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Brian Nelson

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Location: Houghton, MI
Posts: 32
PostPosted: Mon 22 Sep, 2014 7:16 pm    Post subject: Warbow Arrow Project         Reply with quote

Hey guys! I need to make quite a few weapons and armour for a medieval sound library I'm helping produce, and I thought I would share my first attempt at making "warbow" arrows for my 110 pound English longbow. I've made many arrows in the past for my English longbow, but I've never "properly" done them, with tapered shafts and horn inserts in the nocks. Hopefully this may help you if you are thinking of making some but don't know where to get started. This is an example of a an attempt at a process and pricing to making 1/4 pound "warbow" arrows. First I'll talk about the ordering and pricing.


I ordered 150 poplar dowels of 1/2" diameter from Madison. "Dowels!" you are probably cursing in outrage. I know, I used to think the same way. But if you follow just a few basic quality control guidelines, you'll be just fine, and will never pay for shafts from a maker again. By 150 dowels cost me $120, shipped. Of these, about 20 were perfectly straight, 30 were very straight, 30 were decently straight, and about 70 shafts were unusable, either very warped or with pinknots or machining errors or excessive grain runout or such. So I basically paid $120 for 20 "premium," 30 "hunter," and 30 "seconds" quality shafts. For now I will pretend I don't want to do any straightening and say that I paid $120 for 50 good-very good arrow shafts. That's $2.40/shaft, a very good price.


I ordered one dozen heavy war bodkins from Hector Cole. They came out to about $16.25/bodkin. Now we're looking at $18.65/arrow.


I buy scales of horn that are used to make knives. I can get about forty horn slivers for nocks out of a slab that costs $8. I just picked it off ebay. That's $0.20/sliver and now we're at $18.85 for the whole arrow.


I bought 200 feathers for $110. That comes out to $0.55/feather or $1.65 per fletched arrow. So, the grand total to make one of these heavy war arrows was about $20.40 for the entire arrow. (I am neglecting the cost of stain, glue, and binding as they cost so little per arrow, pennies or less.)

To put this in perspective, most places that make/sell proper warbow arrows charge around $40/arrow, and that's without one of these very expensive bodkins! With an arrow made the way this is, you're realistically looking at $50-60 each, over two and a half times what it costs to make them yourself!

Now that I've maybe convinced you that it's worth your money, I'll show you my process. It is not the best, and I still need work and practice, but I can make one of these arrows in around 1-1.5 hours total.

First, I sort out my shafts as mentioned previously, and end up keeping the best fifty that don't need any work or straightening as my first batch for arrows. I spend my time on this as I don't want any shafts with defects that could cause a failure during loosing. I would like to mention that I've made about 100 arrows from poplar dowels and have never had one break during loosing, and have only ever broken two shafts in all the targets and rocks and trees I've struck with them.

I then selected my heaviest shaft.

And my heaviest bodkin from Mr. Cole.

I then did some rough calculations. My shaft is 1182 grains for 36" at consistent 1/2" diameter. Using a length of 32", my cut to length shaft would weigh 1050 grains. However, I'll be tapering it from 1/2" at the point to 3/8" at the nock. Using the formula for a truncated cone, I find that the shaft after cutting and tapering should weigh approximately 850 grains. Because my point is 700 grains, and fletching and staining usually adds around 100-150 grains, I should come up with around 1650-1700 grains weight, not quite the target weight of 1750 grains. Oh well.

Now I cut the slot for the horn. I make this 2" deep and about 2mm wide. I two hacksaw blades taped together for this.

Now I make some horn slivers. I use a bandsaw and a custom wooden spacer I made which allows me to shave off perfectly 2mm thick slices from the horn slab. After testing the fit to be safe, I coat it in glue on both sides.

I then gently slide the horn sliver into the cut. After it's in there nice and snugly, I use a single clamp to hold it all together.

After drying (about one hour) I use a large file to shave off the protruding horn until the insert is a little flush. This is not the finished look, but this is necessary to allow the next step to be effective.

Now, I have to taper the shaft. I use a jig I made myself, consisting of two steel L-bars clamped to a board. One bar has a cloth-backed strip of sandpaper facing the interior of the channel. The channel is 1/2" wide at the start and tapers to 3/8" wide at 32" away from the opening.

Now I wrap masking tape around the end of the shaft away from the horn to give it some grip. I then put the shaft tape-end into a drill chuck and snug it down. To taper, I just turn on the drill, and slowly and carefully run the shaft nock-first into the tapering jig.

Now I cut the nock with three hacksaw blades taped together and use a small round file to make the nock smooth.

Now I cut the arrow to 32.5" and use the last inch for the point tenon. I cut a ring with a knife and then strip wood away from it to form a shoulder and tenon.

After that's done, and I do some test fitting and minor adjustments, I glue on the bodkin.

I now take 220 grit paper and give the whole shaft a smoothening job. I apply about 5 coats of danish oil and the shaft is complete.

The only thing left to do is fletch the shaft. I cut my feathers to 7.5" x 3/4" and used red binding at about four turns to the inch. At the end, it came out like this.

