How to Make Crossbow Bolts
- Erik Himmel
The crossbow was invented in ancient China by Chin Chu around 700BC. Known as the gastraphetes in ancient Greece, the crossbow thus crossed over into Europe. As a weapon, the crossbow is made up of a bow attached crosswise on a stock of wood. Bolts, otherwise called quarrel are projectiles, though of a variable length, traditional arrows being longer. The bow of a crossbow is fashioned out of wood, iron or steel. Their chief use was in medieval wars and hunting. Today it is in use as a sports weapon and for hunting. Do remember, a crossbow is not a toy. It is a deadly piece of weaponry.
How to Make Crossbow Bolts with Hand Tools & Wood?
“Arrows or Bolts”? How do they differ?
Let us first get a bit acquainted with the various parts and terminology.
A crossbow projectile is to some a bolt while others prefer referring to them as arrows. A bolt goes hand in hand with a crossbow, not an arrow. The differentiator is the absence of stabilizing fins on a bolt unlike an arrow. As a matter of speaking, when someone refers to bolts and arrows, they are talking of the same thing. In this article, we will stick to the arrow for the sake of simplicity. So onward as to how to make crossbow bolts.
Different Parts of a Bolt and Specs
Crossbow arrows are mostly 16” to 22” in length with an average os 20”. Stick to the recommended length when buying new arrows as the tip on shorter ones can run foul with the crossbow rail (the groove where the arrow goes)
The parts constituting a crossbow arrow are:
The bolt shafts are the backbone of an arrow. All the other elements mentioned below are attached to it. They are made of aluminum or carbon, are lightweight, splinter proof and resistant to bending. The stiffness of the shaft is alluded to as ‘spine’. The more the resistance to bending, the greater is the ‘spine’.
Derived from plastic or aluminum mostly, the nock is hitched to the back of the shaft. Its function is to maintain the bolt in place as the shot is lined up.
Nocks are of two primary types; half-moon (top image) and the flat nock (bottom image).
The half-moon nock is grooved. Alignment between groove and string is essential before the bolt can be fired.
Fletchings are the small wings located at the back of the shaft, adjacent to the nock. They serve to stabilize the trajectory of the bolt mid-flight and keep it traveling in the proper direction. Pitching or swaying to any side is also eliminated. A slight spin is transmitted coaxially by the fletchings increasing flight stability.
Modern bolts have 3 fletchings made of a form of durable plastic and they are also referred to as vanes.
Field Points Broad-Heads
Things You Need
- Wooden shaft ($35-$50 for a dozen) You can choose between Port Orford cedar, Sitka spruce or Douglas fir. Cutting your own shafts is rife as the slightest imperfection will throw your shot and DIY is terribly time-consuming.
- Nocks at about $10 per dozen
- Glue, preferably Superglue
- Glue-on point
- Glue on nock
- Fletching (feathers) pre-cut. Turkey feathers are ideal and come for $15 per dozen
- Tip/nock sharpener
- Feather fletching tape (double-sided tape)
- Fletching jig (to attach fletching to the shaft) $35 to $90
- Taper tool (less than $10)
Assembling The Shaft
Wipe the shaft down with acetone to remove any sap. Use fine sandpaper to sand the entire shaft. It should be absolutely smooth and splinter-free. The fletching adheres easier on the shaft. Examine the wood for nicks and damages are needed.
An application of varnish is advisable if they are left out in the open.
Shape, Straighten and Cure the Shaft
Step 1 – Any bends are brought to light by rolling the shaft in an arrow spinner. Any curves detected should be faired by holding the arrow firmly on a flat surface and rolling it with the palms. Repeat it till it appears straight and true in the spinner. This is a very important step and make sure before proceeding.
Step 2 – Seal your shaft by brushing with the acrylic floor finish and leave it to dry for 3-4 hours. Sand lightly and repeat for 3 coats.
Shaping The Ends
Using the taper tool which looks like an oversized pencil sharpener to taper the shaft at one end to fit the nock. The taper tool makes both 5 and 11° tapers; choose 11°. The tip has to be longer than the end at the nock.
The superglue is pasted to the shaft end and into the point of glue-on. Points come in different configurations. Positively use the correct point for your intended use.
The point should be pressed into the tip holding for 30 seconds. Also the shaft on the other end needs to be sharpened.
Holding for around 30 seconds, keep the glue-on nock pressed.
Fetch The Bolts
The shaft should be inserted in the jig. The shaft nock should rest effortlessly into the jib. Avoid it being wobbly or have space around it. It should fit snug and resting flat, upon a stable surface prior using
To the required length of fletching that is to be used, measure and cut the tape.
The length of each fletching must be similar with a slight variation.
The fletching goes on the bracket jig. Put on the tape at the fletching limit. The tape being brittle and being double-sided is difficult in handling.
The protection on the tape should be removed carefully so that the fletching is also not pulled out while removing the protection.
The shaft and the bracket should be clasped together. The bracket latches on the jig with magnets. Position the bracket carefully to where you wish the fletching to be precisely.
To reposition the shaft for the following fletching, turn the dial, as shown in the figure above.
Repeat till all the fletching has been attached.
The test of the pudding is in the eating. I test fired my arrow and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. It flew true, hit the target and overall was a success. So now that you know precisely how to fashion an arrow professionally and make your own custom crossbow bolts. You can see it’s well worth the initial outlay. If you are a crossbow enthusiast, do try and make your own arrows. It is a sport that offers unlimited joy.