2 – Cutting and Seasoning Arrows

The most important part of making primitive arrows in choosing your arrow shafts. If you spend more time selecting the best shafting you will not only have the best arrows. You should spend less time making them and not have to restraighten them much at all. As with most jobs if you use the best materials you will not only make the best of what you built but also, it will last longer and be less of a problem to build. I am sure that if you have gone this far in to primitive archery you have most likely made a self-bow already. Making arrows is very similar in the material selection. A bow can be made from a snaky bow stave. It takes a whole lot of work to steam and straighten it or to tiller it in its curve shape. In either case you have a higher chance of failure, as it requires more skill to work with this more challenging material. Where as if you had spent more time selecting a better stave you would not have had as many problems.

We need to consider what king of qualities we want from our shaft materials to make great arrow. Ideally, we would like shafts that are perfectly straight, free from branches, curves and imperfections. Now that hardly ever happens, but will try any choose the best possible shafts to cut from what we have available. You should take your time and be very selective of the shafts you will cut. Shafts that have slow gradual bends, small leaf sprouts very small imperfections and small branches can work for arrows. Shafts that have hard angle bends, close ‘S’ type bends, large branches and other imperfections should be rejected and left to produce more seeds to make more shafting for you. This will save you time and is just good woodsmanship.

Pictures 1, 2 and 3 show flaws in shafting that you should use to judge the shafts you will not use. Notice in Picture 1 the hard angle the wood has in which grown. This will become very difficult to remove with heat straightening and almost impossible to remove with green straightening. You have the hard angle with a soft curve following right behind it. The hard angle is bad enough for shaft production but when you heat the soft curve it straighten it. The heat and the stress of straightening will sometime let the hard angle try to return to normal. This is a definite rejection for an arrow shaft.

2 - seasoning 1Picture 1

2 - seasoning 2Picture 2

2 - seasoning 3Picture 3

On Picture 2 we have a large branch growing from the side of the potential arrow shaft. I will not say that an arrow shaft cannot be made from this shaft. I think it is just a poor choice of a shaft. One of the things that make self-arrows, or primitive arrows, so strong is the concentric growth rings leaving no place for splits between growth rings. When you plane down the limb growing out the side of the shaft you leave an open spot in the close growth rings. This leaves a weak spot and should be rejected as a perfect shaft. I have made shafts from this type of shaft and they will make a fair shaft but they will not be a strong as a perfect shaft.
On Picture 3 you can see a perfect shaft on the right compared to the shaft on the left with close ‘S’ type bends. The shaft on the right will be a joy to produce while the shaft on the left might not be. The close bends can make straightening very difficult. During heat straightening a previously straightened bend can return to normal when trying to straighten a bend very close like Picture 3.

It is generally best to cut shafts at least 6″ longer than you will need to allow for imperfections in the wood, splitting and being able to adjust to get the closer spine. Most shafts have imperfections that need to be worked around and the longer shafts collect will give you the opportunity to avoid some of the bad sections. It is also easier on a longer shaft to adjust to one end or the other to help with spine selection.

Seasoning can be a matter of taste or tradition as the end user may define, but once an arrow blank is dry it is ready to make a shaft. Some traditions call for a blank to season for six months before they say it can be used. I think this was set by collecting blanks with the bark on and binding them in a wrapped cover, as some Indians did, and they would not be dry for up to six months because of the enclosed conditions. If some woods were unwrapped too early they would split open and be ruined. So some traditions have a basis in fact but most are not explained to us anymore. We are just expected to listen to the masters and do as they say. Take everything you hear and what you learn and combine them and the truth will be in there some where. A blank that has been dry for 2 weeks seems to perform just as well as on that has been dry for 2 years.

Seasoning is considered by some to be the aging of the wood. I do not think it matters how old he shafts are unless they are exposed to undesirable elements like insect or water damage. In my opinion seasoning is the controlled water loss of the wood fibers. Loosing water from wood cells too fast or unevenly will cause checking. Checking on arrow shafts is undesirable and I would not shoot arrows with such flaws as I enjoy my fore arms without splinters of wood in them.

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