How I Make Arrows

By Sam Harper

Making footings

As you already know, the reason I've done footings in the past is because my arrow material was not long enough, and I needed an extension. But that is not the primary reason people make footed arrows. There are a few other reasons:

1. They're pretty, and they give you bragging rights.

2. Most wooden arrows break near the tip. A hardwood footing reduces that risk, making the arrow more durable.

3. They add weight to the front of the arrow, changing the center of gravity, and supposedly making the arrow fly better.

Concerning #2 and #3, they're obviously not effective unless the footing is made of a harder and heavier wood than the rest of the arrow. Purple heart seems to be a popular material to make footings out of, but you know how I feel about purple heart.

I had a scrap piece of bloodwood laying around for a few years, and thought I'd use that.

Bloodwood is beautiful, it contrasts well with white wood, it doesn't bleed like padauk (ironic considering its name), and it's hard and heavy. I've only footed arrows with it once, and it made me nervous because it was so hard. It dulled my dowel cutter a little.

I was able to get eight footings out of this piece, and they are 8 inches each.

There's only seven in this picture because I lost one. But I found it, so all is well. I'm only making six arrows anyway.

I made a pencil line at the 5 inch mark.

I set the rip fence to cut a kerf down the middle. I just eyeballed it. I didn't measure. The way I do it is I make a small cut like this:

From that, I can tell whether the cut is going to be centered or not. If not, I adjust the rip fence. It's important to have that cut centered because if you don't the footing may not line up with the arrow because the thin side will want to bend more than the strong side. Here's an exaggerated illustration.

Here are all the footings cut:

If you sand the inside a little with a fingernail file or an emory board, it'll be easier to get the glue in there.

The next step is to make chisel ends on the ends of my shafts. I start by making a pencil mark a little less than 5 inches from the end so the footings can overlap a little. I also make a pencil mark on the ends that is perfectly centered.

It's important that those marks on the ends be dead center because those are going to guide me in making my chiseled ends. If they're not centered, my footings could be misaligned. Here's an exaggerated illustration.

If you need to, draw these extra lines to guide you.

I use a belt sander to get my chiseled ends, but you could also use a thumb plane. Don't make the chiseled ends perfectly sharp. Remember the kerf in your footing has a square bottom, so leave the chiseled ends a little square. You should also dish your chisels a little so they'll go into the footing better. Lemme illustrate why.

See how if you don't dish it, the wings of the footing have to sharply change direction? That'll make it hard to get your arrow in there, and it might break the footing. You should use trial and error. Put a little c-clamp on your footing just before the cut so it doesn't split, and slide your chisel in.

You should be able to slide it all the way in without the feeling that something is about to break.

Here's what mine look like once they all fit.

Getting the glue in the footing is a little tricky. Here's how I do it. I hold the footing upright and pry it open with fingers and hold it like this:

I stick the nozzle of my glue in the top, squeeze out some glue, and let it drip down as far as it will go. I'm using Titebond III, by the way. Then I lean that against something so it's still upright, and I put glue on both sides of the chisel, and spread it with my finger.

You should always pee before you do any kind of glue up because if you have to pee while you're doing the glue up, it'll stress you out, make it hard to concentrate, make you rush, and make you make mistakes.

Putting the chisel in the footing can cause problems, which I illustrate here.

See the problem? How are you going to slide the chisel in without the wings of the footing just pushing the glue right off of the chisel as it goes in? There are a couple of things I do. First, hold the footing open like I showed you above. Second, slightly twist the chisel as you insert it. Of course the closer to the bottom you get, the less you can twist it, but at least if it's twisted when it first goes in, most of the glue will stay on the tip of the chisel and won't get pushed off.

Now check for alignment and make any necessary adjustments.

If there's a misalignment caused by your chisel not being centered or the cut in your footing not being centered, you can still align it. Just bend the footing in the right direction and hold it there while applying squeeze clamps. I use three squeeze clamps. First, I put one in the middle, then I put another one on each side of the first one.

I've only got three of those little c-clamps, so I can only do three arrows at a time. I got those for about 50 cents each at Big Lots, by the way. I suppose I should go get some more.

Making square things round

Here they are the next day, glue good and dry.

Before I use the Dowel Maker, I sand the flares off with the belt sander so it will go through easier.

You could use a thumb plane if you want. I use the thumb plane to take off the corners because it makes it go through the doweler easier.

You can actually forego the dowler altogether and round your shafts with the thumb plane. That's how George Tsoukalas does it. I use to use this doohickie to hold my arrows while I planed them.

I discovered that to be unnecessary because it's easy to just hold the shaft with the corner up to plane it. Planing arrows is easier than I expected it to be, too. I was afraid my arrows would come out oval instead of round or that I'd have too much shaved off one part of the arrow and not enough of the other. But I was wrong. It's actually very easy to be consistent. And you don't have to make it totally round with the plane. You can just shave off the four corners and create an octagon. Then shave off those eight corners and have a 16-agon (whatever that's called), and it's practically round. From there, you can sand it, and it'll be round. It's time-consuming, though.

Look at all the little shavings I got from the thumb plane.

If you're one of those survive-in-the-woods type people, you can bag this up and use it to start fires. I decided to use a match and burn it just for the fun of it.

