How I Make Arrows

By Sam Harper

Tillering the arrow

Now, most people when they're making arrows shoot for some specific diameter, like 11/32" (the most common) or 23/64" or 5/16". I don't do that. To me, that is like making a bow so that the limbs come out to some specific thickness rather than tillering to the draw weight you want and letting thickness take care of itself. What I do is sand out all the tool marks from the dowel cutter, not worrying about diameter, then spine testing it. I sand until I get to the spine I want, regardless of what the diameter turns out to be. That way all my arrows will be matched in spine, which is important if you want to shoot consistently. Since they sell points and nocks in specific diameters, I sometimes have to sand a little extra on the points and nocks to get them to fit right, but sanding on the point and nock doesn't really affect spine. It effects weight.

You can basically tiller an arrow. Sanding near the middle reduces spine without affecting weight much. Sanding near the ends reduces weight without affecting spine much. So you can get your arrows to match in spine and in weight by sanding them in the right places.

But what most people do is make a bunch of shafts, all of the same diameter, then sort them according to spine and weight. I can see how that might be practical if you're going to make a whole butt ton of arrows and either sell them or give them away, but if you're just making arrows for yourself, that doesn't make sense. What are you going to do with those shafts that don't match your bow?

Before I spine my arrows, though, I straighten them. After all, if you try to spine crooked arrows, it creates a calibration nightmare, and that's not to mention trying to keep the arrow on the spine tester with the grain oriented correctly.

This is the most crooked shaft I had.

I'm not very good at straightening arrows. I've broken a lot of them by trying to straighten them. There are a few different methods to straighten an arrow. One is to just hold it in both hands and push the heal of your hand against the trouble area.

Another method is to burnish it on the high side with a screw driver or a burnishing tool.

Another method is to hold it in two hands with the trouble area in the middle, and just bend it like Bender from Futurama. The hope is that it takes a set and stays that way. This is the method I use when most of my arrows break.

If you have a particularly nasty trouble area, you can boil some water, hold the arrow over the pot and let the steam heat it up, then bend it and hold it until it cools down. This method is probably the least likely to break your arrows. Dry heat works, too, if you have a heat gun. Some people just hold it near a fire while turning it. They'll put grease on it or something to keep from scorching it.

I broke another arrow today trying to straighten it. That's three arrows out of six! It has not been a good day.

The three surviving arrows got spine tested.

That's my new handy dandy spine tester from my "How to make a spine tester" tutorial, which I posted just the other day.

Two of my arrows spined exactly the same, but I can't remember what they were. The other was slightly weaker, but it was so close I didn't bother bringing the others down. If I want to match a set of arrows, I always sand the heavier ones to match the lighter ones. After all, I haven't figured out how to put wood back on a shaft once it's been removed.

This is where I explain the importance of spine, but I'm not going to go into detail because I already went into some detail in my spine tester tutorial. But I will tell you this...having all your arrows match in both spine and weight will produce consistent shooting. It's more important that your arrows match each other in spine and weight than it is that they match your bow. After all, if your arrows all shoot to the right by the same amount, you can compensate when you're shooting. But if one shoots to the right and one shoots to the left, it's going to be very difficult to aim your next arrow.

Spine is the relative stiffness of your arrow. It's relative to a variety of factors, such as the length of the arrow, how close to center-shot your bow is, how heavy your tip is, etc. Spine affects whether your arrow shoots to the right, left, or center of where you're looking. If you're a right-handed shooter, and your arrow is too stiff, it will shoot to the left of where you're aiming. It'll shoot to the right if it's not stiff enough. It's just the opposite if you're a left-handed shooter.

Since I used a hardwood footing, my tips are going to be heavier than if I hadn't. That will make the dynamic spine weaker. To compensate, I want my spine to be 5# stiffer than it would've otherwise been if I hadn't put the footings on there. An alternative to adding that 5# is to use a field point that's maybe 20 grains lighter than I would have otherwise. The lighter field point will offset the heavier hardwood at the tip of the arrow.

