The Archery Library
Old Archery Books, Articles and Prints
home - about - books - articles - prints faq - news - contact - search
Home > Books > Archery, its Theory and Practice > Chapter 2
Chapter III
Of The Bow.
Part 2 of 2

It is customary to let into the bow, just above the upper part of the handle where the arrow lies, a small piece of mother-of-pearl, ivory, or other hard substance. This serves to prevent the wearing away of the wood by the friction of the arrow, which is greater or less according to the slope of the bow, and the attention or otherwise of the Archer in wiping his arrows when needed.

The length of the bow is here calculated from nock to nock, and should be regulated by its strength, and the length of the arrow to be used with it. As a rule for safety, I should say the stronger the bow the greater should be its length; and so also the longer the arrow, the longer the bow. For those who draw the usually 28-inch arrow in bows of from 48lbs. to 55lbs., a useful and safe length would be about 5ft. 10½ in. If this length of arrow or weight of bow be increased or decreased, then let the length of the bow be proportionally increased or decreased also, taking as the two extremes, 6ft. 7in. for the shortest and 6 feet for the longest. I would have no bow outside of either of these measurements. It may be here remarked that a short bow will, perhaps, cast further than a longer one of the same weight; but this extra cast is only gained at a greater risk of breakage. As bows are generally weighted and marked for a 28-inch arrow, a greater or less pull than this will take more or less out off them; and the Archer's calculations must be made accordingly.

To increase or diminish the power of a how, the usual plan is to shorten in the one case, and reduce (in hulk) in the other. In all cases the horns should he well and truly set on, and the nocks he full and round. If the edges he sharp, the string will, in all probability, be cut, and, in consequence, break sooner or later, and endanger the safety of the bow.

I now come to the second part of my subject, namely, the backed bow. From all that can be learnt respecting it, it would appear that its use was not adopted in this country until Archery was in its last state of decline as a weapon of war, when, the bow degenerating into a mere instrument of amusement, the laws relating to the importation of yew staves from foreign countries were evaded, and the supply consequently ceased. It was then that the bowyers hit upon the plan of uniting a tough to an elastic wood, and so managed to make a very efficient weapon out of very inferior materials. This cannot fairly be called an invention of the English bowyers, but an adaptation of the plan which had long been in use amongst the Turks, Persians, Tartars, Chinese, and many other nations, more especially the Laplanders, whose bows were made of two pieces of wood united with isinglass. As far as regards the English backed-bow (this child of necessity), the end of the sixteenth century is given as the date of its introduction, and the Kensals, of Manchester, are named as the first makers—bows of whose make are still in existence and use, and are generally made of Yew, backed with Hickory or Wych-Elm.

The backed-bows of the present day are made of two or more strips of the same or different woods glued and compressed together, as firmly as possible, in a frame with powerful screws, which frame is capable of being set to any shape. Various woods are used, all of which make serviceable bows, though differing much in quality, For the back we have Lance, Hickory, American and Wych Elm, Hornbeam, and the sap or white part of the Yew; for the belly, Yew,

Washaba, Lance, Snake, Fustic, and some others inferior to these, are used. But of all combinations it may be said, "Micat inter omnes Yew-backed Yew, velut inter ignes Luna minores." This is the real rival of the self-yew, the one that stands pre-eminently forward in the ranks of the backed, the disputer of its supremacy; tout more of this by-and-bye, when comparing the respective merits of the two bows. Then next in quality comes Yew backed with Hickory, or any other tough wood; and then, longo intervallo, Fustic, Washaba, and Lance, backed in like manner. For bows of three pieces, Yew, Fustic, and Hickory, will hardly be improved by any other combination; but, as a general rule, bows of two pieces are preferable, as the more glue there is about a bow the more the danger exists of a breakage from damp, and in no one point docs a bow of three or more pieces excel one of two.

The next point to be treated of is a most important one, namely, the shape; and here I shall differ most materially from the commonly received opinion. The backed-bow is generally made re-flexed, and bends in the hand, more or less, according to the amount of the reflex. (See Nos. 4 and 8—Plates 2 and 3. Now the exact reverse of this is contended for, and it is boldly maintained that every particle of reflex is bad, and that the proper shape is either straight or a trifle following the string—similar, in fact, to that before recommended for the self-bow, namely, full and stiff in the centre, and tapering gradually to each horn. The first quality of a bow is steadiness; now every degree of reflex is accompanied by a like degree of jar or kick, the effect of which causes the very reverse of this quality; and this holds good equally in respect of self-bows, which are sometimes, though rarely, naturally reflexed, and sometimes purposely so set when grafted, though the naturally reflexed self yew-bows do not generally retain that shape for any length of time, but, with a little use, come to the string so far as to do away with the unpleasant jar.

