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Wooden vs Carbon Arrows: Which One Is Right for You?


Those who develop an interest in archery are often faced with the question of what kind of arrow to choose: wood or carbon. Generally, the material of an arrow affects performance and determines the type of archery that is use for.

Both wooden and carbon arrows each have advantages. However, when deciding which is right for use, an archer must first decide which type of archery is the right one.

So, between wooden and carbon arrows, which one is right for you?

The arrow that is right for you between wood and carbon depends on which type of archery you wish to pursue: Archery is often categorized as “traditional,” featuring wooden arrows, or “modern,” featuring carbon arrows.

Archers can participate in either or both categories, but there is little crossover when it comes to equipment. Therefore, traditional archers would use wooden arrows and modern archers would use carbon arrows.

Whether it’s through the portrayal of Robin Hood folklore or Katniss Everdeen’s “Hunger Games,” archery is depicted as a rather simple combination of bows, arrows, and aim.

However, there are intricacies when it comes archery as a recreational or professional sport, and proper equipment is vital for success.

For this reason, it’s important that archers decide what type of archery to pursue. As a result, they can compare arrow material and make the best investment in either traditional wood or modern carbon.

Arrow Material

All arrows are comprised of different components, made of different substances. Whether an arrow is considered wooden or carbon refers to what material makes up the shaft.

The shaft is the long, hollow tube between the arrowhead (point) and nock (the rear plastic tip that attaches to the string of the bow).

In archery, there are three main types of arrows including wood, aluminum, and carbon. Each of them has unique properties due to their material and design.

The primary distinctions between wood and carbon arrow material are:

  • Wood: Wooden arrows are primarily designed for traditional archery. Because of the relatively delicate nature of wood compared to synthetic materials, the use of wooden arrows is limited to longbow and recurve bows. For those archers who use compound bows, they would find that wooden arrows would not withstand the pressure. In addition, wooden arrows have a reputation for being inconsistent and easily damaged. However, there is a loyalty to this material among archers for its organic nature and importance to the history of the sport.
  • Carbon: Carbon arrows are commonly made up of reinforced plastic with carbon fibers. This carbon fiber material is extremely strong and light. Carbon arrows can be used with recurve and compound bows.  In addition, carbon arrows generally return to their original shape when bent making them very consistent and durable. Though carbon shafts are more expensive than other arrow materials, their quality and reliability are unmatched. As a result, competitive modern archers are loyal to this material for its precision and performance.

Most traditional archery hobbyists would only consider wood for arrow material. These archers are passionate about adhering to long-established archery practices and original equipment.

Others who wish to utilize more than a recurve bow and are open to technological progression in the sport would be drawn to carbon. Archers who are dedicated to high performance and modern competition are more likely to choose carbon arrows for their advanced design and execution.

A Brief History of Archery and Arrows

The earliest uses of bows and arrows were for hunting. The ancient Egyptian civilization adopted archery for such purposes as early as 3,000BC.

As archery spread east and west, techniques and equipment were refined and perfected. This influenced such cultures as the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Japanese when it came to mythology and art.

In modern times, archery became a form of recreational and competitive sport. Its first inclusion in the Olympic Games was in 1900. Currently, the Olympics feature four archery events—individual and team—with men and women.

Archery ranges are available for all levels, ages, and gender across the country. Surveys report that the upswing of archery participation is due in part to its inclusivity and recreational fun.

As archery changed and developed, so did its arrows.

The discovery of ancient stone points has led some experts to estimate that arrow “technology” has been around from the beginning. Wooden arrows were used until the advent of straight and consistent aluminum shafts developed in the 1940s.

In the 1990s, arrow manufacturers developed and improved carbon fiber shafts which are considered the most advanced and highest-performing arrows for modern archers.

Arrow Production

One consideration among traditional and modern archers in choosing arrow material is how they are made and produced.

Olympic Style Target Carbon Arrows

Modern archery equipment features pre-made non-wooden arrows that are standardized for performance. This allows for immediate use and simple acquisition of arrow equipment.

Wooden arrows can be purchased as well for traditional archery. However, there is a large percentage of traditional archers that opt to make and produce their own wooden arrows. This enhances the personal investment in arrow craftmanship as well as pride in accomplishment.

