by Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf, SCA Archery Marshal
Solid fiberglass shafts have a great advantage over wooden shafts. They do not break, even under the most extreme combat conditions. they can be bent into a U shape before breaking. A two hundred pound fighter in sixty pounds of armor can dance a jig upon them without damaging the shaft.
When bent into a U and finally broken, they break like a stick of rattan. They become a bunch of loose fibers, which cause no injury. When taped, those fibers are contained just like a rattan sword.
I tested a quiver of thirty shafts from early 1996 through 1997. They were used in eleven wars, in open field, bridge and castle battles with no shaft breakage. There was some nock breakage. The Beman nocks that were used had a thin neck that could break when stepped on. Three shafts were lost and not found. The set of thirty shafts went through two season with 0 percent breakage. And, to my knowledge, no complaints from those I hit.
This resistance to breakage is important to archers in at least two ways. 1) Safety. They greatly reduce the possibility of a broken shaft causing injury. 2) Cost. A complete shaft with a nock, fletching and tape, but without a blunt costs about $1.75 to $3.00 depending on your materials and suppliers. And they will last for many seasons.
Please Note: The use of solid fiberglass shafts has now been accepted at Society level. But it is up to each kingdom to allow their use. If you wish to use the fiberglass shafts or the UHMW blunts you must first check with your kingdom marshal.
The type of fiberglass rod used is the solid fiberglass rod, from 1/4 inch to 11/32 in diameter, depending upon style of head being used. The 11/32 shafts will be limited to crossbow bolts. They make an overly heavy and stiff shaft for a thirty pound hand bow.
I have been able to purchase 1/4 inch rod at TAP plastic Co., a chain of plastic supply houses in California for $1.75 and 5/16 at $2.55 in six foot lengths. It is even cheaper when bought in ten or fifteen foot lengths.
You should first determine the length you need for the shaft, allowing for both nock and blunt. An indelible marker is best for marking the fiberglass. The maximum draw length of the arrow is twenty eight inches from the bottom of the nock slot to the bottom of the blunt. But your shaft will be longer than that, by the length of the shaft that is inside the blunt and whatever extra taping may be at the base of it, as well as the length of shaft in the nock.
In cutting the fiberglass, you need to take care to avoid breathing the dust or getting it in your eyes. It is not toxic, but can cause a sore throat and itchy eyes. It should be done outside to avoid build up of dust in the air inside. If you wear a dust mask and goggles, you can reduce the chance for irritation. You should also wear gloves to help avoid skin irritation.
After you have cut the rod to length, you will need to sand the full length of it with some medium grit sand paper. The rod has a very slick surface that needs to be roughened to make a better surface for both gluing on the fletching or applying the tape. Remember, avoid the dust while you are sanding. You can also remove the slick surface by wiping the surface with an acetone dampened rag.
For the 1/4 inch or 5/16 shafts you can use parallel sided nocks, such as the Beman or Bohing brands. The Bohing nocks hold up better and are less apt to break when stepped on. Beman also makes a tapered 1/4 inch nock. You will need to file down the nock end of the shaft to fit the nock. You can rotate the shaft as you file, until the nock just sides on. You do not want a too tight fit, for it will not allow enough glue. And too loose a fit and the nock will not align correctly. You can use a Duco cement or a good two part epoxy to cement the nock. Then let it dry completely.
For the 5/16 and 11/32 inch shafts you can cut, file or grind your own nock taper. This is what you find on wood target arrows, etc. A nock and point taper cutting tool will work, but you will need a good supply of spare blades. If you have a good eye, a steady hand and a template you can use a file to hand make the taper. When doing this leave your shafts longer than you need. If you make a mistake, you can cut off the offending part and start over. Then when done, recut the shaft to the correct length. If you have a: Bench grinder. Disk sander. Or table saw with a sanding disk. You can build a jig to hold the shaft at the correct angle and quickly grind or sand the correct eleven degree taper. Again...avoid the dust.
