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    Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

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    Rhodok Man-at-Arms
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    Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Rhodok Man-at-Arms on Sun May 24, 2015 10:24 pm

    Hello, I just registered. I had a question related to keeping crossbows loaded/drawn. This may not be the place to post this.

    How long can you keep a crossbow drawn before it starts to have negative effects, is the main question. I expect that the more powerful the crossbow, such as siege crossbows, the faster and worse the negative effects.

    The other question I have is how bad the effects are, and which parts of the crossbow are affected. I expected the string and bow to be effected.

    My last question is how easily/cheaply the affected parts could be replaced.

    Sorry if this is posted in the wrong place.

    kenh
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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by kenh on Mon May 25, 2015 7:55 am

    Those are really open-ended questions with answers that begin "It depends..."

    The answer to the basic question really won't depend on the strength of the bow, as all of the parts are relatively scaled up to handle greater stresses. 

    How long?  A day or less.  Preferably not more than a few minutes, especially with wooden prods. Certainly not more than a few hours (hunt from sun up to noon.  Release and rest an hour.  Recock, hunt the afternoon). You can't cock it today and shoot it next week and expect it to function at even 80%.

    That being said, both wood and steel prods can and will "take a set" -- stay bent more than they should when the string is removed.  This reduces the power of the prod.  Strings will stretch, at least some, again reducing power.  To a lesser extent the action parts (pivot pins, rollernuts, trigger sears, etc.) are stressed more than necessary and conceivable fail under sustained load.

    Cost of replacement parts?  Which parts?  Without specifics of period it is impossible to say.  Do you mean modern crossbows and/or modern replicas of original bows?  Or are you referring to costs in say the 1400s to R&R a crossbow?

    The same as cost of original parts with the added cost or labor to replace.  Ease of replacement?  Depends on the part.  A prod is a major hassle to replace as the original must be unbound or otherwise released, and the new prod bound or ironed in place.  Strings are relatively quick and easy if you have a "bow press" to easily flex the prod and remove the old string (If it didn't break) the pod and remove.  Action part replacement will vary depending on the action.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by twedzel on Tue May 26, 2015 12:00 am

    The answer to your question is dependent on the material properties of the string/ limbs/lock, the quality of their construction, and the amount of force being exerted on them.

    Every material out there has properties which can be measured. These are generally known as material properties. The material properties of  concern to your question are the elastic modulus and creep. Elastic modulus is the measurement of the strain where a material will fail to return to its original form after the strain has been removed. When a materials elastic modulus reaches failure then it will have a variable range (dependent on the material in question) of plastic deformation where the material permanently deforms and will not return to its original shape before outright breaking. In bow making this plastic deformation is called taking set. Creep is permanent deformation of a material under extended periods of strain. It is similar to plastic deformation but it can become an issue even when a materials elastic limits have not been exceeded. Materials like fiberglass have excellent elastic modulus properties and likewise are more resistant to creep, so you can keep fiberglass limbs drawn for longer periods of time without suffering negative effects. Steel generally has poorer elastic modulus and will often suffer badly from plastic deformation if over strained. This is why steel prods are deflexed at the tips (set back to lessen strain). Of course steels material properties are entirely dependent on both the type of steel used and its temper. Highly tempered steel will be extremely hard yet brittle, it will shatter rather than bend. Spring steel is a high carbon steel that has been tempered to a lower degree so it will have better elastic properties and will more readily bend rather than breaking outright. Untempered steel will deform much more easily under load and will not readily break outright but its tendency to permanently bend under load is undesirable. Wood is very species dependent and dependent on the individual structure of the wood.

    The quality of construction is important because if the limbs are not strained equally along their length, then the strain will become concentrated at the weak points. Obviously greater strain means a greater likelihood that the elastic limits will be blown in that area and thus subjecting the area to greater rates of both plastic deformation and creep. The limb will often fail at these weak points especially if the weak point is being subjected to the additional strain more abruptly.

    Lastly the greater the force obviously means the greater the strain on both strings and limbs. Underbuilt limbs will be more subject to both creep and plastic deformation but be generally more efficient due to their lower weight (as long as their elastic limits have not been badly exceeded). Overbuilt limbs will sacrifice performance for longevity. As in all things it is a balancing act. Strings will usually come pre-stretched by whomever makes them. Therefor they have already gone beyond their elastic limits and are permanently stretched out. This saves you the trouble of constantly needing to rejig your string length/ brace height until the string shoots in (creeps to it final length). If your string has not been pre-stretched then it will usually creep under both extended load and upon firing. This means you will need to adjust its length to get a consistent brace height (which will mean inconsistent force being exerted on the arrow). 

