A LITTLE HISTORY: THE YEAR WE TRIED THE MACHINE
WHY GET LESS? Seems you can always spot the guys who order their arrows from a big-box store - the hazy machine-sprayed glue, the hacksaw-trimmed shaft ends, the sloppy vane spacing, practice tips that don't match the shaft diameter, etc. Why do they do it? You don't really save money when you buy mass-produced prefletch arrows. In fact, you're usually getting a lot less for your money - less quality, less performance, less consistency & less success. The fact is, when it comes to making arrows, a machine just can't do what a skilled person can. We learned this lesson the hard way. We build a lot of arrows - thousands and thousands of sets per year. And quite frankly, we were looking for an easier and faster way to do the work, and perhaps pocket a bit more profit. So in early 2007, we decided to try our hand at automated fletching. At some great expense, we purchased a state-of-the-art fletching machine. It was fabulous. With all of its servo motors and little tubes and wires and moving armatures - it was sure to revolutionize our business. All we had to do was stick the arrow shaft into the fixture - load the vanes into the clamps - and push a button. A nozzle sprayed the shaft with glue and the clamps slammed shut. Bam! Two seconds later a fully fletched arrow popped right out. We had arrived! Our little pro-shop was ready for the big time ... so we thought.
LETTING THE MACHINE DO THE WORK. EXCEPT ... The machine could only fletch straight and offset vanes - helical turns and feathers were out. And even switching between straight and offset clamp angles required major machine surgery. But no problem. We were just going to play the averages. So we set the machine for a nice right offset, locked everything down and got right to work! We were thrilled. The machine was very cool to watch. Even the noise was captivating ... psssst, BAM, click, psssst, BAM, click, psssst, BAM, click. This machine was going to do the work of ten men! And just as our managers started dreaming of all the time and labor hours we would save - and all the extra money we would make - we took the first batch of arrows to our quality inspector, Daniel Scott. They flatly failed. The vane spacing wasn't uniform. Some were too high, some too low, some too close together, some too far apart. And every arrow was a little different. To make matters worse, sometimes the glue was neat and tidy, sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes the vanes would adhere well, sometimes they wouldn't. And as we kept trying day after day, we noticed that the machine seemed to work better after lunch, but only on Tuesdays and Fridays. Some days we thought we had it figured out, and the next day we were back to square one. And no matter what we did in the back, Daniel was summarily unimpressed with the arrows we were making.
TOO PICKY? ARE YOU SERIOUS? We spent weeks adjusting and tweaking on the machine - we adjusted the glue formula, the environmental conditions, the clamp settings, the line pressures, the angles of this, the clearances of that, etc. The machine's engineers even assisted us as we tirelessly tried to debug what was wrong. We were relentless - obsessed. The machine was working, but we still couldn't get it to reliably make arrows as good as the arrows we were making by hand. Finally, one of the engineers flatly told us that we were being "too picky". He explained that "the machine was functioning exactly as it should, and a certain percentage of quality related rejects was to be expected."
HE WAS EXACTLY RIGHT! BINGO! That was all we needed to hear. The experiment was over. We packed that machine back into its crate, made a deal to trade it (for a whopping loss) for some overstock broadheads at NAP, and that was the last machine fletched arrow to ever come from Hunter's Friend. To put it simply, the quality just wasn't good enough. It might cost a whole lot more to have real live arrow fletchers, but the product quality of a single conscientious technician well exceeds a machine. We'll never make that mistake again!
A BAFFLING SITUATION` We started to wonder how it is even possible for big-box stores to peddle millions in pre-fletched arrows. Are customers simply not noticing they're getting the shaft (no pun intended)? If getting second-rate quality isn't bad enough, buying big-box prefletch arrows offers another technical challenge. The arrows are not trimmed to fit your bow. Most arrows come from the factory in full 30-33" uncut stock lengths. If you order arrows from a big-box store, that's exactly what you'll get, and it will be up to you to trim the arrows to length and install the inserts. And trimming high-density carbon arrows is one job that does require a proper machine. To properly trim a carbon arrow, you must use a high-speed 90° abrasive cut-off wheel, which most consumers do not personally own. So you must either find a local archery shop willing to trim your arrows or use the arrows at full length. Unfortunately, shooting an excessively long arrow is detrimental on several levels. First, the extra length means extra arrow mass. But more importantly, the longer an arrow is, the less dynamic spine stiffness it has. So even if you follow the arrow spine selection charts to the letter, if you don't trim the shafts to the proper length, you'll effectively be shooting an underspined arrow - which will certainly fly and perform terribly (plus you'll look like an idiot with all that extra arrow shaft hanging over the shelf).
HOME IMPROVISATION` This naturally leads some customers to improvise with tubing cutters, jigsaws, Dremel rotary tools, and even hacksaws. Sometimes this turns out decent, but most of the time it's a disaster. When you attempt to cut a carbon arrow with the wrong tool, you momentarily crush the shaft, splintering the carbon fibers at the point of contact - dramatically weakening the arrow shaft. And even if you do manage a clean (looking) cut, you're likely not to have a square 90° angle. So when you install your inserts, the flange doesn't properly seat against the cut end of the shaft and/or the insert goes in slightly off-angle (depending on how tight the insert fit is). As you might imagine, this dramatically degrades the accuracy of the arrow set because the tips/broadheads are quite literally all pointing in a slightly different direction.
FOLKS, YOU DON'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THAT` When you buy your arrows from Hunter's Friend, we include professional shaft trimming and insert installation free of charge. So when your arrows arrive, they're the correct length, they're squared-up, AND they're 100% ready-to-shoot. You won't have to wrestle with your hacksaw or those little paper-thin Dremel blades - or worse - be an idiot with a 33" arrow hanging out in front of your arrow rest.
PLUS YOU DON'T EVEN GET PRACTICE TIPS` In addition to selling you a full length mass-production prefletch arrow, big box stores don't include practice tips with your arrow purchase. So assuming you know the right O.D. of the shafts you selected, you'll have to cough-up another $3-5 for target tips. But not here. Every arrow we sell comes with practice tips (field points) already installed. You choose the grain weight you prefer and we match the diameters to your shafts. So when you receive your arrows from Hunter's Friend, there's nothing else for you to buy or install. When you open your custom arrow box, your arrows are ready to shoot - right then. So when you start comparing prices, don't forget to account for the practice ammo.
BREAK IT DOWN` We invite you to compare - compare what you're REALLY getting for your money. We might not always be the cheapest out there on a Google search, but then again, we shouldn't be. As you may be gathering, it's not an apples to apples comparison. We offer things the big-box stores simply cannot. Remember, big-box sporting goods stores do not focus on archery. The bulk of their profits come from imported hunting clothing (the reason the first 50 pages of their catalogs are exclusively clothing items). Archery is just a seasonal side-dish for the big-box stores. But here at Hunter's Friend, archery is ALL we do. So of course we do archery better than the big boxes. Give us a chance and we'll show you.