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The Second Book of The School of Shooting.
Part 3 of 8

The fourth thing that breaketh a bow is frets, which make a bow ready and apt to break by any of the three ways aforesaid. Frets be in a shaft as well as in a bow, and they be much like a canker, creeping and increasing in those places in a bow, which be weaker than other. And for this purpose must your bow be well trimmed and piked of a cunning man, that it may come round in true compass every where. For frets you must beware if your bow have a knot in the back, lest the places which be next it be not allowed strong enough to bear with the knot, or else the strong knot shall fret the weak places next it. Frets be first little pinches, the which when you perceive, pike the places about the pinches, to make them somewhat weaker, and as well coming as where it pinched, and so the pinches shall die, and never increase further into great frets.

Frets begin many times in a pin, for there the good wood is corrupted, that it must needs be weak; and because it is weak, therefore it frets. Good bowyers therefore do raise every pin, and allow it more wood for fear of fretting.

Again, bows most commonly fret under the hand, not so much as some men suppose for the moistness of the hand, as for the heat of the hand. The nature of heat, saith Aristotle, is to loose, and not to knit fast, and the more looser the more weaker, the more weaker the readier to fret.

A bow is not well made which hath not wood plenty in the. hand. For if the ends of the bow be staffish, or a man's hand any thing hot, the belly must needs soon fret. Remedy for frets to any purpose I never heard tell of any, but only to make the fretted place as strong, or stronger, than any other. To fill up the fret with little shivers of a quill and glue, as some say will do well, by reason must be stark nought. For put case the fret did cease then ; yet the cause which made it fret afore, (and that is weakness of the place,) because it is not taken away, must needs make it fret again. As for cutting out of frets, with all manner of piecing of bows, I will clean exclude from perfect shooting. For pieced bows be much like old housen, which be more chargeable to repair than commodious to dwell in. And again, to swaddle a bow much about with bands, very seldom doth any good, except it be to keep down a spell in the back, otherwise bands either need not, when the bow is anything worth, or else boot not, when it is marred and past best. And although I know mean and poor shooters will use pieced and banded bows sometime, because they are not able to get better when they would; yet, I am sure, if they consider it well, they shall find it both less charge and more pleasure, to bestowe [8] at any time a couple of shillings of a new bow, than to bestow ten pence of piecing an old bow. For better is cost upon somewhat worth, than spence [expence] upon nothing worth. And this I speak also, because you would have me refer all to perfectness in shooting.

Moreover, there is another thing, which will soon cause a bow to be broken by one of the three ways which be first spoken of; and that is shooting in winter[9] when there is any frost. Frost is wheresoever is any waterish humour, as is in all woods, either more or less; and you know that all things frozen and icy will rather break than bend. Yet, if a man must needs shoot at any such time, let him take his bow and bring it to the fire ; and there, by little and little, rub and chafe it with a waxed cloth, which shall bring it to that point that he may shoot safely enough in it. This rubbing with wax, as I said before, is a great succour against all wet and moistness. In the fields also, in going betwixt the pricks, either with your hand, or else with a cloth, you must keep your bow in such a temper.

And thus much as concerning your bow, how first to know what wood is best for a bow, then to choose a bow, after to trim a bow, again to keep it in goodness; last of all, how to save it from all harm and evilness. And although many men can say more of a bow, yet I trust these things be true, and almost sufficient for the knowledge of a perfect bow.

Phi. Surely I believe so, and yet I could have heard you talk longer on it; although I cannot see what may be said more of it. Therefore, except you will pause a while, you may go forward to a shaft.

Tox. What shafts were made of in old time, authors do not so manifestly show, as of bows. Herodotus doth tell, that in the flood of Nilus there was a beast, called a Water Horse, of whose skin, after it was dried, the Egyptians made shafts and darts on. The tree called Cornus was so common to make shafts of, that, in good authors of the Latin tongue, Cornus is taken for a shaft, as in Seneca, and that place of Virgil,

Volat Itala cornus.

Yet, of all things that ever I marked of old authors, either Greek or Latin, for shafts to be made of, there is nothing so common as reeds. Herodotus, in describing the mighty host of Xerxes, doth tell, that three great countries used shafts made of a reed ; the Ethiopians, the Lycians (whose shafts lacked feathers, whereat I marvel most of all), and the men of Inde. The shafts in Inde were very long, a yard and an half, as Arrianus doth say ; or at the least a yard, as Q. Curtius doth say, and therefore they gave the greater stripe ; but yet, because they were so long, they were the more unhandsome and less profitable to men of Inde, as Curtius doth tell.

