Wood for arrow shafts

Making arrows while in the wild is not difficult (although getting the wood shafts straight and keeping them straight is an age-old problem).  To begin, collect shoots to use for the shafts (slightly dried wood is better than green wood).  Dogwood makes the best shafts, but any other straight hardwood shoots (e.g. maple, hickory, ash) can be used.  Soft wood can be used and indeed will be easier to straighten, but will likely not hold their shape well and of course, will bend and flex when shot making an accurate shot difficult.

Wood about 1/4 inch thick is best.  The arrow shaft should be about 3 inches longer than the draw of your bow. Cut them at least a couple of inches longer than the arrows you intend to make.

Green wood should be dried first but the drying process will provide the opportunity to straighten the shoots.

Arrow shaft construction

To cure the shafts, remove the leaves and roast them over the coals of a campfire for about an hour.  Make sure they don’t burn.  They can be straightened as they cook by bending manually. Take shafts that split and throw them away.  For the rest, scrape off the bark and nubs using a knife, straighten them more if they need it, then sand and cut in the nocks. Hardwood shafts are finished by cutting to length, and filing down or whittling off the prominent knots. To ensure the shafts are rounded, use two grooved wooden blocks covered in sandpaper and repeatedly draw the arrow shaft through the blocks. (See Figure 1 below)

Arrow making in the wild - rounding the shafts by sanding

Straightening the arrow shaft

Straightening the arrow shaft by manual bending

Wood in the crooked-side of the shaft can be compressed through bending in order to straighten the arrow.  Use the heel of your hand to bend the shaft in the opposition direction.  Bend the shaft, check it, then bend again until it is straight.

This method works best with soft woods.  Some types of wood will accept the bend and remain straight while others will revert back to their previous shape (in which case, you’ll simply re-bend them again).

Straightening an arrow shaft through “hooking”

If you have a metal hook-like tool available (e.g. a cup hook attached to a dowel), you can use it to straighten a crooked arrow.  Mark the high-side of the shaft with a pencil and using the hook-tool, rub the shaft along the outside of the bend.  Begin with light pressure and as the bend is resolved, apply more pressure.  This compresses the fibers of the wood on the outside of the bend, removing the bend and straightening the arrow.

This method is preferred over manual bending (using the heel of your hand) – the shaft will hold its shape longer.

Straightening an arrow shaft using heat

The arrow shaft can be heated prior to either of the above methods.  Heating the shaft beforehand works well for hard woods such as maple, oak, hickory, and ash (soft woods such as pine and cedar are too easy to scorch).  Make sure you merely heat the wood and don’t burn it.


The nock is the grooved end of the arrow that fits over the bowstring.  Once the wood is finished, cut out the nocks and sand them smooth. The nock should be cut on the thickest end of the shaft.

Fletching the arrows

Feathers or fletching are needed to improve the arrow’s flight, accuracy, and distance. Fletching is the most difficult aspect to master.  Incorrect fletching will produce and arrow that veers off course or simply dives into the ground.

Turkey wing feathers or tail feathers make the best fletching material. Wing feathers are curved and very thick and stiff. Wing pointers and primaries will only produce one vane while secondaries will usually make two. Tail feathers are straighter and have a finer quill, are easier to split, trim and apply by hand.

It takes a little more than one feather per arrow. To split feathers use a very sharp knife, lay them down on a board while cutting the quills up the center. Leave 1 inch of bare quill forward of the vane and 1 inch behind. Then trim the vane down to about ½ inch tall.

Lash the rear tails on backwards one inch below the nock with sinew, then fold the feathers over and lash down their forward ends using light thread, string, or sinew (See Figures 1 through 6) .  It is not mandatory to glue the feathers but if glue material is available, use it.  The wood can also be split on the opposite end of the arrowhead and feathers slid inside the slit.

Feathers are unattached in the middle and can expand and contract with temperature and humidity, slowly pulling themselves loose in two or three years time.

The first feather should be placed at a right angle to the nock; this is called the cock feather. The two other feathers are set at equal distances from each other in such a way that they lay at a low angle to the side of the bow. This is done to reduce the wear and lessen arrow drift.

Arrow making in the wild - lashing feathers

Arrow making in the wild - the tail

Arrow making in the wild - feathers

Arrow making in the wild

Arrow making in the wild


Metal arrow heads can be cut from scraps of sheet steel with a hacksaw and a file. Small arrow points constructed from obsidian, bottle glass, or chert flakes are not hard to make but will require practice with stone working to become proficient.

Both stone and steel broadheads are set in grooves cut with the hacksaw, in line with the nocks, then glued. The now stabile heads can be lashed down with rope or twine.

Various arrow shaft fletching

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