Part 1 of 4
ROGER ASCHAM, whose charming old treatise, "Toxophilus," is to archery what Isaac Walton's is to angling, has afforded me much of the matter condensed in the following pages. I am sure that pedantic old disciple of the bow would not, if alive, grudge me the privilege I have taken with his curious phrases and villainous spelling. Indeed, his is not the only book I have drawn from, with a free hand, in the course of my labor to make as plain and as easy as possible the road to a perfect mastery of the science and art of archery.
The regulation length of a gentleman's bow is six feet from nock to nock of the horn tips. Its strength is measured in pounds, and is ascertained by drawing the bow with a spring scale and noting the number of pounds indicated when the string is twenty-six inches from the inside of the bow, which is about the "draw" of a twenty-eight inch arrow. Measured from the centre of the plush handle the end of the bow which is held uppermost in shooting is somewhat longer than the other end, owing to the fact that in order to allow the arrow to pass over the exact centre of the bow, the handle is placed below that point. The notch in the horn of the shorter limb of the bow is called the lower nock, that in the horn of the longer limb the upper nock. The rounded side of the bow is the belly, the flat side the back, in English nomenclature; but here in America we say the inner side and outer side. The bow should always be bent flat side out.
The proper length for a lady's bow is five feet six inches. Fifty pounds is a good weight for a gentleman's and thirty pounds for a lady's bow.
What are called self-bows, that is, bows made of a single piece of wood, are the best for all ordinary purposes, being less liable to break or become injuriously affected by moisture or ill-usage. The grain fibres of the wood should be parallel with the bow longitudinally, for if the grain is cut across in the making, the weapon is liable to snap or shiver under the first strain.
I have found the yellow-colored lemonwood bows of Highfield's make the best to stand all kinds of usage, but the snakewood, yew, lancewood, and the backed bows are springier and quicker.
What are called "fancy-backed bows" in the catalogue of dealers are beautiful weapons and shoot with surprising power. The best of these are made of snakewood backed with hickory.
Knots, decayed spots, short curls in the fibres, and freats or cracks render a bow liable to break at these places. In selecting, choose a weapon free from suspicious spots of every kind.
The nocks in the horn tips should not be too deep, as this renders the bow unmanageable when you come to unstring it. About two-thirds the diameter of the string is about the proper dimension.
Most of the bows sold by dealers are made of two sticks put together endwise and joined by deep saw-tooth notches and points filed into each other alternately and glued. Over this juncture is wrapped a tightly drawn layer of strong hemp fibre and still over this is glued the plush handle. After a time, unless great care is used to avoid it, the perspiration from the bow-hand will soften the glue, and the bow will break or part. A light, close-fitting glove on the left hand will obviate this.
Bows that have been manufactured several years and have been lying in a wareroom uncovered are apt to be damaged in the fibre. Test them by repeated strong draws before accepting them. How, ever, if the wood shows clear and bright through the outer polish, it is probably sound.
Some weapons have the horn swelled too much just below the upper nock, rendering them hard to brace or string.
The slenderer a bow can be made at the handle, without rendering it too weak there, the better will be its shooting qualities, as the arrow starts at a less angle with the plane of sight from string to bow. With a thick bow the arrow will incline to the left, and miss the mark on that side.
The bow should bend evenly, so as to form when strung, or braced, a part of a circle, a little flattened at the handle, the string standing out about six and one-half inches from the inside of the handle of a six-foot weapon.
When shooting, if a painful recoil against the bow-hand is felt, the bow is too weak there, and should be padded with some soft substance, or a wadded glove should be worn.
The true power of a bow cannot be measured by its drawing weight, as a great deal depends upon the elasticity and quickness of recoil inherent in the wood. Hence the fact that a fifty-pound bow of snakewood will sometimes be found casting an arrow farther than a seventy-pound one of some other slower wood.
Whilst the horn tips are quite ornamental, they are by no means absolutely necessary. Very good bows can be made by having the nocks cut in the wood.
Mulberry, sassafras, bois d'arc, southern cedar, black locust, black walnut and slippery elm, are valuable woods, in the order named, for making bows; but the foreign weapons manufactured of lemonwood, lancewood, yew, and snakewood are far superior to any we can make in the United States of any of our native trees.
Do not use too strong a bow. Be able to handle your weapon without any straining or apparent effort. But too weak a bow should also be avoided. Take the golden mean. Always buy the very best bow you can find. You can never become an archer by penuriously hunting for cheap tackle. Besides, the best is, in the long run, always the cheapest at any price.
Keep your bow dry. The better it is, the more easily it is injured by dampness. A woollen rag, very soft, and saturated with boiled linseed oil, mixed with a little beeswax, should be kept to rub the bow with. Rub it just before putting it away after using it.
Keep the bow in a green baize bag, when not in use. Do not put it too near a fire, but let the room where it stays be always dry.
