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Fletching Carbon Arrows - What Style & Which Material?
THE REAL TWIST ON FLETCHING
Arrow Fletching is glued near the rear of arrows are usually 3, or 4 feathers or vanes, arranged in an equal pattern around the the arrow shaft. These parabolic-shaped items are called the fletching steer the carbon arrow during flight.
you want the tail of the arrow precisely following the tip in flight, the fletching travels through the air without changing the arrow's path. If the arrow's tail isn't following the tip, friction occurs between the air and the fast moving fletch - pushing the fletch into alignment with the arrow's tip.
You will find Arrow fletching is available in a number of different shapes, colors, types, thicknesses, lengths, etc. And they can be applied in different configurations: straight, offset, or helical.
So how do you know which to pick? Should you have feathers, or maybe vanes? Would a bigger fletch do a better job than small ones? Is one more durable than another? What are the trade-offs? Well, let's start with the easy ones.
STANDARD VANES (Duravanes/Rubber Based):
Vanes are made of soft flexible plastic and are the popular choice for today's archer. They're inexpensive, easy to apply, quiet in flight, available in almost any size/color, and they can be easily fletched in a number of different patterns (straight - offset - helical).
Since vanes are impervious to water, they make an excellent all-weather choice for hunting. In addition, they're also relatively durable. Vanes can be crumpled and abused (up to a point of course) and they still pop back into shape ... or they can be heat-treated with a hair dryer and made to pop back into shape. Either way, vanes aren't nearly as delicate as feathers.
However, compared to feathers of the same size, vanes are heavier - as much as 3X the weight of a comparable length feather. And since most vanes have a smooth surface, they don't "dig-into" the air as well as the rougher surface of feathers.
So all other things being equal, vanes don't stabilize arrow flight quite as well as feathers. But don't make too big of a deal out of the vane's limitations. For the vast majority of applications, they're more than sufficient for the task.
SPECIALTY VANES (High-Profile Vanes):
The standard Duravane style vane is an enduring staple item of the industry, and it's the most widely used type of vane, BUT ... someone is always trying to invent a better mousetrap.
So specialty vanes make a splash in the archery market periodically (Quikspin Vanes, Blazer Vanes, Vanetec High-Profile Vanes, Spin Wings, Bi-Delta Vanes, FOB's, etc.). Of course, the "improved" vane designs tend to come and go over time ... but the one specialty vane that seems to be hanging tough is the increasingly popular Blazer Vane, by The Bohning Company.
The Blazer Vane is a small stiff 2" vane which is more plastic-like (urethane based) than rubber. Its claim to fame is three-fold. First, it's a little tougher than rubber-based vanes, so it stands up to Whisker Biscuit abuse without distorting or wrinkling.
Secondly, the surface of the Blazer Vane isn't smooth, it's textured slightly to "bite" into the air better than smooth vanes. And finally, the manufacturer claims that the unique shape of the vane - specifically the straight leading edge - provides some kind of aerodynamic benefit.
Now, with all that said, we shouldn't get too carried away here. A 2" vane (regardless of the advertising wizardry and technical hoo-hah) is still a 2" vane - with the surface area of a 2" vane. So realistically, a claim that 2" Blazers can outperform standard 4" Duravanes might be a technical stretch.
Nonetheless, High-Profile Vanes are small, light, look cool, and seem to work well enough. Over the past few seasons, we've begun to see our customers opting for High-Profile Vanes more and more often.
Of course, feathers are the original hunting arrow fletching material. When it comes to design, you just can't deny that mother nature knows best. First, feathers are very light. Three 4" Gateway feathers weigh just over 8 grains - compared to 24 grains for three 4" Duravanes.
This means your arrows fly faster with less loss of trajectory downrange. Feathers also have a natural texture that effectively bites into the wind. So feathers do a particularly good job at stabilizing large broadheads and finger-released arrows.
And archery feathers have a natural curvature to them (left-wing or right-wing, depending on which side of bird they're from), so they help arrows to spin in flight - which also aides in arrow stabilization. As a matter of achieving the best possible flight, it's just hard to beat a feather.
But feathers are not for everyone or every application. Firstly, feathers are rather expensive. Basic 4" feathers can cost four to ten times as much as comparable vanes. But remember, archery feathers aren't a synthetic product - they are made from the primary flight feathers of turkeys (usually).
They must be harvested, cleaned, dyed, cut, sorted, inspected, etc. As you might imagine, this is a labor-intensive process. So archery feathers cannot be mass produced with the same kind of speed and automation as plastic vanes. So they cost more. And the fancier the feather, the fancier the price tag.
Feathers also require a little more care from the user. If you rough handle your feather fletched arrows, they won't respond well to the abuse. Feathers can be bent, crumpled, split, and degraded when they make high-speed contact with other surfaces (like arrow rests).
