The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
home - about - books - articles - prints faq - news - contact - search
Home > Books > The British Archer > The art and practice of archery
Part III: The art and practice of archery
Part 3 of 6


The weights of arrows are marked between the feathers, and an archer, when he sees three shillings or four shillings &c. so placed, knows that such marks denote their weights, and that each weight has been regulated by the standard silver coin of the realm in pennyweights and grains troy.

  dwts. grs.
The crown piece of the present standard weighing 19
The half crown 9 16¼
The shilling 3 21

But as the troy weights, from their limited use, may not possibly be so readily understood by some, I have endeavoured, in the following table, to shew pretty nearly, the relative weights of arrows, in centessimals of the ounce avoirdupoise.


Another table here subjoined, shews the relative value of weights troy to the standard or marks for arrows.


Thus it appears, that if an archer furnish himself with small brass weights agreeably to those laid down in the table, he will be able to regulate his arrows accordingly. For instance, an arrow which weighs 19dwts. 8½grs. will be marked, and consequently called, a "five shilling arrow," and a six shilling arrow will naturally require two weights of 19dwts. 8½grs. and 3dwts. 21grs. to poise it in the scale ; and so on.


The nocks of arrows should be made of horn let into the shaft at the extremity of, and up to the wood in form of a thinly tapered wedge, in which is cut the notch or nock for the reception of the bow-string. The combination of the wood and horn by this method, reduces the liability of the nock being burst by the string. The depth of the nock for the reception of the string, should be made full double the diameter, or thickness of the string, and wide enough only to admit it with a just fit. A wide full nock, is apt to let the arrow slip from the string, and missing the loose, may cause the breaking of a shaft to the great danger of the bow. The small nock is best calculated for "clean flying from the hand ;" but as it has been observed, "the mean is best in all things," so in this particular, will it be found, that a medium between the large and full nock, and the very small one, will be the safest, and the best for general shooting.


" There is no one thinge in all shootinge," says Roger Ascham, " so much to be looked on, as the Feather." This assertion bears with it the strongest conviction, when we reflect, that the grand object in the art of archery, is the accomplishment of the flight of the arrow through the air, with steadiness and velocity. There is no substance in nature so well calculated to assist flight and bear a form through the "liquid air," as the feather. This is sufficiently pointed out to us by the wings of birds ; and we know from experience, that with the lightness of the feather, there exists that valuable property of elasticity, so particularly essential at the moment of the arrow's passing the bow; for, at the loosing of the arrow, the two under feathers of the shaft, are naturally a little compressed, by coming in contact with it, but the instant that the arrow has passed, the feathers resume their former position, and become the steady wings of flight. The merits of the " Grey goose wins," so much celebrated by our historians and poets, may be said to be equalled, or nearly so, by the feathers of the turkey, but certainly surpassed by those of the eagle, as in their superiority of strength and texture, they are much better adapted for the steady flight of the arrow, particularly when it is sent from a strong bow. The stronger texture a feather has, the better, provided it be not too coarse. Of a goose's wing, the second, third, and fourth feathers are most esteemed by Fletchers. Feathers for arrows, should not be drawn, but pared with a fine sharp knife, and afterwards cut into proper length and shape for fletching.

Ascham, in his partiality for the "Grey goose wing," and in grateful remembrance to the valuable bird, writes: " Yet well fare the gentle goose, which bringeth to a man, even to his doore, so manye exceedinge commodities. For the goose is man's comfort in warre, and in peace, sleepinge and wakinge. What prase soever is given to shootinge, the goose may challenge the best part in it. Howe well dothe she make a man fare at his table ? Howe easilye dothe she make a man lie in his bedde? How fit even as her feathers be only for shootinge, so be her quills fit only for writing. And surely, (said his friend Philologus) that is indede the best prayse you give to a goose yet, and I would have sayde, you had bene to blame, if you had overskipt it."


