When I came to Greece in August 2006 I took along my Hungarian horsebow and some 24 traditional pine shaft arrows. Only one week later my number of arrows had been reduced to 13, all others having given a spectacular show of bursting into 1000 pieces when hitting the rocks littering the plains or upon striking the hard, dry surface of the greek earth.
So there I stood, with seven weeks in Greece yet to go and no traditional bowshop in sight to replenish my quiver. Luckily I had taken along my favourite tools for arrow making, together with some feathers, glue and arrow heads… so I dropped by a garden store, determined to get hold of some bamboo sticks for making new, rock-resistant arrows.
After some trial and error I am now the proud owner of 20 fine bamboo arrows, with heads of 100 grain weight. And these arrows are remarkable indeed, although I built them “quick & dirty” on the terrace, they are sooo fast and incredibly tough – they survived being shot dead straight against cliffs and our garden´s beton walls.
So if you are in for some new shooting experience, let´s get started! Here is what you need:
A saw for shortening the shafts, metal blade will do
A Medium rasp for smoothing the knots
A special saw for cutting tiles – this will cut a clean selfmade nock 2 mm wide
A small rasp for smoothing the nock
Water tight wood glue (PONAL “blue”) and hemp for thickening the tip
Assorted arrow heads for screwing or glueing, and feathers plus glue (UHU Epoxy or Hard)
A bundle of bamboo sticks
Required thicknes at the bottom: approx 8 to 10 mm
Bamboo is a grass. The stem is hollow, so when choosing the raw material keep in mind that you need the lowest knot to be the nock. The reason you can see here:
A is the outside, and B shows you the inside of a knot.
Only inside the knot the bamboo fibres have grown together. Here the material is at its strongest, so by placing your nock directly before a knot will prevent it from splitting.
Keeping this in mind, you go to your local gardening store and check it´s Bamboo supply.
So from the lowest knot, that has a minimum of 1,5 cm stem below (!), you measure your arrow length upwards along the stem. To keep it simple, take along your favourite arrow and place it alongside the bamboo stems starting at the lowest knot like shown here:
Don´t get frustrated at zigzag stems, bamboo never grows straight, we´ll handle that problem later. Take as much shafts as you can, but prefer bent knots to bent stems, as knots are easier to straighten out.
If you have a garden, you can plant a bamboo growing suitable stems of max. 1 cm in diameter. After cutting let them dry for a few months. I recommend cutting bamboo in late summer, then the new fibres will have hardened.
If your garden is small, plant bamboo in a container to keep it in check, as it has a strong tendency overgrow neighbouring flowerbeds.
Shortening the shafts
First we shorten the bottom of the arrow. The bottom is the direction of where roots are, and the top strives towards the sun.
Make a pencil mark 1,5 cm below the lowest knot, and saw off the end.
Make sure that first you saw once AROUND the shaft, and then through it like this:
This will prevent the outside fibre from splintering – a very nasty business at the nock, but less a problem at the head.
Having shortened the bottom you can now do the same at the top, appropriate to your required arrow length. Some tops will seem quite spindly, if you don´t trust them chuck them out. I do strengthen some tops by inserting a souvlaki skewer wetted with PONAL blue.
Straight & Smooth
Now I rasp the knots. Do it with light pressure and rasp in the growing direction (not across the fibres). Some argue that rasping the knots will weaken the shaft. Well, I never had any arrow casualties due to rasped knots, so I continue to do it. The smooth shaft flies better, lies smoother to the bow and looks nicer… who wants to shoot arrows looking like granddad´s walking stick?!
After rasping comes the straightening of the shafts. You need heat, and can provide that with a hot air blower – I took a simple candle, an IKEA tealight.
Here a promising candidate with a strong bend:
So I mark with a pencil exactly where I must apply the pressure…
…turn the shaft over a tealight.
Careful now, to much heat will destroy the structure of the fibres, making them brittle. Hold the knot you want to bend 1 cm above (never into!) the candle flame, turning it all the time. When hot, apply careful pressure, and the bamboo will follow. It takes a little experience to get the knack of bending bamboo. Rather heat it several times again then once too much!
To check you shaft roll it on the table top with your flat hand. I mark curves with a pencil again, so I know where I have to bend a second/third time.
A bamboo shaft will never be of the machine made 100% straight pine shaft quality. But I tested my shafts and shot them with a 100 grain head only - without feathers. And they flew true. So give the material a chance, and don´t fret over little irregularities you can´t bend out of the shaft.
Nock, Arrow Head & Fletching
Let´s assume you now have some relative straight bamboo shafts in your arrow length. Now you saw the nock slit into the lower part. Make the slit “A” approx. 1,2 cm deep, ending in the knot where the bamboo stem is solid “C”.
A hint for horseback archers: for blind nocking I find it very helpful to shorten the lower half of the nock (the one opposite to the cock feathers, not below it) as seen below in “B”. With a “onesideshorternock” the string will glide into the nock automatically when drawing the bow.
Why so deep? Modern plastic nocks “click” onto the string and stay there. A bamboo nock will not “click”, therefore I make them deeper to avoid “empty shots” (for beginners: an empty shot means the arrow is not on the string when the bow is loosened, this can seriously damage a bow and should be avoided).
When the nock is finished, we look at the top of the shaft, and check our arrows heads. They will probably not fit, as the shaft will be to thin. Taking a thicker bamboo would make our shafts to heavy, so we must thicken the top. I do this by applying a thick coat of watertight white wood glue (PONAL “blue”) on the top 4 cm, and then I wind a strand of installation hemp fibres around until I have the desired thickness.
Let this dry overnight, and the next day you can either screw on your arrow heads or glue them on, depending on what type of head you shoot.
Before fletching you must rub the lower part of the shafts with sand paper. Bamboo surface is shiny and hard to glue, so better give your fletches a good grip on the shaft. On my 27 inch arrows with a 100 grain head I fletch three 4 inch feathers. I take “UHU hard” as it is cheaper then “Fletch Tight” and just as good. As I shoot over the back of my hand, I wrap a strand of hemp fibres in glue around the top of the fletches.
Cresting (Individual color markings on the shaft) should be possible, but as bamboo resists even UHU hard, I have never tried.
So when you have successfully applied finishing touches to your bamboo arrows please give me a feedback, I will gladly include your experience in this report. Any other feedback on bamboo arrows is also appreciated and should questions arise, just send me a mail… I look forward to hearing from you
- Combines high flexibility with incredible toughness
Costs less then cedar and can be grown in every garden
Does not belong to the endangered species list (like the Oregon Cedar, Ramin or other arrow shaft wood)
Is fun to shoot!