It’s the day before archery season starts. . .
And I’m in the middle of making a batch of broadheads.
A wee bit late you might say. True, I will readily admit that this project got delayed a little longer than it should have. I would’ve liked to have these ready months ago. Actually, my original plan was to make an entire new set-up for this season: bow, arrows, broadheads, quiver, etc. Ambitious yes, but last winter it seemed like a reasonable goal.
Goals always seem more reasonable before you actually start them.
Alas, that goal didn’t last long in the face of normal life. . . as time went on my desire dimmed and I settled for at least wanting to make a new batch of arrows! And then before I knew it archery season was on the verge of starting! Which brings us back to me sitting in the garage the day before the season opens working on some arrows. Actually, I started these arrows two days ago, but as I only get limited time to work on them it doesn’t look like I’ll finish up with tons of time to spare. Realistically, I likely won’t even end up using them this year, having not had time to adequately practice with them. But it’s been fun having a project again!
All I’ve ever used is homemade broadheads, maybe that says something about me, maybe not. Even most traditional archers seem to use commercial broadheads. . . And arrows. . . And bows for that matter. Why? Beats me, they miss out on all the fun of making their own gear! That’s half the reason I’m a bow hunter! I’ve made my own bows for years, assembled my own arrows (but not made the wood shafts myself, something I remedied this time around), and attached my homemade broadheads. I’ve always used tie-on broadheads though, and I felt like it was about time I tried something a little more…. refined.
Not about to actually buy them though.
So what style did I want to try? Well, it seems like there is a number of people who do DIY broadheads by simply sawing a slot in a field point and inserting the blade, doable but sawing a slot into the point centered seemed unnecessarily difficult for this time around. In addition, that sort of seemed like starting with a half baked cake. So I opted to essentially copy Saxton Pope’s method from his classic 1929 book Hunting with the Bow and Arrow, meaning that I’m going to create my own glue-on broadhead ferrule from metal tubing as well as the blade to mount in it.
Designing Your Broadheads
First thing you need to decide is what style of broadhead you want. Are you looking for an old english style with rounded shoulders? Oval shape? Simple triangle? Barbed ones? Personally, after having made all my previous broadheads into a simple triangle shape I wanted to try something a little different. And, after having some experience with broadheads in a buckskin quiver, I wanted ones without back corners that would snag as I was drawing them out of the quiver (less of a concern if using a hard quiver). Which means either round the corners off, or cut them on an angle– I elected for an angled shape. Though I really like the elegant look of a rounded raindrop shape. . .
Secondly, what do you want the overall dimensions of your finished broadhead to be? After thumbing through my collection of archery books, I came to the conclusion that most of them suggested a head between 1 ½ and 2 ½ inches in length and under 1-1/2 inches in width. I drew heads in a variety of different dimensions and then chose the one that I liked best–where the blade initially started as a triangle that is 2 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide and finished with a cutting edge that is about 1 13/16 long and 1 1/8 wide (narrower&shorter because I removed the back shoulders so they angled forward).
You’ll need a few things for the style of head we’re making:
Steel— If, you’re doing this at home with a minimum of equipment (like me) I would suggest getting high carbon steel. Stainless would be nice…. but difficult to appropriately heat treat at home. I used this 1095 high carbon spring steel (actually, that’s a lie. I used that same product, but it was 3 inch wide material, not 2 inch. That doesn’t seem to be available on their website at the moment though. You’d need a wider one if you wanted longer broadheads, I actually would’ve preferred the 2 inch if that was available when I bought mine since I had to cut them to 2 inch blades anyway….). Expensive, yes, but it came with enough for me to make a LOT of broadheads. Way more then I’ll use for this batch. You can also scrounge your material if you want, the broadheads I’ve made in the past were made from recycling broken bandsaw blades from the woodshop I used to work at (large ones from re-sawing lumber). A little bit thin of a material, but it was serviceable. I know Jay Massey in The Bowyers Craft says he uses 2 ½ inch wide steel railroad banding, not sure if that’s still in use anywhere but if you have a rail line in use near you it may be worth investigating. Essentially it would be the same thing as the spring steel I bought.
