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    The correct medieval crossbow bolt

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    Luis Diethelm
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    The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Luis Diethelm on Fri Oct 29, 2010 11:02 am

    Hello,
    I've tried several models, lenght, weight, feather numbers, field or bodkin heads, etc. But my 200 lb medieval inspired crossbow seems to need something bigger or heavier, cause 70% are destroyed at the 2° shot or so. I'm shooting from 20 mt to a plywood panel 1/2" thick. Obviously 90% of the time the bolt is half nailed in the plywood.
    Anyone can post experiences or refference the ideal bolt for this case?

    Thank you very much
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Pavise on Fri Oct 29, 2010 12:25 pm

    Hi Luis and welcome to the forum.

    What material have your broken bolts been made from? Two hundred pounds of draw weight produces a lot of energy and thus heavy bolts or arrows are needed to absorb first the force of being propelled and then perhaps hitting a hard target. Half inch plywood is not enough and you should be using a better target medium. e.g. rigid foam or packed cardboard. See other posts on this forum for target construction ideas.

    Wooden bolts like you need have to be made thicker and often shorter in comparison to modern materials like fibre glass, carbon fibre or aluminum alloy.

    Some more details from you would be helpful in finding a sollution to your problem.

    Pavise
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Luis Diethelm on Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:10 pm

    Pavise wrote:Hi Luis and welcome to the forum.

    What material have your broken bolts been made from? Two hundred pounds of draw weight produces a lot of energy and thus heavy bolts or arrows are needed to absorb first the force of being propelled and then perhaps hitting a hard target. Half inch plywood is not enough and you should be using a better target medium. e.g. rigid foam or packed cardboard. See other posts on this forum for target construction ideas.

    Wooden bolts like you need have to be made thicker and often shorter in comparison to modern materials like fibre glass, carbon fibre or aluminum alloy.

    Some more details from you would be helpful in finding a sollution to your problem.

    Pavise

    Thank you,

    The main material my bolts are made is seasoned pine 1/2" diameter x 16" long, but what about some other wood e.g. frutal trees?
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Luis Diethelm on Fri Oct 29, 2010 2:13 pm

    Does anyone know where can I download Mr. Ralph Payne Gallwey's The Crossbo book in Pdf?
    I've just seen some excerpts untill now.

    Thanks
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Pavise on Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:32 pm

    Luis,

    If you'll Google "The Crossbow by Sir Ralph Payne Gallwey" and then scroll down to the seventh link that comes up I think you will find a version that you can read. Some pages have been omitted but the rest is all there. The URL is far too long to copy and paste here. Again, if you leaf through the pages of stuff on this forum you will find a lot of answers and leads to good information.

    Pine is a soft wood and not suitable for the job. A clean straight grained well seasoned wood is what's needed and such "fir" and not "pine" might work. And is your string at 90 degrees to the grain of the shaft? I use compressed Port Orford cedar for mine.

    Maybe some of the others on this site will chime in here and stimulate things a bit.

    Pavise
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Luis Diethelm on Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:24 pm

    thanks Pavise
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by basileus on Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:27 pm

    Pavise wrote:Hi Luis and welcome to the forum.

    What material have your broken bolts been made from? Two hundred pounds of draw weight produces a lot of energy and thus heavy bolts or arrows are needed to absorb first the force of being propelled and then perhaps hitting a hard target. Half inch plywood is not enough and you should be using a better target medium. e.g. rigid foam or packed cardboard. See other posts on this forum for target construction ideas.

    I use foam plastic I've looted from abandoned sofas, beds and such. Doesn't cost a dime and stops pretty much all bolts very cleanly and safely. Around 20cm (8") layer with a harder backstop (e.g. thick plywood) should suffice, especially if you leave a little space between the plastic foam layers (to let friction do it's thing). It seems that this kind of backstop does not work as well with bolts that have cutting edges; I assume this is because the blades cut a wide hole into the foam, letting the shaft pass through it with very little friction.

    Another idea I've played with is piling newspapers (lots of them) on top of each other and compressing them slightly. Depending on the amount of compression this should work even better than foamed plastic.

