Session Six


Everything has been building, at least in my mind, to this point... fletching. I'll admit I was feeling pretty timid about it, but it turned out to be quite easy and probably the most fun of the whole process. There are lots of steps, so here we go...




To fletch, you must have feathers. These you cut from full length feathers you buy. Color, barred or not barred, etc. is up to you. A large part of my motivation for this project was to produce arrows I could find easily when I miss and/or arrows whose flight to the target I could see. My favorite present arrows had three yellow feathers. Even though I do like the finger reference nocks, I did still want a cock feather, so I opted for yellow hens and red cock.

Feathers come in right wing or left wing. I've been very confused by the advice I have gotten on this issue. i was advised by the dealer who sold me the feathers (very nice, experienced guy) that I should get right wing reathers and use a right helical twist, because I was right handed. However, Byron Ferguson, who is right handed, says in his book "Become the Arrow" that shoots left wing/left helical twist so that the arrow will rotate away from his hand. I followed a thread on a major archery list, and saw numerous comments that it made absolutely no difference. As it happened, I had already purchased right wing feathers and a Jo Jan fletching jig with right helical twist clamps, so that is what I used.



I wanted long high fletching for fast stabilization at shorter distances. I am not a reliable shot at anything much over 25 yards, and most of my shooting is at 10 to 20. I liked the parabolic feather cut on some used Eastons I had bought and shot a lot, so I figured to copy those. I chose to make my feathers 5 1/2" long. I was advised that trying to get two good cut feathers out of one raw feather was a losing proposition, so wasn't concerned about my cut being overly long. I did find that some feathers had "bad" spots... the bird was in a fight or whatever, so by just wanting one good cut, I could trim anywhere on the feather that felt best.

One thing that was obvious right away is that the feathers curl. I used my handy wood block again and made two lines 5 1/2" apart. Then I put a T-pin in the middle so I could brace the curl out of the feather for trimming.



Interval of time passing.... Following are two posts to the HHS email list:


>>>aaarrrggghhh! Did you hear the story about the three engineers, two physicists and an orangutan who successfully assembled and adjusted a JoJan fletcher? Well, obviously, neither did I.

Tough session downstairs. I hope that the adjustments on the JoJan are not terribly critical, because getting them just so was a nightmare, and I'm still not positive I have the arrow perfectly centered for right helical fletching.

I had thought I'd run down and put the points on and try fletching. First thing, in my newly organized shop, I can't find my torch... it's totally awol. Tried an alcohol burner bottle, but that might be OK for glue, but is not going to heat points up enough to burn the oil out of them, so no progress there till I get another torch this afternoon. Then the problems with the fletcher.

Thing that really upset me is the sharp hard edges on the JoJan's arrow rests. I already nicked the nice cresting job I did on one arrow. Would it screw up the mechanical relationship of the parts to put some black tape on that rough aluminum?
Ah well, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "The road to true archery has ne'er run smooth..

"Dick Wightman
aka: Captain Dick<<<




>>>After a calming cup of coffee, I knew i had to go back to the bench and accomplish something. I decided to work on one arrow. I had been out and gotten a torch, so put a tip on the scratched one. Then, with fear and trembling, I approached the dreaded JoJan Monster... Actually, I trimmed a feather and tried to get the tape on it. That was not a pretty sight... I needed at least one more hand. I think I need to make a holder to hold the clamp while I put the tape on. Could glue be easier? Getting that backing started off of the tape is not nice or easy, unless there is a trick to it. I tried to leave an end on to grip the clamp, but that didn't seem to work. I finally got three feathers on one arrow... not neat... but on.

Next step was to bend a wire for the feather burner. I copied the feather off of my favorite arrows, kind of across between shield and banana, but a lot of area. I shoot mostly short shots and want quick stabilization. Also, I'm using 5 1/2", which seems kind of long for the JoJan. Once I got the feathers burned and was able to really study things, it was apparent that it was a semi-clumsy job... i.e. the feathers were too far forward on the arrow by about 1/4" and not exactly dead even with each other. So, ok, we'll do better.

However, the proof is, as the say, in the putting... i.e. where you can put the arrow. I fully expected to have to do some adjusting. I still had the group from yesterday's shooting of the Falcon in the target. I left them there, took down my Halfbreed (which is kind of becoming my goto bow... always reliable) and shot the arrow... Hmmm... should I make you scroll down to increase the suspense? Nah.... BULLSEYE!!! Followed in quick succession, or anyway as fast as I could walk back and forth to keep retrieving my one arrow, by 5 more. Most, most satisfying.