Ferrule material— You’ll need to round up some tubing in 3/8 diameter to serve as your ferrule– actually, tubing size will depend on your arrow shaft diameter, 3/8 is what I needed. 11/32 and 5/16 are also common arrow sizes, though I think you’ll likely have an easier time locating 3/8 tubing. You’ll just have to file the base of the ferrule so it comes flush to your arrow shaft). Pope says he uses .22 gauge steel or brass tubing… No idea where he locates such stuff as I had a bugger of a time finding any tubing in 3/8 of an inch, let alone something that thin. Finally located some aluminum A/C tubing from O’Reilly Auto Parts to use. Wish it was steel, but that wasn’t obtainable around here. Anyone else know where to get thin walled steel tubing in 3/8 inch for a reasonable price? I would love to have a source. We’ll see how the aluminum holds up. Needless to say, since it was thicker walled, it took more time to fit to the arrow shaft then it would have otherwise.
** UPDATE: I actually found a source of thinner walled material online after doing some searching, it was surprisingly hard to find online as well. Apparently tubing this thin doesn’t have many commercial uses? Either way, I have not tested this (though I likely will for my next batch of broadheads) but you can get 3/8 tubing in steel here and brass here. If you shoot arrows that aren’t 3/8 inch, they also have quite a few other sizes. Plus, it’s cheaper! From what I’ve been able to tell, the 22 gauge material Pope used would be roughly 0.03 inches thick. Get something in that ballpark. I’m very tempted by the brass….. I think that would make a really nice looking broadhead!
Pins— You’ll need something to pin your broadhead together, in my case I used one inch long #16 brad nails. They came in a pack of 50 from the hardware store for about 3 bucks. You’ll also need a drill bit that matches the diameter of the pin you use, already having a small drill bit I spent the time looking for a nail that matched it in size (a #16 nail is, coincidentally, 1/16 of an inch in diameter).
Epoxy— Actually I used JB Weld. Pope pinned his together and then soldered the seam between the ferrule and the blade, not having a soldering iron I elected to glue the blade to the ferrule at the same time I pinned them together. You could also braze it if you have the equipment. Either soldering or brazing would likely make a prettier looking finished broadhead if done well.
Annealing the Steel
To be able to cut your blade steel effectively you’ll need to anneal it (make it softer) by bringing it up to a glowing red temperature and then letting it slowly cool. This will make it easier to work with. But gave me more work in the long run since I then had to heat treat and temper the blades. Up to you whether you do it. I actually thought I had bought the steel that came annealed and was surprised when I opened the package to see the blue color it had been tempered to, which, ironically, was about the same temperature I tempered mine to in the long run anyways. If you decide not to mess with annealing, heat treating and tempering, you need to be extra careful while working the metal to not let it heat up noticeably. If it burns (you’ll see a discoloration in the steel) it won’t hold an edge as well and will get dull faster.
My honest recommendation? If you can avoid having to anneal, temper and heat treat do it. You’ll save yourself quite a bit of hassle– though it’s good to know how anyways. So, if you can find a way to cut the steel while it’s still hard do so (yes, this will take extra long…. though you’ll make up for it by being able to skip the heat treating stage). A hacksaw will cut the steel as it comes, but I hesitate to tell you that because it is hard enough that you will likely ruin a few blades.
Laying out the Pattern
I made my pattern a little large in all directions to account for smoothing up the edges and making it all neat. Starting at one long edge, measure up the length of your broadheads and mark a line parallel to that edge (I ended up marking a line that was 2 1/16 inches in from the edge). Note: this step will be unnecessary if you bought blade material that was 2 inches wide to begin with. I ran a sharp staple down the edge of my ruler to scribe the mark in. Now, on one side measure the width of your broadhead design and make a mark, repeat down that entire side making a mark to delineate the width of every broadhead. On the other side, measure half the broadhead width in from the end and make a mark, this will mark the tip of each blade and keep it centered. After that, make a mark at every broadhead width from that initial mark– they should all lie midway between the marks on the other edge. Using a straight edge, connect your marks with scribe lines so that it forms a series of triangles. Some will be right side up, others inverted (you’ll get broadheads off both sides). Pictures may make more sense than words here.
