Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Making a BLBS Standard Arrow (Well Almost)

In a previous blog entry "Making Your Own Arrows In Four Easy Steps" I discussed how to make your own Longbow Arrows. This used standard off-the shelf (well off the web) materials and allowed you to quickly make your arrows. Since then I decided that I would start making some British Longbow Society (BLBS) Standard Arrows, well almost, with the exception that I wanted to use then for Indoor and very short distance so hence the "Well Almost". The key difference between my arrows and those specified as BLBS Standard Arrows is the Pile because I need to shoot at my GNAS club and a Brass 125 grains bullet point was more appropriate. Given this 1 minor deviation the details below are an accurate description of how to make a BLBS Standard Arrow.

British Longbow Society Standard Arrow

For those that are not quite sure what the technical specification of a BLBS Standard is I will quickly summarise this based on their supplied documentation.
  1. Shaft : A 3/8 inch diameter parallel or bob-tailed self stele (shaft) of Ash, or a wood of equivalent density and elastic modulus (lime / box / hornbeam / etc) with a minimum draw length of 31 1/2 inches between the base of the nock and the sholder or socket of the head.
  2. Nock : A self-nock protected by a horn nock-piece 2 inches or thereabouts in depth set at right-angles to the nock.
  3. Fletchings : Fletched with Goose (barred Turkey is aceptable) feathers of which the Cock Feather should, ideally, be grey and the other feathers, or fletches, should be white. They should be sheared into a long-low-triangle of at least 6 inches in length.
  4. Head : Armed with a Type 16 (preferable), Type 15 or Type 10 Head.
  5. Weight : Minimum overall weight of the complete arrow, including the head and fletchings, should be 52 grams or 802 grains.
BLBS Standard Arrow

Making The Arrows


Given the specification of a BLBS Standard Arrow you are rather restricted on what materials you work with but since I have the caveat "Well Almost" I will list what I used whilst making the arrows.
  • Shafts : 33 Inch Ash with a diameter of 3/8 inch. I will not be cutting these down because of my draw length.
  • Piles : 125 grains Brass bullet points
  • Fletchings : Full length turkey feathers than I will cut to 7 inches.
  • Horn : Thin horn slithers that will be used to reinforce the self-nock.
  • Binding Thread : Used to bind the horn and fletching in place.
  • Glue : Araldite and HMG Fletching glue.
  • Oil : I prefer to use Danish Oil to waterproof my shafts but many people like varnish it is entirely up to you.


  • Flat nosed pliers
  • Coping Saw
  • Fine Sand Paper
  • Large Fletching Jig
  • Hobby Vice

Preparing the Shafts

As with everything in life preparation is the key to a good job and when building Longbow arrows this is a must. Before you start select you shafts so that they have similar spin and weight. If you do not have the equipment to do this yourself most suppliers will spin and weight match your shafts for a small price increase. In addition select straight shafts, although minor bends can be straightened and I will describe later the process, with straight grain although this can be difficult with Ash.
Given that I am using 3/8 inch shafts my parallel tool I normally use does not fit and hence I needed to crimp the ends of the shaft using a pair of flat nosed pliers to allow the fitting of my "parallel fit piles". In addition to crimping with the pliers you may need to sand the thinned part of shaft slightly but finishing off with the pliers will provide a good finish for glueing the piles in place. Once the pile ends of the shaft have been thinned and prepared we can fit the pile and glue into place using Araldite, or whatever you prefer, and then pin with a small panel/veneer pin. Personally I drill a small hole through the pile and then pin the pile through this.
Crimp Shaft
Once the Pile is glued and pinned give the shafts 2 or 3 coats of Danish Oil, although if you prefer varnish you can use this, which will enhance the grain of the shaft and improve the looks but that is just aesthetics. Once complete we are ready to move onto the the next stage of the arrow which is fitting the Horn reinforcement.

Add Horn nock-piece

The horn insert is added to reinforce the arrow shaft because the nock will be cut directly into the shaft. You can buy slithers of horn from most good archery retailers and these can be cut into widths that are approximately the diameter of the arrow shaft. The fine tuning and sanding will be done once we have fitted them into the shaft. Having tried a number of methods for cutting the horn I have found that a nice sharp, new, coping saw produces the best results.
Once you have cut your horn to the appropriate widths it is time to cut the top of you shaft to fit the horn. This first cut should be done with the grain of the wood and be approximately 2" in depth, this will depend on the size of your horn, straight down the shaft. You need to keep this cut perpendicular to the end and in the middle of the shaft which can be rather difficult if you are trying to cut it Free Hand.
Their are a number of solutions to this conundrum and which you choose will depend on how often you will be making "Self-Nocked" arrows.
  1. Fine Flat Bladed Saw and a steady hand. If you only plan on making a single set of self-nocked arrows then this is quick and simple solution simply draw a vertical line in the centre of the shaft the is the correct depth, fix in you vice and cut. The flat blade will help keeping the cut vertical.
  2. Hardwood Template. If you have a spare piece of hardwood then you can make a template or dye by simply drilling a 3/8" hole and cutting 2" groove in it. You can then place the shaft (yes it will probably be tight but that helps) through the drilled hole and keeping the end of the shaft flush with the top of the Template use the existing saw cut as the guide. In addition you can make a second, shallower, cut at right-angles in the template which you can later use as the guide for the nock.
  3. Small jig for electric saw. This is a simple extension of the above design, and one I use, that simply allows me to strap the shaft horizontal and then using a set guides / runners for my, fine bladed, electric saw cut 2" into the shaft.
Cut Shaft 1Cut Shaft 2
Once the groove has been cut we will need to fit one of the previously cut pieces of horn. Not as mentioned these were cut roughly to size and will need some more work, unless you have a blade the perfectly matches the width of the horn, so taking the piece of horn slide it into the groove we have just cut but do not force it because we can split the wood. If the horn is too thick, and this is likely to be the case at first, you will need to sand down the horn until it is thin enough to slip into the groove in the arrow shaft. I would recommend tapering the leading edge of the horn slightly to allow it to be inserted more easily.
Having sanded the horn to the correct thickness simply apply some glue, or contact adhesive, insert the horn and bind with an elastic band until dry.
Horn Insert
Now that we have or horn inserted and secured we can sand down any protruding edges until they are flush with the arrow shaft to leave a seamless finish. Although the horn will provide reinforcement for the nock we will be providing additional strength during the binding stage.
Sanded Horn 1Sanded Horn 2

