XXXIX. On feathers and fletching
THE feathers of an arrow are known as vanes (qudhadh). The best feathers are those of the eagle, next those of the vulture, then those of the falcon and the like, and then those of the sea birds. In the absence of feathers, paper may be used. The feathers of the tail are better than the feathers of the wings because the latter are not as even and straight. The small feathers of the wing are still better than the feathers of the tail because they are softer. Some maintain that the feathers of the right wing give the arrow a greater velocity, while others hold that the feathers of the left wing offer greater speed. In any case, when the feathers of the right wing are used be sure to aim at the left side of the target; and when the feathers of the left wing are employed be sure to focus your aim at the right side of the mark.
Feathers should be straight, moderate in size and weight and in length and width, and, above all, no single feather should weigh more than the other nor be placed higher or lower than the other, lest the arrow wobble in its flight. The best results are obtained by taking the central part of the feather and discarding the ends.
Every feather has a back and a belly. When you fix the feathers onto the shaft be sure that they are back to belly in position. When the feathers are back to belly on the shaft they are described as lu’am, and such arrangement is the best; no other should be used. When the feathers are arranged back to back or belly to belly, the result is poor and undesirable. Such arrangement is described as lughāb [literally: weak] and should never be used. When fixing the feathers to the shaft be sure that they are opposite the sides of the arrowhead, each feather facing one side. To fix them otherwise is wrong and will militate against the accuracy of your shooting.
The rule for the number of feathers is four, and upon this all the Persians agreed. It is the best preferred among them and they claim that "feathers are the messengers of death"; and that four messengers are better than three. The people of Khurasan, however, have favored the use of three feathers, substituting for the fourth by pushing with the lower part of the wrist. Some of the clever experts of this profession have favored the use of six feathers: three large and three small in between the large.
A certain author on archery related that he had seen an expert trim his arrow with two side or flank feathers beside the nock and a third, known as the male (dhakar) feather, next to the arrowhead. He further said that he himself had tried it and found it to be good, preventing the arrow from turning or wobbling. The arrow falls on the target exactly as it had left the bow.
In short, too much feather slows the arrow and too little speeds its flight. However, while four feathers offer greater accuracy, with three feathers the length and speed of the flight is increased. The arrow has been likened to a ship; the feathers corresponding to the rudder with which the ship is steered. If the rudder is too heavy, it slows the ship down and may even cause it to sink; if it is too light, the ship will roll and pitch and be out of control. Experts have declared that this is an apt simile.
Experts have disagreed as to how far the feathers should be from the nock. Most Persians of Khurasan favor affixing them immediately next to the nock, and prefer them to be long, spiraled and high, except near the nock where they should be low. Advocates of the intermediate school in Khurasan favor having them five or six fingers removed from the nock and prefer them long and low.
Experts, however, would limit the distance between the feathers and the nock to about the width of the fingers arranged for the count of one, and would rather have the feathers unspiraled. A certain archer said that, in his opinion, those who shoot "shower" arrows and engage in warfare should set the feathers far from the nock and have them spiraled; while those who shoot at close targets should set them as close to the nock as one fingerbreadth, or perhaps a little less. Feathers close to the nock offer greater accuracy, while those removed from it offer greater speed. The best spacing, however, is the width of the hand when the fingers are arranged for the count of one.
Most Persians prolong the feathers and claim that their length offers greater speed and longer range. The longest they use are six to seven fingers long. The experts of this profession, however, prefer shortening the feathers, limiting them to four or five fingers in length; while for distant shooting they limit them to three fingers, claiming that the short feathers offer greater speed and longer range.
Other archers prefer to have the feathers low, claiming that low feathers offer greater speed and longer range; while others favor having them high, claiming that high feathers offer greater speed and longer range. Others, however, advocate the intermediate position and choose feathers of medium size.
Again, some archers prefer the use of the feathers of the right wing, holding that they offer greater speed and longer range; others favor the feathers of the left wing, claiming for them the same properties: greater speed and longer range; others would rather use the feathers of the tail, saying that they are best because they are flat and even as well as moderate in stiffness and softness; while others prefer the use of the small feathers of the wings.
Some archers trim the ends of the feathers close and leave the central part high. This method is followed by most of the Persians. Experts, however, leave the end toward the nock untrimmed and trim closely the end toward the arrowhead. This type of trimming is called the martin trim, because it is shaped like the wing of a martin.