Fine feathers are dyed, either to identify the arrows of the individual archer or to improve the appearance. And the cock feather, of course, for ready identification. Here is how the professional goes about it.
In the old days before science came to the fletcher's aid, it was considered a very important branch of the art to be able to make a good job of dyeing. Now it is very simple. We first get a package of Diamond Dye of the desired color, add to hot water according to the directions on the package, stir a little and the dye is ready. Now, however, one must be careful or the feathers will be spoiled. Get your dye made up to the desired color or shade, then soak your feathers in cold water, seeing to it that this is thoroughly done. Shake the cold water out and dip into the dye, which now must be boiling. The dye must be stirred a little, and the feathers removed in less than 10 seconds. Otherwise the hot dye will take all the essential oil out of them. Wash in running water to take off the loose dye, and lay out in the sun to dry and dress.
Badly ruffled feathers can be dressed easily, provided the fibers are not broken. Take a teakettle with a little water in it and start it boiling. As the steam comes out of the spout, hold the bruised part of the feather in the steam and watch it dress itself. Then rub it along the side of the hot kettle, using the latter in lieu of a flatiron. It should be a good feather once more.
You can do the same with badly bruised feathers on a finished arrow; but care must be taken that the steaming is not carried too far and the feather removed from the shaft.
For all the fletcher's skill is made much of, there is nothing very difficult about putting the feathers on the shaft. With a little training and reasonable aptitude anyone really interested should turn out good work after a little practice. The two principal things to make sure of are, first that your glue is thin, strong and hot, and next that the temperature of the room is not below 70 degrees—if higher than this, so much the better. The glue must not be allowed to actually chill, or you are likely to spoil a job of feathering.
The beginner will do well to mark off the three positions for the feathers on each shaft, with a pencil mark for the cock or odd feather which is to stand contrary to the direction of the nock. Even thirds is correct for the positions, except the feathers seldom permit the quills to be so placed. The feathers being grown for birds instead of for arrows, refuse to lie alike even when from the same wing of the same bird. Consequently, after sticking them on the shaft the fletcher very often must adjust them in their relation to each other and not by the symmetrical spacing of the glued quills. Only the eye can direct this spacing. And incidentally, here is where the value of keeping the glue pliable for a time comes in strongly; for adjusting the feathers is easily accomplished by pushing this quill or that to one side or the other with a finger nail. (See diagram, page 128.)