How To Build An Arrow or Crossbow Bolt – True Control Over Accuracy
Let’s just be clear straight away. It’s not easy. There’s a reason many arrows come pre-constructed. But if you can do it yourself, you will gain control over the most important part of your entire hunting arsenal and you can see serious improvements on your hunt. So let’s do it – It’s time to learn how to build an arrow or crossbow bolt!
How To Build An Arrow or Crossbow Bolt
There’s a fair few tools involved, but they’re not overly expensive, and they will basically last you forever. I’m going to cover each step without too much detail, it’s just too hard to do in words, but there’s a great video afterwards that will help. I recommend reading my guide first (it will be quicker), then watching the video, then trying your own build.
Everything you need is below. Those that I’ve regarded as “nice-to-have” can be achieved with cheaper alternatives or can be skipped over, but are still useful if you want to do a really professional job. At a bare minimum, I recommend the squaring tool and the fletching jig and you’ll obviously need some suitable glue.
How To Build An Arrow Or Crossbow Bolt – Must-Have Equipment
Nice-To-Have Equipment To Build An Arrow Or Crossbow Bolt
The Most Important Step – Step 0: Design Your Build!
Don’t skip this step! It can save you loads of time and heart ache and will really allow you to take advantage of the benefits of DIY arrow and bolt builds. It requires a little bit of mathematics, but don’t be scared, its very simple!
The obvious starting point here is deciding what kind of arrow you are trying to build. Is this an arrow for target practice or one you want to take out on a hunt? Are you building an arrow test out a different style of fletching or to try a different type of arrowhead that you’ve never used before? Perhaps you are trying to create a carbon copy of a friend’s arrow that you tried out and loved to shoot with. Decide your goals and design around them.
Determine Your Shaft Length and Spine
There’s definitely a pun in here, but let’s not get sidetracked! Once you’ve decided on the kind of build you’re going after, your starting point should be determining your shaft length. For crossbows, its pretty easy. Manufacturer’s will almost always quote the recommended bolt length. You can sometimes go a little longer, but any shorter than the distance between the latch and the end of the rails is going to be a complete fail.
For compound and recurve bows, it’s a bit harder. It comes down to draw length. For hunting, you want the arrowhead to sit just in front of the riser. So measure your draw length at full draw (inside of the nock to the front of the riser) and add about half an inch. This is especially true if using broadheads, its much safer. For target shooting with field points and bullet points, you can target about half an inch in front of your arrow rest.
If you are using inserts that add length to your arrow or bolt, then you need to subtract these. For example, if you have a draw length of 29.0” and plan to use inserts that add 0.25”, your target shaft length should be 29.25”. This will result in a 29.5” arrow build, placing the broadhead half an inch in front of the riser.
Similarly for target shooting where your goal is to place the arrowhead just in front of the arrow rest, you can deduct the distance between the front of the riser and the front of the arrow rest. In the above example, if this distance was 2.0”, then your target shaft length is 27.25”.
On to shaft spine. Again, for crossbows it should be quoted relative to the crossbow. For regular bow users, it will come do to your intended use, arrow length, draw weight and bow type. Easton do a great table format that helps take the confusion out of the problem. For hunters, check out the hunting shaft selector table, and for target shooters, check out the target shaft selector table. You basically just read off your arrow length (as previously determine) and your full draw weight, then read the spine number (hunters) or go to the corresponding table group below (target shooters) and read the spine from there.
Looks like this chick forgot to spin test her arrow!!
Estimate The Weight Of Your Build
Now we will estimate the weight of your arrow build’s shaft. Find the quoted weight per inch of the arrow shaft you’re interested in and multiply it by your target shaft length. If you can’t find the weight per inch, you can calculate it by dividing the total weight of the shaft by the total length.
Following on from our previous hunting arrow example, let’s pretend the shaft we wanted was 32” and the weight was 224 grains. This gives us a weight of 7 grains per inch (224 divided by 32). Multiply this by our target length of 29.25” gives us 204.75 grains as the expected weight of our shaft.
