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Home > Books > Hunting with the Bow and Arrow > How to make an arrow
Chapter VI
How to make an arrow
Part 2 of 2

Chinese vermilion and bright orange are colors which are most discernible in the grass and undergrowth. With a narrow brush, paint between your feathers, running up slightly on to the rib, covering the glue. If your silk ribbon binding is a bright color--mine is green--you can leave it untouched. We often paint the nock a distinguishing color to indicate the type of head at the other end, so that in drawing the shaft from the quiver we can know beforehand what sort it will be. The livery should be painted in several different rings. My own colors are red, green, and white.

One or two coats are applied according to the fancy of the archer. The line between the various pigments should be striped with a thin black ring.

Unless you use a lathe to hold your arrows in the painting process, you can employ two wooden blocks or rests, one having a shallow countersunk hole on its lateral face to hold the nock while rotating, the other having a groove on its upper surface. Clamp these on a bench, or on the opposite arms of your easy chair before the fire, and you can turn your shafts slowly by hand while you steady your brush and apply the paint in even rings.

At this stage I have added a device which seems to be helpful in nocking arrows in the dark, or while keeping one's eye on the game. Having put a drop of glue on the ribbon immediately above the nock and behind the cock feather, I affix a little white glass bead. One can feel this with his thumb as he nocks his arrow, when in conjunction with knots on his string, he can perform this maneuver entirely by touch.

The paint having dried, varnish or shellac your arrow its entire length, avoiding, of course, any contact with the feathers. In due time sandpaper the shaft and repeat the varnishing. Rub this down with steelwool and give it a finishing touch with floor wax.

Here we are ready for the arrow-heads.

We use three types of points. The first is a blunt head made by binding the end of the shaft with thin tinned iron wire for half an inch and running on solder, then drilling a hole in the end of the shaft and inserting an inch round-headed screw. In place of soldered wire, one can use an empty 38-caliber cartridge, either cutting off the base or drilling out the priming aperture to admit the screw. This type of arrow we use for rough practice, shooting tin cans, trees, boxes, and other impedimenta. It makes a good shaft for birds, rabbits, and small game.

A second type of head we use is made of soft steel about a sixteenth of an inch thick. We cut it with a hack saw into a blunt, barbed, lanceolate shape having a blade about an inch long and half an inch wide, also a tang about the same length and three-eighths of an inch wide.

This we set into a slot sawed in the arrow in the same plane as the nock, and bind the shaft with tinned wire, number 30, soldered together. The end of the shaft has a gradual bevel where it meets the lateral face of the head.

This is a sturdy little point and will stand much abuse. We use it for shooting birds, squirrels, and small vermin.

But the point that we prefer to shoot is the old English broad-head. Starting from small dimensions, we have gradually increased its size, weight and strength and cutting qualities till now we shoot a head whose blade is three inches long, an inch and a quarter wide, a trifle less than a thirty-second thick. It has a haft or tubular shank an inch long. Its weight is half an ounce. The blades are made of spring steel. After annealing the steel we score it diagonally with a hack saw, when it may be broken in triangular pieces in a vise. With a cold chisel, an angular cut is made in the base to form the barbs. With a file and carborundum stone, they are edged and shaped into blades as sharp as knives. Soft, cold drawn steel will serve quite as well as spring steel for these blades, but it does not hold its edge. It may be purchased at hardware supply depots in the form of strips an inch and a half wide, by one-thirty-second thick, and is much easier to work than the tempered variety.

Then taking three-eighths number .22 gauge steel or brass tubing, we smash it to a short bevel on the anvil, file off the corners and cut it to a length of an inch and three-quarters. This makes the haft or socket. Fixing a blade, barbs uppermost in the vise, this tubing is driven lightly into position, the filed edges of the beveled end permitting the blade to be held between the sides of the tubing. A small hole is drilled through the tubing and blade, and a soft iron wire rivet is inserted. The blade is held over a gas flame while the joint between it and the tubing is filled with soft soldering compound and ribbon solder.

The heated head is plunged into water and later finished with file and emery cloth. The whole process of making a steel broad-head requires about twenty minutes. Every archer should manufacture his own. Then he will treat them with more respect. Very few artisans can make them, and if they can, their price is exorbitant.

Be sure that your heads are straight and true. To set them on your shaft, cut the wood to fit, then heat a bit of ferrule cement and set them on in the same plane as the nock. In the absence of ferrule cement, which can be had at all sporting goods stores, one can use chewing gum, or better yet, a mixture of caoutchouc pitch and scale shellac heated together in equal parts. Heat your fixative as you would sealing wax, over a candle, also heat the arrow and the metal head. Put on with these adhesives, it seldom pulls off. In the wilds we often fix the head with pine resin. Glue can be used, but it is not so good.

Having brought your arrows to this stage, the next act is to trim the feathers. First run them gently through the hand and smooth out their veins; then with long-bladed scissors cut them so that the anterior end is three-eighths of an inch high, while the posterior extremity is one inch. I also cut the rear tip of the feather diagonally across, removing about half an inch to prevent it getting in the way of the fingers when on the string.

