Longbows - Arrows
Longbow Arrows have to be made of wood with feather fletchings ~ because that’s because what the rules say. On the face of it that’s pretty straightforward, but as with all things relating to archery the closer you look the more complex it becomes. This note tries to de-mystify the process of choosing your arrows. This note also covers wooden arrows shot off other traditional bow types e.g. Mongolian and Hungarian.
Generally longbow arrows come in 2 diameters ~ 5/16” and 11/32”. Others are available from specialist suppliers ~ e.g. 9/32” or 1/4”, but note that taper tools used to make the nock and pile fit the shaft are not readily available for purchase for these diameters and so they are very much something to get from the specialist supplier.
· The 5/16 is smaller in diameter and is used in lower poundage bows.
· The 11/32 is thicker and stiffer and used for more powerful bows ~ arguably 45lbs upwards but I’ve done OK with 5/16s off a more powerful bow.
Oddly when buying wooden shafts the measurement of their spine is related to a recurve bow i.e. a wooden shaft marked at 30-35lbs suits a recurve of that poundage, though these days they are unlikely ever to be shot off one. Modern recurve bows are designed with a sight window through which the arrow is shot. Longbows do not have this, and as a result the longbow arrow has to go round the handle of the bow rather than straight ahead as with a recurve. That means that the arrow needs to be more whippy (bendy) than for a recurve of similar draw weight. This is all to do with the archer’s paradox.
The Archer's Paradox
As alluded to above Longbows are not centre shot bows (no sight window) which means in drawing the bow the archer places the arrow shaft against the bow, and the arrow flies around the bow. That is the essence of the archer's paradox, that the arrow begins by pointing off to the side but flies straight ahead ~ which requires a whippier arrow than you might initially think is right for the bow.
So on a 45lb bow you need to buy arrows where the spine is marked up somewhere between 30 - 40 lbs, to allow the arrow to bend around the bow. This means we shoot arrows that are, on the face of it, weaker than the actual draw weight of the bow might suggest.
Which Arrow should I choose?
The chart below is designed to give you an indication of what to choose. The left hand column shows the draw weight, the top row the draw length ~ read across and down and where the two meet that’s a good starting point for selecting your arrow shafts.
So if you draw 28” and have 40lbs on your fingers ~ follow 38-45 across and 28” down that gives you 30/35 and that’s the arrow spine to start with. You may find you are in between bow weights and draw lengths, e.g. 45lbs and 27”. This doesn’t make things easier as it just means you have to try out more combinations in order to find the ideal. I recommend going for something a bit whippier than you are likely to need as that can be altered by shortening the arrow slightly. Try them out ~ if you are right-handed and they consistently fly to the right, they are too weak. The reverse if you are left-handed. You can cut a small amount off at the pile end. Retry and keep going until they fly straight. Make sure you don’t cut beyond the safety length of your draw. If you do you will need to go up an arrow poundage weight and start the process all over again.
However, it’s not just a case of altering the length and spine of the arrow. If, when testing, the arrow consistently goes to the left (for a right handed archer), the arrow is too stiff. Whilst you cannot lengthen the arrow to make it whippier this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do that arrow. You can make the arrow whippier by changing the pile weight e.g. move from 100 to 125 grain piles. This might be worth trying rather than going down an arrow poundage weight and buying more arrows. N.B. CBA provide arrows ready piled with 125 grain points, but they also have 80 and 100gr points available (other suppliers are available).
As you can see choosing the correct arrow is, to some extent, a matter of trial and error. To get the ideal it may be necessary to experiment with a lot of arrows to get the ones that suit your bow and how you draw. To add to the complexity different woods are available and have different properties. Pine (fir) and Port Orford Cedar (POC) are the most commonly available. An archer may find that 30 to 35 lb in Pine works fine, but for POC they need 35 to 40lb ~ this suggests pine is stiffer than POC. Similarly by altering the length of the arrow its stiffness is also altered and that can add to the complications. As a rule of thumb longbow archers generally prefer weaker arrows than stiffer, but not weaker by much, so having the arrows slightly longer than you might need makes them whippier and probably more suitable. In my case it also allows for shortening them when they break ~ in fact that’s how I established what length of arrow was best for me.
As you can imagine this needs patience and time. However, you will find out a lot about how arrows fly, how different woods influence flight and what impact changing the lengths of arrows and piles has.
I touched on these above, this section adds a bit of detail. Screw on tapered fit piles are arguably best because screwing them on it makes them fit nicely and they won’t come off easily ~ but they still need gluing.
I would recommend 100g piles to begin with ~ it is a good all-purpose mid-weight useful to start with. The lighter the pile the stiffer the arrow will become. Therefore, you could try 80 grain piles to stiffen arrows. Heavier piles, like 125grain will weaken that same arrow.
There are different styles of pile available ~ essentially two – bullet and field. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference, though the advantage of field points is that they are easier to pull out of the legs of stands, in the unlikely event of you missing the boss.
These have to be made from feather and come in various lengths and in a variety of shapes and colours. Most commonly used lengths are 3, 4 or 5 inch. Shorter lengths such as 2 ½” are normally only used with 9/32 and ¼ shafts. The feathers used are generally turkey, sometimes goose, feathers. As with recurve archery the longer the fletching the more drag there is on the arrow. Therefore, choose longer fletchings for indoors and shorter ones for the longer distances you will shoot outdoors.
As well as different shapes and colours fletchings also come in right or left wing, though most suppliers opt for left wing for some reason. It does not matter which you choose and has absolutely nothing to do with which way you shoot. What is key is that you have all your arrows using the same wing. Otherwise you will find they will get confused and will find it hard to decide which way to fly ~ nothing to do with how you shot the arrow of course.
Very standard like all nocks. Lots of colours. Which you choose is again a matter of personal preference.
There is one further thing to mention about arrows and that is how much they weigh. If an arrow is heavier than another, it will fly lower. If you have one that is a lot lighter it will fly higher. In an unmatched set of arrows, you are very likely to get this variance. When shooting seriously and the better you become you may want to start weighing your arrows with a grain scale to make sure they are the same.
Arrows supplied complete are unlikely to be matched, i.e. all within a specific weight range, unless that is stated by the supplier~ specialist arrow suppliers will provide a set of matched arrows for which they charge extra, but if you are taking your longbow shooting seriously it is probably worth the extra expense.
When starting out it doesn’t really matter about having matched arrows but as you progress it may become important and certainly the more proficient archers will always shoot matched arrows.