Bamboo Arrows, part 1

Arrows have been much on my mind lately after seeing how ratty some of mine have become.  I was intending to start with a set of British longbow style arrows but having received some beautiful arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica I think), I changed plans to suit the new material.  I have never used this myself but have handled and examined arrows of this species and used the american bamboo (Arundinaria gigantea).  It could not be much more perfect for the job.

Since I hoped to do this right, I decided to photo document the process as best I could.  Good arrow making isn’t easy or fast so unless you are dedicated to perfection, you are probably better off buying them.

First thing to do; select shafts.  I didn’t have hundreds to choose from but these were pre-selected for diameter (hence spine), straightness, node alignment, etc.  I parsed out a half dozen I liked for starters and cut them to length.  Note similarity in diameter and node alignment.  Scale is in inches.

What to look for in bamboo or cane shafts:  consistent diameter, consistent weight, similar spine, long lengths between nodes, similar node placement, very little taper.

For this batch, I decided to approximate Korean style arrows with inserted wood nocks.  These have worked well for me in the past but I have never started with this great of bamboo.

Raw bamboo has a flair at each leaf node that must be removed for a smooth arrow shaft.  I do most of this with a knife but a small plane or file will suffice.

The node above is cut smooth.

I have a cool little shaft plane (made by Dick Baugh) that helps at this stage but a rasp or sandpaper will work too.

The nodes of the set are now relatively smooth.  Now, any final straightening should be done over gentle heat.  This can take several hours so don’t rush it.  Keep  fixing little bends and make sure to heat the entire shaft to temper it.

I selected Osage orange for the nocks.  Horn or other hardwoods can be used here.  The above photo shows a blank and finished nock preform.

This photo shows the basic method.  With a very sharp knife, score a ring around the nock.  whittle away from the score to narrow the piece slowly.  Repeat until it fits the shafts.  At this point I will say that I skipped an optional, but I think, important step.  That is, to wrap the end of each shaft with sinew and hide glue to prevent the shaft from splitting while pressing in the wood.  If, for some reason, sinew isn’t available, silk thread can be used in its place.  As sinew is free and carried around inside all the higher life forms, it should be pretty easy to get some.

Test fitting a nock.

Sinewed shaft ends being fit with nocks.  Glue the nocks in place with a water-soluble glue for easy repair.

At this point, several simple steps ensue.  First, wrap the joint with sinew and coat in a thin layer of hide glue. Second, drill a small hole through the nock, preferably at 45 degrees across the grain.  Make a small saw incision to start the carving and remove the waste with a small knife.  File or sandpaper the operation smooth.

Voila! you are on your way to having a set of fine arrows.  I will stop here as this is, in essence, an arrow.

Foreshafts, points, and fletchings will follow.



9 thoughts on “Bamboo Arrows, part 1

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