Making Primitive Arrows from Scratch

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Making your own arrows, called fletching, can be a difficult yet rewarding task. Now you have a few ways to go about this, like buying a lot of the materials at the store.

But if you’re in an emergency situation, say your safe house is going to be surrounded by zombies, and then you don’t exactly have time to run into town to buy or loot arrows or the parts to make them.

I know zombies aren’t exactly likely, but they’re a fun way to prepare for any sort of event that will require you to survive without the aid of police, stores, and hospitals.

So we’re going to do this the old fashioned way.

Your main tool is going to be a knife, but it will also help if you have something rough to use to sand down the wood. You’ll also want some light string or glue to attach the arrowhead and feathers.

A saw would be useful to cut off branches. You’ll also have to decide what you want to use for the arrowhead.

If you’re able, you should use sharpened bits of metal, but for this DIY, we’re going to assume that you’re in a hurry and don’t have a whole lot of gear to work with. Here’s a short list of some things you’ll need.

  • A sharp knife, preferably one designed for carving.
  • Thick gloves, so you don’t burn yourself when you straighten the shaft.
  • Something to make a small fire (the burners on a stove will suffice.)

Gathering the Arrow Shafts

First you’ll want to find a tree with some good limbs and strong branches. Some types of ground floor flora work too, as long as you can find branches that are roughly a quarter of an inch thick. Any smaller and your arrow will be too weak, any larger and the arrow will be too heavy and you’ll have to put more work into it to make it serviceable.

prepperzine-sampleThe best branches will be about the same width the entire way. You will also want the branch to be about 3 inches longer than the draw of your bow.

The type of wood you’ll be working with depends on your location. I’m from Western Pennsylvania and we have lots of pine, maple, and eastern hemlock trees. There’s a silver maple tree in my backyard, so that’s the material I’m going to work with.

Making arrows out of maple branches provides a heavier more durable arrow and tends to be fairly straight to begin with.

However, they’re also a bit difficult to straighten. In the course of writing this DIY, I snapped several of these branches due to their unwillingness to bend.

Making the Shafts

After gathering the amount of branches you desire (I like batches of twelve, for no real reason) it’s time to start work on making a good arrow. Normally, if you have the time, you want to set the branches in a warm area for about a month to get all the moisture out. But since we’re in a hurry, we’re going to skip that part and get to the trimming.

So first you want to take the knife and run it along the branch, cutting off any offshoots and nubs to make it as smooth as possible. Carefully trim off the bark, not cutting too deeply into the branch itself, just that outside layer. If possible, carefully try to strip away the roughest areas without making the arrow even the slightest bit crooked.

Now that you have a smooth arrow shaft, it’s time to straighten it. Hopefully you don’t have zombies knocking down your door, because this part is going to take a few minutes. You will need some fire; I used the stovetop for mine. Heat the wood around any curved parts and gently (and I mean REALLY gently) push against the curve.

Keep pushing it until it’s straight and hold it like that, away from the flame, until it cools. Rinse and repeat until it’s as straight as you can make it.

This is probably going to be one of the most difficult aspects to making your own arrows. You don’t want to burn the wood and you don’t want to snap the wood in half. But don’t get discouraged if you do, this isn’t an exact science. (If you’re a scientist, you probably could make it an exact science but I’m not one so… going off intuition.)


Making Arrowheads

Now generally you’d want to use metal for an arrowhead, but small rocks can work too. You can use a hammer to chip rocks into a pointed edge, though you’d want skinny/flat rocks for weight issues. If you do want to go for a metal tip, you can make a mold and melt down bits of metal into it. It won’t be particularly sturdy but would work in a pinch.

But as I said above, we’re going to assume all you have is a knife, so we’re going to make a wooden tip. This kind of arrow is best for hunting small game like rabbits or squirrels, but this is an emergency situation and it’s better to have any weapon than no weapon.

It’s also the main reason why I mentioned that you should make large batches of them, because in all likelihood, you’re not going to be able to retrieve them to use again.

Use your knife to carve one end into a sharp point. Try to keep it as even as possible on all sides to keep it as accurate as possible. You can poke the tip with your finger to determine how sharp it is and if you’re satisfied with it. It doesn’t have to be perfect nor does it have to draw blood by poking it. Remember, you’re going to be using a bow to launch the arrow, so the force involved will be enough to penetrate something.


Finishing Touches

By finishing touches, I mean the feathers or fletching. These are meant to improve an arrows flight, accuracy, and distance. It can be very difficult to pull this off, doing it wrong can cause more harm than good when firing the arrow. In survival situations, you’re better off without a fletching if don’t have the time to do it properly.

Now you can either buy feathers, try to catch a bird and pluck some (or if you hunt, you can take the feather from your kills), or if you’re desperate, you can try to find a dead bird on the road and take those feathers. Turkey feathers work particularly well. Regardless of the source, you have two options for how to attach it.

A. Carefully slice the feather in half and glue the pieces onto the wood. You’ll need 1 ½ feathers per arrow.
B. Split the wood on the opposite end of the arrowhead and slide the feathers inside. You can use a light thread or string to tie around the shaft to keep the split closed.

Whether or not you put fletching on your arrow is up to you. Regardless, congratulations, you have made your first arrow!

Now you can start experimenting with different kinds of wood, different materials to make the arrowhead, and different types of feathers.

If you’re a hunter, try out your arrows on your next outing to see how effective they are against the particular game you hunt. This also allows you to determine if you need to make some changes to how you make your arrow.


Now mine isn’t as straight as it could be, so I will likely go back and rework it to try and get it a little straighter. As you can see, it’s not exactly glamorous. In all respects, it’s pretty much a sharpened stick to get shot from a bow. But survival isn’t glamorous either so you work with what you have, as quickly as you have to.

General Safety

  • Use extreme caution with sharp tools, and keep them out of reach of children.
  • Do not dry fire your bow (pulling the string back and letting go without an arrow in place) as this tends to reduce the life of the bow.
  • Treat your bow and arrows as any other weapon, do not point it at anything you are not willing to kill.
  • Wear a forearm guard on the arm that you use to hold the bow up, bow string can sometimes hit you in the forearm. And that can sting and possibly cause a small welt.

In survival situations, the bow is not the most reliable of weapons to use (especially if you made your own bow from scratch.) It may be more effective to make traps and easier to use weapons.

Featured Image Credit – mlinksva via photopinGabe RBruce TWessex Archaeologydun_d.

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Meet the Author

'Mountain Man' John

'Mountain Man' John is a Survival and Preparedness enthusiast who loves everything outdoors. He has a passion for learning anything and everything to help sustain his and his families way of life post SHTF. He frequently shares his knowledge on a variety of topics from his hands on DIY projects, learning new skills such as hunting and trapping along with reviews on his Survival related purchases - Prepping has been in his family for generations, it's in his blood.