Weight affects whether your arrow shoots high, low, or center of where you're looking. The heavier your arrow is, the more you have to arch it at long distances. A flatter trajectory makes it easier to aim, and lighter arrows will have flatter trajectories, so they're easier to aim.

But consistency is all important. Your arrows should all be within 5# of each other in spine.

Once my shafts were spined, I weighed them.

Two of them were identical. The other was about 10 grains lighter. The two were 440 grains each, and the other was 430 grains. That's close enough.

This is not my favourite grain scale. It doesn't even measure in grains. It measures in ounces, and there's a conversion chart that comes with it. It is cheap, though. I think I got it from Three Rivers Archery, but it doesn't look like they sell it anymore. Maybe you could get one on ebay. It's called "Arrow Scale," and has this name and address on the converstion chart:

Jim Balyszak
2870 Coates Road
Penn Yan, NY 14527

Tapered shafts

At this point, you might consider tapering your tail end for the last 8 or 10 inches. Why? Well, the theory is that your arrow will recover faster. You see, when you shoot an arrow, it bends back and forth for a while before straightening out. Check out this video.

The less mass you have on the ends, the quicker it will straighten out.

Now think about that for a minute. It takes energy to get an arrow to wiggle. It also takes energy to get an arrow to fly. All that energy comes from the string. If some of that energy is causing the arrow to wiggle, then that takes away energy from flight. So the less energy that goes into making the arrow wiggle, the more energy goes into making the arrow fly. Therefore, the less wiggle, the more efficient the arrow. Tapering your arrow will make it wiggle less and therefore be more efficient.

Some people barrel taper their shafts. They taper them on the point end and the nock end. They imagine their arrow as if it were a football flying with the perfect spiral. I'm a little skeptical that tapering the point end of the shaft has much effect, but I don't feel like explaining my reasons right now.

Tapering on the nock end definitely makes a difference. After all, arrows fly straight because while the heavy tip is going toward its target, the tail end tries to get behind the point. If it's off to one side, the air will push on the feathers and cause it to correct. It'll fish tail a little, though, and eventually get behind the point. The less mass there is on the nock end, the faster it can straighten itself out.

There are a variety of ways to taper your arrows. You could get this taper jig at Three Rivers Archery for $135. Now, I love Three Rivers Archery (if you haven't noticed already), but this contraption is a collosal waste of money. George Tsoukalas tapers his arrows just with a thumb plane, and it's easy.

Another easy way is just to spin sand them like I do with the hinged block. If your arrows are something like 11/32", just spin sand the last 8 or 10 inches until it's 5/16" so it'll fit a 5/16" nock. That's the way I do it.

Here's a pretty cool tapered arrow jig I found on a discussion forum.

Here's a similar one that uses angle irons.

For a complete explanation, looky here. He uses an arrow that was already tapered to place the angle irons. Then he just drilled the arrow in. I really like that one.


I don't do cresting, so you're on your own. But here's some beautifully crested arrows to inspire you.


To put a finish on my arrows, I made a dipping tube. It's just a 1" piece of PVC pipe with spar urethane in it. Don't fill it to the top because the arrow will displace the liquid, and it'll spill out when you put the arrow in. I think mine is filled less than half way. I cemented a permanent cap on one end, and I slide another cap on the other end to store it.

To use it, I set my leather hole punch to the biggest hole and punch a hole in a piece of innertube I got for free at a bike shop because they just throw away old inner tubes.

I use a hose clamp to attach that to my dipping tube.

When you put the arrow in, the spar urethane gets all over it. When you pull it out, the rubber squeegies it off. That way, you don't waste a lot of finish, and there's no mess. Be sure to clean the rubber or you'll get a little ring around your arrow. I do three dips, drying between dips. I dip from one end, then the other end since I can't submerge the whole thing all at once.

In goes the dry shaft; out comes the wet shaft.

I just lean those against a wall and let them dry. Three coats.