Now, add the weight of each of the remaining components you plan to use to build your arrow or bolt. This includes the point, all the vanes or feathers, the insert and outsert, the nock and any other bits of trickery you might be adding. Add the weights together along with your expected weight of the shaft, and you have your total expected arrow or bolt weight.
Redesign And Optimize
At this point you are either going to be happy or unhappy. But don’t stress! This is why we do all this in the design phase, before we’ve bought anything. Now it’s time to optimize!
You have loads of options. You can change the grain of your point, most offer at least at couple of different weights. You can change the weight of your brass inserts, use different weighted nocks or vanes, or go for a lighter or heavier shaft.
This step should be done before you fully invest in all the components and will end up creating a far better arrow or bolt than randomly trying to put bits and pieces together. So once you have your design, buy the components and the real DIY begins!
Step 1: Preparing The Shaft
Step one is to spin test your build. You shouldn’t be accepting anything less than perfection, and it all starts with straightness of your arrow. It’s best done with a proper spin tester, like the one below.
If you are tight on money you can do it by rolling the shaft along the corner of a desk, but I think it’s definitely worthwhile getting a proper spinner. The video below from Mike Takovich of Antler Assassins TV, straight out of Michigan, shows a fantastic way to properly spin test arrows and bolts by using a simple lined piece of paper / cardboard as a reference.
I find it funny that so many people use precision tools like spinners, scales and spine indexers then just use physical observation to tune. There are simple things that can be done to get the most out of your tools and ensure precision. Much respect to Mike Takovich for filming this great method!
Start by spin testing the shaft on its own. Add the insert and spin test again. If the insert is slipping, you can use a tiny amount of hot glue to keep it in place, but not enough that you can’t pull your insert back out. If it sticks a little when you try and remove it, you can use a lighter to reheat the glue and it should come loose. At the outsert and spin test again. Add your point or broadhead and spin test again.
If all these pass the spin test, the only other source of error to a fully built arrow or bolt that isn’t passing the spin test is the fletching. It makes it much easier if you’ve done the spin test at the beginning to diagnose and fix any problems at the end.
Trim and Square Shaft
Assuming no spin issues, it’s time to get our hands dirty! First, we need to trim the nock end of the shaft, about an inch. The reason we do this is to remove manufacturing imperfections which tend to be exacerbated at the very ends. We start with the nock end first as we’ll come back to the other end afterwards.
This is where your first piece of equipment comes in. You can get yourself a proper arrow saw like the one below, but this is actually a little bit expensive. There’s a slightly cheaper option for cutting shafts, but it’s a little finicky to use.
- Precise arrow cutting cuts all types of arrow shafts and features a measuring scale for accuracy and rubber feet to prevent slipping
- 8, 000 rpm blade speed provides fast cutting and comes with blade shield for safety
- Extra blade included - Perfect when it’s time to replace the blade
Luckily, you do have a budget solution. A trusty hacksaw! Just be sure to use a proper workbench and a vice or G-clamp to keep the shaft steady while you cut. Do your best to get a right-angle cut relative to the shaft length.
We now need to square the shaft for a perfectly perpendicular cut. Here, we use a squaring tool, which is an absolute must that’s luckily very cheap. You can not avoid this step if took the hacksaw approach. You may as well stop reading now if you aren’t willing to at least invest in the squaring tool. The tool below can be used in a drill, but its probably overkill unless you have a serious issue. Instead, slot the correctly sized tool into the your shaft, apply a bit of pressure and spin the tool and shaft in opposite directions to finely grind away and square the shaft.
- ITEM SPECIFICATIONS: Dimension: 0. 45 x 5. 90 x 14. 95, Height: 0. 4500, Width: 5. 9000, Length: 14. 9500
- BUILT TO LAST: Solid construction that insures no movement during use.
- REAL STRAIGHTNESS: Includes integrated arrow spinner to check arrow straightness.
Repeat this process for the other end of the shaft, cutting at the length you determined in the design phase. Square it off, and your shaft is ready! Right? Almost!
