Getting Serious: Helping Them with New Arrows, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I pointed out that arrow purchases are often quite bewildering to newbie archers and that you will be called upon to help. Obviously if that is not your strong suit, you could pass your students onto those who have those skills, but we think it is important that coaches of serious archers learn as much as they can about this topic as it is one that is critical to acquiring well-tuned equipment. Even if you are not much of a DIY person, understanding what needs to be done is really important, even if you are not the best person to do those things. (This is the difference between a professional and a technician. The technician needs to know “how” to do things, the professional needs to know “how” and “why.” Typically the technician is more adept at the doing as they get more practice, but coaches need to know how to “do” because of the paucity of archery shops now in existence.)

A New Arrow Setup Protocol
You need to select out a set of five arrows or arrow shafts as a “test” set for this procedure. Two of the five need to be bare shafts, the other three are fletched. And, your arrows need to be ordered uncut (aka full length) so that you can do this procedure.

Bare Shaft Test the Uncut Arrows  At a very short distance (5-8 paces) perform a bare shaft tuning test. (If you start at a greater distance, you are taking the chance that you will break your bare shafts.) If the three fletched and two bare shafts don’t form two groups, repeat the test until they do. Since these shafts are going to be cut to get the right amount of shaft they are, by definition, too long. Because they are too long, they should also be too weak. This means that the bare shaft tuning test should have the bare shafts grouping to the right of the fletched shafts (if you are right-handed; the opposite if you are left-handed). Note: we will continue assuming you are right-handed. If you are left-handed, reverse all right-left references.

So, the first BS test should confirm your arrows are now too weak. Note carefully how far to the right of the fletched group the BS group is. For this description we will say the BS group starts out at six inches (6ʺ) to the right of the fletched group. Then you have to make a first cut.

To cut the arrows shorter, you really need the use of an arrow saw (see photo). If you or your coach don’t have one, possibly your club does or you can borrow one. The first cut needs to be significantly less than the cut you would make to get the arrow to your draw length (the “arrow length” the spine charts are based upon). If the spine chart indicates your arrows should be cut two inches (2ʺ) to get to your “correct” arrow length, start with a one half inch (1/2ʺ) cut. Something nowhere near the chart value is desired. Cut just the five test arrows. Note to do this you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

Then repeat the BS test. The BS group should now be closer to the fletched arrow group. If the one half inch cut is, say, one quarter of what we need to actually cut, then the second test should see the BS group close the gap between it and the fletched arrows by one quarter of that 6ʺ leaving a 4.5ʺ gap. If the gap is now just 3ʺ instead of the 4.5ʺ expected, then another half inch cut might do the job. Do realize these tests are not all that exact. Therefore, we are going to sneak up on our final cut. This is because if our cut isn’t far enough, we can cut again. If our cut is “too far” we may be heading back to the store to get more arrows. Note: actually this is why we only test a minimal set of arrows (5). If we mess up we have the remaining set of seven to make a usable set of arrows from.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that a half inch cut got our BSs half way to the fletched ones. So, we are pointed at another one half inch to our final cut, but being cautious we make a one quarter inch cut (1/4ʺ) instead and test again. If the BS test shows the gap closed again, roughly proportional to the amount of the cut, then we can try another quarter inch cut, or if you want to be even more careful, an one eighth inch (1/8ʺ) cut and test again.

When the bare shafts are grouping with the fletched shafts, we can move back to 10-15 paces and repeat the test to confirm that the BSs are grouping with the fletched shafts.

Once you have confirmed this, then you can cut the rest of your arrows to this length and you now have a properly fitted, aka tuned, set of arrows!

This is just a basic fitting. You should shoot your new arrows and see how well they perform. There are other tests, none of which is perfect.

What To Do, What To Do?
Your students will expect you to be competent in this, so if you have no experience in doing these tasks, it behooves you to seek opportunities to learn them. We have found other archers and coaches to be very generous with their time and skill in helping us learn what we needed and we expect you will, too.

To do this task you will need a number of tools: an arrow saw, a small propane torch, and a pair of pliers. You will also need “point cement” to reattach arrow points removed to make cuts. (Use a hot melt variety, not an epoxy variety, as you want to be able to remove and reattach the arrow points multiple times.) Note to do this process you must remove the points, cut the shafts, and reinstall the points. If you do not know how to do this we published an article in Issue 23-2 on how to do just that.

