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Home > Books > Archery, its Theory and Practice > Chapter 5
Chapter V
Of The Arrow.
Part 1 of 2

How to Test its Strength and Straightness—Best Materials for its Manufacture—Apparent Antagonism between the Theory and Practice of Archery, as regards its Flight, explained—Its Different Shapes—The Feathering—The Point—Varities of—Length and Weight.


The arrow is, perhaps, the most important of all the implements of the Archer, and requires the greatest nicety of make, and excellence of materials; for though he may get on without absolute failure with an inferior bow and other tackle, unless the arrow be of the best, Robin Hood himself would have aimed in vain. Two things are essential to a good arrow, namely, perfect straightness, and a stiffness or rigidity sufficient to stand in the bow, i.e., to receive the whole force of the bow, without flirting or gadding, for a weak or supple, is even worse than a crooked arrow, and it need hardly be said how little conducive to shooting straight is the latter. The straightness of the arrow may be easily tested by the following simple process:—place the nails of the thumb and middle finger of the left hand so as just to touch, and with the same fingers of the right hand spin the arrow upon them; if it revolve true and steady, and close to the nail, it is straight, but if it jumps in the very least, the contrary is the case. To test its strength or stiffness, place the pile on any solid substance, holding it by the nock, and with the other hand press it gently downward in the middle. A very little experience will suffice to tell whether it be sufficiently stiff or not. An arrow that is weaker on one side than the other should also be rejected.

Arrows are either selfs or footed; the former are made of a single piece of wood; the latter, and the more preferable, have a different and harder wood dovetailed on to them at the pile end. "A shaft," says old Roger Ascham, "hath three principal parts, the stele, the feather, and the head, of which each must be severally spoken of." The stele, that is, the wooden body of the arrow, used to be, and sometimes now is, made of different woods; but for target, or indeed any other modern shooting, all may be discarded save one —red deal, which, when of clean, straight grain, and well seasoned, whether for selfs or footed shafts, is incomparably superior to all others. For footing, any hard wood will do; and if this be solid for one inch below the pile, it will be amply sufficient. Lance and Washaba are perhaps the best woods for this purpose; the latter is the toughest, but the former, I think, the preferable, the darkness of the Washaba having a tendency to attract the eye. This footing has three recommendations;—the first, that it causes the arrow to fly steadier, and get through a wind better; the second, that being of a harder nature than deal, it is not so easily worn away by the friction it unavoidably meets with on entering the target or the ground; and the third, that the same hardness saves the point from being broken off, should it happen to strike against any hard substance, such as a stone in the ground for instance. Before shooting is commenced, and after it is finished, let the arrows be rubbed with a piece of oiled flannel; this will prevent the paint of the target adhering to them (which otherwise it will assuredly more or less do), and save the application of sand-paper to clean them, which is objectionable on account of its wearing away the wood.

Before entering upon the question as to the best shape of the "stele" for practical use, it is necessary to say a few words concerning a point where the theory and practice of Archery, apparently clash; as follows:—

If a straight arrow be placed on the bowstring, the bow drawn, and aim taken at an object, and if the bow be then slowly relaxed, the arrow being held until it returns to the position of rest—that is, if the passage of the arrow over the bow be slow and gradual— it will be found that the arrow docs not finally point to the object aimed at, but in a direction deviating to the left of it; in fact, that its direction has been altering at each point of its return to the position of rest. This is evidently due to the half-breadth of the bow, and the nock of the arrow being carried on the string, in a plane containing the string and the axis of the bow's length—and this deviation will be greater if the arrow be chested, less if it be bobtailed. (Vide plate 4).

Plate 4
Plate 4

If the same arrow, when drawn to its head, be loosed at the object aimed at—that is, if the passage of the arrow over the bow be impulsive and instantaneous—it will go straight to the object aimed at (the shooting being in all respects perfect).

How then is the difference of final direction in the two cases to be explained?

It must be observed that the nock of the arrow being constrained to move as it does move, causes, in the last case, a blow of the arrow upon the bow (owing to its slanting position on the bow, and its simultaneous rapidity of passage) and, therefore, a blow of the bow upon the arrow. This makes the bow have quite a different effect upon the deviation from what it had in the first case, when the arrow was merely moved slowly and gradually along it, the obstacle presented by the half breadth of the bow then causing a deviation wholly to the left. The blow, however, now considered, has a tendency to cause deviation to the left only during the first half of the arrow's passage along the bow, whilst, during the second half, it causes a deviation to the right; or, more correctly speaking, the blow of the bow upon the arrow has a tendency to cause a deviation to the left, so long as the centre of gravity of the arrow is within the bow, and vice versâ. So that, if this were the only force upon the arrow, the centre of gravity should lie midway in that part of the arrow which is in contact with the bow during the recoil.

The blow of the bow during the latter part of the arrow's passage causing deviation of the point towards the right, is, however, counteracted to some extent, if not altogether, by the action of the string which holds the arrow.

The struggle between these two forces is clearly indicated by the appearance of the arrow near the place where it is in contact with the bow when it leaves the string. It is here that the arrow is always most worn.

The nature then of the dynamical action may be thus briefly explained. The first impulse given to the arrow, being instantaneous and very great in proportion to any other forces which act upon it, impresses a high initial velocity in the direction of aim, and this direction the arrow recovers, notwithstanding the slight deviations caused by the mutual action of the bow and arrow before explained —these in fact, as has been already shewn, to a great extent counteracting each other. Just as, for example, a hoop when in rapid motion may be slightly struck at the side, and a deviation from its path caused, which it nevertheless immediately recovers from, and continues in its original course.

The recoil of the bow, besides the motion in direction of aim, impresses a rotary motion upon the arrow about its centre of gravity. This tendency, however, to rotate about an axis through its centre of gravity is counteracted by the feathers. For, suppose the arrow to be shot off with a slight rotary motion about a vertical axis, in a short time its point will deviate to the left of the plane of projection, and the centre of gravity will be the only point which continues in that plane. The feathers of the arrow will now be turned to the right of the same plane, and the velocity of the arrow will cause a considerable resistance of the air against them. This resistance will twist the arrow until the point comes to the right of the plane of projection, when it will begin to turn the arrow the contrary way. Thus, through the agency of the feathers, the deviation of the point from the plane of projection is confined within very narrow limits indeed.

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