To MAKE A Bow. -Take a good billet split from mulberry, sassafras, southern cedar, black locust, or apple tree, giving preference to the woods in the order named. Let the billet be from five to seven feet long, according to the desired length of the bow, and, say three inches square, perfectly free from knots, curls, freats, or rotten spots-in fact, a sound, clear billet. Now, with great care shave the piece down to a uniform size, for its entire length, nearly circular and about two inches in diameter. Lay the piece away to dry for two months, say above a country kitchen fireplace, taking pains that no hint of moisture ever reaches it. When it is thoroughly seasoned, finish as follows: First, mark the exact centre of the billet, and from this point, in the direction of what is to be the lower end of the bow, lay off a space of five inches for the handle. From each extremity of the handle taper the bow to the ends, excepting that what is to be the back must be kept flat and even with the grain. Dress the handle and body of the bow down till, by trying it, you find it nearly of the proper power. It should now be finished with sand and emery paper till as smooth and even as glass. Now glue a piece of green plush around the handle, and your bow is ready for the horn tips, which are the ends of cows' horns neatly turned and bored out to fit over the extremities of the bow, which extremities ought to be but little larger than a man's third finger. The horns should be of the shape and finish given in the accompanying plate of detail drawings; but it must be particularly noticed that the drawing marked b was, either by my own fault or by a mistake of the en-graver, made wrong; the wood of the bow is there made flat on the inner side and rounded on the outer side or back, whereas it should be just the re-verse. The hole bored in the horn to receive the end of the bow should be tapering and deep enough to allow the wood to pass slightly above the nock. To make the horn work easily boil it in water till soft. A small hole is usually drilled through the tip of the upper horn, to receive a green ribbon which passes through the bowstring's loop and is tied in a fancy bow-knot. The drawing a is a cross-section showing the shape of the back and inner side of the bow when finished.
The backed bows are made of two pieces glued together the entire length of the bow. If made of American woods, have the back of white hickory one-third of an inch thick and one and a quarter inches broad, and the inner side of black walnut or red cedar.
STRINGING THE BOW.
Stringing the bow ready for shooting is called bracing it.
To brace the bow, grasp the handle firmly with the right hand, place the lower horn tip against the hollow part of the right foot, the back of the bow being next to the leg. Now place the heel of the left hand against the back of the bow at the upper end and below the loop. Pull outward with the right hand, and push inward with the left hand, at the same time pushing the loop into the upper nock with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. During this operation both feet are fixed firmly on the ground, the left slightly advanced. Some archers prefer to place the bow in the hollow of the left foot, reversing the position of the hands. Either way is equally good.
Bowstrings are made of hemp or flax; the former is considered the best, and the material is waxed and slack-twisted without doubling. A loop is formed by the manufacturer in one end, and both extremities are trebled in size, forming a three-cord for about ten inches, gradually tapering. The best strings are the large white hemp ones, sold by dealers for about sixty cents each. Recently, some dark-colored cords, made of fine flax thread, have been giving excellent results. In choosing take a string with a heavy loop, as it will be found, on this account, easier to slip up the bow in stringing or bracing.
It requires some skill to put a string upon a bow properly. Usually the dealer furnishes the bow with the cord attached. By examining you will discover that, at the lower end of the bow, the string is fastened as follows:
The middle part of the string should be wrapped for about six inches with fine silk thread slightly waxed. This to prevent the arrow and fingers, and the left sleeve, or bracer, from wearing it out. The entire cord should be occasionally rubbed with beeswax. If you can get hold of a real brown hemp Flanders string you will soon discover its superiority; but the white ones, as I have said, are the best offered in our markets. A particularly good strong string, once secured, should be carefully kept. The loop may be wrapped with fine leather, and the entire body of the cord covered with closely-drawn green silk thread well waxed.
In order to keep the upper loop from slipping down when the bow is not braced, it has been the custom of archers to draw a bit of green ribbon through a small hole in the upper horn, then down through the loop, where it is tied in a fancy knot. With the string thus fastened to its place, which is called looping, the bow may be carried in any position of the manual of arms in marching or parading.
A string should be slender and even, twisted close, but not to kink, and very heavy at and near the loops.
Mark a place on your string, when the bow is braced, exactly opposite the top end of the plush handle, for the nocking-place of your arrow. Al-ways get the nock there before shooting.
If a good string begins to fray, wrap the place with fine silk thread, well waxed. To enlarge the cord at the loops, wrap it with silk or fine flax thread until it is of the desired thickness.
Some archers wrap their strings with parchment, but I do not recommend it. Silk is best and most easily managed.
Always have with you some extra strings, ready looped and waxed, and fitted to your bow. A pocket case of leather is good to carry strings in; it keeps them from untwisting or getting otherwise injured.
When using a strong-backed bow, be very careful to remove the string, if it seems to be giving way, as your bow will be nearly sure to break when the string does, the recoil snapping the inner piece.
Keep bow-strings dry at all times.