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The Mad Scientist
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I know this has been written about many times, but this is what I did after distilling all the info out there. Why the effort? Wild turkey feathers are much tougher and more durable than domestic, and more resistant to rain too. Domestic birds grow very fast and are not alive long enough to really develop flight feathers. As a result they are very thin. Also it's much cheaper too (have you priced feathers lately?), and a good use of a wasted resource. BTW - If you have any R wing raw feathers I'm looking to trade 4-5 doz L wing. PM me.

Step 1, kill turkeys (preferably with a traditional bow). Note I said turkeys, each one will only get about a dozen 4" fletches per bird so you need at least 3 for a dozen arrows. You only use the primary flight feathers, either left or right wing. Those are the long single sided feathers at the front of the wing. You can use the secondaries, but they are thinner. The easy way to cut them off is with a sheet metal cutter. Don't even think of using a knife, quills are one of natures most toughest materials. They've only been around over 250 millions years...

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Step 2, dye them if you wish. I use an acid fabric dye by Dharma, which is specifically meant for protein materials. I know some use Rit or even Kool-Aid, but for $6 you can get a lifetime supply of the real thing. It's very easy using hot water and some vinegar. Best to practice on a few non-primary feathers to get the results you want. Florescent colors work better. You can also bleach them with store bought hair bleach, it works OK but you can never get all the color out of them before the bleach starts to degrade the feathers. L-R are natural, bleached, dyed yellow, bleached and dyed yellow, and the rest are just dyed. Flo orange turned out the best IMO.

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Step 3, split them. You can skip this step if you like feather dust and grinding. On the back side is a groove on the quill that makes it easy, just be careful as you'll be using the most dangerous tool in your toolbox.

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Step 4, grind down the quill with a belt sander. There is a bit a trail and error with this, you need to grind them down so they are flexible, just like store bought feathers, but not too far as they fall apart. I used 2 pc of 1/16" aluminum flat stock and a 2 binder clips as a clamp. You'll also need to sand the sides down on the wider quills which is why you want to use 1/16" stock, I use the disk sander to do this. A cheapo harbor freight belt/disk sander work great. If you need a bit more off just use some 150 grit sandpaper on a flat surface. I always plan to do this as a finishing step anyway.

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Step 5, cut them to size. I use a little chopper from 3 Rivers and can usually get 2 - 4' shield cut fletches per feather.

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Step 6, fletch some arrows and admire your work.

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Thanks for such a great post! I have recently been building feather arrow rests from store feathers. Now that its turkey season in the Adirondacks, I will be looking for the real thing. They should be more durable, and gain the satisfaction making something unique.
 

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Great post I have had some feathers around for years & never got around to doing anything with them. Thanks for the insperation looks like a fun project.
 

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Thanks for the imformative post!Just dyed my first fletchings a few weeks ago,and they look nice.All that time and trouble getting them pretty,just to get them Red and slimey..:sbrug:
 

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Me too. I have a stock of dyed turkey quills and some in my fly tying gear. I am going to invest in a chopper for sure. It looks like fun for us guys who loke finicky, home built stuff.
 

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Great tutorial! I'll add my two cents, MAT's is a much better way to work with dyed feathers, especially if you're using KoolAid. Dye the entire feather and then split, grind, and chop. I've dyed several batches of ready-to-go fletching and found a dye buildup on the contact area which had to be sanded or they wouldn't adhere well with fletching tape. Don't know if you'd have the same problem with glue....
 
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