The arrow


The Arrow

Regardless of what type of bow you shoot, the arrow is essentially the same. It has a nock where it clips on to the bow string, fletchings (feathers) to steady it in flight, a shaft (the body of the arrow) and a pile (the point, which is relatively heavy.) Longbow archers shoot wooden arrows, but recurve and compound archers shoot arrows with shafts made of aluminium, carbon fibre or a mixture of both. In fact compound archers must not shoot wooden arrows as the extreme forces produced by a compound bow could easily shatter them and might seriously injure the archer.

Arrow Vital Statistics

Carbon and aluminium arrows are hollow. They will typically be identified by make, model and a four digit number that looks like a date, printed along the shaft, for example “Easton XX75 2013”. That “date” is in fact two numbers: the first pair of digits, e.g. 20, is the outer diameter of the arrow in sixty-fourths of an inch, the second pair, e.g. 13, is the thickness of the wall of the arrow in thousandths of an inch. Here’s a picture of such a 2013 arrow in cross-section.

2013 Arrow

Cross Section Through a 2013 Arrow

The combination of diameter and wall thickness, along with the arrow’s length and the weght of the pile determine its spine (how much it bends in flight.) Matching the spine of an arrow to the poundage of the bow is an important first step in achieving a good bow tuning. The standard diameter of an arrow, used in handicap calculations, is 18/64″. Archery GB limit the diameter of arrows used in competition to 9.3 mm, a little over 23/64″.

Indoors, recurve and compound archers may elect to shoot the fatter arrows up to that 9.3 mm  limit to give them a better chance of cutting a line. This can be a significant advantage: on a 40 cm indoor target the inner ten ring is only 2 cm (51/64″) across! Outdoors thinner arrows are used,  to reduce wind drag at longer distances. The thinnest commonly available arrows are the Easton “Jazz” family starting at only 12/64″, though most archers prefer something closer to the standard 18/64″.

Arrow Fletchings and Nocks

Longbow arrows have real feathers (also known as fletchings) while recurve and compound arrows typically use plastic, but may use feathers indoors.

Recently ArcheryGB made the bold move of renaming what was traditionally known as the “Cock” feather to the “Index” feather, and the equally traditionally named “Shaft” feather as the “Flight” feather. I can’t imagine why. Archers are quite traditional so you will still hear the old names used interchangeably with the new.

The Index (cock) feather is usually a different colour from the other flight (shaft) feathers because when you put the arrow on the bow you need to know how the arrow is aligned. For a Recurve or longbow the index feather should face directly away from the bow to give the best clearance.

recurve arrow nock

Recurve Arrow Nock

For compound bows the index feather will either point straight up or down, depending on the type of arrow launcher. This means that arrows are nocked differently for recurve and compound bows. For a recurve bow the groove of the nock is at ninety degrees to the index feather. For a compound bow the groove of the nock is parallel to the index feather.

compound arrow nock

Compound Arrow Nock

Experienced archers may choose to have all their fletchings the same colour, assuming they know how to put an arrow on the bow, but for beginner and intermediate archers it is much easier to colour code fletchings to avoid simple mistakes.

The Recurve Bow

This is the bow that all our beginners start with. After completing the beginners course, most of those who join our club continue to shoot this type of bow, but some prefer to switch to the more traditional English Longbow or barebow, while others go the other way and choose to shoot the more technical Compound Bow.

Recurve Bows are either left- or right-handed. The bow shown below is a right-handed bow, The archer holds the bow in their left hand and draws the string with their right hand. The window (the cut away part of the riser through which the arrow sits) is to the left of the bow and the archer looks through their right eye to sight. For a left-handed bow everything is reversed.


The Recurve Bow

The Recurve Bow is the only kind of bow currently shot in the Olympic Games.


The barebow is just a recurve bow without anything added to it, so that’s no sight, no stabilisers (long rod or side rods), no clicker, no kisser, or any other add ons. Other more obscure but similarly unadorned bows, such as horse bows, also count as barebow. Barebow is considered a separate discipline from compound, recurve and longbow.

The English Longbow

The English Longbow is the most traditional of bows shot at the club. Affectionately known as the “bent stick” a good longbow is actually a fine piece of craftsmanship made from very special slow-growing yew now only found in Canada. Precisely because of its basic nature the longbow requires a great deal of skill to shoot well.


The English Longbow

The nocks of an English Longbow are made of horn, and the grip is made of leather. The bow itself is a single piece of wood.