One note, literally.. I guess due to either the fairly extreme helical, the high profile, or the large total area, it's a kind of whistling arrow... kind of neat, actually. Whishhhh... and Robin's arrow plucks the oppressive order out of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham's hand. Well, you get the picture.

Actually, probably tomorrow or Sunday morning I will finish up the rest of the arrows and then you'll get some pictures

.Dick Wightman
aka: Captain Dick<<<



Here you can see how I held the feather pretty straight and cut it. For the cutting I used a stiff backed safety razor blade, new and sharp. Good drugstores still carry these blades, which are really handy. They come in a nice safe little plastic dispenser.


Wrking out the exact positioning of the feather in the clamp is important. I was advised to mark the clamps where I wanted the end of the feather to be. However, with my long feather, 5 1/2", I found that lining the end up with a natural spot on the clamp gave me good position. Here you see a feather in the clamp. This one is not perfectly poisitioned yet... it's still about 1/32" too far forward... look at the next two pix...

Here is a red feather perfectly positioned with its end exactly at the metal break point of th front edge of the clamp.




Here is the same feather shot from the back of the clamp. You can see that the back and front edges of the clamp have a built in difference, the back is positioned a bit forward of the front. I used the front for my alignment point.


Natuarlly, if you are using a shorter feather and/or if you want your fletching further forward on the shaft than I ended up with, you will need to mark your clamp for consistency.




Here I've set the clamped feather in the Jo Jan to see where it is going to end up on the shaft. I actually did this several times, before and after settling on the exact position of the feather in the jig. My problem was that there was very little space between the end of the feather and the beginning of my crest, and I didn't want them to conflict, but I still had to have an appropriate finger clearand at the nock end. The positioning I worked out above was just right for 5 1/2" fletching.



To glue or to tape... that is the decision. I had planned to glue, but the guys on my list convinced me to tape. At first I found it awkward, but by the time I was done, I loved it! Get your benchtop clean... the sticky side of the tape picks up everything! Have a new safety razor blade handy. Start the tape off of the roll and stick the end onto the front edge of the feather spine. I found the Jo Jan clamp stood up for this, but some folks try to clamp it down somehow for more purchase and control. Carefully spool off the tape, sticking it to the arrow spine as you go.


The hardest part of using the tape at first was getting the end started to peel of the protective layer over the sticky part. I started out using small scissors, and this was frustrating, as I had a very difficult time getting the peel started. Then I thought to use the razor blade and angle the cut forward, so that I could then use the edge of the blade to lift the end of the peel. That worked slick.


Here is a length of tape stuck to the feather spine, ready for me to start the peeling...


As soon as the razor blade has lifted enough peel to get ahold of, I gripped the peel and just pulled it off.



The next step is to carefully set the clamp into the jig. This is a good point to note, assuming you haven't already bought a jig, that while a multi-position clamp would be great if you were gluing, it it totally unnecessary if you are taping. Taping, you do one arrow at a time. The whole process takes an average of 6 minutes! I plan to order a Bitzenburger for my next batch of arrows. The Jo Jan worked find, but it takes up benchspace and seems more awkward than is needlful.


Oh, yeah.. note the very small clearance between the forward end of the feather and the cresting on the shaft. You can see why I devoted some attention to positioning the feather in the clamp.


I'm not sure this step is necessary, but after setting the clamp carefully into the jig, I gently squeezed it along its length to insure a good bond by the tape.


That's it! Squeeze the clamp to open it and lift it out of the jig. Your feather stays in place.

A note here. As I mentioned above, I did one arrow in advance, and did some messing around with the feathers and jig. When I came downstairs for this session, there was a yellow feather in the jig, and I just went with it. As soon as I completed the first arrow in this batch, I set the nock receiver to do the cock feather first, and followed that practice for all the rest.

Two things to bear in mind as you fall into a zen rhythm in doing this... It's real nice if you end up with all the cock feathers pointing out properly, and it's real nice if the feather veins all run from the front of the shaft to the nock. Don't laugh! You may be the one who suddenly looks down and says, "oops...."




Here is the second feather put on the previous shaft. After one is done, you simply rotate the nock barrel to the next position and repeat the process. After that first one, they really start to go fast.


