Tips and Tricks!
Fussing with Feathers
(Or how to prepare feathers for fletching)
The first thing you need to turn a regular feather into a good 'flight' for an arrow is, obviously, a feather! Many type of feathers can be used. Owl, chicken, hawk, buzzard or turkey. I like turkey feathers and so did our ancestors. Tail feathers can be used....I've use them many times in my 'Wall Hanger' arrows. However, wing feathers are preferable when making functional or replica hunting arrows. The feather shown above is a 'Right Wing' turkey feather which I use most of the time.
Preparing feather for splitting
The quill of a feather (a hard, hollow tube called the calamus ) has a very hard outer shell. I've found it's much easier to split if this shell is removed first. You can scrape this shell off using a razor blade or sharp knife, but I've found it's much quicker to use a small sanding drum on my Dremel tool.
Outer shell of calamus removed
This pic shows the removal of the hard outer shell of the quill removed over the length I want to use. The feather can now be easily split.
I use a razor blade or x-acto knife to start the split at the small end.
Once the split is started, it's very easy to separate by gently pulling the sides apart.
This pic shows how easily the feather separates down the length once the shell has been removed.
Both halves of feather are shown here. The bottom section is discarded. Top half is ready for sanding, sizing and cutting to desired shape.
This is typical of how you start with a candidate flight. Notice how rough and uneven the mounting surface is. To attach nicely to a shaft, this surface must be smooth, straight and as thin as possible. This can be a very time consuming, tedious operation using a sharp blade. In the following pictures you'll see how I addressed this issue.
Feather sanding Jig
This little jig is something I designed and built. The purpose of this tool is to help produce feathers with thin, flat, uniform surfaces for mounting to the shaft. It is made from two 6" sections of 1-1/2" aluminum threshold material, joined with a piece of piano hinge using pop rivets. The clamping edge is beveled which provides a relief for sanding the edges of the feather. The following pics will show this fixture in use.
Feather in Jig
The candidate feather is shown laying in the open jig. This clamp can now be closed with only the uneven quill material extending outside the clamping edges.
Fixture Closed and Clamped
This pic shows the fixture closed with quill extending outside. Jig is secured using a couple of small clamps.
Top View of Feather in Fixture
Top view of uneven mounting surface of feather clamped in fixture. It is now ready for sanding.
Feather on Belt Sander
Using a belt sander, the feather can now be sanded smooth and even. Tapered edges of clamp enables me to trim down the edges as well.
This view shows the finished edge after sanding and thinning. Feather now has a smooth, even and flat mounting surface.
This feather has been cut to length, sanded and is ready to be cut using this feather chopper, to desired profile.
This feather was cut to a traditional profile. Ends will be trimmed for wrapping and it's ready for mounting.
From a feather to a functional flight, this one is ready for mounting on a shaft.
Flight shown glued to hardwood shaft.