If you make a lot of arrows, gluing the feathers on can become a real chore. Getting the feather in the right position and then holding it in place as the glue sets is very tedious. A device that makes this job a lot easier is a fletching jig. You can buy fletching jigs that range in price from tens of dollars for a bare bones one-feather-at-a-time rig, up to hundreds of dollars for a bench mounted, fully adjustable, three-feathers-at-a-time set-up. Or…… you can make a fletching jig for less than ten dollars depending on what kind of junk you have laying around in your shop. There are a lot of different ways to build a fletching jig; this just happens to be the way I built mine. It’s not hard to build, it’s easy to use, and it does a good job.
To start with, you’ll need to assemble a few supplies. You’ll need a scrap piece of 2” x 4” lumber and a scrap of 1” x 4”, a very small piece of wood that is about 1/8” thick (a paint stir stick works good for this), and few square inches of felt cloth. You’ll also need about two feet of 1/8” or 3/16” all-thread rod and four wing-nuts that will fit onto the all-thread. The heart of the fletching jig will be made from an old clipboard. I used an old one I had laying around that is made of masonite with a six inch metal clip. If you don’t have one on hand, you can pick them up at an office supply store for about three dollars.
Miscellaneous hardware includes a bottle of wood glue or some epoxy, four wood screws that are about an inch-an-a-half long, four small finish nails, one 12 or 16 penny nail, and two rubber bands that are about 4” long.
Tools needed are a saw (a hand saw and miter box will do), a drill (hand or electric), a 1/8” , a 3/16” and a 3/8” drill bit, a tape measure, a square, a pencil, a hammer and some scissors.
How to Build It
First, take your piece of scrap 2” x 4” lumber and cut off a block 6 ½” long. Then cut two pieces of 1” x 4” that are each 6 ½” long.
Now measure down 2 3/8” from the top of the two pieces of 1” x 4” and use your square and pencil to scribe a line across each board. Measure to the center of this line and make a small vertical mark.
Take your drill and the 3/8” bit and drill a hole in each board where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.
Now take your saw and cut each of the 1” x 4”s along the horizontal line.
Scribe three lines on the top of each short portion of the 1” x 4” blocks. One line should divide the block in half long-wise, and the other two lines should cross the block ¾” in from each end.
Put the 3/16” drill bit in your drill, and drill a hole completely through the block where the lines intersect on top of the blocks. It is important to keep the hole as nearly straight up and down as possible.
Now place the short portion of each block on top of the long portion. Square everything up and make sure that the top and bottom portions of the 3/8” hole line up perfectly. Drop your 12 penny nail into each hole in the top block and tap the nail lightly with your hammer. This will give you a mark to drill on the lower block.
Use your drill and the 1/8” bit to drill a one inch deep hole at each mark on the bottom block. Again, try to keep the hole as nearly straight up and down as possible.
Take your all-thread rod and cut four pieces that are each four inches long. Smear one inch of each piece of all thread liberally with wood glue and tap them down into the four holes in the bottom portion of you 1” x 4” blocks. Set aside for a couple of hours and let the glue dry. (If you use epoxy you won’t have to wait as long)
If you did everything right, the top portion should slide down over the all-threads and the 3/8” hole in each block should line up nicely. You may have to bend the all threads a little to make slight adjustments for a good fit. To keep from getting confused it’s probably a good idea to mark which top goes with which bottom and the direction the blocks should be turned.
Now we’re going to cut a groove in each of our top blocks for the clip to slide down into. The groves are going to go from the top of the block down to the top of the 3/8” hole. It is important to note that natural feathers do not have the vanes centered on top of the quill. On right wing feather the vanes sit to the right of center of the quill as you look down the feather. On left wing feathers they sit to the left. So, the point of all this is that the grove can’t be dead center of the 3/8” hole. It has to be slightly off-set. The good news is that this fletcher will do either right wing feathers or left wing feathers depending on which direction you put the arrow shaft into it.
