Arrow Fletching

Here I am (split arrow) fletching in the Medieval style at West Stow in 2009.

The materials needed are:

  • Shafts - I use 9mm dowels from a DIY store. Although this is not authentic, it does save time if many arrows need to be produced
  • Primary flight feathers - I am using goose feathers, but other feathers, like duck or turkey can also be used. I am also planning to test parrot feathers !!
  • Cord or Sinew - This is to bind the feather to the shaft

Fletching is the ancient art of aerodynamically stabilising arrows using three or more feathers. The word is related to the French word flèche, meaning "arrow" and the Frankisk word fliukka.

To prepare the feathers, cut off the thick bottom of the quill where it was growing from the bird. Use scissors or a razor sharp knife on a cutting board. Carefully split the quill in half lengthwise with the knife. This can be quick difficult as quill's are quite tough and very thin. Once split, the overall length of the quill should be around 10-11cm, so further trimming and thinning may be required. The image below shows how the feathers (fletches) look once they have been cut to size.

When selecting feathers for a shaft, you should ideally pick them from the same bird (and even same wing). Each feather has a natural curve to it that will impart clockwise or counter clockwise spin to the arrow when shot. Sort the feathers that you are making into sets of three all with the same curve/spin to them, so as not to mix clockwise and counter clockwise feathers on the same arrow shaft.

I did not use glue to stick the split feathers onto the shaft as there was not any reliable waterproof glue in the Medieval period, so the feathers were bound to the wooden arrow shaft to prevent them from falling off. It is a tricky and slow process but practice improves the quality of your binding.

Use the smallest feather first, as once attached, all feathers must be trimmed to the same length. Start with a knot around 2.5cm from the back of the shaft (above left), then lay the first feather (or "cock feather") along the shaft so that is 90 degrees to the nock. Wrap the cord or sinew twice over the feather and around the shaft. Add the next feather at about a third of the way around the shaft (each feather should be attached to the shaft at 120 degree increments) and repeat for the final feather. The binding has to be tight so it does not come lose. The soft feather barb where the cord or sinew is going must be teased apart as seen in the image.

Wrap the remainder of the cord or sinew around the shaft totally covering the front edges of the feathers (above right). To smooth all the feathers back into position, simply run wet fingers along each one. If required add another cord or sinew to the front if you have not covered the fronts of the quill completely, as this will prevent feather cuts along the top of your hand when shooting. Adjust the feathers so that each one is at 120 degrees intervals around the shaft and that the "cock feather" is 90 degrees to the nock.

To see my ancient arrows project >> click here

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