    So where does this leave you? generally Steel and wood will creep more under constant load with crossbow draw weights/ short limbs than will fiberglass. Strings if under built will mostly be subject to complete failure (breakage) upon firing or drawing the crossbow when then strain is greatest. Well made bows will perform better than poorly made bows.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Rhodok Man-at-Arms on Tue May 26, 2015 2:20 am

    Thank you both for the excellent replies.

    As for the question of details. I was researching for a fictional military that used crossbows. I was wondering if they might keep their crossbows drawn while wandering through areas where they might be ambushed, like woodlands. The main era I was thinking of for them was the 16th or 17th century. I was also curious as to whether this tactic (leaving your crossbows drawn for an extended period) would be possible in the past for that military, in the 12th to 15th centuries.

    The idea was that some crossbows would be mixed into the infantry units. The crossbows would be loaded, so if the soldiers saw an enemy, they could fire at once. I was thinking that even if it cause some of the crossbows to break or need repairs/replacement, this initiative might be worth it.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Geezer on Tue May 26, 2015 7:26 am

    Regarding your fictional crossbowmen: if they're disciplined troops, have a pairs of crossbowmen on flanks or on point. One bow in each pair will be kept spanned and ready. Every half hour or so, the spanned bow is relaxed and the other is spanned. That way, each flank guard has a bow ready to shoot and the shooter has an extra pair of eyes.
    Your soldiers Really-really don't want to break bows... broken prods and strings stand a fair chance of injuring people and they're troublesome and time consuming to replace or repair.
    As for mixing bowmen into other units, there's a fair amount of evidence for that.  Certainly Swiss and Landsknecht pike units included 'shot' in their formations.  Sometimes the shot (bows or arquebuses) operated in blocks, but other times, the shot was ranged along the front, kneeling below the front line of pikes.  For skirmishing units, I think it would be entirely appropriate to mix bows with your infantry.
    Does that help?  Geezer.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by twedzel on Tue May 26, 2015 9:00 am

    As a hunter I find that the reality of marching with loaded bows problematic, especially in variable wooded terrain. It would probably result in a lot of injury due to accidental discharge or problems where fully spanned crossbows get knocked and jostled about resulting in damage or injury. This idea would be less of a problem if you replaced the crossbow men with longbow men. They could march with strung bows but only need to draw them when ambushed. Then the real problem would be putting experienced bowmen on the flank where they are vulnerable. It takes years of training to be an effective longbow man so you don't squander these guys. What would really kick ass would be having mounted archers using short composite bows. But these bows suffered in wet conditions, so it would depend on the climate the troops were usually marching through. Also mounted archers would have been even more highly skilled than standard longbow men. The Huns, Mongols, and plains Indians used mounted archers to great effect all using short composite bows.   

    The other issue would be whether these fictional crossbow men had access to crucible steel. Crucible steel is early high carbon steel. All modern crossbow steel is tempered carbon steel (spring steel). The method of creating crucible steel was a highly guarded secret amongst the smiths/cultures that produced it. Medieval European cultures generally did not have this technology as it was the domain of the eastern cultures. There were some viking swords found that were made from crucible steel however it was more likely the product of trade rather than their own creation. This would make these swords both rare and very expensive. Steel crossbow prods made without crucible steel would be mild steel and suffer more from being fully spanned for extended periods. The bowmen would have more luck if they had composite prods. The problem here is composite prods are very expensive and very time consuming to produce. So you wouldn't treat them as disposable. They would also suffer in wet conditions. Wood would really suffer when being fully spanned for extended periods at military draw weights. My 2 cents on the topic.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by kenh on Tue May 26, 2015 2:46 pm

    Are you writing historical fiction or fantasy fiction?

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Rhodok Man-at-Arms on Tue May 26, 2015 10:24 pm

    It is a low fantasy setting. So technological anarchronisms and slight changes to materials and so on are possible.

    I'd like to thank you both again along with Geezer. It does indeed help, and I understand a lot better now. I like the idea of having a couple of crossbows you keep strung for a short period of time, to be efficient with creep. This army could have crucible steel crossbows, which would help with this a lot?