Cutting out the Broadheads
After the broadheads are marked out on your steel, you need to cut them out. I personally used a jewler’s saw, it was the most convenient tool I had for the job. If you have metal shears, those would work dandy as well, I would just plan on cutting the pattern a little extra large to account for the curl on the edge that you’ll need to remove if you use those. A normal hacksaw would also work great– yes, this takes some time. Clamp it to a work bench, table, etc as you do this to prevent it from moving around and shift it often so you are working near the support that way you don’t bend the steel. Once you have your pieces cut out, clean up the edges using a grinder or a file. Just make sure the edge gets flattened and you remove all the rough saw marks.
If you want to change the shape from a simple triangle now is the time to mark that off. For me, I used a ruler and my sharp staple again to create another set of parallel lines 3/16 inch up from the base and marked where that intersected the edge of the broadhead. I then found the center point of each base, marked out 3/8 of an inch around it (3/16 either side) and drew a line from those points to the marks that were 3/16 inch up. Thus removing the corners of the triangle. Instead of using a saw to remove the back corners on my broadheads I ground them off at this point, carefully taking them down to the mark I had previously scribed. Which brings something up, when grinding metal you need to make sure it doesn’t overheat. It’s not good for the steel to burn. Keep some water handy and dunk it frequently while grinding.
You’ll now need to sharpen your broadheads (don’t take it to a razor edge, just take the edge down to give you less work after heat treating). Shape the edge down to be noticeably there, but not sharp enough you’re worried about cutting yourself. I once again used a grinder– actually a belt sander, a grinder will work well enough if you’re careful though. If you don’t have one, use a file.
Making the Broadhead Ferrule
The broadhead ferrule is the part that slips over your arrow shaft and holds the broadhead blade in place. As mentioned previously, I used 3/8 inch aluminum automobile air conditioning line for mine. See what equivalent your local auto parts store has. Personally, I would have preferred it to be steel and to have a thinner wall (ie a larger interior diameter). Beggers can’t be choosers though and we need to work with the materials we have, though in this day and age with the internet I suppose I could have waited for something to be shipped in. ** See the above update if you want to order material online.
First decide how long of a ferrule you want: try not to leave the blade unsupported for more than about an inch at the tip, that will help prevent the blade from bending. I designed mine to come about an inch up onto my arrow shaft as well– if you take it too far back up I have read that it can exert pressure on the shaft where it isn’t as stiff, causing it to snap the shaft when it impacts something. Thus mine ended up finishing out somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 inches long– one inch on the blade, one up the arrow shaft..
In order to go from a straight tube to a ferrule that will hold a blade, you’ll need to pinch one end closed. Pope uses a hammer and flattens the end of the tube on an anvil, which would definitely work. I wanted to be a little more precise, so I put 1 ¼ inches of the end of the tube into a little vise on the end of my workbench and tightened it down (make sure you put it in perpendicular!). This flattened it completely and smoothly, and not only that, it kept the flattened section centered on the tube, something I’m not sure I would have done very well working by hand. Besides, not very many people have anvils anymore, I know quite a few with a vise. Large clamps would work as well, but would likely be more hassle keeping everything in position while tightening them down.
Once it’s flattened, measure out 1 inch and cut off the tubing. Now use a file to clean up the base of the tube and make it square. After that you’ll need to grind down the misshapen end to come to a nice rounded point on the end. I used a combination grinder and file for this work, grinder to remove material in a hurry, and files to smooth it out and make it look nice. You’ll likely have some really thin material on the side wall of the tube where the mashed part meets the round tubing. I used the tip of a knife to remove this down to thicker material that would give more support (kind of like reaming out the thin stuff bent in on the side). Keep it even on both sides.
