Arrows can be made of several different materials, and the material you choose will mainly be determined by the type of shooting you intend to do. The three common types of arrow shaft material include carbon (including composite carbon/aluminum shafts), aluminum and wood. You can use almost any type of material with, for example, a recurve bow, but you will definitely get better results if the arrow matches the round you want to shoot.
Wood shafts are mainly associated with bare bow or traditional recurve shooting. They have the classic look and feel, and some traditional archers strive for this purist equipment setup. Wooden arrows are usually fletched with feathers, which help to complete the traditional package. When ordering these arrows, you’ll have to indicate what poundage you will be shooting, and this will determine the spine of the arrows you’ll need. There is no performance advantage to using wood due to the natural inconsistencies found in the material, but the finished setup will look and shoot like arrows did hundreds of years ago.
Aluminum shafts are mainly used for high-level indoor shooting, or for beginners needing a more durable arrow. With this in mind, aluminum arrows come in a variety of sizes and levels of quality. The lower-level beginner aluminum arrows can range in price from $30 to $40 per dozen while the higher-end arrows are usually around $130 to $140 per dozen. The big price difference is due to the level of quality put into the manufacturing process. Higher-quality arrows have tighter tolerances for things like spine, weight and straightness. Aluminum arrows are usually designated by a four-digit code to differentiate their spine. For example, an arrow can have the code 2314 written on it: The 23 is the approximate outer diameter of the shaft in 64ths of an inch, and the 14 is the shaft wall thickness in thousandths of an inch. Both a bigger diameter and a larger wall thickness will yield a stiffer arrow more suited to a higher-poundage bow. To get a better estimate on which aluminum spine is best for you, consult an arrow spine chart.
Carbon shafts, as well as carbon/aluminum composite shafts, are the final arrow type. These are mainly used for long-distance shooting or for 3D archery. The long-distance arrows are usually very skinny in order to “slip” through the air without being affected by the wind, whereas 3D carbon arrows can have a bigger diameter because those competitions are mainly shot within the wind-break protection of trees. The thinner carbon arrows can also be made with a composite construction consisting of an aluminum core (which is hollow) with carbon wrapped around it as the shaft’s outer layer.
The profile can also differ from being a parallel shaft for the entire arrow length to being a parabolic shape where the ends of the arrow shaft are slightly thinner than the middle. Both the parabolic shape and the carbon/aluminum construction are there to offer more rigidity and stiffness to the arrow without adding too much material. It’s this design that helps these arrows — meant for long-range accuracy — continue to top podiums on the international target circuit. The spine indicator on these shafts is represented by a number that literally tells you how stiff or weak the arrow is; the spine is indicated by the amount of deflection (how much bend) the arrow shaft has when almost 2 pounds of mass is suspended from the middle of the arrow. This number indicates how much deflection the arrow has, measured in thousandths of an inch. An arrow with the spine 380 will be stiffer than an arrow with a 750 spine. Following an arrow chart will give you a great starting point for carbon arrow spine selection, and you’ll be able to fine-tune from there.
Choosing arrows can seem overwhelming, but in the end, you’ll want to make sure that you pick the right tool, made of the right material, for the job. This will lead to successful shooting and many years of enjoyable archery.