When the shaft is the correct length, you should take a file and slightly round off the edges of the front end of the shaft.
You can use either feather or plastic fletch on the shafts. Fletchtite does not seem to work as well as 3M Super Strength Adhesive or Duco cement. Fletching tape also works very well.
After the fletching has set, I run a bead of the glue down both sides of the base of each fletch and a drop at both ends. If you want, you can also wrap the ends or the whole length with thread as well for greater security and a more period appearance. Because of the size and weight of the blunt head, I prefer to use a five inch fletch to help stabilize the arrow in flight more quickly. But shorter fletches may be used.
You can tape the shaft with whatever tape is required in your kingdom. However I have found that a good quality electric tape such as 3M works best. It sticks well and goes on smoothly. Since the arrow will not break, heavy tape is not needed. There is a question as to the need of taping a fiberglass shaft, but at this time it is still required. If you carefully run the tape parallel to the shaft it produces a smoother covering than using a spiral pattern. There are less leading edges to peel up.
TYPES: MANUFACTURED BLUNTS
So far I have found that the 3/4 inch blunts tested (Lochac-Riverhaven, Antir-Montegard, HTM and Saunders) using a solid fiberglass shaft have had a short life before punching through. They may NOT be used in combination with fiberglass shafts.
The three 1 1/4 inch manufactured blunts tested (Thistle Missiles, Baldar's Blunts and Moraks) all worked well. The Baldar's blunts worked well with both the 1/4 and 5/16 inch shafts. They also worked with the 11/32 shafts, but were slower and had less range with the heavier shafts. The Baldar's have a solid nylon insert in the blunt, in which the shaft is seated. This insert holds up to impact and helps prevent punch through. The Morak has a penny molded in semi clear plastic.
The Thistle Missiles also work. But, the 1/4 inch shafts do not work as well with the size of the hole in the internal plug. At this point the Thistles should only be used with 5/16. Or with 1/4 shafts where the shaft has been built up to about 11/32s of an inch. This can be done with five or six layers of electric tape. Or with the use of heat shrink tubing to build it up to the same size.
Before you build a quiver full of Thistle Missiles, you should build a few and test them completely for punch through.
Tests have shown a problem with crossbow bolts and the Thistles. The fiberglass shafts, even of 11/32 size or built up to 11/32 punch through after a while. Thistle Missiles may not be used on fiberglass shafted crossbow blunts.
The full length 11/32 shafts in combination with the Baldars or Thistles make a very heavy, stiff and slow combat arrow.
With these blunts, except for the 1/4 Baldars, the 1/4 or 5/16 shafts, need extra taping. The Baldar blunts also have a model intended for use with 1/4 inch shafts which does not need to be built up. The tape on the shaft should extend all the way from the fletching to the front of the shaft. Then additional tape should be added at the front of the shaft. You should cut a three inch length of electric tape. Then you center the length of it over the tip of the shaft and then fold one side down and smooth it to the shaft. You then do the same to the other side. For the 1/4 inch shafts you should use, at lest, an additional three or four strips of tape over the two that run the length of the shaft. Or the same result can be obtained with heat shrink tubing. You should apply a little epoxy to each layer of tubing. The Baldars blunts now have a head intended for use with 1/4 inch shafts which does not need to be built up.
The intent of the additional tape is to increase the diameter of the shaft to make a tight fit, to prevent the blunt from accidentally being pulled off. And to provide a tighter fit to help prevent punch through. The 11/32 shaft needs no additional tape, other than that running the length of the shaft.
Thistles, Baldars and Moraks need to be taped to the shaft to prevent them from coming lose.
HAND MADE BLUNTS
The most common form of combat blunt is the Markland and its variations. It is basically a wooden dowel, padded on the face and sometimes the sides, often with a leather disk on top of the dowel to help prevent complete punch through in case of failure of the dowel. The dowel has been drilled out to receive the shaft. This is then covered with tape and foam, then taped to the shaft.