And while a little steam and finger-rubbing can sometimes resurrect defunct feathers, they just aren't as tough as synthetic vanes. So you have to treat them well if you want them to last.
Another factor that determines the effectiveness of your fletching is the TURN of the fletch. If your fletching is arranged in a helical (spiral) pattern - like a boat propeller - your arrow will rotate in flight. Much like a football that's thrown with a perfect spiral, an arrow will fly straighter and be more stable if it rotates in-flight. Aerodynamically, a helical configuration is clearly a better choice. However, a helical fletch may not always be appropriate or necessary for your particular bow setup. For example, some arrow rests will not provide enough clearance to allow a helical fletch to pass thru without contact. In this case, many archers use an offset fletch, where the vanes are still straight, rather than in a spiral pattern, but they are slightly turned on the shaft to promote some rotation in-flight without compromising fletching clearance.
For very unforgiving arrow rests with limited clearance, or for competition target setups that don't require much stabilization, the straight fletch may be the best option. Take a look at the diagrams below and the corresponding pro's and con's associated with each fletching configuration. When you order your arrows, you'll need to select one of these options.
LEFT/RIGHT OFFSET STRAIGHT RIGHT HELICAL
Please note that some types of fletching can only be fletched certain ways. Feathers generally come in a right-wing or left-wing pre-formed helical shape. So feather fletching will be right-helical or left-helical. Forcing a feather into a straight clamp to produce an offset or straight fletch is not recommended. Also, some specialty vanes, like NAP's Quikspin Vanes, should not be fletched in LH configurations. If you are a fan of the short 2" Blazer Vane, please note that the turn of the fletch will be much less noticeable. Even when fletched with a full helical clamp, a short 2" Blazer Vane will appear to have only a slight offset.
RIGHT OR LEFT?
If you choose to go with an offset or helical fletch, the arrow will rotate in flight. But which way should it rotate? Right or left? The answer is, sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn't. So here are a few things to think about.
An arrow with a right turn will rotate clockwise (as viewed from the nock) during flight. An arrow with a left turn will rotate counterclockwise.
So what's the big difference? With most modern setups ... nothing. One is as good as the other. The only major difference is that left-turn (counterclockwise) arrows tend to impact the target and loosen your tips, while right-turn (clockwise) arrows tend to impact the target and tighten your tips. Otherwise, it really makes no difference.
Nonetheless, the traditional wisdom that RH shooters should shoot a right turn fletch and LH shooters should shoot a left turn fletch still exists. Unfortunately, this thinking is a leftover rule of thumb from the days before compounds and the center-shot cutaway riser. It doesn't apply to modern compounds.
But, if you shoot a traditional bow OR you have an old-fashioned flipper or plunger style rest on a non-center-shot riser bow, this is still good advice for achieving the best vane/feather clearance.
If you shoot a modern compound with a bolt-on arrow rest, we suggest you choose a RH turn fletch - as a few broadheads and other arrow components are designed to work best with RH rotation.
FLETCHING SIZE: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Most vanes and feathers are available in several different sizes. The most common are the 3", 4", and 5", with the 4" being the industry standard for most applications. However, you may decide a little larger or smaller fletch is better for you. Here are a few things to consider.
Weight: If you're concerned about your finished arrow weight or your F.O.C. balance , it's worth noting that your choice and size of fletching material will have a significant impact on both of those attributes.
Since all of that weight is going to be concentrated in the rear of the arrow, heavy fletching material means a you'll also need more tip weight to maintain a good F.O.C. balance.
In addition to the TURN of your fletching, the second factor that determines how much stabilization you can expect will be directly related to the total amount of surface area of the fletching material you select.
Larger fletching will have more surface area, small fletching will have less. The more surface area, the more contact the fletching will have with the surrounding air and the more effective the fletching will be at correcting the arrow in flight. So this is a trade-off between stability and speed.
Most bowhunters choose the larger 4" fletching to get better broadhead flight, while most target archers opt for smaller fletching material to optimize speed. Of course, the choice is up to you.
FLETCHING CHOICE: PRO RECOMMENDATIONS
We strongly suggest you choose fletching that will yield more accuracy rather than more speed, especially if you're a bowhunter.
Before you choose your fletching type, it's important to consider how difficult your arrows will be to stabilize in flight. If you only use your bow for recreational target shooting with field points or target nibbs only, a 2-3" fletch will probably be sufficient.
Field points are easy to stabilize. But broadheads are another story. If you shoot broadheads (particularly large fixed-blade broadheads) which often tend to fly erratically, a larger fletch will be essential to achieving good arrow flight and consistent groups.
If you shoot mechanical broadheads, you can get by with a little less. There probably isn't a true right and wrong here, as fletching material is essentially a personal choice.