The following question came in recently from a “non-beginner:” “If an aluminum arrow has a dent in it, is it still usable?”
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Coaches need to be aware of how much our students do not know about archery equipment. It is easy for grizzled veterans of archery to forget how much there is to learn.
As all-carbon arrows become more prevalent, archers get less and less experience with aluminum arrows, even though the pathway up from a “beginner” usually is paved with aluminum arrows. There seems to be a growing opinion that aluminum arrows are “obsolete,” but this is incorrect. Marketing forces are always on the side of “new and improved” (an oxymoronic claim, by the way) and seem to denigrate the prior models as “old” or “inferior.” So, an impression is created that older designs are less capable, limiting performance somehow. This is not true.
There is nothing wrong with aluminum arrows. They, like their carbon counterparts, have strengths and weakness. One weakness is they can be bent and become unshootable. They, can, however be straightened. They are also less expensive than most other options. All-carbon arrows don’t bend, but they do crack and once cracked are not repairable.
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To answer the question asked: if an aluminum arrow is dented, it may be still useable but it depends on the dent (location, size). If the arrow is still straight and groups with the others, it is at minimum a good practice arrow. If the shaft is a shaft that accepts “glued on” nocks, one of the places it can become dented is in the cone-shaped section designed to accept a nock. (This typically happens when a nock gets broken by a subsequent arrow.) And there is a tool for reshaping dented nock cones on aluminum arrows, even if a hole is punched into that section. If the nock can be glued on securely and isn’t “out of round,” it is probably still useable.
Minor dents, along the shaft can be acceptable as long as the shaft is still straight. A hole punched in the side of a shaft is a clear sign of an unsafe shaft, though. Dents near the tip are often negligible because the shaft of the arrow point reinforces the shaft outside of it. But if the tip is “out of round” retire that arrow.
Aluminum arrows get dinged and banged up quite a bit over time so many archers keep a competition set and practice set. As the competition arrows get banged up or no longer group with the others, they get retired to the practice set. Even arrows that don’t group well are fine for blank bale shooting.
There are, by the way, aluminum-carbon arrows (e.g. Easton X-10s, ACEs, ACGs, ACCs, and the weird “Full Metal Jacket” shafts). These still sell well because of the attributes they share with all-carbon and aluminum shafts. They are intermediate between all-carbon and aluminum shafts in a number of parameters like shaft weight but not in cost or toughness. They seem to be tougher than either of the other two options. (This is with regard to target shafts. There are all-carbon hunting shafts you could drive a Humvee over and they would not crack.)
There is so much to learn and few sources to learn from. I suggested to Lancaster Archery (the largest target archery distributer in the U.S.) that they establish a YouTube Channel in which they could explain equipment choices and show basic maintenance tasks. This would give coaches a trustworthy site to send beginning-intermediate archers and archery parents to for such information. I have not heard back from them, but it isn’t as if they have nothing better to do. (Just search YouTube or any othe rsite for archery maintenance information produces the usual mixture of 1-5% wisdom and 95-99% of misinformation/nonsense.) Until such sources become available I will continue to recommend (highly) the book “Simple Maintenance for Archery” by Alan Anderson and Ruth Rowe, now out in a second edition (if you can only find the first edition, that is fine).