Saturday, June 19, 2010

Making Arrows from Bone, Branch, and Feather

This will be a long post - but it is a fun one.

Back a few weeks ago we made arrow heads from Moose antler - we shaped and baked them; then when hardened we filed them.

We also found suitable arrow shafts, peeled the bark, and hung them vertically to dry straight.

The shafts turned out well. We didn't want all the tedium of straightening them.

So, we trimmed off the shafts to the right length.

Then ground in notches for the string and broadhead.

Grinding the notch was much better than cutting - no risk of splitting the shaft and it went faster, too.

We collected a can full of pine pitch, and put it in boiling water to liquify it to glue and waterproof our lashings.

While the pitch was heating up, we went to make our fletching.

To fletch the arrows, we collected some turkey feathers from a friend down the road. These are strong and large, and had a nice angle to them.
For cordage, instead of sinew or nettle twine, we cheated and chose 65# test "Tuff-line" braided fishing line.

To cut the fletching, we used a razor and split the spine of the feathers.
It is easy to do, but be careful and work slow. Not alot of margin for error.

We left extra quill on the front and back of each feather. Two from wing feathers, and one from a tail feather.

We also made the fletching much larger than normal - our arrows are big, and need the larger stabilizing feathers.
These are also more for looks than function.

Attaching the fletching took time, but went pretty well.
First, knot the cordage and tighten on all three feathers. Don't worry too much about placement - they are easy to move into exact position after all the wrapping is done.

To wrap the feathers, simply wrap the cordage along the length, splitting the webbing.
At the end of the feathers, give several tight wraps to anchor the base of the quill. A few half-hitches will finish the wrap.
Now, carefully move the feathers into the final position desired.

Wrapping the broadhead onto the shaft is pretty easy.
Alot of different styles - pick your own.

The arrow is just about done. The final step is to add hot pitch to glue the arrowhead to the shaft, and to waterproof the wrapping.
We'll also add pitch to secure the feathers and their wrappings as well.
Lets go see how the pitch is doing in the boiling water...

The boiling water never let the pitch get hot enough.
It simply foamed up and was very thick. When dry it was brittle.
As you can see here, it never really attached to the shaft, arrowhead, or string.

We gave up on the boiling water - it never heated up hot enough to liquify the pitch.
It was cool to play with, though!
We decided we needed a fire and coals to get the pitch hot enough...

So we built a fire.

Before we could continue with the arrows, we had to make sure the fire and coals were hot enough...
Get out the marshmellows!

Ok, the bag of marshmellows was finished, so back to the pitch.
The coals heated up the dry pitch FAST - it foamed up and almost overflowed, before sinking to the bottom and liquifying.

The liquid was a darker, amber color and very viscous.

This hot liquid also painted onto the arrow and string much easier.
It cooled very quickly, too, so be sure to heat up the arrow shaft before applying too much.

Here is the first attempt at the arrowhead.
The liquid soaked into the string well.

The only problem was that it dried too quickly to get a good, even coating on all of the string.

So we tried dipping the whole end into the liquid.
This definitely was the best for a uniform coating.
Be sure to get the drops off the end. Another thing - garbage and impurities leave nasty globs in the liquid. Next time we'll strain those out first.

Coating the fletching was very tricky. The pitch is very strong, though, even if it looks ugly it is still very functional.
Another cool thing we found is that even if pitch gets on the feathers themselves, it comes right off and doesn't do any lasting damage to them.

So we tested it out!
The arrow flew VERY well - very stable, balanced, and straight!

The sharp, hardened tip had no trouble sinking deeply into the foam, too.

But! The string and the arrowhead slipped right off the shaft!
Disappointing, but there are stories that the Indians wanted this effect - to prevent damage to the arrowhead and shaft so they could be reused again.
It also would help bleed the animal better if the shaft detached, too.

So, we tried again. After re-wrapping the head to the shaft, we dipped it in the liquid.
This time the liquid melted the string completely off!

Next we tried dipping the arrowhead and shaft, without string.
Then, we wrapped the string to secure the arrowhead.
This worked much better.

We ran out of time this first evening with all the fun and treats before we could touch up the arrows and make them perdy.
Still, they turned out really well. We learned alot, especially about pine-pitch cookin', and had a great time at it.

And the boys really got a kick out of it. Definitely one of their favorite activities.