Making wooden arrows requires some equipment, time, knowledge, and attention to detail. Yet for those who like working with their hands, this is an important aspect of participating in traditional archery.

Self-made wooden arrows harken back to the origins of archery and the purity of the sport. Archers who make their own equipment don’t rely on any factory standardization or mechanisms to influence arrow performance.

Many archers don’t have the time, patience, or abilities to regularly produce their own wooden arrows. However, the process is interesting for enthusiasts of both traditional and modern archery.

The roots of both archery types are the same and gaining the experience of producing arrow equipment can enhance the overall appreciation for the sport.

Taking part in making arrows can also influence an archer as to which type of archery to pursue and which arrow material is right for them.

Arrows for Traditional Archery

Those who decide to pursue traditional archery often do so to get “back to basics” and for the purity of the sport.

Traditional archery requires an intense level of focus and concentration in shooting with a bow and arrow for sport.

To achieve success in traditional archery, archers rely essentially on personal skill, the bow, and arrow, without any “modern” devices that would improve their chance of hitting the target.

Those who participate in traditional archery list these aspects as to why it is preferable to modern archery:

  • It is organic in its purity of form, technique, and equipment
  • It inspires passion such that most traditional archers consider it greater than just a hobby
  • It facilitates comradery among fellow traditional archers
  • It allows for creativity, craft, and expertise since many traditional archers repair and/or make their own equipment
  • It is cost-effective due to the fact that it requires very few pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment

There are some reported drawbacks for traditional archery as well:

  • The equipment is limited in accessories
  • There are fewer variations in competition
  • It can be more difficult to master than modern archery
  • It is not conducive in urban/suburban areas unless a range is available
  • There is a risk level of injury

Traditional archery is as popular as ever. This may be due to the affordability and simplicity of the sport, and the fact that it can be enjoyed by nearly all ages. Another potential reason that traditional archery maintains its popularity is its persistent cultural presence.

Many book and film characters perpetuate the heroic and disciplined spirit of archers. Recent examples include Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, Legolas in Lord of the Rings, Hawkeye in Avengers, and the many incarnations of Robin Hood.

These representations, particularly of traditional archery, keep interest in the sport alive.

Arrows for Modern Archery

Some prefer modern archery to traditional for many reasons.

Modern archery is considered more competitive than traditional, and there are multiple variations of the sport which present exciting challenges that aren’t generally a part of traditional archery.

Modern archery still incorporates the concentration and focus of traditional archery, yet it also embraces technological advancements in equipment and modifications to the “basics” of the sport.

Those who participate in modern archery list these aspects as to why it is preferable to traditional archery:

  • It provides greater options for competition, both in number and variety
  • It allows for customizable equipment, with multiple material options and accessories
  • It incorporates technology and other developments in the sport
  • It involves a very low risk of injury
  • It appeals to all ages and archery skill levels

There are some reported drawbacks for modern archery as well:

  • The equipment can become expensive
  • It strays from the simplicity and tradition of the original sport
  • The options for participation and competition can be slightly overwhelming

Modern archery is also as popular as ever and continually growing. Nearly every region offers a modern archery range, so recreational archers can experience the sport and dedicated archers can perfect their skills.

The modern archery industry is growing as well due to technological developments and accessories designed to streamline and improve equipment.

Modern archery is particularly relevant during the summer Olympic games. There are four featured archery events with over 100 athletes from around the globe: women/men individual competitions and women/men team competitions.

Though compound bows are not sanctioned in the Olympic games at this time, there is a push to incorporate them in future events as the sport and its advancements grow.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Wood Arrows

Wooden arrows represent the origin of archery itself. The bow and arrow are considered the first tool that could reliably take down deer and other game from long distances. Traditional wooden arrows were used by all cultures and are markers for history, mythology, and anthropology.

Here are the reported benefits of traditional wood arrows:

  • Aesthetic beauty
  • Nostalgia
  • Organic material
  • Can be crafted as well as shot by archers

The primary drawback of traditional wooden arrows is their delicate make-up, which negatively affects their durability and reusability. Wooden arrows can be easily damaged and are not for use with compound bows.

