How to Make Crossbow Bolts

Written by jane smith
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Historical crossbow bolts were made to penetrate armour and bring down large animals with as few shots as possible. They were more effective than regular arrows when hunting large game. Fletching requires many hours to perfect, but the resulting crossbow bolts you make will be satisfactory for historical re-enactments, such as those hosted in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), including archery tournaments. Be sure to consult a fletcher if you encounter any problems making these crossbow bolts. Be sure to use hand forged crossbow bolt points for best results. Traditionally, making the crossbow bolt shafts would begin with the arduous process of gathering the correct diameter saplings, hanging them with weights and waiting a year to cut them into the correct lengths. Because this is a time consuming, non eco-friendly process, this project will use pre-made wooden dowel rods.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • To make one dozen bolts:
  • 1 dozen high quality goose feathers
  • 1 dozen 1/4-inch diameter, eight-inch lengths of oak, ash or hickory dowel rod
  • 1 dozen hand forged, socketed iron crossbow bolt points
  • Razor knife
  • Hide glue
  • 1 roll sinew

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  1. 1

    Cut 1/4-inch diameter dowel rods to eight-inch lengths. Flame harden each one by holding it in a torch flame or over a gas stove until the wood begins to just barely turn brown.

  2. 2

    Use a razor knife to split each goose feather in two along the spine. Cut each feather to the desired shape of your flights. Flights are the feathered part of the crossbow bolt. Natural flights can also be purchased at any archery supply store.

  3. 3

    Bind both ends of each flight to the shaft with sinew. Flights should be placed 1/2 inch from the end of the shaft, at 180 degree angles to each other. Once in place, use a fine line of hide glue along the shaft where the feather meets the wood to secure the flights. There was no historical standard for the correct knot to use to bind the flights to the shafts, but the most useful knot is a modified hangman's noose. Begin the knot with the end of the sinew strand toward the head of the shaft, lying against it. Hold about 1/2 inch of sinew against the shaft with your finger or thumb as you wrap three turns around the flight and shaft. Wrap three more turns around your thumb and the shaft, then tuck the end of the sinew back through those three turns, toward the butt end of the shaft. Coat the end of the sinew with hide glue and tuck it into the knot. Pull tight and cut away any sinew sticking out of the turns of the knot you just made.

  4. 4

    Use a razor knife to taper the head end of each shaft until it fits the socket of the forged iron crossbow bolt points, snug and secure. Be sure the point fits straight and true with the shaft.

  5. 5

    Load crossbow bolts and aim at a practice target. Fire all bolts. Check each crossbow bolt you fired, to be sure that the point remained tight and the flights remained in place. If any failures occur, repeat Steps 1 through 5 until all bolts work correctly.

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