In Crete and Italy they used to have their shafts of reed also. The best reed for shafts grew in Inde, and in Rhenus, a flood of Italy. But, because such shafts be neither easy for Englishmen to get, and, if they were gotten, scarce profitable for them to use, I will let them pass, and speak of those shafts which Englishmen, at this day, most commonly do approve and allow. A shaft hath three principal parts, the stele, the feathers, and the head; whereof every one must be severally spoken of.

Steles be made of divers woods: as,

Brazil, Service-tree,
Turkey wood, Hulder [Alder],
Fustic, Blackthorn,
Sugar-chest, Beech,
Hardbeam, Elder,
Birch, Asp,
Ash, Sallow.

These woods, as they be most commonly used, so they be most fit to be used : yet some one fitter than another for divers men's shooting, as shall be told afterward. And in this point, as in a bow, you must trust an honest fletcher. Nevertheless, although I cannot teach you to make a bow or a shaft, which belongeth to a bowyer and a fletcher to come to their living, yet will I show you some tokens to know a bow and a shaft, which pertaineth to an archer to come to good shooting.

A stele must be well seasoned for casting,[10] and it must be made as the grain lieth, and as it groweth, or else it will never fly clean, as cloth cut overthwart, and against the wool, can never hose a man clean. A knotty stele may be suffered in a big shaft, but for a little shaft it is nothing fit, both because it will never fly far; and, besides that it is ever in danger of breaking, it flyeth not far because the strength of the shoot is hindered and stopped at the knot, even as a stone cast into a plain even still water, will make the water move a great space ; yet, if there be any whirling plat in the water, the moving ceaseth when it cometh at the whirling plat, which is not much unlike a knot in a shaft, if it be considered well. So everything as it is plain and straight of his own nature, so is it fittest for far moving. Therefore a stele which is hard to stand in a bow without knot, and straight, (I mean not artificially straight as the fletcher doth make it, but naturally straight as it groweth in the wood,) is best to make a shaft of, either to go clean, fly far, or stand surely in any weather.

Now how big, how small, how heavy, how light, how long, how short, a shaft should be particularly for every man, seeing we must talk of the general nature of shooting, cannot be told ; no more than you rhetoricians can appoint any one kind of words, of sentences, of figures, fit for every matter ; but even as the man and the matter requireth, so the fittest to be used. Therefore as concerning those contraries in a shaft, every man must avoid them, and draw to the mean of them, which mean is best in all things. Yet if a man happen to offend in any of the extremes, it-is better to offend in want and scantness, than in too much and outrageous exceeding. As it is better to have a shaft a little too short than over-long, somewhat too light than over-lumpish, a little too small than a great deal too big; which thing is not only truly said in shooting, but in all other things that ever man goeth about; as in eating, talking, and all other things like; which matter was once excellently disputed upon in the schools, you know when.

And to offend in these contraries, cometh much, if men take not heed, through the kind of wood whereof the shaft is made; for some wood belongs to the exceeding part, some to the scant part, some to the mean, as Brazil, Turkey wood, fustic, sugar-chest, and such like, make dead, heavy, lumpish, hobbling shafts. Again, alder, blackthorn, service tree, beech, elder, asp, and sallow, either for their weakness or lightness, make hollow, starting, studding, gadding shafts. But birch, hardbeam, some oak, and some ash, being both strong enough to stand in a bow, and also light enough to fly far, are best for a mean, which is to be sought out in every thing. And although I know that some men shoot so strong, that the dead woods be light enough for them, and other some so weak, that the loose woods be likewise for them big enough, yet generally, for the most part of men, the mean is the best. And so to conclude, that is always best for a man which is meetest for him. Thus no wood of his own nature is either too light or too heavy, but as the shooter is himself which doth use it. For that shaft, which one year for a man is too light and scudding, for the self-same man the next year may chance to be heavy and hobbling. Therefore cannot I express, except generally, which is best wood for a shaft; but let every man, when he knoweth his own strength, and the nature of every wood, provide and fit himself thereafter. Yet, as concerning sheaf arrows for war, (as I suppose) it were better to make them of good ash, and not of asp, they be now-a-days. For of all other woods that ever I proved, ash being big is swiftest, and again heavy give a great stripe withal, which asp shall not do. What heaviness doth in a stripe, every man by experience can tell; therefore ash being both swifter[11] and heavier, is more fit for sheaf arrows than asp : And thus much for the best wood for shafts.