A normal arrow consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end, with fletchings and a nock at the other.
Arrow sizes vary greatly across cultures, ranging from eighteen inches to five feet (45 cm to 150 cm). However, most modern arrows are two-and-a-half to three feet long (75 cm to 90 cm), similar to the length of English war arrows (which were made to be half the height of the man who shot them). Very short arrows have been used, shot through a guide attached either to the bow (an "overdraw") or to the archer's wrist (the Turkish "siper"). These may fly farther than heavier arrows, and an enemy without suitable equipment may find himself unable to return them.
The stiffness of the shaft is known as its spine, referring to how little the shaft bends when compressed. Hence, an arrow which bends less is said to have more spine. In order to strike consistently, a group of arrows must be similarly-spined. "Center-shot" bows, in which the arrow passes through the central vertical axis of the bow riser, may obtain consistent results from arrows with a wide range of spines. However, most traditional bows are not center-shot and the arrow has to deflect around the handle in the archer's paradox; such bows tend to give most consistent results with a narrower range of arrow spine that allows the arrow to deflect correctly around the bow. Higher draw-weight bows will generally require stiffer arrows, with more spine (less flexibility) to give the correct amount of flex when shot.
The arrowhead or projectile point is the primary functional part of the arrow, and plays the largest role in determining its purpose. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the solid shaft, but it is far more common for separate arrowheads to be made, usually from metal, horn, or some other hard material. Arrowheads are usually separated by function:
Arrowheads may be attached to the shaft with a cap, a socketed tang, or inserted into a split in the shaft and held by a process called hafting. Points attached with caps are simply slid snugly over the end of the shaft, or may be held on with hot glue. Split-shaft construction involves splitting the arrow shaft lengthwise, inserting the arrowhead, and securing it using a ferrule, sinew, or wire.
Fletchings are found at the back of the arrow and provide a small amount of drag used to stabilize the flight of the arrow. They are designed to keep the arrow pointed in the direction of travel by strongly damping down any tendency to pitch or yaw. Some cultures, for example most in New Guinea, did not use fletching on their arrows.
Fletchings are traditionally made from feathers (often from a goose or turkey) bound to the arrow's shaft, but are now often made of plastic (known as "vanes"). Historically, some arrows used for the proofing of armour used copper vanes. Flight archers may use razor blades for fletching, in order to reduce air resistance.
Artisans who make arrows by hand are known as "fletchers," a word related to the French word for arrow, flèche. This is the same derivation as the verb "fletch", meaning to provide an arrow with its feathers. Glue and/or thread are the main traditional methods of attaching fletchings. A "fletching jig" is often used in modern times, to hold the fletchings in exactly the right orientation on the shaft while the glue hardens.
Fletchings may be straight or helical, i.e. arranged with a slight offset around the shaft of the arrow to provide a slight rotation which improves accuracy. Most arrows will have three fletches, but some have four or even more. Fletchings generally range from two to six inches (152 mm) in length; flight arrows intended to travel the maximum possible distance typically have very low fletching, hunting arrows with broadheads require long and high fletching to stabilize them against the aerodynamic effect of the head. Fletchings may also be cut in different ways, the two most common being parabolic (i.e. a smooth curved shape) and shield (i.e. shaped as one-half of a very narrow shield) cut. Whenever natural fletching is used, the feathers on any one arrow must come from the same side of the bird.
With conventional three-feather fletching, one feather, called the "cock" feather, is at a right angle to the nock, and is conventionally placed so that it will not contact the bow when the arrow is shot. However, many modern target archers have no "cock" feather on their arrows, thus improving accuracy. Four-feather fletching can have the advantage of no cock feather, so making nocking the arrow slightly easier, though some four-fletched arrows are not evenly placed in order to make the fletches towards the bow closer to vertical.
A flu-flu is a form of fletching, normally made by using long sections of full length feathers, in most cases six or more sections are used rather than the traditional three. Alternatively two long feathers can be spiraled around the end of the arrow shaft. The extra fletching generates more drag and slows the arrow down rapidly after a short distance, about 30 m or so.
Flu-Flu arrows are often used for hunting birds, or for children's archery, and can be used to play Flu-Flu Golf.