From inserts to wraps, fletching and nocks, customize your arrows for performance and aesthetics with these archery accessories.
Today, archers can choose from a vast assortment of archery accessories, from shafts and a seemingly endless array of options for dressing them up both for performance and aesthetic purposes. We’ve come a long with from the days of carved wooden arrows lashed-on feather fletching and stone broadheads.
No doubt there are still many traditionalists who invest time and energy in customizing cedar shafts with distinctive cresting and fletching them with authentic turkey wing feathers. For most of North America’s compound-shooting bowhunting community, though, arrow-making has taken on a whole new look.
Line up 10 different bowhunters and their rigs, and you’ll see as many unique arrow setups as possible. From the arrow shafts themselves, to vane designs and colors, to feather fletching, to different fletching configurations, and from wraps (or cresting) to nocks and tips, there are many different ways to customize arrows. For today’s archers, once the bare carbon or aluminum shafts, optional wraps, fletching, inserts, nocks, and tips are in hand, it’s all about precise assembly. Personalizing arrows is nothing new, although today, the possibilities for this aspect of bowhunting have also taken on a next-level look and feel.
First Decisions and Prep
Most pro shops stock an assortment of finished shafts, but for the discerning archer concerned about performance and the look of their arrows, customizing is the name of the game. It’s one thing to like the way an arrow shaft looks and feels. It’s much more important to determine which shaft best suits your purpose, and most critically, which one shoots most accurately from your bow. The thickness of the shaft (the diameter and thickness of the wall) along with flex (or stiffness) are key considerations.
Once you decide on your shaft, you’ll need to collect all the other parts and accessories to build the perfect arrow for your setup. You will also need some specialized equipment. The three main categories are the arrow components, then solvents, cleaning agents and glues and adhesives; then a saw and jig.
Plastic Vanes or Feathers
For arrows, there are basically four main components with an option for a fifth. These include the shafts themselves, fletching, nocks and inserts. If desired, you can also install wraps for a specialized look.
After your choice of shaft, you’ll have to select the size, shape, design, and color of plastic vane or feather fletch to use. Different manufacturers (such as Bohning, Arizona Archery Enterprises, and New Archery Products) make a wide assortment of vanes, each designed for specific applications. You can choose among vanes that are more suitable for indoor shooting or outdoor shooting. You can select ones that are shorter, longer, higher profile, lower profile, stiffer, softer, and differently shaped. Color selection is always a consideration as well. Some bowhunters want their strings, cables and arrows to stand out visually. Others prefer a more subtle look. While I have bows with bright-colored arrow combinations, my most recent arrow combination is more subdued, with white adhesive wraps and all-white fletching. It’s always wise to go with a higher-quality vane. While the mentioned companies all make decent plastic vanes, I use Bohning. I particularly like the 2.25-inch X-vane and the 2-inch Blazer vane. TrueFlight and AMG are two brands that I recommend for feather fletching.
Wrap or No Wrap
Other arrow accessories some archers like is wraps. Some of my bows have arrows without wraps, and others have arrows decorated with wraps. They won’t make your arrow perform any better, but they do enhance the look and they definitely make them more visible. Wraps come in a wide range of colors and patterns, providing plenty of options for customizing arrow appearance.
Wraps are a personal choice. I like to use the four-inch Bohning wraps because their adhesive is reliable and durable. The only drawback is that you need to know which size wrap to pick up because this varies depending on the diameter of your arrow. Different companies make different options available in longer or shorter adhesive wraps that typically range from four to seven inches in length.
Installation of adhesive wraps is a straightforward process, but it takes a bit of precision to do. If quick and easy is your preference, companies like NAP make a shrink wrap as well. New Archery Product’s QuickFletch line comes in a three-fletch or four-fletch configuration. Literally, if you can boil water, you can professionally crest and fletch an arrow in less than 10 seconds. Shrink wraps may be the easiest way to fletch your arrows either in the field or at home, and they are guaranteed not to slip. The nice thing about NAP’s QuickFletch system is that these shrink to fit any size carbon or aluminum arrow shaft.
Yes, nock choice is a thing, too, and nocks can be somewhat technical arrow accessories. Since performance is a consideration, you’ll need to sort out which nock you prefer. Nocks are engineered to handle the high amount of energy that is passed from the bow’s limbs to the arrow. From a performance standpoint, nocks need to be strong and fit the string properly. Different companies offer a variety of options, but to illustrate, I’ll use Bohning. You have a choice of pin nocks, trad/glue-on nocks or insert nocks. Most bowhunters would use insert nocks with carbon or aluminum arrows. Most traditional archers using cedar shafts would use trad/glue-on nocks. In Bohning’s insert nock category, you can choose from the Smooth Release nock, Signature nock, Blazer nock, HE nock, F Nock, or A Nock styles. The key is to know the diameter (ID) of your arrow shaft, since each is designed to fit a specific diameter.
