Fletching Traditional Arrows
By Nils Visser
I am not one to plug products, but every now and then something comes along that I just really want to share with people, and if that benefits the lad or lass who invented the bloody thing, well good for them I say. So, just to make it really clear: I’m not being paid for the excited promotional babble that follows, nor have I received a free product sample. I’m just genuinely excited about it.
One of the paradoxes of outdoor archery is that you’ve often spent hours building beautiful arrows knowing fully well that every time you nock one of these beauties there is a chance she’ll smash into smithereens if impacting some (unintended) hard target or burrow itself under the ground, play hide and seek in the foliage of a tree or get swallowed up by the invisible arrow eating gremlin (a distant cousin of the sock-gobbling goblin that lives in the washing machine).
Anyhow, these things happen if only because a nicely constructed arrow wants to fly free through the sky, you simply sense that they’d be very unhappy hanging on a wall simply because they were considered too precious to actually use what they were made for.
None-the-less, because I tend to operate on a shoestring budget (I’ve got two shoestrings, one spare and half a broken one somewhere in the midst of my jacket pocket debris) I did figure out pretty quickly that it’s pretty wise to build your own arrows rather than purchase them. Specifically because I shoot a traditional bow, a bi-laminate 90 lbs. that has won no prizes (but that aint due to the tool but the hand that wields it). The bow is a thing of beauty, and although no snob, it really does shoot best with traditional arrows, and they come dear if you buy them.
Fortunately, if you’re out and about to train and have fun, and not shooting in a competition where traditional hand-cast historical arrowheads are required, my favourite archery shop, Fairbow, has custom-made ½ inch bullet point arrowheads. Weighing in at 250 grains they are pleasantly hefty and although very simple in construction these have a certain menacing beauty which many of my buddies and I have really fallen for. Add to that an incredibly affordable price tag, and Bob’s your uncle, or, making your own traditional arrows has become something that really makes budgetary sense.
That leaves one problem and that is fletching length. The fletching length used in modern arrows tends to vary between three and five inches, and fletching tools are designed to work with those lengths. However, start looking at the specifications for traditional medieval arrows provided by the EWBS (English War Bow Society) and the DWS (Dutch Warbow Society) and we see a significant increase in length. The EWBS Standard Arrow, for example, must have a fletching length of at least six inches, the new EWBS Welsh Class has minimum length of 7 inches while the EWBS Livery Arrow, the EWBS Quarter Pounder, the DWS Crécy and DWS Poitiers all specify a minimum length of 73/8 inches.
Those making traditional Far Eastern arrows will probably think that these lengths are short, as their fletching length is even longer.
Anyone who has ever tried to stick on seven inch fletches with a fletching tool designed for 5 or six inches at the most, can confirm that this isn’t much fun and increases the risk of damage to the fletch by means of glue getting places it shouldn’t or embarrassing bends there where the quill should be straight. Most people I know have thought up of various ways of correcting this problem, from sticking pins in the quill there where the clamp stops, to adapting the clamps by sticking extra lengths on one way or another.
Well, here comes the ingenious appliance I’d like to break a lance for: The Swan-jig. The Swan-jig has clamps that are almost nine inches long, meaning that the traditional fletches mentioned above can all be used without employing pins or self-welded solutions. Moreover, it allows you to attach your fletches in quick succession, no more waiting and watching glue dry, you can turn to the next fletch as soon as one clamp has been applied. As well as this, you can opt for a three feather configuration or a four feather configuration if you please, the device is adjustable, giving you even more flexibility (and four clamps are included in the set, no need to buy a whole new set just for that extra clamp). On the subject of flexibility, the Swan-jig will work with 5/16, 11/32, 23/64, 3/8, and ½ inch shafts.
The Swan-jig is delivered in flatpack form, meaning you have to do the assembly work yourself, but this isn’t too complicated, and clear video instructions are given on the Swan-jig website. The reason for the self-assembly flatpack is one of keeping both production and transportation costs as low as possible. For more information on the product check it out at: www.fairbowshop.com
If you look at the Swan-jig and compare it to other fletching tools on the market, as well as the quality of the product, than the Swan-jig represents good value for money. However, as I said before, I myself have a limited budget to work with, from which perspective the Swan-jig seemed a hefty investment. However, the solution was that I bought it together with three mates. We bring it to training sessions like a trophy, give it to the next owner who then has two weeks to make the most of it. This does require a bit of planning but is working out really well so far, moreover, we're producing awesome batches of arrows.
May your arrows fly straight and true.