Wood for arrow shafts

Making arrows while in the wild is not difficult.  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 can be used. Cut them at least a couple of inches longer than the arrows you intend to make.

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. Take shafts that split and throw them away.  For the rest, scrape off the bark, 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


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

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. (See Figures 1 through 6) .There is no need to glue the feathers.

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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