Points and nocks

By convention, points and nocks are sold with an inside taper of 5 degrees for points and 11 degrees for nocks. So you've got to taper your tips accordingly to accomodate them.

What's important here is having your tapers centered. If they're not centered, then your tips and nocks will be misaligned.

That'll make it wobble a lot when it flies because it'll be spinning.

Like everything else with bows and arrows, there's a variety of ways to taper the ends. Today, I decided to do something different. I used a miter gauge and a block of wood to grind my tapers against the disk sander on my belt sander. Here I am grinding the nock end to 11 degrees.

I just held the miter and the block of wood while holding the arrow against it and rolling the arrow against the sanding disk. It didn't work out that well. I couldn't get it even.

I gave up and went back to my old method. Three Rivers Archer sells this taper tool that works just like a pencil sharpener. It's got two holes--one for the 5 degree taper and one for the 11 degree taper. And you can get it in 5/16", 11/32", or 23/64". That's what I've mostly used until today, but it's hard to cut hardwoods with it.

I ended up breaking yet another arrow in the process of using the taper tool. Mine is made for 11/32" shafts, and I guess my shaft was a little too fat. I tried to force it in there, and when I went to turn it, it broke. I'm very discouraged and have thought seriously about chucking this whole tutorial and starting over again.

Bloodwood is just way too hard to try to cut with a pencil sharpener, so I went ahead and used the sanding disk method. They didn't come out that great, but I went with it anyway. Now that I'm down to two arrows, this is all for demonstration purposes anyway. I obviously don't have a set of arrows.

Here's my tapered nock ends with the broken one on the left, and there's my tapering tool.

You can see how off that one in the middle is.

And there's the point ends on the two surviving arrows.

They turned out a little better.

Another option, if you have a drill press, is to set your table at a 5 degree angle and at an 11 degree angle, and drill 3/8" holes in it. Then you can clamp that piece of wood to the table on your disk sander, chuck your arrows in a drill, thread them through the holes in your wooden block, and spin them while they grind against the disk sander. You'd probably get a much better taper than the way I did it. I just turned the arrows by hand, which was probably a mistake.

Whatever you use to attach your tips, it should be something that will allow you to remove the tips later. That way, if your arrow breaks, you can reuse your tip. Most people seem to use Ferr-L-Tite, which you can get at archery supply stores. If you heat it up, you can get your tip off. I use a hot glue gun because I got one for a dollar at the Dollar Store along with a bunch of sticks of glue. It cools off and hardens quickly, so you can't expect to get a good seating when you first put the tip on. Here's my tips right after putting the tips on.

So after I've got them at least on there, I heat them up over a candle.

That re-melts the glue so I can put them back on. I use something so I don't burn my fingers, and I give it a little twist and hold it there until it cools off.

Then I put on the nocks. The nocks should be oriented so that the tree rings would be horizontal if you were shooting the bow because the arrow will bend around the bow, and this orientation gives the arrow the greatest amount of strength. You should also orient the nocks so that if the arrow were to break when you shot it, the pointy end of the break would go up instead of down into your hand.

Ideally, your grain won't be as bad as the illustration.

Some people use Ferr-L-Tite for their nocks, too, but there are some other glues. I use two ton epoxy just because I've always got some laying around, and it's clear, which is a good thing if your nocks are transparent. It does a great job of keeping those nocks on, too.


Some people say that if you're a right handed shooter, you should use left wing feathers and if you're a left handed shooter, you should use right wing feathers. The reason is that when you shoot, the arrow will spin, and you want the feathers to get the best clearance possible when going over the shelf.

Personally, I think it doesn't matter. Lemme explain why. When you let go of the string, the string pushes the arrow at least until the string reaches brace height. The arrow will remain nocked that whole time. It's impossible for the arrow to begin to spin as long as it's nocked. That means it can't even begin to spin until the string reaches brace height. By then, the feathers are almost already touchnig the arrow shelf. So how much do you think your arrow will spin in those first six or so inches after leaving the string? It's negligible if anything at all, so I don't think it matters whether you use left wing feathers or right wing feathers.