And here are ten finished shafts... given the big feathers I used, they are essentially flu flu's.





Featehr trimming. Obviously, I did not choose to either by precut feathers or to use a feather chopped, which would have shaped the feathers before I put them on. In following threads on the archery lists, there seemed to be a strong preference for the burner, and I wanted to shape my own feathers, so that is the way I went. This is the Young feather burner, which seems universally popular.

First thing to do is shape the burning wire that comes with the machine. I conformed mine to the shape of the fletching on the arrows I like to shoot the most, which was a high parbolic cut. The critical thing here is to adjust the wire in such a way that it doesn not quite touch the shaft. Here I'm using an old section of dowel that I used to test paint dipping to check the clearance of the wire.


In actual use, the machine is plugged in and the wire get hot... red hot! You have to carefuly slip the fletching on on an angle so that it doesn't touch the wire before you want it to. Once in place, you quickly but smoothly roll the arrow a couple of turns and the wire burns the feather off. Having fletched a test dowel for practice ain't a bad idea, though I got away with not doing that.


First effort. One fletch (bottom one) came off clean, other two had "hairs" left over. These can be trimmed off later with a safety razor.



I adjusted the wire very slightly and got a better burn from there on.


Here are the ten finished arrows. And yes, that's a lot of feather, but that's what I wanted. It's probably overkill, and for my next effort I plan to drop back to five inch feathers not quite so high.



Everything previous to this point is of no importance if the product won't perform. Man, this product did! This is essentially the first group these arrows shot... right off the bench. I cheated just a bit. There were actually three flyers, but they were my flyers... pluck, pluck , pluck. I shot those three over, as I was looking to see what the arrows were capable of, more than how well I shot. There are ten arrow in that group, shot from 14 yards.... One broken nock. When you break a nock first group out, you're doing OK for arrow making.

One thing that was



Some Comments


I no sooner finsihed the arrows and said so on-list than someone asked what their finished weight was... Here's my response:

>>>Mike... thanks... I just ran down and weighed them. They weren't terribly consistent. If you followed the buildalong, you know that I was unhappy with the spine and weight variance on the shafts i got from 3 Rivers. Anyway, the finished arrows, with 11/32" shafts, cut to 28" measurement and with 125 gr. tips, ran from 440 gr. to 490 gr., with the bulk of them in the area of 450 + -. I'm not happy with that, considering that alums rarely vary by more than 1.5 grs, but then, these are wood shafts, I made 'em, and I can't argue with the fact that, within my own limitations, they shoot well. Oh, yeah, on the 48# Wolf, that works out to 9.3 gr. per pound of bow weight. I believe this is considered very good for a Hill at that weight, with preferences running up to 10 gr per inch at higher weights. I'd be curious about arrow weight for Jason and Jose... our "heavy hitters". Actually, I was walking by a construction sight yesterday and saw some scrap rebar. I thought about picking some up and making you guys some arrows.... (Note: Jason and Jose' shoot 90# and 100# bows...)<<<


Was it fun? ... Heck, yeah! I'm ready to start my second batch.

Do I still have questions? ... Yep... I'll resolve them as I go.

Are the arrows as good as my aluminums? ... Seriously, I doubt it, but there is something special about shooting wood arrows for trad archery, especially when you carry trad all the way back to Howard Hill bows, as I do. I have concerns about the consistency of the spining and weight of the shafts, and I've shared those with you, but the bottom line is the group above is as good as I can shoot anyway.

Is it economical? ... ROTFL!!!! The price of the equipment would keep you shooting bought arrows for a couple of years! There are cheaper options... making tools yourself, buying used, borrowing, if you're lucky, but it isn't really cheap to get started and get materials. If you write off the startup costs, telling yourself, it's no worse than another bow, and mentally proceed from there, you can try a lot of stuff making your own that you wouldn't on bought arrows.... different materials, weights, feather cuts, etc.

What's your next step? ... Well, I have one other group of shafts, footed no less. I'll make those up. Then, I have several batches of 1916 Eastons that are getting pretty shot up and ratty, so I guess I'll learn how to strip fletching off and crest and fletch aluminum.


Final Words

Assuming anyone has gotten this far, many thanks. I've enjoyed my learning process, mistakes and all, and I hope that by sharing it in this manner, I may help a few others.

See you at a 3D!

Dick Wightman