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Home > Books > The Art of Archerie > Chapter VII
Chapter VII
Of the Bow, the diversities and the sues: what wood is best, the choice, the trimming, to keep it in goodness , and how to cure it from all mischiefs.

Touching the bow, which is the chiefest instrument in all this art, diverse countries at diverse times, have used diverse bows and of diverse fashions. Horn bows are used in some place at this day, and were much used in the days of Homer; for Pandarus, who was one of the best shooters amongst the Trojans, had his bow made of two goats horns joined together, the length whereof, says Homer, was sixteen handbreadth, not much differing from the length of our bows. The Scriptures make mention of brass bows, iron bows, & steel bows, all which were used of longtime, and are yet at this day among the Turks; but yet they must needs be unprofitable; for if brass, iron, or steele, have their own strength and vigor in them, they are far above a mans strength; if they be made meet for mans strength, their vigor is allied and their strength nothing worth, to shoot any strong shot with all.

The Ethiopians, made their bows of the Palm tree, which seemed to be very strong, (but with us out of experience) being 4 cubits in length. The Indians, have their bows made of reed, which are wondrous strong; & it is no marvel, they framed their bow and shafts thereof; for (as Herodotus reports) every reed was so big, that a man might make a fisher boat thereof; these bows, says Apian, in Alexanders life, gave so great a stroke that no armor or shield, though it were never so strong was able to withstand it, the length of such a bow was even with the length of him that used it.'

The Licians used bows made of a certain tree called in Latin Cornus, touching the name in English, I can sooner prove that other men call it false, then I can tell the right name myself; this wood is a shard as a horn and very fit for shafts, as shall be declared hereafter.

Ovid show, that Syrinx a Nymph and one of the handmaids of Diana, had a bow of this wood, whereby the Poet mean, that it was the most excellent for this purpose; as for Brazil, Elm, Wishe and Ash; experience does prove them to be but in the mean degree, and so to conclude of all woods whatsoever, the Ewghe is that whereof perfect shooting would have a bow made; this wood as it has long been and is now general and common amongst us, so was it in former times acquired and had in most price, especially amongst the Romans, as does appear in this half verse of Virgil: Taxi troquentur in Arcus - Ewghe fit for bow to be made on.

Now this bow of Ewghe, ought to be made for perfect shooting at the prick, which mark, because it is certain and most certain I will draw & ground all my rules from that head only, and the rather, because whosoever is excellent at it, cannot be ignorant at any other mark.

A good bow is known as good counsel is known, by the end, and profit we receive by it; yet both the bow and good counsel, may be made better or worse, by the well or ill handling of them as experience teach us; and as a man, both must and will take counsel of a wise and honest man though he see not the end of it; so must an archer of necessity, trust an honest & good Bower for a bow, before he know the proof of it. And as a wise man will store up counsel before hand, to prevent future evils; so a good archer, should ever have three or four bows before hand, least sudden want might undo his pleasure.

Now, that you may escape general mistaking in the election of your bow, I will give you some rules and notions, which if you forget not, shall prevent many mistakings.

If you come into a shop and find a bow that is small, long, heavy, and strong, lying straight, not winding, not marred with wind shake, knot gall, Wenne, fret or pinch, then buy the bow from my warrant, the best color of a bow that I find, is when the back and the belly in working be much what after one manner, for such oftentimes in wearing, prove like Virgin wax of Gold, having a fine & long grain from one end of the bow to the other, for a short grain though it prove well sometimes, yet they are for the most part very brittle.

Touching the making of the bow I will not greatly meddle, least I should be found to intrude upon another mans occupation in which I have no skill, and so like the cobbler go beyond my Lartchet; only I would desire all Bowers to season their staves well, to work and sink them well, to give them hears convenient, and tyllering plenty; for thereby, they shall both get themselves a good name, (and a good name increase profit) and also bring a singular commodity to the whole kingdom; if any man offend in this point, I am persuaded they are only those young journeymen, which labor more to make many bows speedily for gain sake, then diligently to make a good bows for their credit sake, clean forgetting the proverb, 'Soon enough, if well enough.' - wherewith every honest tradesman should, as with a rule, measure his work, he that is a journeyman & ride upon another mans horse, if he ride an honest pace, no man will disallow him; but, if he ride post or beyond discretion, both he that own the horse, and he that after shall buy the horse may peradventure have case to curse him; neither is this fault confined to any one place, but I fear too generally dispersed in diverse parts of the kingdom, to the great hurt of that poor remnant of archers which yet flourish, and to the great hindrance of the kings service, if ever the virtue of that weapon shall be reissued; for believe it as a maxim, that the bow can never be made of too good wood, nor yet too well seasoned or truly made with heatings and tylerrings, neither the shaft of too good wood, or too throwly wrought, with the best pinion feathers that can be gotten; especially, when a man therewith is to serve his Prince, defend his countryman, and save himself from his enemy.

