Making crossbow bolts by hand is a challenging yet rewarding experience for any archer. Crossbows were originally designed to provide the archer with enough power to puncture armour without the effort required to draw a bow back as far as was required. Crossbow bolts need to be made so that they are tough and pin straight, otherwise they will fly at awkward angles or shatter on impact, making them essentially worthless. Beginning fletchers should expect the majority of bolts to be discarded, and only with patience and practice will mastery be possible.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- 1/4-inch hickory, oak or ash dowel rod, 8 inches long
- Wood sealant
- Turkey or goose feather, high-quality
- Razor knife
- Hide glue
- Socketed iron crossbow point
Burn the dowel rod lightly with the torch, until it turns a slightly dark brown. Do not allow it to turn black, as that will ruin the wood. By burning the dowel, the wood is hardened. Treat the wood with a sealant to prevent humidity from affecting its weight and straightness.
Split the feather in half lengthwise with the razor knife, then trim and shape the two halves so they are uniform. If high-quality feathers are unavailable, most archery supply stores have natural flights available for purchase.
Tie both ends of the feathers to the dowel with sinew. Place the feathers directly across from each other, 1/2 inch from the end of the dowel. Run a small bead of hide glue between the feather and dowel to hold them in place. Wrap the sinew around the shaft three to four times, then place a bit of hide glue on the end of the sinew and tuck it under the last loop made. Cut off any sinew sticking off the side of the bolt.
Trim the end of the dowel opposite the feather into a taper that fits snugly into the crossbow point. The point should not move at all once it is fitted onto the shaft. If there is any play at all when the point is touched, start over with a new dowel. Make sure the point sticks straight off the end of the shaft.
Fire the bolt from the crossbow and test its accuracy, distance and power against a standard archery target. If the bolt tumbles through the air, doesn't fly far enough or cracks the shaft on impact, remove the point and start over. The point can be reused but the rest of the bolt should be thrown away.
Tips and warnings
- It is best to make crossbow bolts in batches. Make each batch so they will all be similarly weighed and balanced. This will let the archer use the first shot to judge the others. If each bolt is made independently, there will be a noticeable difference in each shot.
- Do not paint the bolts. This will unbalance them and cause their flight to skew.
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