There are many variations of this style. This style has proved, over many years, to be a good basic combat blunt. However, the dowel can finally break even with a wood shaft. And the fiberglass shafts tend to split the wooden dowel even sooner, causing the blunt to fail.
This problem can be solved by replacing the wood dowel with a material which will not break, such as a shatter proof plastic. The types I have found to work best at this point are Delrin rod or UHMW rod. These materials can be found at most plastic supply houses. You can check your Yellow Pages for suppliers and give them a call.
When you replace the wooden dowel or plywood plug in a blunt design, you should use the same diameter as the original design. But,the length of the plug may be reduced if the design allows. If the required length was only to provide more wood to reduce punch through and breakage, then a shorter length of plastic rod may be used. You need to check with your kingdom Earl Marshal to determine if this can be done and if he will allow its use.
A easy to construct 5/4 blunt, of my design, for fiberglass shafts can be made using a 1 inch by 5/4 inch core. The UHMW rod seems to work well with this design. It is lighter, less expensive and just as strong as the Delrin. A UHMW blunt cost about 20 cents to make, including the UHMW, foam and tape.
I have shot one of these against the back wall of my house about 120 times with no sign of damage to the blunt or shaft. When shot at me, at five yards with a good thirty pound laminate recurve and while I was wearing only light padding, the impact felt the same as a Thistle or Baldar. The red marks lasted about the same as a Baldar, but a bit less than a Thistle. They were used for ten wars in the West with no problems.
You must first cut your 1-1/4 rod to length. You must make sure that your cuts are parallel and 90 degrees to the side of the rod. A table saw and guide work well for this. Now take the lid from a 35mm film can and punch a small hole through the exact center of the lid (most lids have a small mark at the center). Push the 1-1/4 by whatever length inch core into the inner ring on the bottom of the lid. Then, using a permanent marker pen, you mark the center of the core. Then remove it from the lid. Now use a sharp drill bit the size of the shaft you are using. You should drill dead center and as perpendicular as possible (if possible use a drill press). If this is not done well, the hole will be off center and the blunt will out of balance and may cause the arrow to wobble. You should drill the hole 1/4 of an inch deep for a 1/2 long core or up to 5/8s for a one inch core.
You may now cut your 1/2 to 3/4 inch closed cell foam. This is the type used in exercise mats and under sleeping bags and for helm padding. I have had good results with some soft Neoprene rubber. It has not packed down under impact and the bounce back seems to be less. Do not use a foam that does not spring back after impact. You should test a piece of the foam by placing it on a hard surface and striking it several times with a hammer. If it stays flat do not use it. If you have an 1-1/4 inch hole punch, use it. If not use scissors to cut a 1-1/4 inch square. Before you glue the foam to the face of the blunt, you should slightly round the front and back edges of the core. The front edge is rounded so that it will not scrape skin on a glancing shot. The back edge, so that it will not wear through the tape. A 1/8 inch radius is about right. You should glue the foam to the core using the 3M adhesive or similar cement and let it dry.
Next you remove a length of tape equal to the depth of the hole in the blunt from the front of the shaft. Following directions on the container, mix a small amount of two part epoxy or Crazy glue and apply it to the hole in the core. You now insert the shaft into the core, forcing it in as far as you can. Then hold the shaft tightly and drive the shaft and core down hard onto a solid surface, until the shaft is seated all the way into the core. It should be a force fit. If you can easily pull it out, it is too lose. The length of removed tape is the guide for this.
At this point if you want a half inch flat face you are ready to tape the head on. But, if you wish a 3/4 thick or thicker rounded face blunt, you need to trim it round. (Note: The striking face of a blunt may be rounded to no less than the radius of the blunt. e.g. A 1-1/4 inch blunt may be rounded to a radius of no less than 5/8's of an inch. This rounding rule is at the choice of each kingdom.)
To cut this radius you can make a template, with the correct radius cut out, to use as a guide . You turn the shaft with one hand, while you trim the foam with the scissors and check the final shape with the template.