Arrows are best fletched with three feathers, set straight on the shaft. One is called the cock feather, which stands uppermost when the arrow is properly "put in the string" as it is called, or rightly nocked, and which is generally distinguished by being of a different color, and the other two are so placed, that they may run equally on the bow. The length of the feathers for arrows of about 4s. or 4s. 6d. weight, and twenty-seven inches long, exclusive of the pile, should be four inches and a half, or four inches and five-eighths, and set on the shaft about one inch and a quarter, or one inch and three-eighths from the extreme end of the nock ; the feather being there at the broadest part, which need not be more than three-eighths of an inch, should be very gradually and finely trimmed to the other end of it. Some fletchers put on their feathers much longer and broader, as the Flemish fletchers do ; but it is not necessary, and therefore is rather a hinderance to the flight of the arrow. Should the shaft be a very heavy one, say about 6s. or 7s. weight, then the feathers may be trimmed a little longer and broader, and set on rather higher, and, at the same time, should be proportionably stiffer; also, the rib, with which the feather is pared, may be a trifle stouter. A Lady's arrow of twenty-four or twenty-five inches in length, and of 2s 6d. or 3s. weight, are fletched with narrower and shorter trimmed feathers. These need not be so stout as the others of 4s. It is a circumstance requiring the greatest attention in fletching, that the three feathers should be either, all from the right wing or all from the left wing, that is, the smooth side should be kept either on the left or on the right hand. And as in the rotary motion of the arrow through the air, the shaft is liable to be much influenced by a side wind, an archer should select from his quiver those arrows suited to the state of the wind, i. e. those which are fletched for the resistance necessary on the occasion, to keep the heads true in their proper direction. The resistance of the feather, is to be expected on the convex part of it. Should the arrow afford no resistance by means of the feather, and which would be the case if it ran round with the wind, the arrow will naturally be the more influenced in its flight.—By having arrows fletched, some with left, and others with right feathers, an archer is better prepared to encounter a side wind which is one of his greatest obstacles, in shooting.


The head or pile[93] of an arrow, is as indispensably necessary as its feathers. A shaft without either, cannot fly to any considerable distance, for with the deficiency of the pile, it will but poorly answer the purposes for which the arrow was originally intended, either, as Ascham observes, " to strike a man's enemye sorer in warre, or to shoote nearer the marke at home" " Heads for warre of longe time hath been made not onlye of divers matters, but also of divers fashions. The Trogans had heades of yron, as this verse, spoken of Pandarus, sheweth, " up to the pappe his stringe, did he pull, his shaft to the harde yron." Iliad 4.

"The Grecians had heades of brasse, as Ulysses's shafts, were headed with that metal when he slew Antonius and the other wooers of Penelope. Quite through a door flewe a shaft with a brasse head. Odyss. 21. The men of Scythia used heads of brasse. The men of Inde used heads of yron. The Ethiopians used heads of hard sharpe stone, as both Herodotus and Pollux doth tell. The Germaines, as Cornelius Tacitus doth saye, had their shaftes headed with bone, and manye countryes both of old time, and nowe use heades of horne.[94] But of all other, yron and stele, must needes be the fittest for heades.[95] Fashion of heades is divers, and that of old time, two manner of arrowes heades, says Pollux, was used in old time." "The one having two pointes or barbes, looking backwarde to the stele, and the feathers, which surelye we call in Englishe, a brode arrowe head or a swalowe tayle. The other havinge two pointes stretchinge forwarde, and this Englishmen do call a forke-heade. The Parthians, at that great battle where they slue riche Crassus and his sonne, used brode arroweheades, which stacke so sore, that the Romaynes could not pull them out againe. Commodus the emperor, used forked-heades, whose fashion, Herodian doth lively and naturallye describe, sayinge, that they were like the shap of a newe moone, where-with he would smite the heade of a birde, and never misse. A shaft as long as it flyeth, turns, and when it leaveth turning, it leaveth going any further. And every thing that enters by a turninge and boringe fashion, the more flatter it is, the worse it enters, as a knife, though it be sharpe, yet, because of the edges, will not bore so well as a bodkin."