The Arrow Saw Arrow shafts are made of various materials. We will focus on only carbon and aluminum (and aluminum-carbon) and ignore the others for now. To cut these shafts we need a “high speed abrasive cut off tool.” Commercially these are sold as “arrow saws.” Every possible alternative has been tried to using this tool: pipe cutters, scroll saws, lathes, table saws, hacksaws, getting a beaver to gnaw a bit off, everything has been tried and virtually everyone says now that you need a high speed abrasive cut off tool. Many of us made our own using something like a Dremel Rotary Tool with an abrasive cut off wheel chucked in it. (AF recently published an Archery DIY article on how to do just that.) You can do the same, but if you are serious about archery and coaching, buying your own arrow saw will pay off in the long run.

Commercial saws provide a high speed motor, a larger abrasive blade (larger blades wear more slowly that smaller ones, like the Dremel blades, which are really small), a support for the arrow and a cut stop that ensures that all of the arrows cut end up the same length. They also supply safety guards and often a vacuum attachment to suck up the dust. You do not want to be breathing aluminum or carbon dust! (If we have to cut a lot of carbon shafts, we wear a dust mask.)

When using these saws, when you turn them on, allow them to get up to full speed before starting a cut. (You can tell by the sound the motor makes, just like with a car.) The arrow shaft is fed in sideways until the blade cuts through the material of that side and then rotated slowly into moving blade to complete the cut. This procedure provides for the end cut being perfectly perpendicular to the length of the shaft. An arrow cut at a slant will have the shoulder on the point touch just a small part of the shaft and you can expect cracks to form right there. If you just slide the shaft across the blade, the end of the arrow travels in an arc (making a slanted cut) and it also creates stress on the blade (which is spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute). The blades, being abrasive, are somewhat fragile; you do not want one of these to disintegrate on you. Safety Note You also do not want bits of stuff flying up and hitting you in the eye, so you must wear safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. Ordinary eyeglasses will not suffice, they are wide open from the sides and above and below, with many paths straight into one of your eyeballs that grit could take. Proper safety goggles wrap around your glasses, if you wear them, and block access from all sides to flying bits of matter.


Always, always, always use safety goggles when operating an arrow saw. A metal or carbon splinter can cost you an eye.

It really helps, if you have no experience doing this, to have an “expert” show you how it is done. After you have done it a number of times you will consider the process simple.

Everything Else Everything else, craft-wise,  is covered in that article in Issue 23-2.

The Bare Shaft Testing
The reason we didn’t address this topic before and we waited until this series transformed into the “Getting Serious: . . .” version is that it can’t be done without some sort of successful arrow test. Our choice is the Bare Shaft Test as it is the simplest and likely the one you and your archer have had some experience with.

The biggest shortcoming in this whole procedure is sloppy test results resulting in poor estimates of how much to cut. If your archer can’t shoot well enough to shoot tight groups at 5-8 paces, then they are not ready for this level of equipment fitting. Consequently if your capable archer shoots some half-hearted groups and you base decisions upon those, you are failing your archer. Your job is to get them focused in to create good tests. If you are unsure of the results, have them shoot again, as many times as it takes to be convinced you are getting a valid test result.

Where the bare shaft groups land, relative to the fletched shafts tell you a lot. If the BS land high or low the nocking point needs to be changed. If they land left or right, a number of things can be wrong.

The reason you shoot three fletched and two bare shafts is that three arrows is the minimum need to identify a group at all. And if the bare shafts don’t hit in similar positions, they were shot differently and therefore a re-test is needed. (Since the bare shafts do not have the built-in launch angle correctors we call fletches, they tend to fly more erratically and therefore asking for beginning serious archers to get three of them to group is a bit much.) All shots need to be made identically. For this reason, we regularly ask that the arrows be shot: fletched #1, bare #1, fletched #2, bare #2, and fletched #3. The “normal” inclination is to shoot the three fletched to see if they group (because if they don’t, why continue?) then shoot the two bares. This pattern is more conducive, however, to the five arrows being shot differently because of the archer getting tired toward the end or thinking the bare shafts are special or. . . .

Some of these tiny details are not always necessary, but remember that every time you walk a student-archer though one of these procedures, you are teaching them. How many times you get to “teach” them one of these procedures is always iffy, so you end up looking for a balance ending up at just enough detail, avoiding both “too little” and “too much.” Too little leaves out important things (Safety is always important and must always be taught.) and too much results in many things not retained (and you don’t have control over what gets retained and what doesn’t).

Consequently, we are in favor of providing a written procedure to our serious students “for future reference” because we know they probably won’t read it now. If when presented with the need to do this by themselves, if they kept that sheet of instructions, they have a boost up on having a successful procedure. If they didn’t, well, you tried.


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