Here's a picture of three of my shafts that have already gone through the dowler (the three on the bottom), and three just after planing the corners (the three on the top).

Here's a look at my dowel maker, screwed to a 2x4 with an infeed hole and outfeed holes.

This is a Veritas Dowel Maker just like the one in the link. I get size 3/8".

Here's another look at my infeed hole and my outfeed holes.

The infeed hole is helpful because sometimes the drill wobbles when you're putting an arrow through, and that causes the dowel cutter to cut unevenly. The outfeed holes are helpful to keep the arrow from whipping around on the other side.

It's not hard to get them lined up. I attached the infeed hole on the end of the board, so it was the easiest. I put an arrow through it and got it centered just right. The outfeed holes weren't that hard either. I drilled the holes in the pieces of wood first. Then I put the arrow through the dowel maker and placed the hold on the board. I grinded one edge of the wood with the belt sander and checked again until I got it lined up with the arrow. Then I glued it in place.

The outfeed holes are 3/8". The infeed hole is a little bigger, but I can't remember how big. Just big enough so a 3/8" square can fit through it. I took off the corners of the holes to create sort of a funnel so it would be easier for the arrows to go through.

After making over 20 arrows with the dowel maker, I've decided it's not the best way to get arrows round, although it's at least easier than planing. But I have some complaints.

First, if you buy this dowel maker and try to use it right out of the box, it probably won't work. You've got to adjust the blade to get it to work right. Plus, I've broken several shafts while drilling them through. I'm sure that's partly my fault for pushing them too hard. I have the least amount of success with pine. I've never broken a walnut or maple shaft.

Second, depending on the wood you're using, it creates a very rough surface, so you have to do a lot of sanding to get it smooth.

Third, you have to do a lot of sanding anyway because 3/8" is kind of thick for most arrows, which are around 11/32".

I've seen a lot of ingenious ways of making square blanks round, but the best thing I've seen is this contraption that uses a router.

Here's a video showing one of these in action.

If you want to make one of these, I highly recommend looking at this thread which shows in detail how to make one.

This method of making shafts is far superior to my method for these reasons:

1. You're less likely to break your shafts because you're not turning them against a blade that gets more and more dull as you go.

2. You can adjust it to make your shafts whatever diameter you want, and it will be exact.

3. In most cases, you don't even have to sand your shafts when they're done.

The only drawback is that you may not have a router, and building it doesn't look that easy to me. You can sometimes get a cheap router at a pawn shop, though.

Now back to my inferior method of making dowels. I chuck a bolt into a drill with a head that fits a socket with a square hole that fits a 3/8" ratchet. That way I can put my shafts into the square hole in the socket and put the head of the bolt in the socket.

Then I drill the shaft through the dowel maker.

I started off with some scrap pieces to make sure the blade was adjusted correctly. Then I tried one of my shafts, and it just would not cut the bloodwood. It worked find on the Douglas Fir. I tried adjusting the blade, but couldn't get it to work. Finally, I took the blade off, sharpened it, and put it back in, and it cut the bloodwood just fine.

I did break a shaft in the process, though.

That ended up not being a problem since my shafts were way longer than they needed to be, and it broke near the end. I just cut it shorter, and it was fine.

Check out all the shavings it created.

Of course I had to make another fire.

The shafts came out kind of rough and thick, so I used a drill to spin sand them. There are different ways to do this. Sulphur, from the Leatherwall puts an old sanding belt in a vise and drills it (see his arrow tutorial). Some people just hold sandpaper in their hands and spin sand it, but that'll burn your hand (unless you wear gloves), and won't sand quite as evenly. Your arrow could turn out bumpy.

I don't like either of those methods. I made this little doohickie.

I just took a block of wood, drilled a 3/8" hole in it, drilled it in half along the hole, sanded the inside to make them a little more shallow, shaved off the corners, and put a hinge on it. To use it, I just fold a piece of sandpaper in half, put it in there, and squeeze it against the arrow. The arrow works its way into the groove, and I spin sand it. I like this method.

But I broke two arrows doing it.

I was pretty bummed about that, and it made me question whether I was qualified to do this tutorial. But I figured I'd continue because (1) I've got a disclaimer in place, (2) I've already put a lot of work into it, (3) I'm relying heavily on the fact that you're a responsible person and maybe smarter than I am, (4) given your intelligence, you could learn from this in spite of my mistakes, and (5) perhaps you could even improve on my methods.

I think the reason they broke is because when I chucked them into the drill, they didn't sit in there straight, which made the drill wobble violently when I ran it. That's when it broke. I suppose I could've avoided it by drilling slower (the drill does have multiple speeds) or by doing a better job of chucking the arrow. But maybe it's the Douglas Fir. Maybe it's just not all I made it out to be. I dunno. I've never had an arrow break while spin sanding before, but then I usually use walnut to make my arrows, and walnut is harder.

If you don't have a drill, here's an alternative way of spin sanding that I just now came up with.

I'm holding the hinged block between my knees and spinning the arrow by rubbing my hands together. I didn't do this very long, and I imagine it would be very tiresome doing a dozen arrows this way. You can get a drill for pretty cheap at a pawn shop, though.

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