Cutting Nock

Having finished the horn insert it is not time to start the cutting of the nock although we will revisit this later. Using our jig / template described above we need to cut a second groove into the end of the shaft at right-angles to the horn and hence through the horn. This cut should be able 1/4" - 3/8" in depth. This initial cut is unlikely to be width enough for your string so we will need to sand the edges until it is wide enough. At this point we could complete the sanding but I tend to leave that until later. This is partially because it depends on which bow I will use the arrows with because the strings are of differing thickness.
Nock Cut 1Nock Cut 2


I have never found pre-cut fletchings over 5" in length and so I needed to buy uncut fletchings. As the name suggests these are simple dyed feathers that are about 9" in length and you the arrow maker will need to cut them to the appropriate length. We have a couple of options at this point for cutting a 7" Shield fletching.
  1. Cut the fletching to shape before glueing it to the shaft.
  2. Cut it to 7" and shape after glueing.
Having had a number of conversations with Carol Edwards, over the years, I tend to cut the feathers to the desired length and then fix them to the shaft cutting them to shape once the glue has dried. This provides a stiff backing for the fletching I am cutting and hence is much easier than trying to cut a floppy feather to shape.
Full Length Feathers
Whilst the fletching glue is drying we can make a simple template for our chosen fletching style out of a piece of card. The next stage is to place a piece of masking tape over each of the fletching and mark around the outside of the templete.
Masked Fletching
Having marked the outline of the fletching on the masking tape we simply need to cut along the line and then remove the remaining masking tape. For this I would recommend a good, sharp, pair of wallpaper scissors because these tend to be long and can provide a continuous cut. This process should be repeated for all fletchings until we have a complete set and at this point our arrows are starting to look like the real thing.
Cut Fletching

Binding the Fletching

Their a number of reason why we should bind the fletchings:
  1. Makes them look good.
  2. Fix them to the shaft.
  3. Reinforce the horn insert.
To bind the fletchings we will need some suitable binding thread, that can be obtained from any good archery store, and a bit of patients. Start by creating a loop in the thread (this will need to be large enough to pass the thread bobbin through) and placing this on the shaft of the arrow and hold in place with you thumb about 1/4" below the base of the fletchings. Now wrap the thread tightly around the shaft starting at you thumb and working up to the base of the fletchings. Make sure you cover the ends of the fletching to hold them in place. Now pass the bobbin through the loop and pull the end of the thread until the loop closes and disappears behind the binding. This will lock the lower binding in place. Now we need to continue working our way up the fletchings binding them in place. To achieve this we should move the binding thread up about 3/4" for each fletching hence 2 1/4" with each full rotation of the shaft.
When we reach the top of the fletching we will need to start to tighten the binding similar to the base securing the trailing edge of the fletching. We should continue binding the shaft over the horn nock to provide additional strength. Once we have reached the top of our binding overlap it slightly and pull tight which will lock the thread in place long enough for us to put a touch of glue to secure the binding.
On completion of the binding I tend give the binding either side of the fletchings a quick coat of varnish which will further strengthen and secure the fletching and horn.
Bound Fletchings
Now we have completed the arrows it is time for the final tidying up and sanding to make sure that the nock fits your string snugly without rubbing and you are ready to shoot them.

Straightening Shafts

If you need to straighten any of you shafts this is not too difficult as long as you have access to a source of hot air. At this point I could make a fair few sarcastic comments but I shall refrain. One of the simplest methods of this is stealing your wife hair-dryer and clamping it to your work bench. This has the advantage, usually, of variable heat settings and in may case an ionic setting but I suspect that makes no difference.
Once clamped in place simply turn on a heat the shaft around the bend whilst putting slight pressure on the shaft to straighten it. Given time and patients you will be able to straighten the shafts.


Rob said...

Thanks, good guide. Just wondering if there's any reason every site uses the word "bobtailed" though? I've spoke to carpenters & engineers who have no idea what it means. Google only returns descriptions of lorries and cats. And "tapered" is already a word which describes it perfectly!
It seems a bit pedantic, but it took me ages to discover that bobtailed just meant tapered from tip to nock!

The Old Toxophilist said...

Hi Rob,

Not sure why most sites mention Bobtail maybe it's because it's the most common taper style. The following page may be of interest as it describes the alternative tapering options all be it briefly. http://www.archerylibrary.com/books/badminton/docs/chapter18/chapter18.html