Mounting the Ferrule on an Arrow
After the ferrules are made, it helps to mount them on an arrow shaft before attaching the blade. To do this, mark back the distance you wanted your ferrule to come on your arrow shaft. Now take a large file and begin to file the end down to a smaller diameter, coming right up to that line. This is where I began wishing I had thinner ferrule material. It’ll take awhile, just keep at it, rotating the shaft as you go so the broadhead will stay centered on the shaft. Try the ferrule from time to time, you want it to fit snug. Usually, mine would start fitting on the end and bind part way down, so I would have to focus on tilting the file up a little bit, thus removing more material higher up the shaft. Once it’s on, rotate the shaft and ensure that the ferrule is tightly up against the base that you filed into the shaft. Likely, you filed unevenly and will need to fix that so it is tight all the way around. Make it fit nice and snug.
As you work on it, you may realize that the arrow isn’t going in all the way because the end of the tubing/ferrule is deformed as it bends down to hold the blade in place. You’ll need to flatten two sides of the tip of the shaft to accommodate for that and allow it to go in all the way. Decide now how you want your broadhead to sit in relation to the grain of the arrow shaft. Since my knocks sit cross grain, I also oriented the head to go across grain. Actually, I filed both sides a little too much so that I would have some wiggle room and be able to twist it and get everything to line up if I was a little off. This part doesn’t need to be precise.
Pinning the Blade to the Ferrule
After you have ferrule and blade shaped, it’s time to pin them together. With the ferrule mounted on an arrow shaft, insert a blade between the ends and push it all the way back. Now adjust it until visually centered (since I only have 3/8 inch at the base, I lined my base up with the edges of the ferrule and then just shifted the blade until the tip of it was in line with the arrow shaft). Now clamp it in place. Rotate the arrow shaft while looking down it and see if the tip continues to look like it stays centered. Adjust as needed.
Once happy with how it looks, tighten your clamp fully to keep it securely in place. Chuck up the drill bit that matches your pin/nail diameter and drill a hole through the tip of the ferrule, blade, and other side of the ferrule. Support the back of it as you do this as you need to apply a decent amount of pressure to get through the steel and you don’t want to bend the ferrule if you can avoid it. That being said, it’s not a game ender if you do. I fixed my first one as I hadn’t thought about it ahead of time and bent the ferrule on the other side of the steel when I came popping through. Easiest is to just clamp it to a block of wood if you can fit a clamp in around everything or take the other one off and re-clamp it without anything shifting around. After drilling, mark the blade and ferrule so you know which way it went together and then remove the blade and clean up the edges of the holes with a file to smooth off the burr.
Heat Treating and Tempering
Heat treating is where you take the blade heat it to a cherry red and quickly quench it in water or oil. Essentially, heating steel up red hot changes the internal structure and if cooled rapidly it will retain that structure thereby enabling the blade to hold a sharper edge and dull less rapidly. This only works on steels that have a high carbon content. I used a MAPP torch to heat my blades, it doesn’t take much to heat the blade as it is such thin material, I’ve used a normal propane torch in the past. That being said, it is significantly easier and takes less time to bring things up to temperature if they are not exposed to air all around them– I held them in the entrance to my forge with a pair of pliers. You should at least build a little box/windscreen around them with some bricks, cinderblock, etc. Insulating firebricks would be superb if you have any, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that if you do. You want something that will retain and reflect heat back onto the blade, firebricks are more insulative than normal bricks and don’t have the mass you’ll have to heat up that standard bricks do. They reflect the heat better instead of absorbing it, which means you can bring it up to temperature quicker, though it won’t retain the heat for as long. Regardless, heat your broadhead blade up to bright red and then dunk it in water. Try to put it in either edge first or tip first, avoid laying it down flat on top of the water. If one side cools quicker than the other it can warp your blade. I had three that warped, so I heated them up once more then took a ball peen hammer and pounded them flat before heating and tempering again. Later I found out two of them had developed a small crack from this process and had to be tossed out. Apparently they cooled too much while I pounded on them and I hit thin, cold, brittle steel and cracked them. . . This is one of the reasons I suggested that if you can find a way to cut the steel while it’s hard you should. If you didn’t anneal the steel, you can skip this whole section.