    I often make the shafts of my bolts by splitting them from logs and then planing them:

    • http://users.utu.fi/sjsepp/paja/planing_bolt_shafts/planing_bolt_shafts.html

    Splitting allows me to abandon crooked pieces of wood early on. If the grain is violated badly, the bolt will inevitably break. As shaft material I use whatever I have at hand, but usually birch (a medium-weight hardwood) or European pine (softwood). The latter works ok if the crossbow is not very powerful or if you don't mind making the shafts thick.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Ivo on Tue Nov 02, 2010 6:12 pm

    Good stuff basileus!

    This is probably as "traditional" as it gets....and probably one of the cleanest, quietest, fastest, and simplest ways of getting it done.

    On the other hand I've always been on the side of power-tools and have seen some very impressive results. You mentioned a few variations of jigs through which you can push a roughly shaped blank and it comes out a finished shaft...requiring only minor sanding/finishing...I've seen one rather simple ones built on the principal of a pencil sharpener. There is a good example of one on the Russian forum, so I'll do some digging........till then there's this crude, yet still worthy of your attention..."I make round stick with the saw blade" cyclops



    [EDIT ]While going through traditional archery forums there was an example of large scale shaft making operation and their equipment...

    They're a bit of complexity in the sense of prep and machinery used, but it wouldn't leave me alone, so here it is.

    A truly wicked way of making shafts...a planer/jointer with a special order or in any other way specially modified planer/jointer blade...check it out. Smile

    http://www.bowmania.ru/forum/index.php?topic=2505.0





    ...I'm still looking for the pencil sharpener. Smile

    Ivo




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    correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Geezer on Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:04 am

    Geezer here, on bolts for heavy crossbows: Josef Alm's "A Survey of European Crossbows suggests ash was the preferred wood for strong medieval bolts and arrows. Birch runs a close second. Oak is strong but a bit brittle. Soft woods like pine are pretty much a waste of time
    I have had very good results from ash shafts made from dowel.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Pavise on Wed Nov 03, 2010 10:52 am

    With all due respect I think we should be careful about adopting traditional archery methods when our needs are for crossbows.

    Our crossbow shafts endure much more force than do wooden arrows of some 28" or more in length, shot from bows! Such conventional arrows are typically protected by a female nock that encloses the grain of a wooden shaft. And as Geezer has previously pointed out, that same grain (annular growth rings) of the crossbow arrow must be at 90 degrees to the string when loaded. In conventional archery, the arrow yields and bends around the bow riser as it is first compressed before moving into flight. Shorter and thus stiffer crossbow shafts, often constrained by the track groove, means that most of the high energy is immediately transmitted through a relatively small contact area, directly into the unyielding shaft. Wooden shafts need to be able to withstand this violence without splitting! To make shafts by laminating four pieces together without reinforcing the nock end, is to invite failure from stress risers where the wood is joined together. Virgin fibre is vital in wooden crossbow shafts and Geezer has told us about suitable woods to choose from. Old ash spokes from wooden wheels can be a good source of material and will be well seasoned if you want to whittle your own. Me? I'm with Geezer and buy ready-made dowelling and choose my stock carefully.

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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Basilisk120 on Wed Nov 03, 2010 10:28 pm

    Ivo, That is supper cool. I think that those would work great for crossbow bolts, nice and stiff. The glue joints are stronger than the surrounding wood, but an end plate would probably be a good thing.

    On a related note, has any one tried Hexshafts for crossbow bolts? Not sure if that has been discussed before.



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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by basileus on Thu Nov 04, 2010 5:15 am

    Pavise wrote:
    Our crossbow shafts endure much more force than do wooden arrows of some 28" or more in length, shot from bows! Such conventional arrows are typically protected by a female nock that encloses the grain of a wooden shaft. And as Geezer has previously pointed out, that same grain (annular growth rings) of the crossbow arrow must be at 90 degrees to the string when loaded.

    Having the growth rings in ~90 degree angle is a good idea especially with woods that have very wide and weak earlywood layers alternating with narrow and strong latewood layers. A good example of this kind of wood is pine. if the bowstring strikes the weak earlywood layer directly then the bolt may split. Personally, I've never seen that happen, though. I've had many more problems with softwood shafts breaking when hitting the target. With birch or other hardwoods I've never paid attention to the relative angle of the growth rings and the bowstring, even though I prefer relatively thin Dynema bowstrings.

