Archive for the ‘Arrows’ Category

Wooden arrow makers and suppliers

It’s not hard getting hold of arrows for longbows – you can pretty much shoot any wooden arrow from the majority of bows, from cheap and nasty woodies off Ebay through to the most wonderfully crested Victorian style barrelled or tapered target arrows.

However – there’s actually not that many people who can make them well.

Many of the sets of wooden arrows you can buy from professional archery shops are reasonable quality, but as with any of these things – they’re built to a price. What you want to be looking for is whether the arrows are spine matched (correctly – to both your bow and your draw weight) to within around 5lbs – more than this and you’re likely to find things going a bit awry side to side. Next you need to make sure that they have weight matched them – at least to around 30grains for the set – any more than this and they’ll be drifting high and low.

Unsurprisingly, many longbow shooters make their own arrows, but most sets of wooden shafts aren’t weight matched, and we’ve seen a set of 12 shafts with a range of over 150 grains. You’ve got 2 options – either pay extra for them to be weight matched, or buy in bulk and match them yourself! I guess which option you choose will depend on how many you lose or break!

There’s loads of good resources on making good wooden longbow arrows around, and we’ll try to collate a few of them later, as making your own arrows is incredibly satisfying, and in the long run it’s usually economic, but many people simply don’t have the time. A good set of arrows will take a week or so to make, with often 4 or 5 hours of work. Once you start looking at all the tools you may need for the job it becomes a toss up as to whether it’s worth while.

For those who don’t want to make their own, we’ve fallen back into our old habit of list making:

  • Little John Arrows – John Catley has an incredibly good reputation and provides some very nice Victorian style arrows – cresting, tapering and barelling, spine matching to within 1lb and weight matching are available with either Boyton pine or spruce shafts.
  • Carol Archery – Carol Edwards has been making arrows for many years, and sells arrows, shafts and even her own design of fletching jig. Boyton pine and poplar.
  • Sylvan Archery – Hilary Greenland has also been making arrows for years, with expertise in historic and flight arrows.
  • The Fletcher – We work with these guys, so we’re biased! They make some great cheap love ’em and lose ’em arrows for reasonable prices which are all spine and weight matched so they actually shoot well, but they also have an enthusiasm for strange woods and historic arrows. Pine, Spruce, Birch, Ash, Bamboo, Poplar – if it’s worth making it into a shaft – they’ll try it.
  • HiForce – These guys come with an enviable reputation for competition arrows, including tapered shafts and a matching service to arrows you’ve had previously – they’ll even try to replicate your favourite arrow. Pine and Spruce.

As always, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but we’ve tried a heck of a lot of arrows and not found many that are worth writing home about – if you’ve found a great arrow maker you think deserves to be in the list – get in touch:

Meeting the makers and suppliers

So often these days we rely on the internet for information and to do our shopping, but if you’re looking at buying a longbow or wooden arrows there’s nothing like meeting and talking to the makers and suppliers and handling the merchandise yourself.

So it was with great excitement we visited the International Living History Fair near Warwick, with it’s wide array of historic suppliers.

There were several bowyers there on the day, and a huge selection of shafts, piles and flights for arrow making.

First up, hardly through the door and we found Andreas Doebereiner of A Piece of History (who apologised for his website not being fully finished yet!). He had an excellent array of bows on show. From simple hickory unfinished self-bows at £60, which give you the chance to sand and stain or finish the bow to your own requirements, through to some of Steve Stratton’s warbows and his own Yew longbows. Sourcing his Yew from Estonia has enabled him to keep the costs surprisingly reasonable, and the quality really was good, with much straighter grain than any of the other sub £500 Yew bows we’ve come across.

I have to admit, I did let the side down for the English, by drooling over some of his horsebows – with a selection from Toth, Nomad, Kassai and some phenomenal horn and sinew laminated Grozer bows!

Next up was a quick trip to Richard Head, who was happy as ever for us to rifle through his fine selection of arrow shafts (nicking the ones with the straightest grain is one of the benefits of being there in person rather than ordering online!). Most suppliers there had the usual selection of 5/16″ and 11/32, but as one of the foremost retailers of materials for historic longbow equipment they hold some fine 23/64″ ash shafts, spined and ready to go, as well as Chris Boyton’s excellent 1/2″ to 3/8″ bobtailed warbow shafts. Along with a good supply of full-length feathers and piles for a variety of arrow sizes (including some rough and ready 1/2″ points), their stand is always worth a good trawl.

Richard always keeps a couple of bows on his stands, so that you can see the workmanship, but they don’t keep a stock of “off-the-peg” bows as they make the majority of them bespoke for the archer – nothing compares to being measured up for your bow by the bowyer himself.