The jar or kick in reflexed bows has always appeared to roc to arise from the following cause: when the bow is set free by the loose, its natural elasticity causes it to return as far as it can to its original shape, so that the further each limb has to go to its rest the greater becomes the struggle when checked by the string. (See Nos. 6 and 7. Plate 3.) This is shown by the fact that reflexed bows are almost invariably broken by the fracture of the string, whilst the contrary is the case with those which follow it. The less then there is of that violent struggle (so to speak) on the recoil, the less there will be of the jar or kick, and the steadier in consequence the shot. This may be easily tested by shooting a few dozen arrows with a bow that follows the string, and immediately afterwards with a reflexed one. A man must be prejudiced indeed who will not allow that there is a vast difference between the two upon the point in question. Now what can be urged in favour of the reflex? Has it any peculiar merit of its own to compensate for the absence of this first element of a good bow—steadiness? Even its strongest advocates can only assert in its favour that it adds to the spring; but granting that this is so (which I do not), are a few extra yards of cast worth gaining at the expense of the finest quality a bow can possess, and without which accurate shooting is impossible? The reflex, too, adds materially to the chance of breaking both by chrysals, damp, and the fracture of the string, as the wood, particularly of the belly, is forced out of its natural shape, recoils farther, and meets with a more violent check when stopped by the string; so that, even supposing it gains a trifle on the point of cast, it loses infinitely more on the two equally important ones of steadiness and safety. I think that no one will be tempted to deny that the best form of bow is that which is steadiest in cast, freest from jar or kick, and pleasantest and safest in use; and that, it is confidently affirmed, is not the reflexed.

Now comes a question which may well admit of dispute, and which must, after all, be left to each Archer to decide for himself. Which is best: a well-made self-yew, or an equally well-made yew-backed yew-bow? (Other backed-bows, though good and serviceable, especially yew-backed with hickory, I cannot think come up to these.) The advocates of the self-yew affirm their pet weapon to be the sweetest in use, the steadiest in hand, the most certain in cast, and the most beautiful to the eye; and in all these points, with the exception of that of certainty of cast (in which respect the yew-backed yew is fully equal) they are borne out by the fact. This being the case, how is it then that a doubt can still remain as to which is most profitable for an Archer to make use of? Here are three out of four points (two of which are most important) upon which it is admitted the self-yew is superior; and yet, after much practical and experimental testing of the two bows, I hesitate to which to give the preference, and knowing not which to recommend, must, after all, as before said, leave it to the taste and judgment of every man to decide for himself. The fact undoubtedly is, that the self-yew is the most perfect weapon; but it is equally an undoubted fact, that it requires more delicate handling than its rival: since, its cast lying very much in the last three or four inches of the pull, any variation in this respect, or difference in quickness or otherwise of the loose, varies the elevation of the arrow to a much greater extent than the same variation of pull or loose in the backed-yew, whose cast is more uniform throughout. Now, were a man perfect in his physical powers, or always in first-rate shooting condition, there would be no doubt as to which bow he should use, as he would in this case be able to attain to the difficult nicety required in the management of the self-yew; but as this never can and never will be, the superior merits of this bow are partially counteracted by the extreme difficulty of doing justice to them; and, the degree of harshness of pull and unsteadiness in hand of the yew-backed yew being but trilling, the greater certainty with which it accomplishes the elevation counterbalances, upon average results, its inferiority in other respects. Another advantage the self possesses is, that it is not liable to injury from damp, when the backed is; but then the latter costs little more than a third of the money, and with common care need fear no harm from that cause; an inch or two of lapping at either end, close to the horns, will go a long way to preserve it from this danger. As regards chrysals and breakage from other causes than damp, neither possesses any advantage over the other. The main results of the different qualities of the two bows resolve themselves into these two prominent features, namely, that the self-yew bow, from its steadiness, sweetness, and absence of vibration, ensures the straightness of the shot better than the backed-yew; whilst the latter, owing to its regularity of cast not being confined to a hair's-breadth of pull, as it were, carries off the palm for certainty of elevation, and this favourable attribute belongs to backed-bows generally.

As regards backed-bows other than yew, it has already been observed that they are inferior to the two sorts just treated of. But it must not be supposed from this that it is intended to affirm that they are bad or unfit for the Archer's use—on the contrary, if properly made, they are good and serviceable weapons, only less to be recommended than the two kinds of yew-bows; neither must the idea be adopted from what has been said respecting the superiority of yew as a wood for bows, that therefore all yew-bows are necessarily good or better than those of other woods; such is far from being the case, for a backed-bow, well made of a good piece of Fustic, Washaba, or Lance, is decidedly better than either a self or backed one made of inferior yew. It is only to the best samples of yew-bows of either kind that the foregoing remarks are intended to apply.

There is a bow called the "carriage-bow," which here requires some notice. It is made to divide, in the centre by means of an iron or brass socket fixed to the lower limb of the bow—something similar to the joint of a fishing-rod, in fact. The only object attained, however, is that it enables the Archer when travelling to carry his bow in a smaller compass: but to obtain this, much additional weight is added to the bow, rendering it heavy in hand, and unpleasant in use. The remedy here, therefore, is worse than the disease.

The Carriage Bow
The Carriage Bow
Copyright © 1998 - 2017 | Disclaimer | Privacy Policy