Step 2: Spine Index The Shaft
Next, we need to spine index the shaft, meaning to locate and mark the stiffest part of the arrow. If you have chosen a great quality shaft, the may already come spine indexed. If so, great! You can skip this step. If not, there are tools to do this like the one below, but again, they are not cheap (this one also has a very bad rating…). You’re probably better getting it done at the pro shop which should only take a couple of minutes per arrow and shouldn’t cost must.
For the real DIY enthusiast, there is a low-cost method for spine indexing your arrows. It’s not perfect, but it does work, and it uses the classic paper tuning method, so should be doable by almost anyone.
The goal is to shoot your bare, un-fletched shaft into paper and adjust until you can see a nice, clean bullet hole through the paper. If you’re a crossbow shooter with a flat nock, you will need to manually mark the spine all the way through this process to make sure you can correctly identify the spine.
Start by slotting the nock into your squared-off end of the shaft and nock your arrow or load your bolt. Stand about 6-8 feet from the paper, aim, and take your shot. A shaft shot along the stiffest part of the arrow will fly true over a short distance, even without fletching, and leave a bullet-like hole in the paper.
If you haven’t shot along the spine, which is likely for your first few shots, it will create a big tear in the paper as it flies wildly through the air. With your first shot presumably creating a big hole, rotate the shaft and try again, remarking the shaft if your are using an unmarked nock.
If your first tear was large, rotate about 90°, if it was small try 45° or even less. You should get a different shaped and sized hole. If it got larger hole, spin the shaft back the other way, if it got smaller, keep spinning in the same direction, but try a smaller rotation.
Once you land you get a bullet hole in the paper, or near enough to it, use the mark on the nock to then mark your shaft with a Sharpie or other marking. You’ve now indexed the spine of the shaft and know where to install your cock vane or feather. If you want real precision you can now take a few steps back and repeat the process from about 15 feet. This video from Average Jack Archery gives a nice quick explanation of the spine indexing a shaft.
Step 3: Fletching The Arrow
OK, this is the important stuff and what really sets up apart a DIY arrow build from the pre-constructed options most people have. Being able to fletch your own arrows and bolts is one of the greatest advantages of DIY arrow and bolt builds.
You can choose whatever fletching you want, feathers, vanes, long, tall, stiff, colored, helical, straight. It’s up to you now! You can see some real game changing results here, so get excited! Just remember that fletching does impact your arrow or bolts weight, so be sure to take this into consideration in the design phase.
You will need another tool here. The Bitzenburger Fletching Jig has been a tried and true tool for years, but there are now more modern solutions available to you, which make things much easier.
The product below from Bohning is fantastic for the price, the only limitation being that you don’t have full control over the fletching and are restricted by the options provided by the arms. The complete kit, as shown here, gives loads of options though, and it’s super easy to use. Check out the video on the Amazon page to see just how simple it really is!
- Fletch 3 vanes at once
- Only compatible with shafts with push in nocks
- Easy operation
Clean The Shaft
There are two key steps. The first is to ensure that you have a really solid connection between your fletching and your shaft. The second is gluing them together, which is work the jig comes in. Let’s start with the shaft-to-fletching connection. You can use an arrow wrap here if you like, but it’s not necessary. All you need to do is start by cleaning the shaft where you are going to glue the fletching on.
You can simply use rubbing alcohol on a cloth, but its best to start with a fine grain sandpaper to ensure that any debris is removed and you have a perfectly smooth and clean surface for the glue to work on. Once you’ve sanded the shaft, rub it clean with rubbing alcohol and let it air dry. DON’T TOUCH THIS PART OF THE SHAFT after sanding it!
Now get out your fletching jig and glue on your fletching. The process will be slightly different depending on the tool you are using. Suffice to say, read the instruction or watch an instructional video before use.
When gluing, make sure you use a glue that’s suitable for your shaft and fletching. Gluing feathers to fiberglass shafts will require a different glue than plastic vanes on aluminum shafts. And don’t use too much, you only need 2 or 3 dots of glue per fletch. Luckily, this special fletching glue works in practically every situation!