Further around the fair (via a few distractions like the Wise Woman and Herbalist Jayne Milner who is fantastic!), we found the ever jovial guys from Fairbow, with a fantastic selection of longbows, horsebows and historical curios like their cable-backed bows. Though the bows are mainly imported from their bowyer in the Netherlands, the guys really know their stock and have immense enthusiasm for what they do. They make the majority of their arrows themselves, with some great horn nocked arrow shafts, constructed in the same manner as you would to foot an arrow – seriously nice looking shafts!

Several of the stands had small selections of arrow heads, ranging from simple machined steel piles through to a wide variety of hand-forged points in all shapes and sizes. The best of these had to be those from Hector Cole, who really is the specialist when it comes to archery blacksmithing, with a great range from plate piercing bodkins through to type 16’s, swallowtails and maille piercing points. He also had a great selection of knives and blades on sale for those moments when you need to get a point of of the woodwork!

Hector wasn’t the only one with impressive blacksmithing skills though – The Arbalist had some presentation quality arrow heads on show – you’d almost want to hang them on the wall rather than shoot them! They also had a good selection of longbows on offer, along with their fantastic range of crossbows. I had to drag myself away from those – maybe next year I’ll be able to afford one!

All in all a great (if expensive!) day out, with more than enough shiny toys for anyone of a historical or military persuasion – we’ll see you at the next one in at the end of October.

Longbow Arrows – Wooden Shafts

There’s hundreds of arrow suppliers out there, but only a few of them really understand what is required from a wooden longbow arrow, and even fewer who can build a decent warbow arrow.

We run a Medieval Archery Events company and as we get through a hell of a lot of the things we have our own Wooden Arrow Suppliers, so we’ve got a bit of experience with what to look for. Later we’ll be including a bit of info from others with even more experience than ourselves. We’ll also be putting together a list of suppliers of finished arrows and arrow making materials.

First off – you probably want to look at shafts – now we’re traditionalists, so there’ll be no carbon or aluminium shafts here – we’re talking woodies:

  • Port Orford Cedar (POC)

It’s not traditional, but it’s solid. Medium weight – 29″ shaft average is around 345 grains . The Americans have sworn by this stuff for years and the majority of the POC available these days is from Oregon. There’s rumours of good quality supplies running low, but these may only be rumours.

  • Sitka Spruce

Mainly scandinavian and again not tradition for English longbows, but we use a heck of a lot of these. They seem to take more abuse than the POC before breaking and they’re very simple to straighten (can be done by hand in the field very easily). Medium weight, though slightly lighter than POC on average – 29″ shaft average is around 321 grains. Some of the bigger UK shaft suppliers are moving toward these and away from POC.

  • Boyton Pine

Chris Boyton is a well known bowyer and longbow archer himself, so he knows what to look for in an arrow. Many longbowyers swear by his shafts. Quality is always good, rarely needing to discard a shaft for flaws. Pine tends to be slightly heavier than POC or Spruce, the stats suggest around 369 grains for a 29″ shaft. These are extremely tough and are often recommended for heavier longbows (45lbs plus). As far as tradition goes, we think these do go back as far as the Victorian target archery revival (not Chris Boyton’s own, but similar woods!).

  • Birch

One of the traditional woods (as found aboard the Mary Rose) and as such is favoured by the re-enactment brigade. Due to it’s strength and weight it is also a great warbow shaft. Spine ratings tend to be pretty high (with even 5/16″ often spining above 45lbs and 3/8 being fine often for 100lb+ bows). Birch is anecdotally better than ash in damp conditions and less likely to warp/bend. Weight for a 29″ arrow – around 497gr for comparison.

  • Ash

Another one of the traditional woods and again pretty solid and heavy (29″ – 481gr average comparison weight but most ash arrows will be heavier due to being thicker). Spine ratings tend to be high again but unlike the birch you can get them pretty simply in spine matched sets from around 60lbs at 23/64″. With shafts available up to 1/2″ they’re popular with the warbow fraternity.

  • Poplar

Chris Boyton makes poplar shafts which are spine matched, so there’s been an uptake of this traditional wood. Solid and reliable and a little lighter (in theory 29″ would be 337gr, but you’ll probably be using them in thicker sizes) than ash and birch. Ideal for flight and clout due to the weight, but not so great for the re-enactment guys who need more weight to make the specs for either the BLBS or EWBS arrows.

There’s a load of other arrow woods which could be used – but these are pretty much the main ones which are available. Some people will happily shoot dowel from DIY suppliers (and you can get pretty much anything if you look hard enough) but without some serious testing we wouldn’t recommend it.

However, we’re always looking for interesting woods to use (we’re currently playing with some imported spine matched Bamboo – we’ll let you know how that goes) so if you know of anything, or of a good supplier – let us know.