Longbows - Arrows

Where do we start? Arrows generally come in 2 spine sizes, 5/16 and 11/32.

  • The 5/16 is smaller in diameter and is therefore used in lesser poundage bows.
  • The 11/32 is thicker and therefore stiffer and used for bow weights over 45lb.

So you have a bow at it says on the bow that it is 45lb at 28 inches. Therefore I must need arrows to suit a 45lb bow. I think I’ll buy some arrows at 11/32 at 45lb. NO. That is not the case.

A bow with a 40 to 45lb weight is not what it says when it comes to choosing the correct arrow spine. The measurement of an arrows spine is related to a recurve bow and because the longbow arrow has to go round the handle of the bow rather than straight ahead as with a recurve, the arrow needs to be more bendy. This is all to do with the archers paradox.

The Archer's Paradox

Any discussion concerning longbow arrows must begin with the archer's paradox. The essence of it is thus. You draw your bow and sight the point of the arrow onto the target. For that moment that you aim, imagine the line of the arrow shaft from nock to point. If you extend that imaginary line forwards you will go past the left of the target (assuming that you are right handed). Longbows are not centre shot bows, you lay the shaft against the bow, and the arrow flies around the bow. That is the essence of the archer's paradox, that the arrow begins by pointing off to the side but flies straight ahead.

Therefore on a 45lb bow you need to buy arrows somewhere between 30 to 40 lbs, to allow the arrow to bend around the bow. This means we shoot weaker arrows than what the bow states.

This is where trial and error comes into play I am afraid. You may have to buy a lot of arrows to get the ones that suit your bow and how you draw. As it has been pointed out before, different woods have different properties so you may find you need 30 to 35 lb in Pine but 35 to 40 in Port Orford Cedar (POC). You may find that despite your draw length being 27 inches, your arrows are better suited at 29inches. Rule of thumb is a longbow archer probably prefers weaker arrows than stiffer, but not weaker by much.

When I choose arrows, I want speed. I tend to now choose Spruce as they weigh 10% less than pine and therefore fly quicker. This means I can aim at the boss at 100yds and not somewhere in the clouds. My 45lb bow takes 35-40lb arrows in Spruce. At first I cut them to 30 inches. I did about 6. I found them to be too weak. I cut another half an inch off to stiffen the arrow. Although better, they were still a little too weak. I cut another half an inch off. Perfect. So at 29 inches with a draw length of 27 inches, I had plenty on my hand for safety reasons, but my arrows fly straight at all distances. This is with that 45lb and 35 to 40lb arrows in spruce with a spine of 5/16.

I have POC arrows also and I find these to fly better at a spine of 5/16 at 35 to 40lb as well but are slightly shorter.

Interestingly, I also shoot with 11/32 in pine at a length of 30 inches and they shoot very straight as well, although these are very heavy in comparison to spruce so I tend to use these for shorter distances.

Below is a chart extract to give you an indication of what to choose. 
It is based on the draw weight of the bow with an arrow spine 'weight' value in pounds for different arrow lengths (nock to pile)

  24" 26" 28" 30" 32"
30-38lbs 20/25 25/30 30/35 35/40 -
38-45lbs 20/25 25/30 30/35 35/40 40/45
45-53lbs 25/30 30/35 35/40 40/45 45/50
53-60lbs 30/35 35/40 40/45 45/50 50/55
60-68lbs 35/40 40/45 45/50 50/55 55/60


Depending on the main factors of draw and bow weight, choose an arrow wood. Probably pine, port orford cedar or spruce. Don’t buy many. Think about the arrow charts and make sure you choose the right spine. You may find you are in between bow weights, e.g. 45lbs. This doesn’t make things easier as it just means you have to try out more combinations.  Make them slightly longer than you need at first. Try them out. If you are right-handed and they consistently fly to the right, they are too weak.  The reverse if you are left-handed.  You can cut a small amount off at the pile end. Retry and keep going until they fly straight. Make sure you don’t cut beyond the safety length of your draw. If you do you will need to go up an arrow poundage weight. Buy more arrows!

