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Chapter XVII
The Bow
Part 2 of 3

The length of a bow should be in proportion to the length of the arrow to be used with it, and also to its own weight; a short bow will give a sharper cast thank a long one, but to shoot a 29-inch arrow out of a short bow would he dangerous to the bow. Bows are now generally made longer than was the case formerly, as the wood is not so good as it was, and probably also not so well seasoned The length of a bow of, say, 50 lbs. to be used with a 28-inch arrow should not be less than 6 ft., measuring between the nocks. If a longer arrow is used, it certainly should not be less than 6 ft. 1 in; if a 27-inch arrow is used, 5 ft. 11 in would do

Having described the shape of the bow, it is necessary to hark back and say what the appearance of a self-yew bow should be. The division between the white back and darker belly should be even, straight, and well marked, and look almost as if the bow was a backed one, and not a self. The back should be of even depth, and free from feathers, the grain running straight. The grain of the belly should be close, even, straight, and free from curls from end to end. The feathers or ends of the grain, which show on the belly where the bow has been gradually reduced towards the ends, should be even and straight. No knots or pins should be either in the back or belly, the wood should be dark in colour, and the less wood there is in a bow, and the lighter it is in the hand for its strength, the better. It must not, however, be supposed that bows as perfect as the one described are easily found; indeed, few self-yew bows are not deficient in some respect, though it may be trifling. Either, as mentioned before, the limbs are not quite straight, owing to the growth of the tree, or the wood is light in colour and the grain is not or curls are present, or knots and pins are unpleasantly conspicuous.

143. Good grain Fig. 144. Bad grain
143. Good grain Fig. 144. Bad grain

All these faults detract from the value of a bow, and make it more or less unsightly, but do not necessarily render it radically bad. With respect to the position of the limbs giving it the Cupid form, this is not of much consequence, provided that the unbendable portion of the bow is sufficient. The colour of the wood is frequently light, and this again is not an insuperable objection to a bow; though, undoubtedly, the darker is the best, and generally most seasoned wood, for yew as long as it is left unpolished gets darker by age. The closeness of grain is of more consequence, and it will usually be found that bows of open grain are softer and have more wood in them than they should have for their strength. Curls are a great source of weakness, and when a curl appears which dips to appear again higher up the bow the wood which is left between the dips is nearly, if not quite, useless. The danger of knots and pins depends very much upon their position, and whether they have been properly 'lifted.' If this has been skilfully done, the danger is much lessened, but such places are very favourable for developing crysals, and require careful watching. A knot or pin, if not too large and duly lifted, will not matter much, provided it is on the side of the bow and not in the middle of the back or belly, or not on that portion of the bow which does the actual work namely, between the unbendable part of the bow to within eight or nine inches of either end; but if it is more than this distance from the end, and not in the rigid portion of the bow, or should it be in the centre of the back or belly, it is dangerous. When a bow is strung the string should be exactly in the centre of the bow. It can be seen at once if this is the case by turning it string upwards, and looking along it; if the nocks are properly placed, and the limbs are true to each other, the string will appear to cut the belly of the bow it to two equal halves. This has apparently long been known as a desideratum, as coins are found some 2,500 years old having on them an archer looking along his bowstring (fig. 138).

Much has been written as to the comparative merits of self and backed bows; which is the better to adopt depends very much on the individual, his skill, manner of shooting, and last, but by no means least, on the depth of his pocket The self-yew has all the best qualities which a bow should possess; it is light in the hand, pleasant to shoot with, has a good cast, if properly handled is lasting, and it is not liable, as backed bows are, to be injured by wet; hut it has also some drawbacks It is liable to crysal, requires that the archer should have thorough command over it, and it is expensive Crysals are caused by the compression of the grain of the wood in the act of drawing the how, and the sudden release of the string in loosing, which does not give the grain time to recover its original position They cannot be avoided, and will appear in all bows, but generally in new ones in consequence of the wood not being sufficiently seasoned. In older bows they often come from the bow being shot in a different way from that to which it has been accustomed, such as a longer arrow being drawn, or a sharper loose being given to it They first appear either at knots or pins, or in the middle or side of the belly, either singly or in shoals; at first they are very small, looking more like a slight and nearly imperceptible scratch on the polish, and do not always increase in sire, especially if they are on the side of the bow, but they should be carefully watched. If they are very numerous they are not so dangerous as when only one makes its unwelcome appearance; in this case it generally spreads till, unless the bow is sent into dock to have a piece let into the belly, it breaks it.