But to return again to the true knowledge of a well shooting bow, you are to understand, that every bow is made, either of a bough, a plant, or of the boole of the tree. The bough, commonly is very knotty and full of pins, weak, of small pith, will soon follow the string, and seldom wear to any fair color; yet for boys and young beginners, it may serve well enough. The plant, does many times prove exceeding well, especially, if it be of a good and clean growth, and for the pith of it, is quick enough of cast, it will play and bow, far before it break, as all other young things do. The boole of the tree is cleanest without knots or pins, having a fast and a hard wood, be reason of his full growth, strong and mighty of cast, and is the best of all other for the bow, if the staves be even cloven, and afterward well wrought, not over thwart the wood, but as the grain and straight growing of the wood lead a man; or otherwise, by all reason it must soon break, and that in many shivers. These things are to be considered in the rough wood, and when the bowstaves be over wrought and fashioned; for, in dressing and picking it up for a bow, it is then too late to look for it. But yet in these points (as I said before) you must when all is done, rely upon the goodness of an honest Bower to put a good bow into your hand; yet not forgetting yourselves, those characters which I have already showed you; neither must you stick, for a groat or a shilling more than another man would give; if it be a good bow; for a good bow twice paid for, is better the an ill bow once broken. Thus a shooter must begin, not at the making of his bow like a Bower, but at the buying of his bow like an archer, and when his bow is bought and brought home, before he trust too much upon it, let him try and trim it after this manner.

First, take you bow into the field, shoot in it, sink it with dead heavy shafts, look where it comes most and provide for that place betimes, before it pinch and so fret, then when you have thus shot in it,& preceives there is good shooting wood in it, carry it then again to a cunning workman that is trusty, & let him cut it shorter, and pick it & dress it fitter than before, let him make it come round compass every where and whipping at the ends, but with great discretion, least it whip in sunder, or else fret before you be aware, let him also lay it straight if it happen to cast, or otherwise need require; and if the bow be flat made gather it up round, and so shall it both shoot faster for far shooting, and also be surer for near pricking.

Now albe, some less curious and more thrifty, may account this second trimming of the bow, a piddling and needless work, and that after a thing is once perfect there needs no amendment, let them understand from me, that it is not very good taken in a bow whereof nothing, when it is new and fresh, need to be cut away or amended; even as Cicero says of a young mans with and style. For every new thing must have more then it need, or else it will not grow better and better, but decay and be worse and worse. New ale, if it run not over the barrel when it is new tunned, will soon loose both strength and head; and that bow, which at the first buying without any more proof or trimming, is fit and easy to shoot in, shall neither be profitable to last long, nor yet pleasant, to shoot well. And therefore, as a young horse, full of high courage and metal, with artful handling, is brought both to a comely pace and cunning image; so a new bow, fresh and quick of cast by likening and cutting, is brought to a steadfast shooting. And an easy and gentle bow when it is new, is not much unlike a soft spirited boy when he is young, yet as of an unruly boy, with tight handling, often comes a well ordered man; so of an unfit & staffith bow, with good trimming, a must needs follow always a steadfast and true shooting bow; and such a perfect bow, as will never fail of decay. And indeed such a bow every man ought to look for, that will attain to the end and perfection of perfect shooting.

Now, touching the saving and preserving of this good bow, when you are once possessed of it and have brought it to that perfection, of which I formerly spoke, you shall then prepare a cloth, either of fine harden or woollen, well waxed, wherewith every day you must rub & chafe your bow will it shine and glitter with all, which action shall cause it both to carry an excellent color and complexion, and also bring over it (as it were) a craft, which will make all the outside so slippery and hard, that neither wet nor weather shall be able to enter of hurt it, neither yet any fret or pinch be able to bite upon it; insomuch, that you shall do it more then extraordinary wrong before you can break it. This labor must be done oftentimes, but especially when you come from shooting; you must have a great care when you shoot, of the heads of your arrows, of wearing daggers, knives, point-tags of aglets, least by any mischief they happen to raze or scratch you bow, a thing ( as I said before) both unseemly to look on, and dangerous for frets. Also, take heed of mist and dank days, for they are hurtful to the bow, and more dangerous than rain; for in such weather, you ,must always be rubbing the bow, or forebear to shoot.

When your bow is thus neatly trimmed and ordered, you may then put it up into bow case, which bow case seeing it is a defense of safeguard for the bow I will speak a little thereof; first your bow case when you ride abroad, must by no means be too wide for your bows, for then one will beat against another and do mischief, neither must it be too straight, so that you shall be forced to cram them in, for that would crowd them and lay them to one side, which would make them to wind and warp; but it must be of fit proportion, easily filling and not more. A bow case of leather is not the best, for they are for the most part moist, & hurt a bow; therefore our best archers, will have for every bow a several case made either of fine canvas , or woollen-cloth, but woollen cloth is the best, for it not only keep them in sunder without hurt, but also preserve a bow in its full strength, that it will never give for any weather; when your bows are thus cased up severally, you may then put them up into your leather case without danger.

At home in you own house, wood cases made of dry wainscot, are very good for your bows to stand in, provided always, your bow stand not too near the stonewall, for that will make him moist and weak, nor yet too near the fire, for that will make it short and brittle.

