Arrows Series – Part 6: Fletching and Indexing

Now that you have cut your arrows you need to fletch them. Fletchings are found at the back of the arrow, traditionally made from bird feathers and are used to stabilize the arrow by creating a small amount of drag.

Wikipedia: Fletching (also known as a flight) is the aerodynamic stabilization of arrows or darts with materials such as feathers, each piece of which is referred to as a fletch. The word is related to the French word “fleche”, meaning “arrow,” via Old French; the ultimate root is Frankish fliukka. A fletcher is a maker of arrows.

Nowadays, there are two types of fletchings, real or synthetic feathers and plastic vanes. Some target archers have them attached to the arrow with a slight twist to increase arrow spin because a spinning projectile is more stable and helps reduce the effects of Archer’s Paradox (We will discuss Archer’s Paradox in more detail in the Part 7 of the series).

The most conventional style of indexing is a three-feather fletching where feathers or vanes are mounted to the arrow, evenly distributed around the spine of the arrow. One feather, called the “cock”, is set at a right angle to the string and pointed at the archer and the other two fletchings on the riser side are angled up and down away from the bow. This is done so the fletchings/vanes will not contact the bow when the arrow is shot. For compound archers the cock feather’s indexing depends on the type of arrow rest.

Quick Tip: Choose a different colour for the “cock” feather. It is great reminder to always point it towards you and away from the riser for proper nocking of the arrow.

Fletching an arrow is a time consuming and tedious task to do accurately by hand. In modern times, most people use a fletching jig, especially to fletch arrows with a slight twist. Check out my earlier blog about fletching jigs.

It is important to understand that once an arrow is released it starts to bend and if the arrow is not correctly indexed the feathers or vanes will make contact with the riser. This will cause the arrow to react differently than expected, distort your feathers and possibly cause damage to you or your equipment.

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Twisted Limbs

Arguably, the MOST important part of the bow are the limbs, since the movement of the limbs transfers energy to drive the arrows to the target. Investing in well-manufactured limbs can be the best move any archer can make. Since consistency is the number one requirement for any archer, you want to avoid any twists. Wood/Fibreglass limbs perform well however can be prone to warping in areas where temperature changes a lot. Carbon fibre layers help strengthen the limb and reduce the tendency to twist.

After purchasing a new set of limbs, one of the first things an archer should do is align their limbs to their riser. Alignment of the limbs means the string should appear to run right down the center of the limbs thru the center of the riser.

I highly recommend the purchase of a new set of limbs for any archer; however, the purchase of a good used set can be an option for a new archer who is still learning the sport. When purchasing a used set remember any twist will cause inconsistent flight of arrows, check for limb distortion (often called limb twist). Viewing the bow strung with the limbs from either end of the bow, if one or both of the limbs have a slight twist, you may have limb twist.  If the distortion is only slight sometimes it can be cured with one of three methods.

1)       Cold Bump Method

Attempt to straighten the limb using the “cold bump” method. If a limb has developed a slight twist from improper stringing, this method often will correct the problem. Grab the bow by the riser with your dominant hand. Use your other hand to grip the bow limb slightly above the twist. Slowly twist the limb in the direction opposite of the distortion, and then quickly release the limb. Repeat this process several times until the limb properly is aligned.

2)       Warm Wet Submerge Method

Submerge the twisted limb in a tub of hot water for 3 to 4 minutes. The water should be no warmer than a hot bath, around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This is just hot enough to mildly loosen the glues in a laminate. Remove the limb from the water, then slowly twist the limb in the direction opposite of the distortion. Release the twist slowly and examine the limb for straightness. Repeat the twisting procedure several times until the limb is straight.

3)       Low Heat Method

Twist the limb in the direction opposite the distortion and hold it in place. Have an assistant heat the limb using a hair dryer. Hold the hair dryer 6 to 10 inches from the limb, and slowly move it up and down the length of the limb. Heat the limb slowly for 2 to 3 minutes, then release your hold and examine the limb for straightness. Repeat the heating procedure as necessary until the limb is straight.

In my opinion, it is not worth playing with twisted limbs or possible physical injury and especially where ranking is important, competitive archers should not risk the possible performance dip . New well-manufactured limbs are very forgiving of a poor release, feel smooth and are more affordable than ever. Cartel Doosung and Bow Korea offer a complete line of limbs for everyone including introductory limbs, the new Midas MPS limbs for intermediate archers and MK Archery Vera/1440 limbs for competitive archers.