    Thanks again.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Geezer on Wed May 27, 2015 9:39 pm

    Actually, though Wootz or crucible steel was by far the best blade steel available in ancient times, european blade and prod makers successfully made good-quality steel by hammering folding, heating, tempering, etc.  Toledo Spain was famous for its high-quality sword blades as well as crossbow prods.
    In fact, wootz steel required very different forging techniques from the iron available in Europe, so its entirely possible a skilled sword/prod smith in Spain might have made a total hash of working with wootz.  
    So by medieval European standards, it is possible for your local smiths to make good spring-steel even without access to true crucible steel.  It will take longer, with different proceedures, but that's okay.  In fact, with a little research, you could drop in a few tidbits about foreign-made steels.  Since you're writing a fantasy, do as you like.  99 percent of your readers won't know or care. It's the narrative and characterizations that make a story wonderful, not your command of pseudo-medieval technology.
    Geezer.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Geezer on Thu May 28, 2015 9:06 pm

    And by the way: mounted crossbowmen are legit for medieval settings.  Spanish Jineta light-horsemen included crossbows and javelins.  French kings had a company of mounted crossbowmen for a bodyguard.  They even show up in some late 15th, early 16th century paintings of famous battles.  Geezer.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by twedzel on Fri May 29, 2015 8:57 am

    I was thinking mounted crossbowmen with the advantage of height for visibility and to be able to shoot over the heads of the troops they were accompanying. The downside being you might as well paint a big red target on anybody up high with a loaded crossbow. Solution, fully armor them! How cool would that be? The only downside is how expensive these guys would be. They could even have a retainer or two spanning crossbows for them on foot making them capable of a higher rate of fire (while marching). Then on the battle field they would become a fully mounted ranged attack and support the regular cavalry.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Hermit on Fri May 29, 2015 9:39 am

    Sounds good Twedz,but can you imagine,after you'd "shot your bolt",and outrun your loader,trying to re-load your crossbow from the deck of a carthorse in armour?...............lol.
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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by kenh on Fri May 29, 2015 10:46 am

    There was a discussion some time ago about Scottish Border Reivers and their Latchet crossbows being loaded and fired from horseback.  Not carthorses or full armor.  Back & breast at best, often just a helmet and metal plated leather jerkin. 

    http://thearbalistguild.forumotion.com/t103-looking-for-a-scottish-border-reaver-crossbow?highlight=border+reiver

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Geezer on Fri May 29, 2015 11:36 am

    Mounted crossbowmen:  Presumably you could use gafa (goatsfoot) for the lighter mounted crossbows (like Spanish Jinetes or French Gentours) wearing helmets and breastplates, like Scottish borderers.  For heavier, fully armored crossbowmen, like the French royal guard, you might want cranequins, which would of course add substantially to the cost of such troops.
    One painting that appears in Harmuth's "Die Armbrust" shows mounted crossbowmen riding in pairs toward an enemy formation, while others ride away.  I suspect this is a cavalry 'caracole' which was done with pistols in later years.  Perhaps the caracole actually predates the use of pistols for mounted troops. So you ride forward, to within 20 yards or so of the enemy, loose a volley and ride away while the second squad does the same.  Repeat until the enemy formation appears 'shaken' and then charge home with swords/javelins/lances.  Maybe... Whether my hypothesis is accurate or not, it might make good fodder for an adventure story.
    As for horses: probably not cart horses, but 'rounceys' which were lower quality riding horses, fit for travel, but not sufficienly robust or trained for war.  In fact, it appears many of the English longbowmen from the 100 yrs. war were mounted on rounceys.  It saves the archers the wear of a long march and probably makes deployment quicker, not unlike Dragoons of Cromwell's time.  But that's another story.  Geezer.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Geezer on Fri May 29, 2015 11:48 am

    Incidentally, there were good-quality travel horses called 'amblers' that were trained to 'pace' or possibly the icelandic 'tolt' which is very close to a pace.  As I recall at least one of the characters in Canterbury Tales was riding an expensive ambler.  They were highly prized as comfortable long-distance riding horses.  In a story, your rich knight might well ride an ambler for travel and only mount his war-horse just before action. Sorry, that's horse-lore not archery stuff.  My late wife was a horse nut. I picked up a lot by osmosis... in return she was required to learn a lot about crossbows and battleships.  Geezer

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Rhodok Man-at-Arms on Fri May 29, 2015 3:26 pm

    Thanks for all the great replies!

