In England, deal is a word used to designate the size of timbers used in building and for other purposes. For example, a baton is a timber of 2 inches by 7 inches or under, while a deal is a timber of 3 inches by 11 inches or over. Thus it is easy to understand the use of the term "old deal" by arrow makers of England. Heavy timbers obtained from old buildings being wrecked are sure to be thoroughly seasoned. And such timbers until lately were mostly if not always, the very finest of arrow wood, genuine Norway pine, grown in Norway, Sweden or eastward along the Baltic coast— most of such deal timbers when obtainable had been seasoning for hundreds of years. And their size, not less than 3x11, should indicate their abounding in clear stuff, free from knots or twists, and not cut up with checks.
Being thoroughly familiar with this custom of the old arrow makers, and by chance being in Scotland, I not long ago had the opportunity of obtaining some of this old deal. They were wrecking an old building in Princess Street, Edinburgh, and out of one or two old deals I secured, I cut some of the finest arrow wood I have ever come across. There was enough of the timbers to warrant making quite a shipment of it home to the States; but unfortunately I found it so full of spikes as not to warrant salvaging the usable parts, and so I had to satisfy myself by purchasing new (unused) Norway pine—which of course I must patiently wait for while it seasons.
There is a good amount of this old deal coming out all the time; for they are wrecking a great many old buildings in Great Britain now. But it must be remembered that there is a demand for all usable timbers, at a good valuation —nails and all. Nor are the builders alone in being on the lookout. There is literally no end of cabinet makers who are interested. And if they aren't enough, there is a multitude of violin makers, and makers of other musical instruments too, who want the old deal and are in most cases willing to pay more than the arrow maker can. Getting a good supply of good clean stuff is largely a matter of luck and being on the spot.
Of course it will occur to the reader that old buildings are being wrecked everywhere. But unfortunately, the splendid white pine so often found in such cases in this country is not Norway pine from Norway. White spruce, however, where found, is to be snapped up at once. Black spruce is not in the same class, being smaller and comparatively knotty. Douglas fir is also very good.
Perhaps the best way to obtain some of this old arrow wood is to enlist the interest of an elderly builder, who perhaps can recall the time of erection of buildings being torn down and tell you what to expect there. He too perhaps can best identify the wood for you. But don't babble to him of old deal, for it is not known in this country.
While on the subject, I am reminded to say a word or two about famous arrow makers; because here too there is room to correct popular misconception or rather to scotch a fallacy. I have in mind the empty reputations of some famous arrow makers, and the tendency of archers to blindly accept mere reputation on its face, without knowledge of its foundation or lack of it, and with apparently small interest in being their own judge of an arrow's quality.