieve a surface that will be smooth and accept the sealants that will latter be applied. Most shafts are fairly smooth when received but some will have rough places along their length and this will help these areas. Also the sanding will remove any unseen materials that may be on the shaft and undetected. This procedure only takes several seconds to perform and is worth the effort. Use one whole sheet of 220 grit paper and pass the shaft back and forth though the paper held in your left hand while rotating the shaft and reciprocating it with your right hand, again, assuming you are right handed. You can change ends during this procedure once to get full coverage of the shaft Cut the nock into the emi-of the shaft that will receive the string to a depth of about + or – 7116th of and inch. Use a band saw or other means to achieve a rough-cut width of about 118th inch wide. This width when finished will readily accept a 16stran Dacron string that is commonly used on wood bows with weights over 40#s. If, however you are making arrows for smaller diameter bow strings you may want to reduce this width. I only reduce this width for arrows that will be made for bows that are under 20#s as stings can be double served to accommodate this wider width. Make sure the cut is preformed on the “rift” or face grain side, (the side that forms “feather points”). Make the cut on this side of the shaft so the cut will be at an angle of 90 degrees to the “reed” (edge grain).
  5. Rasp, file and sand the bottom of the nock opening so that the bottom becomes ”well rounded” as described in old literature. The bottom of the nock should be rounded from rift to rift grain so that it forms a semi-circle in section. This is important as t100_0879he finished arrow will make the least amount of contact at the center of the arrow diameter and thus not receive ”torqued” forces when going through the power stroke of the string when shooting the future arrow. I believe this one oversight by most self nock arrow makers to be the single most important way that they could improve there arrow making. Many arrows that I see at our Rendezvous event are simply sawn out nocks that are square at the bottom of the nock. I believe that this will lead to poor arrow flight and bowstring wear and tare. This procedure takes a little time but makes the better arrow in the end. It’s worth the effort!
  6. You should have already made the first straightening of the shaft before you ground the rounded nock end as described above in #2. It is now time to perform a second straightening before you give the shaft it first dip of whatever finish you are going to apply. The straitening procedure is the same as above. Once you have sealed the shaft you will notice that less straightening will be required in the future construction of the arrow. You will also notice that as the spine weight increases the straightening procedures will decrease in the number of times that they are required. I use Bohning lacquers for the finishes on my arrows and the first full-length dip is in “clear coat”. Use a horizontal 2″x4″ with finish nails spaced about 4 inches apart to hang the dipped arrow on for drying. Use cloths pins to hang the un-nocked end of the shaft. This first coat is thinned well and will be to seal and raise the grain on the shaft. The nock end of the arrow should be the bottom when dipped and you should have a card handy to blot the bottom of the arrow before the clear coat dries. This will help your finished arrow to not have dried protruding drips forming “nipples” on the end of the nocks.
  7. Once the shaft has been dipped and is dry it will require “wooling” to knock off the prickly grain that has been raised on the surface of the shaft. This is done with 0000 steel wool by holding one end of the shaft and reciprocating it back and forth with one hand and holding shaft between the steel wool in the other. The procedure is similar to the sanding procedure above in #3. It just takes a few passed to nock off the prickles.Wooling to Nock
  8. The next step is to re-enforce the nock below the bottom that you rounded in step #5. I do this with either un-waxed dentil floss or colored silk thread depending on what I intend the final appearance of the arrow to be. I do this now because the second dip described below will lock this reinforcement in place and solidify it. To do this, I fold back about 1.5″ of the thread on itself and lay the loop end ¾” below the deepest part of the nock. Start wrapping the thread around the shaft and itself below the nock where the rounded part fades back into the shaft. After a few wraps the thread will hold itself in place and you can continue the wrap simply by turning the shaft. Once you have wrapped about ¼ – 3/8 of and inch, feed the loose end through the loop that you previously left for this purpose and pull the opposite end to bring the looped end under the serving. Once under and snug, consolidate any gaps in the serving by pushing the edged of the serving towards each other and ending the top just under the rounded nock. Re-snug the serving one last time by pulling each end of the serving threads that are at opposite end of the served area. Use a sharp knife or box cutter to cut the excess serving ends flush with the body of the serving. 100_0872
  9. The second dip is ready to be performed after one more straightening as described in #2 above. Straightening just before the dip will insure that you have straight arrows latter. This means that you have all of the shafts that you have prepared to dip hanging by close pens on a horizontal 2″x4″ with finish nail hangers spaced far enough apart so that shafts that have been dipped will not inadvertently touch its neighbor. I use Bohnings Super Coat for this second and final dip on production self nocked arrows that I sell. This Super Coat dip is not thinned as much as the first Clear Coat dip. This dip will leave a nice smooth non-absorbent finish coat that can stand on its own or receive crown dipping and/or cresting if desired. If you were to want an extremely glossy finish, you would give the shafts one more dip after this second one. After this second dip you should use a card again to blot the bottom tip of the nock as you did before after the first dip. Again these final drips will harden on the nock end (bottom) of the shaft to form “nipples” if not blotted away before they harden.
  10. Crown dipping is optional but I do it a lot to dress up the arrow and to make it visible in flight for a couple of reasons. One is to see any irregularities in flight so adjustments can be made. Also, if you hunt with your self-nocked arrows as I do, it is much easier to see where you hit an animal under low light conditions with a crown­dipped arrow. Lastly it is simply easier to find the arrow latter, as the crown dip is easier to see sometimes. I will not go into this procedure because it is only cosmetic and does not make the arrow function any better. If you do decide to crown dip your shafts though, make sure you again use a card to blot off the excess lacquer before it starts to dry.
