Ye Olde Attic Arrow Shoppe

In which we fletch us some arrows in gaudy fashion. Also some brain science.

Archery has, like most other sports, gone through a technological transformation in the modern age. Compound bows with counterweights, arrow guides, reticles, distance gauges, and all manner of accountrement can throw arrows at incredible speeds and with remarkable accuracy. So powerful are they, in fact, that wooden arrows shouldn't be shot from them as the forces generated by modern compound bows may shatter wooden shafts. Instead, aluminum and carbon fiber are the materials of choice for most modern archers when it comes to their arrows.

While I appreciate the efficiency and power of today's archery gear, I don't appreciate how it removes from the hands of the user so many aspects of craft that used to come with the sport. Bow making, string making, and arrow making were all avaialble to even the amateur archery enthusiast in days gone by. Today's archer is invariably dependent on manufacturers to tell them what they should be using, what they should upgrade to next, when, and at what cost. Like many other sports it has become an incredibly gear-intensive, and massively expensive, arena leaving those that participate almost entirely in the role of "consumer." So I practice traditional archery, using a recurve bow and wooden arrows, in part because I like the relative simplicity but also because I enjoy making some of the gear the hobby requires.

The hobby requires arrows. And the hobby as I practice it seems to require a lot of them. Happily making up some arrows is a fun way to spend a few hours, and can produce very satisfying results. And with a little care, the results can provide high quality arrows at a lower cost than buying them pre-made. Last fall a few friends joined me for a bit of arrow making. Fletching, really, more than anything -- we were using arrow shafts prepared for us by the good folks at Raptor Archery. Our task was to cut our shafts to length, add tips and nocks, and add the feathers that stabilize an arrow in flight (fletching).

I made up some quick and dirty racks to carry the shafts. I wiped the shafts down with a few layers of oil finish in preparation for the day of fletching. Why yes, that's a pony keg and a tiny trebuchet, why do you ask?

On fletching day we gathered all of our bits and bobs and sat down for the tedious but enjoyable repetition of working up 12 arrows. Doing this in the company of some good friends is a great way to spend an afternoon. The candles aren't just for ambiance, they're also used to melt the glue that holds the tips on the shafts.

We glued and tied our fletching in place, using a simple leather jig to get things started. There are more advanced ways to get fletching attached to arrow shafts, but this method works just fine for the hobbyist. Plus, the thread offers a fun accent color opportunity.

Charmaine has her first arrow complete, with a nice autumnal orange thread against yellow fletching with a white cock feather. Bright colors are nice when you have to go looking for an errant arrow.

John drops into a meditative state brought on by repetitive craft work. Actually, that's not far from the truth. Science is beginning to describe the many benefits that focused, physical, creative work brings to the human brain. Check out this 2014 article on CNN, which also references the work of psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, author of Finding Flow. In short, during periods of crafting we have a good chance of entering into a flow state, a state which is powerfully calming and otherwise beneficial.

My finished dozen. I went with a hot pink thread (in stock for tying pink salmon flies), which resulted in a truly gaudy arrow. Not likely to encounter any confusion about whose arrows are whose down at the ol' archery range.

I like that I get to do some making as part of the pursuit of traditional archery. I know that I'm trading off some power and efficiency when I make this choice. That's okay, I think. In the overall equation I think there's more satisfaction, relaxation, and flow to be found when I can stay involved in the making of my gear, rather than just clicking on the latest ready-made item on a retailer's website. And at the end of the day that's the target I'm aiming for.


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