Heat treated blades will take an incredible edge…. but they’ll also be extremely brittle. Not desirable for something only 0.05 inches thick that will be launched at high speeds into an object! We’ll need to temper them. Tempering is the process of warming up your blade to a temperature that the molecules can become slightly more fluid and realign but not taking it as hot as heat treating. This essentially allows the grain in the steel to relax somewhat and become more flexible. (Yes, all you metalworkers out there, I know I simplified this whole process drastically and dumbed it down a lot.) The higher temperature you take your steel, the more it will flex and absorb shock without breaking. Like many things in life it’s a trade-off though, the higher you temper it to the less resistant to wear the blade will be and you’ll have to sharpen it more often. I usually take my knives to a light straw color since holding an edge is very important to me and I don’t abuse them. For my broadheads I took them to a medium blue color. You can do this with a propane torch as well and just watch the color change, or you can do what I did and just pop them in a 550 degree oven (Fahrenheit) for an hour. That will be about the temper you want.
After tempering, clean them up by laying them flat on some sandpaper and quickly rubbing back and forth. I used 220 grit for this. This will also show you if you have an warping in your blades as they won’t lay flat and you’ll have some of it that sands shiny and some that stays dull. Clean them up nice and good and then you’re ready to mount them in the ferrule!
Assembling the Broadhead
First clean off all your materials to be sure they are free of dust, grease etc. I wiped mine down with acetone: denatured alcohol would work as well, and I’ve used high strength rubbing alcohol in the past… which is much better for your health to be working with. I’m just not entirely sure if it cleans well enough. Anyone know for sure? Let me know in the comments, that would be helpful to know when assembling knife handles!
Once all your parts are clean and dry, mount the ferrules onto arrow shafts again. Next mix up two equal parts of your epoxy (I used JB Weld here, though I’m guessing most high strength epoxies would be usable) and spread a little between the tips of the ferrules where the blade will go. Now quickly insert the blade shift it until the holes line up, tap your pin/nail through (you’ll need to use a hammer and support it on something again), and shift the blade until the tip lines up with the arrow shaft. Now clamp it in place and rotate it to ensure it is in plane with the arrow. If something got bent and is out of alignment hurry and straighten it and then set it aside to dry. You may want to wipe the blade down with vinegar or rubbing alcohol if you got epoxy all over it. I used a paper towel with some rubbing alcohol on it to gently clean up the seam between the blade and the ferrule.
After the epoxy has cured, clip off the nail a little above the ferrule and peen it down– Ie take a ball peen hammer and gently tap it to deform it down and secure the blade in place. You’ll need to support the underside on something solid and metal while you do this. Flip it back and forth and do both sides. Both sides should look like a rounded bump. Now take a file and smooth it off with the ferrule.
Attaching Broadheads to Arrows
To attach your homemade broadheads you’ll just glue them on like you would any commercial head. Take your head back off the shaft you had them on, smear a decent amount of glue down inside (don’t overdo it though, it doesn’t have anywhere to go and can make pushing your arrowhead on difficult if there is too much) and push back onto the shaft. Make sure you are aligning the flat tip on your arrow how it needs to be to fit inside the end of the ferrule. If it feels like it rebounds and gets pushed back off the shaft a little that means you used too much glue. Pull it on an off a few times to work some of the glue around and if that doesn’t work then you’ll need to remove some. Make sure the ferrule is sitting all the way back on the shaft and the tip of the broadhead is in alignment with the rest of the shaft and then set it aside to dry. Rewarding huh? Sure is a lot of work…… Makes you treasure them even more when you put the time in to make them yourself!
*UPDATE: I didn’t end up getting out the next day for the opening of the archery hunt, but I was out the following weekend and filled an elk tag…. Using my old tie-on broadheads. I just wasn’t comfortable using something new without having enough practice under my belt. Maybe next year though!