I doubt anyone ever confused refletching with rocket science, but if they did, it must have been after one crazy night. Fletching your arrows is not only easy, it can be downright simple.
First, there are several different types of arrow shafts—wood, fiberglass, aluminum and carbon. Of these four, cedar shafts would be in a class of its own with a few special requirements. Wood arrows are typically made from Port Orford Cedar and shot from recurve or long bows. Depending on the bow, the orientation of the feathers to line up with the shaft’s spine is critical. If that statement just lost you, don’t worry; I’ll be writing an article specifically to address wood arrows soon.
The good news for the rest is that wood arrows are a very small percentage of those sold and those shooting aluminum, carbon or fiberglass typically won’t have to worry about orientating the spine.
Feathers or Vanes
Feathers and vanes—otherwise known as fletching—quite simply steer the arrow. However, vanes and feathers do it in different ways and have separate advantages and disadvantages. Plastic vanes steer the arrow, feathers correct flight through drag. As a result, feathers will correct flight faster and will make bow tuning easier. The downside of a feather is that it is more fragile, its effectiveness can be altered by water (when wet it essentially mimics a vane) and it is more expensive than its plastic cousin.
Vanes on the other hand are cheap, durable and perform equally well in any weather condition. Vanes also like super glue so the application is quick and easy as well. This makes it sound like feathers do not have an upside, but that isn’t the case.
A feather-fletched arrow—all other factors being equal as to length and profile—is faster out to about 50 to 60 yards. After that, the drag takes its toll and arrows with vanes will fly faster. If speed is your thing or you will be shooting shorter ranges and weather is not a concern, feathers are the way to go.
That isn’t the case for most and as a competitor and hunter, I could seldom find the tradeoff to have been worth the risk. Indoor competition and traditional bows were the two main exceptions.
There was a time when you could walk into any proshop and see a wheel of Bitzenburger fletching jigs. First produced in about the 1950s if memory serves correctly, it dominated for at least 50 years. The cast metal construction was solid. Wheels similar to a Lazy Susan would have 12 to 36 Bitzenburger jigs. Working from arrow to arrow, you would go around the wheel. By the time you had made the circuit with the first fletch, the glue had dried and you were ready to repeat the entire process.
Modern adhesives make this much easier. Instead of waiting two to three minutes for the glue to dry or 45 minutes in the case of feathers, the bond is immediate. In the case of feathers, you can buy a separate agent that is sprayed on after the glue is applied that causes the super glue to dry instantly.
Today, there are many quality choices in fletching jigs. Some jigs will glue one fletch at a time, while others will attach all three. One tip I can offer is to only use a single jig. While multiple jigs may offer some convenience there is also the potential for slight variations between jigs. In the case of the old multi-jig wheels, you could fletch a dozen arrows with 12 different orientations. As a result, target shooters and those who demanded the most from their equipment always ensured the arrows were all fletched from the same jog for better accuracy.