Of the Steel of the Arrow, the excellence and use.
The steel or body of the arrow or shaft, is, and may be made of diverse woods, as namely, fifteen in number, as follows:
These woods, as they are most commonly used, so they are most fit to be used, yet some are more excellent then others, as you shall hear in their proper place, and in this instrument as in your bow, you must repose your confidence in the honest Fletcher. And although I cannot teach you to make a bow or an arrow, because it is the art of the artificers; yet, I will show you those rules and characters, which shall make you able to judge and discern the goodness and badness of a shaft, which is as much, as a good archer can require.
First then, the steel of an arrow, must be well seasoned for fear of casting, and it must be wrought as the grain goes or else it will never fly clean or true; for as cloth cut overthwart and against the wool, ever makes an imperfect garment; so a knotty steel may pass in a big shaft, but in a little one it is intolerable, both because it will never fly far, & also because it is ever in danger of breaking; it cannot fly far, because the strength of the shot is hindered and stopped at the knot, even as a stone cast into a smooth water will make the water move and make many circles; yet if there be any deep or whirling plat in the water, the motion will cease, and the circles vanish so soon as they approach it; for every thing as it is plain & straight of its own nature, is fittest for far moving. Therefore, a steel that is hard to stand in a bow, without knot and straight (I mean not artificially straight, as the Fletcher does make it, but naturally straight as it grows) is absolutely the best to make a shaft on, either to go clean, fly far, or to stand surely in any weather.
Now how big, how small, how heavy, how long, how short a shaft should be particularly for every man ( because I am bound to discourse of the general nature of this nature of this art, and not the hidden adjuncts) it cannot be discovered, no more then Rethoricians can appoint any one kind of words, sentences, figures and tropes, for every matter; but even as the man and the subject do require, observing still that the fittest be used. Therefore, as concerning these contraries in shafts, every man must avoid them, and draw every extremity to his mean or indifferent estate, which is the best in all things; yet if any man happen to offend in any excess, it is better to offend in want and scantness, then in too much or overflowing; and it is better to have a shaft a little too short, then any thing too long; somewhat too light, then over lumpish; a little too small, then a great deal too big; which thing, is not only true in shooting, but in all things else, which a man undertakes, especially in eating & talking.
The offense of these contraries comes most, when a man is careless and respects not of what kind of wood his arrow is made; for some wood belongs to the exceeding part, some to the scant part, and some to the mean. As Brazill, Turkie-wood, Fusticke, Sugar-chest, and the like; make dead, heavy, lumpish and cobbling shafts; the Mudder, Black-thorne, the Servis-tree, Beech, Elder, Aspe, and Sallow, either for their over-weakness or lightness, make hollow, starting, scudding, gadding shafts. But Birch, Hard-beame, some Oak, and some Ash, being both strong enough to stand in a bow, and also light enough to fly far, are best for a mean degree, which is to be sought out in everything, and although I know some men shoot so strong, that the heaviest wood is light enough for them; and other some so weak, that the loose and lightest wood will hardly serve them, yet generally for the most part of men, the mean woods are the best; therefore to conclude, that wood is always best for a man, which is most correspondent to his strength. And thus, no wood of his own nature, is either too light, or too heavy, but according to the strength of the archer which does use it; and that shaft which this year was for a man too light and scudding, for the self same man the next year may be too heavy and hobling. Therefore cannot I express otherwise, then generally shat is the best wood for an arrow, but let every one when he knows his own strength, and the nature of every several wood, provide and fit himself thereafter; yet as concerning sheaf arrows for the wars (as I suppose) it were better to make them of good Ash, as they were in former times, and not of Asp, as they be now, for of all the woods that ever I proved, Ash being big is the swiftest, and fives the fairest blow, by reason of its heaviness; both which qualities the Asp wants; what the benefit of armor is, every man can judge by experience, therefore that which pierces it most, is most worthy, then Ash being both swifter and heavier, it must be the deeper wounder, and so fittest for the sheaf. And thus much, of the choice of several woods.
Now, as no wood can be absolutely meet for all manner of shafts, no more can one fashion of the steel be fit for every archer; for those that be little breasted, and big towards the head, called for their likeness capon fashion, rush grown, and of some merry fellows bobtails, are fittest for them which shoot underhand, because they shoot with a soft loose, and strains not a shaft much in the breast, where the weight of the bow lies, as you may perceive by the wearing of every shaft; again, the big breasted shaft is fit for him that shoots right before him; as also, the breast being weak cannot possibly withstand a strong pithy kind of shooting. Thus the underhand must have a small breast to go clear away out of the bow, and the forehand must have a big breast to bear the great might of the bow.
Every shaft must be made round & not flat, without gall or worm, because roundness (whether you take example from Heaven or Earth) is the fittest shape of from both for fast moving, and also for soon piercing of any thing, and therefore Aristotle says; that nature has made the drops of rain round, because it shall the sooner enter through the air.
The nock of the shaft is diversely made, for some be great and full, some handsome and little, some wide, some narrow, some deep, some shallow, some round, some long, some with one nock, and some with a double nock, whereof every one has his several property; as thus: The great and full nock may be well felt, and does diverse ways save a shaft from breaking; the handsome little nock will go clean from the hand; the wide nock is naught both for breaking the shaft, and also for sudden flipping out of the string, when the narrow nock avoids both these injuries: The deep and long nock is good in the wars for sure keeping of the string, the shallow and round nock is the best of all other for our purpose in pricking, both for clean deliverance of a shot, and fine sending away of the arrow; and the double nock is for a double surety of the shaft. And this I think if sufficient touching the steel of the arrow only in general.
Now for the piecing of an arrow with Brazill, Holley, or other heavy wood, it is to make the end compass heavy with the feathers in flying, for the steadfaster shooting; for if the end were plumbed heavy with lead, and the wood next it light, the head end would ever be downward, and never fly straight. Now in piecing, you must conceive that two points are ever enough for one shaft, least the moistness of the Earth enter too much into the piecing and so loosen the glue; therefore many points are more pleasing to the eye, then profitable for use; some use to piece their shafts in the nock with Brazill or Holley, to counterpose with the head, & I have seen some for the same purpose, bore a hole a little beneath the nock, and put lead into it; yet for mine own part, I allow not any of those ways, because the nature of a feather in flying (if a man mark it well) is able to bear up a wonderful weight; therefore I imagine this manner of piecing at the nock was drawn from this president - when a good archer had broken a good shaft with which he was much enamored, both in love to the feathers, and out of a fancy not to loose what he did formerly affect, he has cause it thus to be pieced, which others perceiving, (without any examination of the cause, but pleased with the gaudiness) have presently imitated, and not only cut one, but all in their quiver; a thing, in my judgement much more costly then necessary; therefore more costly then necessary; therefore let no man make himself anothers ape without argument, without discretion.