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A fletcher is a skilled artisan who traditionally crafted arrows for use in hunting or warfare. The word "fletcher" comes from the Old French word "flechier," which means "arrow maker."
In medieval times, the fletcher's trade was considered essential because arrows were the primary weapon used in battles and hunting. The fletcher's expertise was highly valued, as they knew how to select and shape the right type of wood for the arrow's shaft, as well as how to attach the arrowhead, fletching, and nock.
Arrows were made in large quantities during wars and battles, and a skilled fletcher could produce hundreds of arrows in a day. They were often employed by kings, nobles, and armies, and their work was considered so important that they were granted special privileges and exemptions from taxes and other obligations.
The fletcher would start by selecting a straight-grained piece of wood that was the appropriate length and thickness for the arrow. They would typically use wood from trees such as birch, ash, or hazel, which had the right properties for making a strong, straight arrow.
The wood was then split into thin strips using a froe or similar tool, and any knots or defects were removed. The strips were then planed and shaved to the correct thickness and tapered to the correct shape using a draw knife or spokeshave.
The arrowhead, which could be made of stone, bone, or metal, would be attached to the front of the shaft using a variety of techniques. Stone and bone arrowheads were typically socketed, meaning they had a hollow section that fits over the end of the shaft. The socket was then filled with resin-based glue made from materials such as pine pitch, beeswax, and animal fat.
Metal arrowheads were often attached using a tang, which was a thin piece of metal that was inserted into the end of the shaft and secured with glue or a binding cord. The tang was then hammered down to form a barb, which helped to keep the arrowhead in place.
The fletching, usually made of bird feathers, would be attached to the back using glue or a binding cord. The feathers helped to stabilize the arrow in flight and improve its accuracy.
The fletcher would carefully select and sort the feathers to ensure that they were of the right size and shape and then trim them to the correct length. The feathers were then glued or bound to the shaft, with the two outer feathers angled slightly differently from the middle feather to create a slight spin on the arrow in flight.
The nock would be cut into the end of the shaft, allowing the arrow to be fitted onto the bowstring. This was typically done with a small saw or knife and required great precision to ensure that the nock was the right depth and width.
In addition to making arrows, fletchers would also repair damaged arrows and create other items, such as crossbow bolts and quarrels (short, thick arrows). They would also sometimes make other wooden items such as tool handles, barrels, and furniture.