The Compound Bow

The compound was invented in America sometime in the 1960’s as a hunting bow. The riser is usually made of a lightweight alloy, and in a modern compound the limbs are sprung steel or carbon fibre. In a dual cam bow such as the one shown below, the two sets of cams (wheels) on the upper and lower limbs essentially form two complementary block and tackle systems. The string attaches to both outer cams, and each cable runs from an inner cam to the opposite limb. The shape of the cams is so designed that the force required to draw the bow is nearly constant, with a “let off” at the end such that the archer is actually holding less weight at full draw than they had to pull through.

There are many other enhancements that make the compound bow incredibly accurate. To name a few:

  • The cams have a “stop” which stops them rotating further, so the draw length, while adjustable, is fixed from shot to shot.
  • Instead of holding the string with their fingers, the archer uses a release aid (a trigger) attached to the D-Loop to fire the bow.
  • The string has an embedded “peep sight” which the archer looks through, and lines up with the main sight (scope) and on to the target.
  • There is a magnifying lens in the scope for greater accuracy of aim.
  • There is a spirit level in the scope to make sure the bow is upright.

Compound Bow

For more details about bows, particularily compound bows, have a look at the Bow Physics page.

The Finger Tab

 The Tab

For recurve archers, the tab is the piece of leather between their hand and the string. In its simplest form it is just that, a leather flap to protect the fingers when drawing the string. A more standard tab will consist of a metal plate with the leather flap attached, a finger separator (a plastic protrusion that fits between the index and middle finger) and a hard plastic shelf that is anchored against the jaw line when at full draw.

The Brace


Sometimes called a bracer, this is the strap that fits around your bow arm and protects it from being slapped by the string. If your form is good then you should never hit your arm with the string but it is always a good idea to wear one in any case, as this is by far the most common archery injury and can be quite painful. A recurve string can raise a bruise and a compound may easily break the skin, or worse, so always remember to wear your bracer.

The Clicker

For Recurve bows only, The clicker is a thin sprung steel flange attached to the riser at the front of the window in front of the arrow rest and hanging down. You thread the arrow between the clicker and the riser. The clicker is so positioned that as the archer reaches full draw the tip of the arrow just slips past the clicker and the clicker slaps the riser with an audible “click” at which point the archer should immediately release. The clicker is a way of guaranteeing a consistent draw length, but is notoriously difficult to get used to. Also, your arrows must be cut to precisely the right length for you before you have any chance of it working.

The Button

Again for recurve bows only, the button is a rod with a spring fitted through a hole in the riser directly behind the arrow rest so that the rounded tip of the rod (the button) will touch the arrow. The spring is adjustable and produces a consistent sideways pressure on the arrow as it sits on the rest, allowing the arrow to bounce off it slightly when released. Getting the button tension correct is an important part of tuning your bow.

The reason for the button is to control the amount of flexing of the arrow when released. If you think about it, a right handed archer will release the string such that it starts moving slightly left (rolling off their fingers) and so the centre of the arrow will likely flex in the opposite direction, away from the bow. As the string gets about half way towards the bow it will be snaking to the right, and the centre of the arrow will be flexing left. At this point the centre of the arrow will push against the button. It is the button’s job to push back against the arrow, somewhat reducing the flexing of the arrow and producing a straighter flight path.

The Kisser


A Kisser

This is an optional attachment for recurve and compound bows. The kisser is a small spinning top shaped disc, attached to the string some way above the nocking point, such that at full draw it sits between the archer’s lips (hence the name) and acts as confirmation that the archer’s anchor is good. Kissers are normally made of plastic,  and have a slot cut half way through them so that the string can pass through their centre. Once attached they are tied in with normal serving cord.

The Finger Sling

Good recurve and compound archery form requires that you do not grip the handle of the bow. Because of this you need something to stop the bow jumping out of your hand when you release. Our beginners bows are all fitted with a wrist strap for this purpose, but a better solution for experienced archers is a finger sling. A finger sling can be bought, or improvised from a shoe lace or similar cord. It loops around the second finger and thumb, passing loosely in front of the handle so that it does not interfere with the natural position of the bow in the hand and catches the bow as it jumps forward.

Bosses and Frames

The boss is a compressed straw disc or foam block to which the target face is pinned. Straw bosses are obviously the more traditional, but it can be very difficult to pull arrows shot by a compound bow from a straw boss, particularily if the boss is wet, so many compound archers prefer the newer foam bosses. Straw bosses are mounted on triangular, three-legged A-frames, while foam bosses are mounted on square, four-legged H-Frames. The A-frames have an advantage that they will stand steady on uneven ground. The advantage of H-frames is that there is no wood anywhere near the centre of the target at the back of the boss, that a compound arrow could get stuck in if it penetrated the foam. In all cases the bosses are pinned at the sides and roped to the ground behind the frame, to prevent them blowing over in wind or being accidentally pulled over while pulling arrows.

There is a separate page talking about target faces.