At last you are now ready to tape the blunt onto the shaft. You will need to cut two lengths of fiber strapping tape, long enough to extend about two inches past the bottom of the blunt onto the shaft. Center the first piece of tape on the top of the blunt and press one side down the blunt and onto the shaft. Do not fold the tape in at a 90 degree angle, it should form about a 45 degree angle between the edge of the blunt and the shaft. Repeat with the other side. You then place the second piece of strapping tape at 90 degrees to the first and repeat the process. You now cut four strips of electrical tape the same length as the strapping tape and apply the first two in the same manner as the two strips of strapping tape. You then place the last two strips in the intersections of the first two, so that the entire blunt is covered. The tape between the bottom edge of the blunt and the shaft should be at a 45 degree angle or less. This reduces turbulence and drag, making the arrow go further.
You must now measure 28 inches from the bottom of the nock slot and mark this point. It should be on the strips of tape securing the blunt and about 1-3/4 inch below the blunt. Cut a 6 inch strip, or longer, of electrical tape and wrap it around the shaft, between the mark and the blunt with an edge just touching the 28 inch mark. Now take a sharp knife and remove the excess strips of tape that extend past the ring of tape below the 28 inch mark. This forms a draw stop for the shaft at 28 inches.
Another method of reducing the drag, if your kingdom allows, is to taper the bottom part of the core on a one inch or longer length. For example, you can mark a line a around the front of the core a quarter of an inch below the face. Then, having already drilled the hole for the shaft, you grind, cut, file, etc from the line to the shaft hole. This makes it look like an ice cream cone, without the scoop of ice cream. The rounded padding becomes the scoop of ice cream. This can reduce the drag thereby increasing the range of the arrow. An one and a half inch cone with the quarter inch full diameter at the top weighs only about 80% of an uncut one inch long core.
You do not need to make a tape draw stop for this style. But, it must be secured and taped the same otherwise.
The last step is to identify your arrow. This serves three purposes. 1) It identifies the maker of the arrow, if the arrow is incorrectly made. 2) It aids the return of lost arrows. 3) And when you make that long shot kill at 80 yards, your victim can learn who hit them. Your arrows should be marked with your SCA name and local area. For inter kingdom wars, you should include your kingdom as well.
For those worried about the possibility of damage to the eyes from bounce back from fiberglass/ wood shaft arrows or branches, dirt, etc, the use of safety glasses or goggles or a strip of Lexan can greatly reduce the chance of injury.
Lexan, a shatter proof plastic, has been approved at SCA level, for use as optional additional eye protection.
A strip covering the visor slot or an approximate two inch wide strip on the bars over the eyes can help prevent injury from arrows, weapons, branches and armor edges as well as dirt from weapons or from the ground. The Lexan, or equivalent shatter proof plastic, must be at least an 1/8 of an inch thick and be secured to the outside of an already legal helm.
A 1/8 thick inch piece (minimum allowed thickness) of Lexan will stop a field point on a 11/32 shaft shot from a 50 pound laminate recurve at five yards.
To verify that the plastic is Lexan or an other shatter proof variety, a marshal should proof it with a punch test. A metal punch or large nail and hammer may be used to do this. Place the punch about one half an inch from a corner of the plastic, strike it firmly with the hammer. If it makes a dimple in the plastic with no cracks it passes, if it cracks it fails. For ease in testing, this should be done before the plastic is attached to the helm. If the test needs to be done with the plastic on the helm, place the punch over a metal part of the helm, such as the bars, etc to provide adequate backing. The marshal should then mark the proofed plastic by scratching the month and year around the dimple e.g. 10/98. The plastic should be replaced every year.
Screen or perforated metal can also be used in a strip just over the eyes. It need not cover the entire face.
Before you use Lexan on your helm, check with your kingdom marshal to learn if your kingdom permits its use.
Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf, SCA Archery Marshal
For questions related to this article please contact the author: Sir Jon Fitz-Rauf
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