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Arrows are easily recognizable: their long, streamlined shape, pointed tip, and (what some might expect) feathered ends, ask anyone what an arrow is and it is likely they will be able to tell you. But what are arrows actually made of? I spent some time researching the various types of arrows to find out. Here is what you should know.
So, what are arrows made of? Arrows are often made with a combination of materials. Carbon fiber, aluminum, graphite, fiberglass, plastic, and certain types of wood are typically used for the shaft, with steel or plastic for the heads. Plastic is often used for fletching unless feathers are used. Arrows are hollow.
Arrows have undoubtedly come a long way.
Besides, it is estimated that the first arrow was crafted around 18,000 years ago.
Well, that’s the ‘earliest definitive remains’.
Chances are, they were made a lot sooner than this!
Not to mention that archery has progressed a lot too.
From the early days of hunting, to its practice as a sport.
With different targets and a range of different production techniques, it was only going to be a matter of time until arrows were made of different materials.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at the exact ones.
What Are Modern Arrows Made Of?
Modern arrows are typically made up of three to four different materials with fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, wood and plastic being the most commonly used ones.
In fact, an arrow is actually comprised of four different parts, so it is only natural that different materials are used in each one:
Otherwise known as the tips – the end of an arrow that pierces the target or animal in the case of hunting.
As you can imagine, with a wide variety of targets and purposes, arrowheads can range in materials quite a bit.
They are, however, mostly found and available in plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum steel, and brass.
The majority of an arrow; what gives the arrow its length and enables it to glide through the air.
While you will still see arrows shafts made from wood; you will more likely see fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum and plastic here.
Sometimes they are a mix of some or several.
One of the major features of the shaft is its spine, or degree of flexibility.
Different arrows will be designed with different levels of flexibility on purpose; depending on the intended use.
The nock is what allows an archer to fire their arrow – it essentially connects the arrow to the bowstring.
Nocks are typically made from plastic, although sometimes will be made of the same material as the shaft. So you can sometimes find them in carbon fiber.
The fletching, otherwise recognized as the feathers, are essential for enabling the trajectory and flight of an arrow.
Sometimes you will see fletching on modern day arrows comprised of feathers – both real and synthetic.
Other times they will be made and available in plastic (and may be referred to as vanes).
What Were Ancient Arrows Made Of?
Historically, ancient arrows were made of lighter woods – such as bamboo, where the arrowhead was comprised of flint, bone, animal teeth, bronze, obsidian (volcanic glass), common metals, or hardwood. The fletching was almost always comprised of feathers from various birds.
It ultimately depends how far back you go, and what civilization you are referring to.
What does appear to ring true is that ancient civilizations used a wide range of materials.
Typically, anything that was available to them in their environment and they could get their hands on and fashion into an arrow.
What Is The Best Material For Arrows?
The best material for arrows will depend on their intended use. It also depends on personal preference and budget, as some arrows are much more affordable and forgiving than others. Equally, the best material for an arrow will be one that suits and works well with your bow.
Let us now take a closer look at the types of arrows and the benefits and drawbacks of each one:
Carbon fiber is widely recognized as a superior option, particularly for both professional and recreational archers, as it is a naturally very strong and light material.
They are ideal for compound bows, although it must be said are a little more limited for recurve bows.
Carbon is also very hard-wearing, and any bends can typically be worked out – with the arrow returning to its original shape.
So, accuracy does not tend to suffer even after prolonged or repetitive use, wear and tear.
Carbon fiber arrows are often available at different price points; all-carbon tends to be more expensive than those that are made from a mix of materials.
Aluminum is a more affordable material, and one that is ideal for beginners.
While they cost less, they are not an inferior option in regards to their performance.
Although, they are not as resilient as carbon and can bend a little easier.
Wooden arrows are still available to this day, although these are the least durable of the different arrow material types.
That being said, they are often use by traditionalists and those looking for a more natural option.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is visit an archery shop, feel and test the arrows out for yourself.
At the same time, you will want to ensure that any option you are considering will fit your bow!
What Wood Is Used For Arrows?
Traditionally, wooden arrows have been made from willow, oak, cedar, ash, elm, or bamboo. In modern times, cedar, fir, and hickory are more commonly used.
And if you are wondering why different woods are used, it comes down to this.
Availability and durability.
Of course, the availability of wood was a huge determining factor in ancient times and throughout most of history.
Today, arrowsmiths are not generally confined to this limitation.
Instead, they are much more concerned with cost and performance.
Nevertheless, the ideal characteristics for the wood that are used for arrows is that they are lightweight, easy to work with, and perform well.
For instance, Cedar allows for greater velocity and less arc during the shot. These arrows are known to shoot particularly straight.
Ash and Hickory are much more durable, but a little heavier and expensive.
There are a number of exotic woods used for arrows, but as you can imagine, these are much more expensive to source and as such, are much less likely to be used.
Arrows are made of several different materials.
It depends on:
a) The period of time in reference (modern day vs ancient),
b) The part of the arrow you are reffering to,
c) The intended usage.
As such, arrows vary quite dramatically in terms of their manufacturing and their performance.
But light durable woods, carbon fiber, aluminum and plastic are perhaps the most common.
And while arrows are always being refined and have come a long way, their basic anatomy is something that has stood the test of time.
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.