  11. Cresting also adds to the beauty of the arrow and again I do it a lot for that reason and because it also personalizes arrows to make them easily identified. Again as mentioned above with crown dipping I will not elaborate on this procedure as it to does not help the arrow function better or have any values other than the ones mentioned above. There are many reference manuals on arrow making and this topic along with crown dipping above are covered exhaustively in many of these manuals.
  12. Fletching the arrow can be done manually by hand and I do it some times if I am making an arrow from shoot shafts or cane/bamboo. I have been describing above what makes a superior production type, self nocked arrow from commercial produced shafts that most shooters use and will only describe what makes a superior fletch on these shafts. I use, and have only used, Bitzenburger Fletching jigs. These, in my biased opinion, are the best that can be purchased for many reasons. Weather you buy precut feathers or chop full-length feathers as I do does not matter. What does matter is making sure that they are all either left wing or right wing. The fetching jig that you will use will be left, right or straight. I use a left wing jig and all left wing fletches. I also make all my arrows for a right hand shooter, as the majority of shooters are right handed. i.e. (Arrow will be on left side of bow when held by the shooter). THIS IS IMPORTANT IN MY OPPINION: Make sure that the rift grain of the shaft that points forward is on top of the shaft when placing in the nock receiver of the fletching jig. The reason is because when a right handed shooter shoots this arrow, the remote possibility of the rift grain being lifted from a previously unnoticed break in the grain at one of these points will not be moving forward on the power stroke on the bottom. This alleviates the remote possibility of injury to the right-handed archer’ s left hand/arm if that point were to open up and pierce the shooters hand/wrist. If I were making a custom set of arrows for a left handed shooter the above would simply be reversed so the points were facing forward on the bottom. I will not go in to actually fletching the arrow as this can be done with a variety of tastes and preferences and is generally up to the arrow maker. I will say how ever that I try to use minimal length and height fletching, as I believe in tuning the bow and using the correctly spined arrows to achieve good consistent arrow flight. I do not like to drag arrows down with too much feather.100_0886
  13. What is important as far as I am concerned in regard to the fletching are two points that I notice that many arrow makers ignore. One is placing a small amount of glue at the rear and front of each fletch so as to seal and reinforce these points. I usually do this just after the last fletch on each arrow is secured and the arrow is removed from the jig. Secondly, when all arrows in a set (usually a dozen for me), are sufficiently dried/cured as for the glue at the ends of the fletch, I trim the leading end of the fletch. I usually wait a day or two for this to occur. When I say trim, what I mean is removing the abruptness at the leading edge/end of the fletch by taking a sharp knife or box cutter and tapering the leading edge down to the shaft so that there is not a “snag” to come in contact with the shooters rest/strike plate on the bow or more importantly the shooters hand/knuckle if shooting off the hand as many of us do with our wooden bows that have no rest. This trimming procedure takes a little extra time but is very important in my opinion as for getting off a clean/safe shot.
  14. Now that the back end of the shaft is finished, its time to cut your shaft to the desired length and taper for points. Remember the a field point will be tapered with a taper tool that produces a 5 degree taper and the extra length needed so that the back of the point will end up at the correct length of arrow desired. This extra length is usually between ¾” to 7/8″ for field points and longer for broad heads. Remember also that arrow length is measured from the deepest point of the nock to the back of the point to figure out the cut off point. Mark all arrows in a set to the correct length and cut off excess length.
  15. Tapering the shaft to receive the points can be done using a “pen cit’point type taper tool or, as I use, a grinding type taper tool that is much faster and I believe more accurate. Whichever type tool used can provide the required taper. What I believe is important is to give each arrow a spin testing after the taper is made. If the taper is out of whack you will know it after placing the point on the tapered point end of the shaft and spinning it from the nock end vertically on a hard surface. If you notice any “wobble” grind a small amount from the tapered tip and adjust the taper accordingly. When your taper tool is set up correctly this hardly ever happens. You can set up correctly using un worked shaft so that you have it set correctly before you start tapering your finished shafts.
  16. Gluing the points on the shafts is usually done with a hot melt type of glue. I use Ferr-L-Tite by Bohning with an alcohol burner. Heat a little glue and rub/apply a little to the taper of the shaft. Use a set of pliers to hold and heat the point over the alcohol burner. When sufficiently heated the point will slide on the tapered end of the shaft and by turning the shaft the glue will squish out from the back of the taper and the point. While holding the point with the pliers and the shaft with your hand place the tip of the point on a wood stop and remove the pliers from the tip while holding the shaft with a little pressure towards the wood stop. Use a part of an old tee shirt to remove the excess glue by rotating the shaft in your hand and holding the doubled thickness of tee shirt against the base of the point and back end of the taper where the excess glue is appearing. Once the glue is removed, pick up the pliers that you previously laid down and secure the point with them again. While holding the point with the pliers and the shaft with your other hand submerse the point in a small bowl of water to lock the point in place. Spin the arrow one last time to make sure the point is aligned correctly. If any “wobble” is present, reheat the point and adjust until no wobble.

IMPORTANT: When you receive field points from the source, make sure you clean the oil residue off them that was left in there manufacturing. This can be done by dumping the points in a bath of acetone that is place in a container with a top and gently agitating for a few minutes. Remove the points from the acetone bath and spread out on a paper towel until completely dry. This procedure will help eliminate the possibility of points working loose under use.

When the above items have been accomplished you should end up with what I believe are well made SELF NOCKED ARROWS.

“Hatchet” Jack Keener

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