Mr. Arthur Young cuts his feathers in a long parabola with a die made of a knife blade bent into shape. These things are largely a matter of taste.

Look your arrows over; see that they are straight and that the feathers are in good shape, then shoot them to observe their flight. Number them above the ribbon so that you can keep record of their performances. The weight of such an arrow is one and one-half ounces.

The small blunt, barb-headed arrows we often paint red their entire length. Because they are meant for use in the brush, they are more readily lost; the bright color saves many a shaft.

To make a hunting arrow requires about an hour, and one should be willing to look for one almost this time when it is lost. Finding arrows is an acquired art. Don't forget the advice of Bassanio: "In my school days when I had lost one shaft, I shot his fellow of the self-same flight, the self-same way, with more advised watch to find the other forth; and by adventuring both, I oft found both."

If, indeed, the shaft cannot be found, then give it up with good grace, remembering that after all it is pleasant work to make one. Dedicate it to the cause of archery with the hope that in future days some one may pick it up and, pricking his finger on the barb, become inoculated with the romance of archery.

When an arrow lodges in a root or tree, we work the head back and forth very carefully to withdraw it. A little pair of pliers comes in very handy here. If it is buried deeply we cut the wood away from it with a hunting knife. Blunt arrows, called bird bolts by Shakespeare, are best to shoot up in the branches of trees at winged and climbing game.

In our quivers we usually carry several light shafts we call eagle arrows, because they are designed principally for shooting at this bird.

Once while hunting deer, and observing a doe and fawn drinking at a pool, we saw a magnificent golden eagle swoop down, catch the startled fawn and lift it from the ground. Mr. Compton and I, having such arrows in our quivers, let fly at the struggling bird of prey. We came so close that the eagle loosened the grip of his talons and the fawn dropped to earth and sped off with its mother, safe for the time being.

Several steps in arrow making
Several steps in arrow making

Often we have shot at hawks and eagles high up in the air, where to reach them we needed a very light arrow, and they have had many close calls. For these we use a five-sixteenths dowel, feather it with short, low cut parabolic feathers and put a small barbed head on it about an inch in length. Such an arrow we paint dark green, blue, or black, so that the bird cannot discern its flight.

It is great sport to shoot at some lazy old buzzard as he comes within range. He can see the ordinary arrow, and if you shoot close, he dodges, swoops downward, flops sidewise, twists his head round and round, and speeds up to leave the country. He presents the comic picture of a complacent old gentleman suddenly disturbed in his monotonous existence and frightened into a most unbecoming loss of dignity.

Eagle arrows can be used for lofty flights, to span great canyons, to rout the chattering bluejay from the topmost limb of a pine, and sooner or later we shall pierce an eagle on the wing.

We make another kind of shaft that we call a "floo-floo." In Thompson's Witchery of Archery he describes an arrow that his Indian companion used, which gave forth such a fluttering whistle when in flight that they called it by this euphonious name. This is made by constructing the usual blunt screw-headed shaft and fledging it with wide uncut feathers. It is useful in shooting small game in the brush, because its flight is impeded and, missing the game, it soon loses momentum and stops. It does not bound off into the next county, but can be found near by. As a rule, these are steady, straight fliers for a short distance.

In finishing the nock of an arrow, it should be filed so that it fits the string rather snugly, thus when in place it is not easily disturbed by the ordinary accidents of travel. Still this tightness should be at the entrance of the nock, while the bottom of the nock is made a trifle more roomy with a round file. I file all my nocks to fit a certain two-inch wire nail whose diameter is just that of my bowstring.

After arrows have been shot for a time and their feathers have settled, they should again be trimmed carefully to their final proportions. The heads, if found too broad for perfect flight, should be ground a trifle narrower.

When hunting, one does well to carry in his pocket a small flat file with which to sharpen his broad-heads before shooting them. They should have a serrated, meat-cutting edge. Even carrying arrows in a quiver tends to dull them, because they chafe each other while in motion. From time to time you should rub the shafts and heads with the mixture of cedar and linseed oil, thus keeping them clean and protected from dampness.

On a hunting trip an archer should carry with him in his repair kit, extra feathers, heads, cement, a tube of glue, ribonzine, linen thread, wax, paraffin, sandpaper, emery cloth, pincers, file and small scissors. With these he can salvage many an arrow that otherwise would be too sick to shoot.

Extra arrows are carried in a light wooden box which has little superimposed racks on which they rest and are kept from crushing each other.

As a rule, nothing does an arrow so much good as to shoot it, and nothing so much harm as to have it lie inactive and crowded in the quiver.

The flight of an arrow is symbolic of life itself. It springs from the bow with high aim, flies toward the blue heaven above, and seems to have immortal power. The song of its life is sweet to the ear. The rush of its upward arc is a promise of perpetual progress. With perfect grace it sweeps onward, though less aspiring. Then fluttering imperceptibly, it points downward and with ever-increasing speed, approaches the earth, where, with a deep sigh, it sinks in the soil, quivers with spent energy, and capitulates to the inevitable.

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