Back to Basics – Arrow Fletching
When it comes to arrow fletching I don’t know about you but I much prefer arrows that sport the barred feather fletchings. There is something about them that screams tradition. If they were good enough for Hood and Tell then they are good enough for me. Okay they might look a bit ‘home made’ but then that is the point I suppose.
Going back to basics using primitive archery equipment puts the emphasis back on natural skill as opposed to technology. Plus there is great satisfaction in making everything from the bow to the arrows and then using these to hit a target.
However this article is not designed to promote primitive archery but rather to discuss arrow fletching and all of its vagaries.
Storing your Feathers
I imagine I am teaching my granny to suck eggs here but feathers come in two varieties, left and right wings, you knew that right? Anyway make sure you store them separately, I put mine into plastic sandwich bags and freeze them. Do not leave them out as they will dry out and spoil.
Once again my granny comes to mind when I think of the job arrow fletchings do with steering and accuracy. However you might not realise that the further back along the shaft the more accurate the arrow flight. In addition to placement the way they are aligned to the shaft makes a big difference. As I mentioned in my previous post it is widely recognised that ‘Helical’ fletchings do a far better job than either straight or offset.
Creating your own arrow fletchings not only saves you money but allows you to add some style to your quiver!
Making your own arrows, including the fletching does not have to cost the earth; the most expensive items being a Evolution RAGE4 110V 185mm Multipurpose Cut Off Saw (£100) and a Bohning Big Jig Arrow Vane Fletching Tool Machine (£45). This initial expense is easily offset over time.
Once you have the basic equipment you just need the feathers, glue and arrow wrap (optional). If you are a member of a club such as the Bromyard Bowmen, the Droitwich Archery Society or the Redditch Company of Archers. You might even be able to get the equipment second hand or find others interested in doing the same and split the costs.
It’s a Jig Job
A jig makes the job of glueing the feathers to the shaft relatively easy. The Jigs job is too hold the arrow and fletching in a fixed and repeatable position while the glue sets. A simple dial turns the arrow shaft to the next correct fletching position. Most jigs are made to construct 3 fletch arrows, with each fletch set 120 degrees apart. However it is possible to get 4 fletch jigs that set the position at 90 degree intervals.
Some jigs are capable of multiple clamp settings, thereby allowing you to choose the orientation of your fletching on the arrow among three options: straight-fletch (off-set to produce arrow spin), right- or left-helical.
The most useful jigs are those that allow you to choose the actual alignment of your arrow fletching; you may prefer straight, helical or offsets and this type of jig can cater for that preference. It also gives you the ability to test different settings at no extra cost.
Choosing the type of fletch is a personal thing as there are advantages and disadvantages to both plastic and real feathers.
Advantages & Disadvantages:
- Feathers are more forgiving when contacting the arrow rest, they tend to give and so don’t affect the flight quite as much.
- They provide an edge when it comes to stabilisation.
- They are lighter and have faster launch speeds out of the bow
- They are fragile and can cost more.
- They aren’t as accurate at distances over 55 yds.
Advantages & Disadvantages:
- They can cause deflection or ‘arrow kick’ upon contact with the arrow rest.
- Tuning can be more difficult.
- They are waterproof.
- They are more durable and so last longer.
- They are slightly less stable but are more accurate over 55 yds.
Natural feathers come in all shapes, sizes and colours. They are readily available from TrueFlight and Gateway. Plastic vanes are available from a much larger range of manufacturers. You can get standard, 4- to 5-inch vanes from:
- Duravanes by Norway Industries
- AAE, Bohning
- PSE Archery
The majority of pro shops use these for day-to-day arrow fletching. They get the job done, are highly affordable and available in any size imaginable.
Only Flex-Fletch and PSE vanes require any sort of preparation. Bohning’s include the primer and require no preparation, and the others include adhesive activator for faster set-up.
A range of speciality vanes have now emerged onto the scene and are supposed to address specific bow-hunting disciplines.
For example, Bohning’s Blazer vanes have a higher profile but shorter length. The two-inch vanes are designed to accomplish what standard four-inch vanes once did, even when using fixed-blade broadheads. This translates into a lighter vane that does the job of a heavier model, which means more downrange speed and increased FOC.
Bi-Delta vanes include racy double-tiered designs, a smaller leading vane connected to a larger rear vane by a thin web, creating more surface area in a lighter package when a heavy helical is applied. They get their name from the dual triangle, or bi-delta, seen when viewed from the rear of a three-fletched arrow.
NAP’s QuikSpin vanes use aerodynamic engineering to create faster rotation resulting in increased arrow stabilization. One face of the QuikSpin includes grooves that help air flow over its surface more efficiently. The other includes a kicker lip or “spoiler.” Combined, they increase spin rates up to 300 percent over standard vanes.
More recently, Firenocks introduced the compact Aerovane, an off-set design using strategically-placed patches of smooth and rough texture and divots that also increase spin.
Many vanes use a release agent in the manufacturing process to ensure that they don’t stick to the mould. However these agents can reduce adhesion when it comes to gluing them to the shaft so it is recommended to lightly sand then wipe with acetone along the base of the vane to enhance the adhesion and bonding.
In the same manner arrow shafts can also be contaminated with substances that negatively affect the bonding process. A simple prepping agent such as Bohning (SST arrow shaft surface cleaner) or NAP (QuikSpin Fletch-Prep) are very effective. The cheaper option is to lightly scrub the shaft with an abrasive cleaner and a mundane brillo pad, then rinse and dry.
Carbon surfaces also make bonding difficult but an arrow wrap can circumnavigate this problem.
Choosing the right adhesive
The next step is to choose the right glue for the job. Normally this is an easy choice as nearly all aluminium shafts are compatible but carbon shafts once again can prove to be problematic.
Fletching cements include:
- slow-cure, solvent-based glues (Bohning Flex-Tite, Flex-Fletch Flex-Bond and Saunders Archery NPV
- quick-set cyanoacrylate, also known as “super glues” (Bohning Quantum XT, AAE’s FastSet Gel, Goat Tough, Steel Force’s Beyond Bond and Pine Ridge’s Instant Arrow Glue).
In general, carbon shafts call for cyanoacrylates (explanation here). Vanes including adhesive accelerators always require cyanoacrylate glues for reliable results.
NOTE: Cyanoacrylates and two-part epoxies work well to install inserts into carbon arrows, but the bond isn’t reversible.
You can use hot-melt glue, like Bohning’s Ferr-L-Tite or Saunders’ Hunt-Bond, allowing the bond to be quickly reversed with heat on aluminium arrows.
As you can see arrow fletching your own shafts isn’t difficult, isn’t prohibitively expensive and it allows you to create better looking and higher quality arrows. You also have the satisfaction of having designed and built your own bespoke arrows. Why not give it a go? Ask at your local club if anyone would let you use their equipment to ‘try before you buy‘.