Because of the natural variations found in wood, these arrows are less reliable in consistency and performance. They are also prone to warping.

Modern archers would prefer the precision, versatility, and durability of carbon arrows.

For traditional archers, however, these drawbacks pose a positive challenge. Non-wooden arrows may be streamlined in uniformity, precision, and performance, but traditional archery is not necessarily about these principles.

Instead, traditional archery is about concentration, focus, and understanding the physical relationships between the bow, arrow, and body of the archer.

As each archer differs physically, it makes sense that traditional enthusiasts would prefer individually unique wooden arrows as opposed to standardized carbon shafts.

In fact, most traditional archers claim there is nothing like using wooden arrows despite their imperfections. However, for those archers who wish to have the most precise and highly developed equipment, non-wooden arrows would be a far better choice.

Pros and Cons of Modern Carbon Arrows

Once carbon fibers were introduced in making arrow shafts, their precision and performance changed modern archery.

Though aluminum had overtaken wood as modern shaft material for five decades prior, carbon allowed even further advancements in archery equipment.

Here are the benefits of modern carbon arrows:

  • Weight: Carbon arrows are lightweight which allows for optimal speed and flight.
  • Strength: Though they have low mass, carbon arrows are also strong. They can withstand kinetic energy upon being “loosed”/shot from most bows and are resilient upon impact.
  • Durability: Carbon is extremely durable, and these arrows rarely suffer permanent bends or cracks. They can be used long-term in archery.
  • Reusability: The durability of carbon shafts ensures great reusability for these arrows. Archers can depend on their continued use unless significant damage takes place.

The two primary drawbacks of modern carbon arrows are cost and aesthetics.

Carbon arrows are more expensive than other material which can discourage beginning or occasional archers from investing in their quality. However, their durability and reusability mitigate these costs since they don’t require large-volume replacement.

Most committed traditional archers would not consider using carbon arrow shafts. This is due in part to how they look compared to wooden arrows.

Those with a passion for traditional archery feel the same devotion to traditional material. This makes sense in considering the craftmanship of archery.

Wooden bows resemble art in many ways when it comes to archery. Therefore, their beauty can be undermined by modern-looking, non-wood arrow equipment.

The sleek and modern look of carbon shafts is incongruous when paired with a traditionally crafted wooden bow, and they can be ineffective in use.

As a result, archers must decide if modern performance outweighs the traditional aesthetic when it comes to choosing carbon or wooden arrows.

Combination Package

It’s undeniable that carbon arrow shafts are straighter and sturdier compared to their wood counterparts.

In fact, carbon arrows are steadily overcoming other materials in the modern and traditional archery marketplace of shafts and arrows. This is due to carbon’s fine weight, straightness, strength, durability, and reusability.

Unlike wood shafts, carbon is both quality and low-maintenance material. Wood arrows often need straightening, sanding, painting, and sealing, whereas carbon arrows simply need points and other inserts installed and they are ready for shooting.

Recreational and even some professional traditional archers don’t necessarily have the time for wooden arrow maintenance when a quicker and more precise alternative is available.

There is a combination of carbon material and wood appearance that can bridge this arrow gap.

Most manufacturers make carbon shafts that look like wood, and these are outselling all other arrow patterns.

The “wood-look” patterns that are now available with carbon material appeal to traditional archers looking for the wood aesthetic without the high maintenance and low reliability of actual wooden arrows.

These wood-look carbon combination arrows reflect the beauty of traditional archery and the performance benefits of modern archery at the same time.

Which Arrow is Right for You?

When it comes to deciding whether wood or carbon arrows are right for you, the best approach is to decide which type of archer you are.

If you decide to participate in traditional archery and commit to the basics of the sport without any modern enhancements, then wood arrows are your choice. If you decide to become a strictly modern archer and embrace the technological and equipment advances in the sport, then carbon arrows are the ideal option.

However, one of the best aspects of archery as a pastime is its versatility and flexibility. In other words, aspects of traditional and modern archery equipment can be combined so that archers can enjoy the origins of the sport without missing refinements in the material.

This option would include carbon shafts with wood-look patterns. These carbon/wood combination arrows are widely available and quickly becoming the preferred choice of modern and traditional archers.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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