WITH the arrow ready for feathering, or fletching, as we have it from the old-time makers, it doubtless seems to the uninitiated archer that it is almost done. So it is, in a way. An expert fletcher will have it ready for finish-ing quickly enough. Not so, however the luckless beginner. For the feathering of an arrow is said to be a real art, and certainly is not to be mastered in a day, to say nothing of the jig time that so appeals to the imagination. To my mind it is a matter of much patience added to much knowledge.
Before taking up the work there is the question of the kind of feathers required, which are the best, and where to get them. Being a recognized fletcher—recognized even to the point of being called "our popular fletcher" by archery authorities who are well aware that fletching is a relatively small part of my trade!— I of course have my own ideas as to what is best and what best to do. If these ideas do not I trust it will be considered that I can but tell what my experience impels me to. There is the question of feathers, and what I have to say on the subject shall not be based on hearsay or general opinion, but upon what my work has taught me.
For even texture, according opportunity to steadily obtain feathers as near to being alike as it is possible to find them, I recommend the so-called eagle pinion feathers. These, I am led to believe, are not from eagles, but instead are the pinion feathers of turkey buzzards. No matter what they are, they stand first in my estimation. They have a very liberal supply of essential oil, which tends to keep them in excellent condition. Thus they are not so liable to fray as are the more hand-some peacock feathers. The latter, having almost no oil, are very dry and anything But durable. Feathers from the domestic turkey may well be made second choice, with peacock feathers third, and I should say about the last. We see hen feathers used—and I dare say that if they were available some would even try to use the feathers of the ruby-throated hummingbird! Turkey buzzard feathers, usually sold by feather dealers as eagle feathers, can be obtained only in small quantities. I have at times managed to get as much as 20 pounds of them; but never have been able to keep them any length of time, always having standing orders from other arrow makers for all I can get. Turkey feathers are available at all times from most reliable feather dealers. Peacock feathers have to be imported, and are very expensive. In buying, it is well not to look too closely at the cost. While one dealer may charge 50 cents a pound and another $1.50 for the same kind of feathers, every feather bought at the higher price will be of use, but you may consider yourself fortunate if you can use 5 per cent of the cheaper ones.
In preparing the feathers for use, we professional fletchers do not use the methods usually given in the various books and articles on archery. Simply because we can do it in our own way quicker and better. Not that the amateurs' methods are in any manner to be scoffed at, for each one has much to recommend it. For an example, I shall give one such method, which is as follows: The quill of the feather is gripped in a vise and with a keen knife the major part of the whole quill is ripped off. The strip of quill remaining in the vise, with a vane of the feather attached, is then filed down until it is suitable for use. Then with a bit of flat wood on which is glued a piece of sandpaper the flat sliver of the quill is smoothed out until it is ready for gluing on the shaft. With a pair of shears, the quill is trimmed down to an even narrow width and the feather cut into suitable lengths for use. This ends the preparation. There are other methods, but all amount to the same thing.