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.


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