All told, the cost was about $20 and took about an hour and a half. Considering I saved about $30, I made a decent wage on this, and in batches I am able to do about one hour for an arrow. Also, I have some imitation machined Tudor bodkins from Richard Head that were only $3 each, would would put the cost of these arrows at under $10 each. I encourage anyone that is thinking of trying to make warbow arrows to go for it! It's not too hard with practice, just be careful with your dowel selection (or pay about $2 more per shaft to buy from an archery supplier) and you won't have any problems.

Total weight?

Not bad on the rough estimate! Unfortunately I couldn't quite get the 1750 grains I was going for. I think this is a problem with using poplar. The shafts just don't have the weight. I think if you really want the 1/4 pound shafts you need to use ash or birch. Poplar is too light. But it works wonderfully with 300 grain or so bodkins, the arrows come out to around 900-1100 grains which is a very nice target arrow weight for 100 pound and heavier bows. Hopefully this was all somewhat helpful!


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Will S

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Location: Bournemouth, UK
Posts: 84
PostPosted: Tue 23 Sep, 2014 2:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very very nice, especially for a first try!! With some practice the whipping will get more even, and if you use a thinner red silk those will look fantastic. Did you varnish over the whipping at all? I find that without a few coats of something tough the whipping breaks and comes apart very easily after a few shots.

Hope you don't mind me offering some points I've picked up recently while making my own? (your arrows are superb, I'm just being nitpicky because it took me ages to discover this stuff for myself!)

You're right about the poplar not being suitable for 1/4lb arrows - personally I've used birch to hit the target weight, but oak works well also. One way of making sure you hit the 1/4lb weight is to make up a heavy shaft first, fully fletched, then work out exactly what weight the head needs to be and get those made up afterwards. Nothing more frustrating than buying all the bits only to find that you can't quite hit that target weight!

If you're struggling to make the weight even with a dense wood, then you can try torpedoing the shaft rather than bobtailing. A pure bobtail is tapered from the head to the nock, and the weight drops quite quickly this way. A better option for heavy arrows is to "torpedo" them - taper the last third only, so most of the arrow shaft is 1/2", and only the nock end tapers to 3/8". It also gives a slightly better balance when using a heavy plate cutter.

Hector's heads are fine, but incredibly expensive for arrows that ultimately end up getting lost, broken and so on. I've always thought of his heads as display pieces, as they're polished and immaculate etc. There are quite a few good arrowsmiths who make heads just as nice for a fraction of the price, so if making a set they're possibly a better option - Milos Lasky Krizan for example is an amazing smith who will make up heads to exactly the weight you're after for superb prices. His Type 10 bodkins are about $3, and his plate cutters $6 and they really are just as good (in fact I prefer the look of his heavy plate cutters to Hectors!) You can find him on Facebook under "Medieval Style Arrowheads."

These are the 40 gram plate cutters he made up for my 1/4lb arrows at $6 each.

Anyway, congrats on a beautiful military arrow.

By the way - there isn't a whole lot of evidence for 1/4lb arrows being used as they're very heavy compared to normal warbow arrows. The more commonly used arrows for bows over 100lbs are the (EWBS) Standard and Livery, neither of which are heavier than about 1050 grains. The Standard is 800 grains, and the Livery is 980 grains. The Livery is a replication of the arrows found on the Mary Rose, and considering the suspected draw weight of the bows discovered on the same ship, it seems that you don't need much heavier arrows. By the time you reach 1/4lb weight, unless you're using bows of about 150lb they drop very quickly and don't have a whole heap of punch by the end. If you were to make up a set of Standards and Liverys you'd be much better set up for using a bow of 110lbs. A well made Type 10 is perfect for a Standard and shouldn't weigh more than about 150 grains, while a Tudor bodkin (for a Livery) should be around 140 grains.
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Brian Nelson

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Location: Houghton, MI
Posts: 32
PostPosted: Tue 23 Sep, 2014 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I really appreciate the reply! Do you have contact info for the gentlemen you recommended? Seems like excellent prices. All of your suggestions are great and accurate. For the 1/4 pound weight, my decision to make these was based on a sound perspective. I have a few dozen livery shafts I've made for this project, but I wanted to also record the really heavy arrows hitting so that the end users of the sound library would have a nicely diverse impact collection.

EDIT: nevermind on the contact, I missed the Facebook page. Thanks!
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Josh Wilson

PostPosted: Tue 23 Sep, 2014 4:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Excellent posting Brian! I will be in need of some warbow arrows soon. I ordered some of these shafts from 3Rivers,

and am not very impressed by them. This gives me more ideas on cheaper and better alternatives for filling out the rest of the sheaf.
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Brian Nelson

Usergroups: None

Location: Houghton, MI
Posts: 32
PostPosted: Sat 27 Sep, 2014 10:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would strongly recommend doing them yourself. Those 3Rivers bodkins are very inexpensive. You could make those exact shafts for maybe $8, that's ordering an already-tapered "legit" arrow shaft and buying the bodkin. On another note, these arrows may fly like pigs (max range out of my old 90# bow is about 120 yards) but they sure hit hard. This is a test shot on a 1.7mm thick helm at ten yards.

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