If when testing, the arrow consistently goes to the left (for a right handed archer), the arrow is too stiff. This means you cannot do anything to that arrow. You can’t make it any longer in an attempt to weaken it. You will need to go down an arrow poundage weight. Buy more arrows!

All this needs extreme patience and time. However, during this period you will find out a lot about how arrows fly. How different woods can make arrows fly and how by changing the lengths of arrows the effect it has. This whole process is priceless as it makes you fully understand the physics behind your bow and arrow and what makes it work as one.

Arrow piles

I would choose 100g to begin with. I use screw on tapered fit, purely because by screwing them on it makes them fit nicely and they won’t come off easily. They still need gluing though. I use the tapered fit because of the physics behind it. As it is tapered, the arrow wood is shaped almost to a point. When the arrow hits the target, less pressure is then sent through that arrow as it has more wood down the taper of the arrow, which in turn means there is less stress on the arrow when shot hundreds of times.  A parallel fit has a bigger end when it goes into the point so it can allow more stress going through the arrow as there is less wood as it is not tapered. I would suggest reading up on this or gaining further advice before deciding on points. Some archers prefer tapered, some parallel.

One thing to remember here is that the lighter the pile the stiffer the arrow will become. Therefore, you could try 70 grain piles to stiffen arrows if this helps. Heavier piles, like 125gn will weaken that same arrow. A pile of 100gn tends to be the general mid weight to use.


These have to be made from feather and come in 3, 4 or 5 inch. The feathers used are generally turkey feathers. As with recurve archery the longer the fletching the more drag there is on the arrow. Therefore, choose 5 inch for indoor target archery and 3 to 4 inch for longer distances. Use 5 inch indoor because the arrow has not got far to travel and it needs as much help as possible to correct itself before hitting the target. For longer distances the 3 or 4 inch fletching’s help correct the arrow flight but as it has further to go, it will have time before it hits. They come in all sorts of colours so you can make your arrows look really good and personal to you. They also come in right or left wing believe or not. Now it does not matter if you choose right or left wing but you MUST have all you arrows with the same wing on them. Otherwise you will find they will get confused and will not decide which way to fly.


Very standard like all nocks. Lots of colours. I tend to go for the slimmer ones for the simple reason they look nice and I have the strange idea they may fly quicker through the air.

Shire Archery offer a large range of options when it comes to arrows and other traditional archery merchandise.

Matched Arrows

There is one further thing to mention about arrows and that is how much they weigh. When shooting and the better you become you may want to start weighing your arrows with a grain scale. Although this may seem overkill, the difference you will find is incredible. When I bought my first batch of arrows, I bought them from an online shop where they stated they were unmatched. Unmatched means they were not weighed within a certain tolerance. I had no idea what this meant and to be honest didn’t care. I had my arrows and I was going to shoot with them. Once I started to get into longbow I started reading a lot more on the internet and found out what matching arrows means. I then bought a set of matched arrows with a tolerance of 30 grains. That meant that all the arrows within that batch of 12, weighed within 30 grains from the heaviest to the lightest. I made them up and shot them. Everyone one of them shot consistently. If you think about it, if an arrow is heavier than another, it will fly lower. If you have one that is a lot lighter it will fly higher. In an unmatched set of arrows, you could get this variance. Some will fly high, some low and some perfect. You could have all kinds of coaching as I did thinking there must be something wrong with your form. No, it was my arrows. On weighing my originals some were over 80 grains different.

I now always shoot matched arrows. Whether they are ones I have bought and matched myself or from the shop who matches them for you. You do pay more for this service but it can be worth it.
Now that I only shoot longbow, I buy large batches of arrows and match them up. I then know that they all weigh of a similar weight and I then know that they cannot fly higher and lower because of this. If any arrow does, it means I did it, not the arrow.


So in summary, Longbow archery is simple. It is a stick with a piece of string on it, shooting sticks!

What I have described above is the very basics. It isn’t that simple if you want to shoot well. There are lots of things to think about and you will need lots of patience to begin with but when it is all done (that journey can be enjoyable) and you reach the point that everything is set up and your bow and arrows like each other, it is simply the best form of archery.

If this has got you interested in Longbow, Ade will be happy to talk to you on any club night.