Thus, I have showed you the general preservations of the bow, I will not descend to those things which are to be avoided for fear of breaking the bow, and they be four in number. The string, the shaft, by drawing too far, and by frets.

A bow is broken by the string, (as I have partly showed you before) when it is either too short, too long, not perfectly put on, when it has but one wappe, when it is put on crooked, when it is shorn by a sharp nock, or when it is suffered to tarry too long, on, any of these may the string fail and the bow break, especially in the mist, the reason being , because the ends have nothing to stop them but whip so far back, that the belly must need rise violently up and split in pieces, as you may very easily perceive, when at any time you will bend a bow backward. A bow therefore that follow the string is least hurt with breaking of the string.

Secondly, a bow is broken by the shaft, either when it is too short, so that you set in an your bow or when nock breaks, for the littleness, or when the string flips without the nock through the wideness, then you pull it to your ear, and let it go, which must needs break the shaft at the least, and puts both string, bow and all in hazard, because the strength of the bow has nothing in it to stop the violence of it; this kind of breaking is most dangerous for the standers by, for in such a case, you shall see sometimes the end of a bow fly more than a score from a man, and as I have noted it, is ever the upper end of the bow.

Thirdly, the bow is broken by drawing too far, two several ways, either when you take a longer shaft then your own, or else when you shift your hand too low or too high for shooting, and miss the true midst of the bow; and this motion is that, which pull the back of the bow in sunder and make it fly in many pieces so then you are to observe, when a bow is broken, having the belly risen up either both ways or but one, then the string break it, when it is broken but intwo pieces, and that in manner even or especially in the upper end, then the nock of the shaft broke it, and when the back is pulled in many pieces, then over drawing broke it. These tokens are always most certain, or very seldom do miss.

The 4th, and last thing, that breaks a bow, are frets or gaules, which prepare and make ready a bow for breaking by any of the three ways formerly spoken of; and these frets, are as well in the arrow as the bow, and they are much like a canker creeping and increasing in those places where they abide, which is ever the weakest and most indigent; and to cure this, your bow must be picked & trimmed by a cunning workman, who will foresee that it may come round in compass every where; for, of frets you must beware. If your bow have a knot in the back, least the places which be next unto it, be not strong enough to bear with the knot, or else the strong knot will fret the weak places next unto it. Frets at first, are but little pinches, which as soon as you perceive, pick the places about the pinch to make them somewhat weaker, and as well coming as where it pinched; and so the pinch will die and never increase further or come to be a fret. Again, bows most commonly fret under the hand, not so much (as some suppose) for the moistness of the hand, as for the heat of the hand, for heat (as Aristotle says) is apt to loose and not to knit fast, and the looser the weaker, and the weaker more apt to fret.

A bow is never well made, which has not plenty of wood in the hand, for if the ends of the bow be staffish, or a mans hand any thing hot, the belly must needs soon fret.

Now, for the cure of these frets, I have not heard of any to any great purpose, more then to make the fretted place as strong or stronger then any other, touching the filling of the fret up with the small shivers of a quill and glue, (which some hold good) yet both by reason & mine opinion it must needs be stark naught, for put case the fret do cease then, yet the cause which made it fret before (which is only weakness) is not taken away, and therefore consequently the place must needs fret again. As for cutting out of frets, together with all manner of piecing of bows, I utterly dislike them, as things not fit for a good archer, for pieced bows, are like old houses which are more chargeable to repair, then commodious to dwell in; and again, to swaddle a bow much with bands, how ever necessity may make it useful, yet it seldom does any good, except it be to keep down a spell in the back, otherwise bands either need not when the bow is any thing worth, or else boot not when it is spoiled. And though I know many poor archers will use pieced and banded bows, because they are not able to get better, yet I am sure if they consider it well, they shall find it less chargeable and more pleasure, to bestow a crown on a new bow then to give twelve pence for piecing of an old, for better is cost upon somewhat worth, then expense upon that which is naught worth. And this I write the rather, because I entreat only of the perfection of shooting.

Again, there is another thing which will soon occasion a bow to be broken by one of the ways before named, and that is shooting in the winter season when there is any great frosts are ever, wheresoever there is any waterish humor, as is in all kind of wood, either more or less, and tis true, that all things frozen and icy, will rather break then bend; yet if any man must needs shoot at such a time, let him take his bow and bring it to the fire, and thereby a little rub and chafe it with a waxed cloth, which will quickly bring it to that perfection that he may safely shoot without danger. This rubbing with wax (as I said before) is a great succor against all wet and moistness, and as you thus rub your bow at the fire; so likewise in the field and going between your marks, either with your hand or else with a cloth, keep your bow in such a temper, as the frost may not annoy it.

And thus much concerning the bow, how first to know what wood is best, then how to choose a bow, after how to trim it, then how to keep it in goodness; and lastly, how to save it from all harm and mischief. And although many, both can and may say more in this subject then myself, yet what I have said is true, and I hope sufficient for any reasonable knowledge.

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