    Regarding the pictures above... I fail to see what advantage making arrows (or bolts) from several pieces would give, as alignment of the growth rings is not nearly as important as the direction of the grain.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Basilisk120 on Thu Nov 04, 2010 8:44 am

    I believe that this type of composite wood arrow gives a more uniform spine and therefore uniform strenght. arrows that are spined parrell to the grain give a lower spine weight than the same arrow spined perpendicular to the grain. Also while these type of arrows tend to be slightly heavier the claim is that they are also stronger than traditional arrows. I have used Hexshafts for arrows and was quite happy with the results. Also it might be easier, expecially for home made arrow shafts, to get stiffer spines more conistantly.
    To expound on what I mentioned above. those should work quite well for crossbow bolts. yes while crossbow bolts see considerable force it is for the most part compressive force, and therefire is in the direction that the wood is the strongest. Typically problems arise when the wood is flexed during launch. That is one reason spine weight is important. This of course all assumes the glue lines are good, but those should be visible on the completed arrow.



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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by ferdinand on Wed May 02, 2012 12:46 pm

    I'm pretty new a crosbowing and have a light powered crossbow.75lbs.
    My shafts are all made from european pine and have not had any problems yet.
    I cut them pretty rough because i think my arrows should resemble the period and use, wich is war and hunting.
    Obviously if u shoot u miss and arrows get lost.
    Making them pretty and strong will take a lot off time, and in that same time i can probably make 3 or more bolts the easy way.

    I take about 10 min to make one bolt, not counting forging arrowheads offcourse.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by ferdinand on Wed May 02, 2012 12:48 pm

    But i must add that i greatly admire the skill used to make such fine quality arrows!
    Its just to much work for my use.

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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by chaz on Wed May 02, 2012 1:28 pm

    Luis,

    Welcome ! The crossbow book you mentioned is now on Amazon,com used for $7.00 US. It would certainly be to your advantage to get one. You could then study at your liezure.

    As far as the discussion of the back end of the bolt shaft has anyone tried a bullet casing .......... such as a .38 cal or .45 cal of course I understand weight is a factor ......... but if one wanted a heavier bolt and had a heavy piont .............. might help against the bolt shaft from splitting ............. just a thought

    Chaz

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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by chaz on Wed May 02, 2012 1:41 pm

    I don't believe the whole casing would be needed, but just about 1/4 inch including the base of the shell ............just enough to cap the back end of the bolt.

    Chaz
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    Correct medieval crossbow bolt.

    Post by Michael on Thu May 10, 2012 7:46 pm

    Cool Cool Hello and how are you doing? That field is right up my alley big guy.Here we go. First off you have to start with a good hardwood dowel. That would be ASH dia 1/2" lenght depending on draw wt of crossbow; ( 200lb and up I cut the lenght to 16" ) Target field tips 145 grains to 190grains. Also use The bobkins large and small tips ( all tips are glue on ). Feathers are 4" R-turn only . Finally dipped 3 (in an varnish type soulution). The rear of my shifts are hand cut. Feathers are glued on the bolt Use bright color feathers that will help aid you in recovering the bolts. Honest I have lost more crossbow bolts then being split when hitting an hard object ie " OAK Tree." Well big guy have fun and I hope that my two cents clear some stuff up. Mike Cool I like the little guys?!.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by ferdinand on Fri May 11, 2012 8:07 am

    These are some original medieval bolts, big ones to, 13".
    Wooden feathers is what most of them have i noticed.
    Havent seen any with feathers in the museum.
    Maybe it will help u.
    On top a crownbolt used for hunting, no date.
    Second one down is a 15th century crownbolt(thats 14...something).
    Third and fourth are "gothic war bolts dated 1500.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Paulius on Fri May 11, 2012 3:57 pm

    Hi all,
    Second bolt looks like feuerpfeile (fire bolt) to me, because bolt-head has quite long stem (or how to call it) for burning material to be wrapped on. Maybe bolt itself should be slightly longer to be used for setting buildings on fire. What do you, guys, think about it?
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Geezer on Fri May 11, 2012 5:52 pm

    The head looks long enough to be a feuerpfeile, but the shaft is still pretty short. I think the whole bolt should be longer, to keep the fire clear of the crossbow before shooting. Kuntshistorisches Museum in Wien (Vienna) has a fire-bolt, it's rather longer than these appear.
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Basilisk120 on Fri May 11, 2012 11:25 pm

    chaz wrote:Luis,
    As far as the discussion of the back end of the bolt shaft has anyone tried a bullet casing .......... such as a .38 cal or .45 cal of course I understand weight is a factor ......... but if one wanted a heavier bolt and had a heavy piont .............. might help against the bolt shaft from splitting ............. just a thought

    Chaz

    I think a 9mm or .380 case would work better than a .38, being that they're rimless. But not sure they are necessary. but I like the way your thinking.