145. Curl
145. Curl

A self-yew bow has more of its power in the last two inches of its draw than a backed bow; so that, unless the arrow is invariably drawn to the same place, it will fall short or go over, as the case may be; for the same reason a forward loose also is far more fatal than with a backed bow, which pulls more evenly throughout. The point as to whether there is more difference in the pull of the last inch of a self-yew bow than in a backed bow has been doubted, but from actual experiments with new bows of exactly the same shape and length, it seems evident that there is a difference of about 1 lb., which would increase by use, as the self-bow would follow the string more than a backed bow. A good self-yew, free from pins and knots, costs from 7l. to 10l. or more, as much as 21l. having not unfrequently been given for a choice old Belgian specimen; so that, unless the shooter is accurate in his pull, and not liable to vary it owing to ill-health, or other causes, and does not mind giving a good price, a backed bow will probably suit him best.

Formerly, backed bows were made of a bad shape, and often of wood which was more fitted for sticks and umbrella-handles than bows, but now their manufacture is better understood, and they are not open to the objections to which they were thirty or forty years ago.

The sap or white part (the back) of a yew bow is that which gives most of the spring and cast, the belly supplying, as it were, the buffer necessary to save the back from the recoil when the arrow leaves the bow. The difficulty of procuring a piece of yew with both back and belly free from blemishes led to the expedient being tried of joining an elastic and a more or less hard wood together, which resulted in the backed bow being made[2]. Backed bows have been and are being made of all sorts of wood--yew, hickory, and elm being used for the backs and washaba, snake, fustic, lance, yew, beef, ruby and degama for the belly. Many of these woods vary very much, one log being quite different from another; and it may be taken as a general rule that the best combinations are yew-backed yew, yew fustic and hickory, yew and hickory, beef or ruby and hickory, and lance and hickory.

Of all backed bows, yew-backed yew bears off the palm. It runs self-yew very close; indeed, in several points it is by many good and experienced archers considered better. The best parts of the yew, which are not used in making self-bows, are worked up into yew-backed-yew bows, and it is evident that over and over again in a wood so liable to knots and pins as yew, both backs and bellies can be procured separately from different staves of the very best material, when neither stave would furnish a limb fit for a first class self-bow. Consequently it has most of the advantages of the self-yew, and is perhaps superior to it in respect of its not being necessary to observe the exact pull which is requisite to get the full power out of a self-yew; but it is not quite so pleasant to shoot with, as no bow can come up to a good self for sweetness, softness, and steadiness in the hand when it is loosed. It is also, comparatively speaking, an expensive bow, and is not so durable as a self.

The three-piece combination of a hickory back, yew belly, and a piece of fustic between, produces a good casting and durable boy. Hickory is the best wood there is for a back (except yew in the case of yew-backed yew); it gives the required elasticity, and is not liable to 'slither,'as the lifting of the grain is termed Fustic is sufficiently hard to do its work properly, and the yew belly does away with the tendency that fustic has to crysal. Yew and hickory, and beef or ruby and hickory, make a good bow with a sharp cast. Lance and hickory is the cheapest backed bow, and very good work can be got out of it for a time, but it follows the string, and the cast gets sluggish after a time.

All these backed bows labour under the disadvantage of being heavy in the hand, but if properly shaped, very good shooting can be done with them. Several of the best shots never use a self-bow, and probably the best backed bow for all round purposes is the three-piece yew, fustic, and hickory bow, made quite straight and 'whip ended.' This bow will cast well, is soft in the hand, lasts longer, and keeps its cast better than most of the two piece bows, while the price is moderate, and it will give more even results as to range than a self-bow, unless the latter is invariably drawn to the same place.