What Is Fletching:
Fletching is the art of gluing feathers onto the shafts of arrows. Its purpose is to improve accuracy by controlling the orientation of each needle in flight.
The word fletch initially referred to the vanes on an arrow, made from carved pieces of a feather (or other materials), but it now also refers to the act or practice of attaching said vanes or feathers.
The oldest English reference to ‘fletching’ archery projectiles is Byrhtferth’s Enchiridion (a scientific and historical treatise), written in about 1010 AD. Rightly or wrongly, it has been claimed that vans first appeared as decoration on Arabic arrows at some point before the Crusades.
It is equally erroneous to say that the fletching of medieval arrows was always done for functional reasons, as historical evidence suggests that it may have been used as a type of logo or decorative marker by different types of European societies ranging from royalty to peasantry during various periods.
It’s impossible to be sure about the accuracy of these claims as there is very little complex data available on the subject. Even less supporting documentation – suffice to say that all known credible references, from antiquity through to World War II, confirm the use of feathers as being both aesthetically pleasing and structurally essential parts of arrow design since man first chose to shoot projectiles from bows.
To understand why birds’ feathers were chosen over any other material, one only needs to review the properties of natural feather structure. The primary function of feathers is to aid in flight, but not without providing some other physical advantages along the way.
Feathers are lightweight, flexible, and durable. Because they arise from follicles in a bird’s skin, they also possess tiny muscles that control their orientation relative to airflow (helping birds with air braking during dives).
Their elasticity provides an aerodynamic advantage when flying against wind currents by dynamically adjusting their angles of attack (much like rudders on an airplane), thereby increasing stability and lift forces; feathers act as miniature airfoils (also known as air-cushions or hydrofoils), which provide most birds with superior gliding abilities compared to those afforded by hollow, tubular bones.
The subtle contours of bird feathers are also formed in a way that maximizes the smooth flow of air across their surfaces during flight, allowing for more excellent resistance to water and wind – both of which would inhibit an arrow’s ability to fly with precision if any undue drag were created as they passed through the surrounding atmosphere. More plastic vanes provide additional means of controlling the aerodynamics of an arrow during its flight path, making them particularly well adapted for use on hunting projectiles (where even fractions of a second can make the difference between success or failure).
The use of feathers on arrows did not stop with their original purpose, as over time, people began to experiment with other ways in which they could be used. One such innovation was the addition of fletching vanes made from different materials, such as plastic or even bamboo.
This change in design allowed for more accuracy and stability in flight, mainly when used in crosswinds. It also negated the need for Regular tuning and adjustment of arrow flight, making them far more reliable in the field.
The popularity of fletching has continued to grow over the years, with an ever-expanding range of materials and designs being made available to archers. Today there are thousands of different options to choose from, all of which vary significantly in their presentation and composition.
Arrow fletching types:
It is intriguing to note that feathers are not the only natural material that has been used to fletch arrows in history. Everything from animal horns and bones, bird beaks, plant leaves, reeds, grasses, straws, and even spider silk have all been employed since ancient times – either for their performance potential or simply because they were what was easily accessible at the time.
The most commonly known types generally fall into two main categories – namely ‘true’ fletches (which are cut away sections of flight feathers taken from a bird’s wing to produce uniform vanes) and ‘feather flights’ (which use flattened vane remnants created by cutting along both sides of a feather’s central axis).
Traditional ‘true’ fletching is usually made from goose, swan, or turkey feathers due to their size and stiffness. They are often dyed different colors to help with arrow identification in the field. Cheaper alternatives have been made from synthetic materials for several years now, but they lack the natural performance benefits of using real feathers.