    Mounted crossbowmen is a great idea.

    One other thing I'd like to ask if it isn't against the rules, is if you have any thoughts on mixing crossbows and guns into one unit/army. It seems to have happened sometimes, and I'm not sure if it was intentional with some benefit, or if it was just a product of feudalism.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by twedzel on Fri May 29, 2015 6:20 pm

    Sounds good Twedz,but can you imagine,after you'd "shot your bolt",and outrun your loader,trying to re-load your crossbow from the deck of a carthorse in armour?.

    Especially if he were played by Mr.Bean.

    Back to the question of steel, I was aware of the Toledo blades but never put two and two together and thought these same smiths would be making prods. Or even that really clever medieval smithing techniques would be applied to prods. Just goes to show, I end up with mud on my face every time I underestimate the ingenuity of old world artisans. I still wonder what kind of spring steel like resilience they could get out of their prods? Apparently crossbows were used as hunting weapons in the middle ages, and a stag won't hold there broad side waiting for you to span your weapon. Hunting is a slow extended duration activity so they must have been capable of being spanned for extended durations on a hunt. I am going to have to revise my earlier concerns about medieval steels capability to resist creep.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by kenh on Fri May 29, 2015 7:56 pm

    Medieval hunters who were wealthy enough to own a crossbow usually had a peasant or three to act as bearers and loaders, to cart the weapon around and load it for the Hunter, then drag home the game for the cooks to prepare.   When hunting with dogs, they often held a prey animal "at bay" long enough for the crossbow to be cocked, loaded and handed to the Lord, who did the shooting.  Not nearly the same as a 19th or 20th century hunter stalking the wily stag through the forest...

    Certainly a mixture of firearms and crossbows within a corps/army/brigade.  That is to say a company or troop, but not on a squad level.  Massed units of a hundred or more men moving together, similarly armed and armored, was the norm for medieval warfare.  A 'block' of a hundred crossbowmen, moving together, would be deployed near similar sized blocks of infantry or cavalry that could protect them from close combat.  There weren't -- on an army level -- tactics for squad level units; even skirmishers were organized on a troop or company level with similar arms and armor.

    Granted sometimes a block of pikes or halberdiers might have a front line of archers or crossbowmen, but that wasn't the norm.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by twedzel on Sat May 30, 2015 9:26 pm

    I know there were other hunting techniques used through the middle ages. One of which I have read about involves using dogs and hunters together to conduct a deer drive much like they still do today. A crossbow would be an ideal weapon to use in these circumstances. The upperclassmen relied on professional huntsmen as guides in their endeavors. These professional guides would circulate amongst the nobility and be paid well for their services. Probably well enough to afford a crossbow of their own if it would serve them well. I also figure that there had to be a hunting industry to furnish the large need for military crossbows with antler roller nuts and sinew (amongst other trade goods). The professional huntsman would be the kind of people who could capitalize on this kind of opportunity. Moose antler and sinew probably would have been become trade items as the market demands would easily exceed an areas resident moose population. So a crossbow could be worthwhile to a professional huntsman if it could provide enough of an advantage over a longbow when used as part of a drive or stalk. This would entirely depend on whether the crossbow could be left spanned for long periods of time. So if we ignore the upper class self serving writing on the subject we can see crossbows could serve a huntsman well. We know it was popular weapon for the hunt, so it is entirely conceivable that it was adopted by professionals as well.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by Gnome on Wed Jun 03, 2015 8:42 am

    Rhodok,
    I got a kick out of your choice of moniker- I played the crap out of that game, still do when my wife isn't around. She actually got worried I was addicted to it! Welcome to the forum. I write SF and fantasy, and there's really no substitute for knowing how things really work before making your own reality adjustments.
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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by c sitas on Sat Jun 13, 2015 7:11 pm

    I came up with a question here. About how how much weight could a medieval bow stand with a scane lock. The pin type lock.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by kenh on Sat Jun 13, 2015 8:06 pm

    At least 250-275.  The one in my avatar draws that much.  I also know they made them work with heavier draws than that, as I've seen photos of Skane lock crossbow that was used to shoot whaling lances.

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    Re: Keeping a Crossbow Drawn?

    Post by c sitas on Thu Jun 18, 2015 5:32 pm

    Kenh; on your bow ,is the pin just mounted in the self stock, or do you have reinforcements around it so as to keep it from chipping or whatever?

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