As far as colors go, I like to either match or contrast my nocks with the color combinations on my arrow shafts and fletching. If you really want to trick out your arrows, a lighted Lumenok or other illuminated nock serves a highly practical purpose in the field. By lighting up upon release, these nocks provide an enormous visual advantage, allowing shooters to observe arrow flight as well as point of impact. They also help shooters retrieve their arrows.
You’ll need two tools to make arrows: an arrow saw and a fletching jig. You’ll also need different glues. If you don’t have access to a saw, you can ask your local pro shop to cut them for you. Fletching requires a jig, and over the years, I’ve experimented with several different ones. My favorite is the Bitzenburger, mostly because it’s made out of zinc alloy, and I find it to be most precise. The Bitzenburgers aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it. Regardless of which jig you use, be sure to use the desired positioning to ensure that the finished product has the proper offset helical fletch positioning on each arrow.
Alternative (plastic) fletching jigs come in a variety of configurations. Bohning’s Tower Jig, for instance, is particularly handy for installing all three at one time. The only drawback is the limitation to three-fletch configurations. With the current shift to four-fletch configurations, single-fletch jigs may be necessary.
If you’re accustomed to making your own arrows, you’ve probably encountered the odd problem…wraps wrinkling or bunching with an air bubble underneath…or maybe you’ve seen fletching pull off or get stuck to the jig. Regardless of any complications you may have experienced, take extra care to follow the basic steps and you’re sure to see success the next time you build your arrows.
The first step to assembly involves cutting shafts to the desired length, cleaning the inside of the shaft, and installing the inserts with a suitable super-bonding adhesive. If Front of Center (FOC) is a priority, consider upgrading to brass inserts to enhance arrow performance and downrange penetration.
Before applying any glue, it’s a good idea to gently sand the end of the shaft with a grinding stone to remove sharp edges, then clean the inside with a Q-tip and denatured alcohol. For installing most inserts, a suitable super-bonding, hot-melt adhesive like Ferr-L-Tite, Fer-L-Tite Cool Flex, or Insert Iron will suffice. For hidden inserts like those that come with the Easton Axis shafts, you can use either the two-part epoxy that comes with the shafts or something like Bohning’s PowerBond or Gold Tip Tip Grip. With some shafts, different glues perform better than others, so you may have to experiment to determine which works best with the combination of shafts, wraps and vanes or feather fletch you’re using. Similarly, while some glues dry faster than others, it’s always a good idea to leave your shafts laying horizontally for several hours. I like to leave mine for a full 24 hours before continuing to work on them.
With your inserts installed and the glue dry, you can now proceed with installing wraps and/or fletching. Before attempting to mount the fletching on new shafts, they should be cleaned with acetone or a solvent like Bohning SSR or an abrasive cleaning agent like Ajax or Comet. Once this is done, be sure to rinse them thoroughly under hot running water and then allow them to air dry.
If you like wraps, carefully line each arrow up at a 90-degree angle to a square wall or on a jig. This will allow you to meticulously set the shaft on each wrap and then carefully press down and roll to install it. With each wrap secure, you can then move on to fletching.
A variety of fast-drying, super-bonding glues can be used for fletching. Be sure that whatever adhesive you’re using is compatible with the arrow shafts. For example, some glues just don’t work on carbon shafts or on wraps. Adhesives like Bohning Fletch Glue, Fletch-Tite Platinum, ExpressBond Carbon Arrow Glue, Gold Tip Tip Grip, or even Super Glue can be good products. Again, it may take some trial and error to determine which glue is best suited to the shafts and components you are using.
Also, be aware that some glues don’t bond properly to certain shafts. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications and recommended products to best complement the shafts, inserts and fletching you plan to use. With my tower jig, it is as simple as removing the arrow nock, standing the shaft on the center post, inserting the fletching into each slot, applying a conservative amount of glue, then closing and locking each arm in place with the jig bracket. After 10 minutes you can carefully remove the fletched arrow and put it aside to cure. Again, even though the glue dries faster, I like to leave my arrows for a day before shooting them.
As far as nocks are concerned, I tend to buy colored nocks to either match or complement my wraps and fletching. With the arrow almost complete, insert your nock along with your field tip or chosen broadhead to provide the finished product. Spinning your arrows to ensure that inserts and tips are true will confirm that they are ready to shoot.