- Designed for vanes & feather
- For fletching on aluminum, carbon, fiberglass, & wood shafts
- Flexible & durable, best in low-humidity conditions
Wait the recommended amount of time for your glue to set and then as one last little trick, add a tiny drop of rubberized glue (not the stuff that sets rock solid) to each end where the fletching contacts the shaft. This will prevent any drag from slight imperfections in the contact between the two and stop the fletching catching something on impact and coming loose.
Awesome job! You’re just about done!
Step 4: Installing the Insert and Outsert
Install The Insert
OK, it’s pretty easy from here on out. Inserts slip inside your shaft neatly, so long as you’ve bought one that is correctly matched! All you need to due is glue the insert into the shaft and let it set.
Start by wiping down your insert, just like the shaft when fletching. Use rubbing alcohol and let it air dry, and don’t touch area afterwards. You will need a good quality, super strong glue. Something like the Gorilla Glue below is great, but super glue is fine too.
- GEL FORMULA: No run control gel formula that is great for use on vertical surfaces
- ANTI CLOG CAP: Helps keep the glue from drying out. It's Gorilla tough use after use.
- IMPACT TOUGH: Specially formulated for increased impact resistance and strength
Again, like fletching, too much glue can actually be a downside here. Add a few dots along the length off the insert and spread it out around the area. Don’t put glue on the butt of the insert. For small length inserts, you’ll only need a dot or two of glue. For longer length inserts add a few more.
Slide the insert into the shaft and wipe away any excess glue with a cloth or towel. Now let the glue dry the recommended amount of time before going any further.
Install The Outsert
Once the glue has dried, slip your outsert over the end of the shaft. You can glue these in if you really want to, but it’s not necessary. Screw in your point, and you’ve done it!
You’re very first DIY arrow or bolt build!
Step 5: The Finishing Touches
Weigh, Measure and Final Spin Test
The last step is to measure your arrow length and weigh it. It is recommended that you use proper arrow scales, but you can get away for other electronic scales if they are very precise and offer at least three decimal places on the output in grams or four in ounces.
- High capacity, high accuracy digital scale
- Arrow retainer included
- Weighs in. grains only
Did you come close to your estimations from the design phase?
Last check before we test it our for real would be a spin test. If you’ve done it correctly, the spin test should still be just as good as it was when you first tested your shaft. If not, you may need to do a process of elimination to find the source of the imperfection.
Remove the nock, broadhead or point and outsert (assuming your didn’t glue it o) first and then re-test. If you still have issues then you might have a real problem. I’d remove the fletching next, as redoing this isn’t too hard painful.
If it’s still spinning off-centre, the shaft has either become damaged or bent in the build process or it’s the inserts. You can’t really remove the inserts if they are glued in, so you have two options. Take it to the pro shop, or start again. The pro shop might be able to help, but it’s probably going to be a do-over.
The Real Test
If you’ve passed the spin test, it’s time for the best part. Shooting your new arrow! So set up your favorite hunting target or archery target and let your new arrow fly! If you are just loving this DIY thing, then you could even build your own archery target as your next project! If you’ve passed all the tests and checks above, and you are still missing. Sorry to say it buddy, but that’s all you!!
How To Build An Arrow or Crossbow Bolt – Summary
OK, there’s a lot to take in there, but hopefully it helped. As promised, here is a video to help you out. It doesn’t cover everything I’ve covered, but it’s damn good and will really help you.
It’s from the gang at Bone Collector, where their resident arrow building expert Travis “T-Bone” Turner, goes into A LOT of depth on arrow construction and why he does it the way he does. His attention to detail is incredible, and that’s why he’s the best!
If it’s all too much, you can always stick to store-bought arrows. If you think this is your best bet, then just be sure to buy a reasonably standard arrow, not to heavy, not too light. It will be way easier to tune. Also, if you’re a crossbow shooter, check out our list of the best crossbow bolts and give them a shot!
Enjoy gang, stay safe out there!