How to make a footed arrow

by Johnny Snyman

Apart from the character laden, vibrant life that wooden bows reflect, their undisputed track record is enriched with thousands of years of sending whispering "messengers of death" across countless battlefields all over the world. They have and forever will pass on the blend of traditional values and romance to those who seek the true challenges they offer.

The wooden bow is, however, incomplete without its business end - the wooden arrow. Man has since the dawn of archery realised that his arrows should match the bow he uses, which required great labour in ensuring straightness, stiffness, weight, fletching and, of course, often decorating his arrows to produce beautiful missiles committing devious acts from a distance.

Strangely, however, there exists a common misunderstanding nowadays that wooden arrows are "inaccurate", "ineffective" and even "outdated" and "not a good choice to use"! Well, maybe history is all wrong then. Why didn't early archers, the Longbowmen, Asians and native Americans, to name just a few, not just stick to stone throwing instead? Or maybe Robin Hood really had a terrible press agent!

In the writings of Maurice Thompson's "Witchery of Archery" he vividly describes his outing with a Seminole Indian. Thompson explains upon examining his "primitive's" archery tackle, "found his bow to be the stem of a small sapling split in halves with very little finish; but his arrows were a wonder of exact work and feathered on the true scientific principle."

Crafting wooden arrows can be almost as challenging as making wooden bows. Wooden arrows embrace mixed emotions of pride, accomplishment and self-reliance in archers who prefer to make and use them to good effect. For those who are burning to do so, why not try your hand at crafting a truly fine arrow: the footed arrow.

English craftsmen of the 19th and early part of the 20th century produced beautifully crafted footed arrows relying on their skill and hand tools to sustain their livelihood. Their work was the epitome of perfection, carried with pride. During this time tournament archery was at its heyday in England; subsequently serious archers preferred shooting the York round with footed arrows only, as it was felt that the added up-front weight of the footed shaft enhanced an arrow’s flight characteristics.

Apart from their beauty, durability is an added advantage. The great Howard Hill preferred footed arrows for their durability. To say the least, Mr Hill didn't exactly treat an arrow gently while demonstrating his trick shooting! Yet another plus for making footed arrows is your ability to repair or lengthen a broken arrow.

No special skills are needed to make them; neither is an IQ equalling your heaviest arrow, in grains, that is. Only a bit of time, some patience, a work bench with basic tools and, most important, the desire to do so.

A footed arrow is simply a piece of hardwood (often in contrasting colour to the arrow shaft), glued onto the front end of the arrow shaft using a special technique called splicing.

Let us first look at the tools needed before we get to work,

Tools: ruler, tape measure and pencil; calliper; compass; medium grade wood rasp and file; sandpaper; small hand plane or "palm plane"; bench vice; arrow shaft (wood, of course); footings or billets; small G-clamp; and strips of inner tubing cut half an inch wide.

Dimensions of footings: have footings cut and planed to 8 inch x 7/16 inch x 7/16 inch. Billets from hardwoods such as purple heart, Rhodesian teak or imbuia. Any tough, straight grained hardwood will do, although for contrast and beauty purple heart is guaranteed to steal your heart!

Unless you have a steady hand and a sharp handsaw, spare yourself time along with elevated blood pressure and possible rewritings of the verbal abuse handbook by cutting the slot into the footing's centre with a properly tuned bandsaw (Figure 1).
Onto the end of the billet (Figure 2), draw two diagonal lines from corner to corner. Where these lines cross, use the compass to inscribe a circle matching the diameter of your arrow shaft. For an 11/32 inch shaft the circumference is .26 inch, for 23/64 inch, the circumference is .28 inch.

In tapering off the arrow shaft using the small hand plane (Figure 3a), care must be taken during tapering in using the correct sides of the wooden arrow's grain. Wooden arrows with straight visible grain have two important sides: the rift and the reed sides.

The rift side is clearly seen as feathered areas along the shaft and are actually cut through yearly rings. The reed side appears as straight lines (yearly rings). This side is always related to a 90 degree angle in relation to the arrow nock, which is the stronger side of the arrow positioned to pass and flex around the handle of selfbows.

Tapering is done from rift to rift side towards the centre line drawn on the arrow shaft's end (Figure 3b). Take care not to cut the tip narrower than the slot in your billet. Next, secure the small G-clamp just below where the slot in the billet ends to prevent splitting as you insert the tapered arrow-end (Figure 4a).

For the gluing job, I recommend a strong waterproof glue. Cascamite suits this category and is available at most hardware shops. Follow the mixing and curing instructions carefully.

Arrows usually take a good pounding when roving or stump shooting and to be let down by a footing coming apart on the glue line with the possible loss of an expensive arrow point after a nicely placed shot is, well, pretty pointless! So stay away from inferior glues!
With the clamp in place, apply glue to the inside of the slot with a piece of folded paper; also coat the tapered end of the arrow. Insert the arrow shaft until it jams at the bottom of the cut slot in the billet. Make sure that the shaft-to-billet alignment is perfect before any further work is done.

Secure the end of the billet in the bench vice; you now have your hands free to firmly wrap the whole works with the inner tubing (Figure 4b).

Once the glue has cured, remove the inner tubing and clamp. Now sight down the arrow shaft to check the alignment. Is the alignment crooked? If it is, simply start all over again; you won't do it a second time. Guaranteed.

Secure the billet end into the bench vice, leaving enough wood protruding, and begin planing off surplus wood toward the arrow nock-end, thus achieving the same thickness as the arrow shaft. Turn the billet and trim all sides until a square footing, equal to the thickness of the arrow shaft is produced. During this whole phase, the circle inscribed on the billet's end serves as a beacon to keep track with the overall diameter. Take care to not gauge the arrow shaft when planing towards the nock end of the billet.

After squaring, the billet is continuously rotated after each corner is planed off and the near final product is the billet being octagonally shaped. Continue using the circle as the diameter reference.

Final rounding is done with the rasp, file and sandpaper, along with regular checks using the callipers. During this last phase you will note the ends of the splice pointing towards the arrow nock become slender tips, finally blending in with the arrow shaft.

Now, at last, steel wool the spliced area, taper the end receiving the point and complete the rest of the arrow as you normally would.

Easy? Definitely not! A heap of work? Certainly! So why go through the effort?
In life, effort and quality must blend to form a yardstick with which all good things are measured.

So it is with the footed arrow. Let your desire to make one reflect the success of your effort. Good luck!

Acknowledgements:
The Traditional Bowyer's Bibles - Bois d'Arc Press
The Flat Bow - Hunt and Metz
The Witchery of Archery - M Thompson
Figure1: Slot cut along centre of footing.
Figure 2: Circle inscribed with compass onto end of footing, equalling arrow shaft diameter.
Figure 3a: Rift side of arrow shaft (top) and reed side (bottom).
Figure 3b: Tapering is done with small hand plane from rift to rift. Bottom: Pencil line drawn across the centre of the end of arrow shaft to serve as guide in avoiding cutting or planing the tip of taper too slender. Note: Taper is slightly shorter than cut slot in footing.
Figure 4a: Clamping of footing just below end of slot to prevent splitting.
Figure 5: Completed footed shaft after surplus wood has been planed, rasped, filed and sanded away. Note how the ends towards the arrow nock "blend" into the arrow haft.