In plate 6th, are represented, the exact sizes and shapes of three ancient piles, or arrow heads, and also, the shape and size of the bolt of a cross-bow, all which were, a short time ago, dug up nearly under the walls of Carisbrooke castle, in the Isle of Wight.[96]

In the contemplation of the weights and shapes of these specimens of the English war sheaf arrow's head, and also of the ponderous bolt of the cross bow, we are led to a more ready belief of those accounts which have been furnished us, of the appalling effects produced from time to time by our ancient bowmen, and of the prodigious strength that was required in using such mighty machines.


A, a pile of a war sheaf arrow, weighed in 1828, or although greatly eaten away with rust, and the shaft end broken away, 6 drams (avoidupoise). B, A pile of a lighter sheaf arrow, probably intended for very long shots; and being barbed, this sort of arrow head might have been intended to be used principally against cavalry. This pile, which was also much eaten away, weighed three drams.—

Plate 6
Plate 6

C, a bolt of a cross bow, which also in 1828 weighed 1¾ ounce avoidurpoise. D, a pile of a war arrow, supposed to have been in-tended for carrying fire-works; as at e there was a small iron loop evidently, to allow a fastening, and the length of iron from the loop to the shaft, seems to have been intended to guard the wood from the effect of fire. This pile weighed ¾ of an ounce. F. G. H. I. K. The round pile of a modern arrow intended for amusement only ; in which is shewn the blunt and the sharp point, the latter by the dotted lines, and intended to demonstrate the superiority of the former over the latter particularly against a head-wind.

Arrow heads for the pastime of archery, should be made round, of thin steel, or very hard iron, about ¾ of an inch in length, with the mouths just large enough to admit the shaft, after having been scraped a little, or filed sufficiently down from the end, to allow it to go well up to the extremity of the pile, and to fit nicely at F, K; See plate 6.

For shooting in general, and in a calm, an archer will find, that his blunt headed arrows, will fly steadier, and farther than those which are sharp pointed and long tapered; by reason of the rounded heads offering less superficial front of the opposition of the air as it passes through it. The reader is referred to plate 6, where he will find this fact exemplified. At the representation of the arrow head or pile at G, where it is at its extreme breadth, it must be at once evident, that from the point to H, and from H to I, these two lines of front, or of opposition to the air, are much smaller than we find by the two dotted lines from F to H, and from H to K, which in the arrow's passage through the air, must constantly in their whole length be opposed to the pressure of it. Yet, long tapered or sharp pointed piles, may be used with a wind, or when it blows but a little across the shooter, and favourably to the flight of the arrow.

In Roberts's English bowman, is related the fact of " six arrows of equal weight and length, having been constructed with great nicety, three of them had sharp piles, and the other three, had blunt or roving piles. The first three were shot against the latter, several times, the wind being very gentle ; and the result was, that the blunt piles always flew farther than the sharp ones, by about fifteen yards"


The belt, tassel, and grease box, are necessary articles in an archer's equipment.

The belt is generally made of cow-hide leather, with a stout well or pouch, fixed on the side to receive the pile ends of the arrows, through a leathern loop, which keeps them steady by the side ; and the tassel, which is for the purpose of wiping the dirt from off the arrows, is made of green worsted, and is put on the belt on the opposite side. With respect to the grease box, it may be said, that it should be always considered as a necessary appendage, and the archer would do well in being mindful that it contain a plentiful supply of the grease. This composition, which is made of equal parts of Suet and Bees'-wax melted together, will be found highly useful in keeping the fingers of the shooting glove clean and moist, and will therefore greatly assist the archer in quick and easy loosing. The present mode of carrying this useful article in a neat small mahogany, or some fancy wood box, is very convenient, and is rather ornamental than otherwise at the side of the tassel.

Copyright © 1998 - 2017 | Disclaimer | Privacy Policy