Originally published in On Target, Volume 1, Issue 2, Spring 1996.
Before you begin making self-nocks you'll need 13 things: a dozen or so arrow shafts, pencil, tape measurer, tapering tool, 5/16" chainsaw file, hacksaw with three 20-tooth blades taped together to form one thick blade, miniature needle (jewelry) files, fine sandpaper, dipping tube with lacquer and thinner, drying block, toothpick, sinew strands (found at leather craft stores), and white glue.
Now you need to decide which end you want to be your nock end. Look for serious defects in the wood that might weaken the nock. With your pencil, draw a line across the nock end perpendicular to the wood grain. Next, take the tape measurer and with your pencil mark a line around the shaft 1/2" from the nock end. Take your 5/16" chainsaw file and start filing along the first line until you've created a nice groove. Spin the shaft around and file in the opposite direction a couple of times to keep the groove level. With your hacksaw, follow the groove you just created and saw until you reach the 1/2" line. You can either hold the shaft vertical and saw downwards or you can support the hacksaw upside-down on a flat surface and rub the groove across the hacksaw teeth. The latter gives a straighter cut because one has more control over the shaft but the first method gives a narrower cut, which is important for the nock's grip on the string.
Before we go any farther, take a minute to think about how a plastic grip-nock is shaped. The nock is shaped like an upside-down light bulb with a flared butt-end: the outer edges flare out to guide the string into the nock and the bottom of the nock is larger than the entrance, effectively gripping the string until enough force is applied to send the arrow on its way.
Take the semi-circle shaped miniature file and with the rounded side start forming the bottom of the bulb. Remember to switch filing directions to stay even. Next, take the miniature round file and, by filing from the inside out, start widening the bottom of the bulb. Again, remember to switch directions to stay even. You should now have a nock that is shaped like an upside-down light bulb: round and fat on the bottom, tall and skinny on top. With the flat, rectangular miniature file, file the top inner edges of the nock towards the outer edge to create the flair at the top of the string guide. Now, with the sandpaper, lightly sand the entire nock, inside and out. Make sure to smooth and round all sharp edges so you reduce the risk of wearing out your string serving. Nock the shaft onto your string to make sure it isn't too tight. The nock should grip the string but a light tap on the end of the nock should release the arrow. If the nock is too large and won't grip the string, not to worry, the arrow will still fly just fine. Just be careful during speed rounds the arrow doesn't fall off your string. Using the measuring tape and the pencil, mark your arrow length from the bottom of the nock. Since each nock will vary slightly it's best to measure each shaft individually. Cut the shaft, taper the point end and lightly sand the wood.
Now you're ready to dip the shafts. The best way to dip self-nock arrows is to drill 12 or more holes in a thick piece of wood, like a 2" x 4", or with a pencil poke holes in a large, thick piece of styrofoam. If you choose the latter, make sure to circle the holes with a pen because, given the nature of styrofoam, the holes are almost impossible to see. Holding the tapered point end of the shaft (the tip), dip the shaft nock-first in a dipping tube (or use whatever method you're familiar with). When you've let the excess drip off, press your forefinger of your other hand onto the top of the nock, quickly turn the shaft nock-end-up and push the tapered point end into the hole. Run the toothpick through the bottom of the nock to draw out the excess lacquer pooling there.
After you let the shafts dry, fletch and tip normally. Now you're ready for the final step in self-nock making: the wrap. Most self-nocked arrows I've seen have a piece of hardwood inserted into the nock for strength but I believe my method is much easier and just as effective. Do not neglect this step, no matter what poundage you're shooting, or you'll end up with two useless halves of a once beautiful arrow. Wrapping the nock helps prevent the arrow from splitting as the force of the string goes down the nock and through the arrow.
Guesstimate how much sinew you'll need for each arrow. It's safer to cut too much because you can always remove the excess. Fake sinew (I don't know about real sinew) is already tacky. Take an end of the sinew, start at the back end of the fletching, and press a straight line of sinew into the wood until you almost reach the base of the nock. Now wrap the sinew around the wood spirally back towards the fletching. The easiest way to do this is to pull on the sinew while spinning the arrow towards you. There's no need to tie the loose end in knot, just press it into the wood. Put a line of white glue on the sinew from the fletching to the base of the nock and then slowly spin the arrow while rubbing your finger back and forth along the sinew. The white glue holds well, dries quickly and dries clear. Unfortunately, the white glue does melt in heavy rain. I do not recommend using fletching cement. I used some in a pinch and at the end of the day the glue had completely flaked off.
Congratulations! Now, when people ask who made your self-nocked arrows, you can say "I DID!"