So let’s cut the grooves. My clipboard is just a shade over 1/8” thick, so I made my groove just a shade over 3/16” wide. If your clipboard is the same size, you can use the same dimensions. Lay out your grooves with a pencil and straight-edge so that on one block the center of one groove is just slightly (about 1/16”) left of the center of the 3/8” hole and on the other block it is just slightly right of the center of the 3/8” hole. Clamp the top portion of the block into a vise and use your hand saw to carefully cut out the grooves about 5/16” deep. I found that the best way was to make a cut to establish each side of the groove and then a cut down the middle. This left some little ridges of wood in the groove which I broke out with a pocket knife and then smoothed off with a rat-tail file. Of course if you have a table saw this would be an easy job.
O.K., things can start to move faster now. Assemble your 1” x 4” blocks and glue and screw them to the ends of the 2” x 4” base. Make sure that you have the grooves facing to the inside.
Cut the bottom portion off of your clipboard so that there is about 1/16” remaining below the edge of the clip.
Cut the ends off of the clipboard so that it seven inches wide.
Saw a little notch out of the bottom corners of the clip so that it will not get hung up on the felt that will be protecting your arrow shaft.
If everything has been done right, the clip should drop down into the grooves and slide easily down to the 3/8” hole. I find it helps everything slide better if you rub a little bar soap on the edges of the clipboard and in the grooves.
Now dissemble the 1” x 4” blocks so that you can line the inside if the 3/8” holes with felt. Just cut the felt into ¾” wide strips and glue the little strips into each of the half holes. It may take more than one layer of felt to get the fit that you want around your arrow shaft. You want the shaft to be held firmly in place when the blocks are clamped together, but you still want to be able to turn the shaft with a little pressure from your fingers.
To help keep a constant, even pressure on the clip while your glue is drying, take your four small finish nails and hammer them part-way in to the base block bout two inches in from each end. Your rubber band will go over the top of the clip and hook over these nails.
Cut a small wedge from you thin scrap of wood to make the position indicator for your jig. When a shaft is properly positioned in the jig, just the nock will protrude, and the indicator can be wedged into the exposed nock.
Notice that the 1” x 4” has been marked with the proper shaft position for gluing on each fletching. These markings are placed on each end along with a designation for whether the nock protrudes for a right wing feather or a left wing feather.
After using the jig for a while I made a couple of improvements. One was to drill a little slot into the base of the jig so I could put the little wedge in it and, hopefully, keep it from getting lost.
Another improvement was to paint the fronts of the two upright different colors so I could easily see which top went with each bottom.
How to Use It
To use the fletching jig the first thing that you have to do is take the clip out and loosen the wing nuts enough to slide your arrow shaft through the holes. In the photos below I am fletching with right wing feathers, so the shaft is placed in the jig with the nock protruding on the right wing end.
Now snug the wing nuts down so that the shaft is held firmly but not immovable in place.
Place the small wedge in the nock and turn the shaft until the indicator is pointing to one of the fletching positions. I have a “C” on my indicator to show which position is correct for the cock feather.
Now take the clip and, before placing your fletching in it, rub a little bar soap along the bottom and front edges of the masonite. I find that this helps keep the clip from sticking to the fletching if get a little too much glue on the quill.
When the clip is lubricated place a fletching in the clip with the quill resting up against the bottom of the masonite. Position the large end of the fletching to the left and line it up with the edge of the metal clip. I find that this gives me the right location for my fletching on the shaft. If you would like the fletching to be closer to the nock or farther away, you can make a mark on the clip at the position that you favor.
Next you need to run a thin bead of glue down the quill. I use Fletch-Tite, but you may wish to use Super Glue, fletching tape, or whatever.
Slide the clip down into the grooves and press the fletching firmly into contact with the shaft.
Loop the two rubber bands over the top of the clip to keep pressure on the fletching.
Let the whole thing sit for a couple of minutes to give the glue time to set, then remove the rubber bands, pinch the metal clip open, and lift the clip assembly out of the grooves.
Use the indicator wedge to rotate the arrow shaft to the next position, load another fletching into the clip, and repeat the gluing process.
When all three fletchings are glued in place, loosen the wing nuts on the left block a little, and remove the block on the right completely. Slide your finished arrow out of the jig, and insert a new shaft.
That’s all there is to it. I find that it takes me about ten minutes to fletch one arrow, that the position of the feathers is more consistent, and that the glue contact of fletching to shaft is more even.