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    The correct medieval crossbow bolt.

    Post by Michael on Sat May 12, 2012 8:45 am

    Yes you are right dead on right! The correct bolt ( and not arrow) never had feathers on em. But lethal is still lethal. But does the game animal you about to take have anything to say /or even care? Sir you do make a very smart looking bolt. I target shoot and damn good at it crossbow/Mongolian horsebow too. Ah forget about it. Mike
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by BrianlaZouche on Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:53 am

    Although i am more a longbow man, i assumed the shafts for bolts were simlar to my arrow ones, i use 1/2'' ash or poplar, some are bobtailed others are not, my arrow shafts cost between £1 and £2 each. so i simply cut a couple in half

    pine was not used for longbow shafts, and as medieval xbows were usually of a much higher draw weight than longbows.. i assumed if pine was not good enough for longbows the same would apply to xbow bolts ( although of course with longbow arrows nocks are required )

    testing the 2nd hand medieval xbow i picked up recently i took a 1/2'' straight poplar shaft . length of shaft from nock to taper point is 15&1/4'' overall length with medieval hand forged bodkin is 17 &1/2 '', next the fitting of the fletchings, whipped feathers seemed to be mainly used for hunting, but for war, due to the better storage leather or wood flights were used,.. which presented the main problem for me, as medieval glues were not effective, the shafts were split part way and the leather or wood flights slid in and secured by 2 or 3 rivets,.. i need 3 main type of bolts , target, blunts ( for re-enactment battles ) and some for living history displays, for blunts i would simply replace the bodkins with rubber blunts, i do not yet have the skill or knowledge to make living history quality ones, but for general target use, i simply cut leather flights and superglued to the shaft. not historical but kinda looked the part. testing the bolt was fun, and seemed to hold a good flight,

    all this is new to me, but finding it really enjoyable Very Happy
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    Re: The correct medieval crossbow bolt

    Post by Geezer on Thu Nov 15, 2012 7:15 am

    Brian: Geezer here, and welcome to the group. It looks like you're already on base concerning medieval crossbow bolts. Being close to the continent, you're in a better position to observe large numbers of medieval bolts, but that won't stop me from recording my opinions.
    According to Josef Alm, the preferred materials for medieval crossbow bolts seem to be ash, birch, oak, in that order. No doubt when the need arose, medieval fletchers used whatever was available. All the bonafide medieval bolts I have seen were between 1/2 and 3/4 inch diameter (more or less round, sometimes slightly oval in cross-section, thickest up and down)
    Ralph Payne-Gallwey shows bolts that are barrelled or tapered, but what I have seen are pretty much cylindrical... perhaps slightly narrower at the head, tapered in width to @ 3/8 in. at the tail. Lengths according to most sources run anywhere from 12 to 18 inches, with the average @ 15 inches. (38 cm) All the fletched bolts I have seen either used wood or leather, and the few bolts I've been able to examine in detail had curved grooves set in the sides of the bolt (inducing spin) with thin wooden vanes inset.
    There's no sign of whipping or riveting to keep them in place, so I suspect they were a tight fit and fixed with fish-glue, which actually compares favorably with modern glues, for waterproof and flexibility. Vanes are @ 1/2 in high, often parabolic shape, much like modern archer's feathers, and about 5 inches long.
    I had a friend, now departed, alas, who experimented with making wood-fletched bolts of 1/2 in. ash. He built a special jig that allowed a bit of saw blade (version 1) or a small router (version 2) to cut the curved slot for fletching just right for vanes, which were made from 1/16 in. maple, cut to shape, sanded and glued in place... I'm not sure what glue Jim used, but he was mighty fond of superglue (cyano-acrylic) so that's probably it.
    He also experimented with forging correct wrapped-socket bodkin points. That takes a bit of practice, and his best were pretty 'bloppy' but given time that he didn't have, he would have managed that too.
    Any other questions I can answer? Geezer

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