I was lucky enough to get a Jo-Jan fletcher from ebay that came with both a right wing clamp and a left wing clamp, and I got them for the price of one. They also have straight clamps if you prefer those.

I put this little mark on my clamp so I can line up the back of my feather and get them all on at the same distance from the nock.

There are different glues to use on the feathers, which you can check out at archery supply stores. I prefer fletching tape because it's really easy to use, and you can fletch your arrows a lot quicker. With glue, you have to wait until it dries before putting on the next feather, but with fletching tape, you can put the next feather on right away. And they stay on good and proper, too!

Typically, there are three feathers on an arrow. One feather is the cock feather, and it usually looks different than the other two. That's for ease of reference when you go to nock your arrow on your string. You want the cock feather to be on the outside of the bow, and you want the other two feathers to go against the bow.

The Jo Jan fletcher (as well as other fletching jigs) makes it easy to get the feathers 120 degrees from each other, and to make sure that cock feather is oriented correctly in relation to the nock. There's a little doohickie you turn that clicks into place. You just attach your feather, then turn it 'til it clicks, then attach the next feather. I always do the cock feather first.

Here's a picture of my fletching jig attaching the last feather.

I always put a little dab of glue on the leading edge of all the feathers so they can pass through the arrow shelf easier without the feathers being ripped off. I didn't do it this time, though, because I wanted to finish this build along and go to bed.

And here's the result of their first time being shot.

Yeah, I shot in my living room. It's past midnight, so it's too dark to shoot outside. I've been working on this tutorial all day and didn't want to wait until tomorrow to finish it.

Yeah, this may be the worst tutorial of all time, and I may be the last person who ought to be having an arrow tutorial, but this web page is free, and you get what you pay for. :-) At least you know the mechanics. Perhaps you can improve on the execution. In my defense, this was my worst attempt at making arrows. Even my first arrows went more smoothly than this.

I've got a lot of Douglas Fir to play with, so I'm going to see if I can make some improvements.

Thank you for watching!

An update

I was more than a little bummed that I broke four of my arrows. As I mentioned earlier, I went to the Leatherwall and posted a question about it. From the feedback I got, I learned that just because Douglas Fir has a reputation for being a good arrow wood and just because it has perfectly straight grain, that's not enough to guarantee that your piece is good for arrows. There are other properties to look for. Older Douglas Fir is better than younger Douglas Fir, and you want there to be 15 or more rings per inch. I've got between 3 and 5 on mine. So this was a learning experience for me, and I'm glad I went to the Leatherwall instead of just feeling sorry for myself and embarrassed.

So far, Douglas Fir and Pine are the only woods I've tried and had trouble with making arrows. I couldn't even get any pine dowels because they'd break every time I tried to put them through the dowel maker. I've tried walnut, maple, cedar, and bloodwood. Of those, cedar worked the best, followed by maple. But that's not to say the others don't make good arrows. It's just that they don't react well to the dowel maker. If I used a different method to round my shafts, the others would work just fine. The only problem with walnut is that the dowel maker doesn't cut it very smoothly, and you have to do a lot of sanding to get it smooth. With the Douglas Fir, there was a little tear out in some of the shafts. They'd probably do fine if I planed them instead of using the dowel maker. A couple of days ago, I experimented with six more pieces of Douglas Fir to see if I could make some improvement. Of those six, two of them had a little bit of tear out when I ran them through the dowel maker. None of them broke. I then started to spin sand a couple of them, but did so slowly to keep them from breaking. Then I decided to hand sand the rest of them, and it was actually more effective than spin sanding them. I guess spin sanding might work better for the harder woods, like walnut. Hand sanding works just fine for the Douglas Fir I'm using, and it's even quicker. So now I have six dowels, smooth and ready to be spined. Except for those two that have a little tear out.

Amazon Affiliate links

leather hole punch:

hot glue gun:

Upgrade your browser for a better viewing experience »