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    New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

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    New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Fri Aug 24, 2012 4:29 pm

    Hey, all. My name is Rich. I am a living history.re-enactment enthusiast, and my interests span from the Middle Ages to the American Civil War. Right now, I am focusing on putting together a "kit" for a 15th century footsoldier. One of my German ancestors was either a crossbowman or a builder of crossbows, as his last name was Armbruster. I decided, therefore, to build a crossbow appropriate to the time period indicated. Problem is, where ot begin? I have read Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book, but it has been a long time. Is there a set of blueprints or plans of some sort available that will help me in my project? I want the crossbow to be fully functional, even useable for hunting game up to deer-sized, but as simple and inexpensive to build as possible (tight budget), while still looking good with a short-sword, padded jack, and buckler.

    Thanks in advance!
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Todd the archer on Fri Aug 24, 2012 6:09 pm

    Welcome, Alchem Inc. has plans and materials that fit what your looking for.

    There is a link on the right side of this page under Suppies and Accessories.

    Any questions don't hesitate to ask, plenty of people here who can help.



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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Fri Aug 24, 2012 6:27 pm

    Thanks, Todd! Out of curiosity, how historically correct is the notch-lock and clap-lock? The roller nut is the type of crossbow mechanism I am most familiar with in European crossbows, though I have seen African and Asian bows with the pin-and-lever type notch lock (including the chu-no-ku repeating crossbow).
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Todd the archer on Fri Aug 24, 2012 6:52 pm

    I am not a historian but I think the notch lock would be priod correct and the clap lock came along later guessing 16th to 17th century.

    If Geezer see's this he can give more accurate info.



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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:52 pm

    I've been running across references to something called the "Skane lockbow", which looks like a very simple and inexpensive design, but would such a bow have been "combat capable" in the 1500's, or was it strictly a small-game getter? One problem (okay, the main problem) I have with a roller-nut design is I don't have access to a lathe (I do, however, have a small mill/drill that takes standard R8 tooling) and machine shop services are expensive.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Todd the archer on Sat Aug 25, 2012 4:37 am

    I think the problem with a notch lock is that as draw weight increases the trigger pull becomes increasingly more difficult, therefor limiting how strong a crossbow could be.

    As for lacking a lathe, I don't know how they did it in medieval times. I myself don't have a lathe (yet) but have used a drill press to do roughly the same thing. The other option is to buy round blanks of ABS(?) from Alchem and a forstner bit to drill the hole in the tiller.

    Machine shops are expensive, the good news is they are not necessary. My shop, okay one side of my garage has little more than a drill press, band saw, jointer, router, and a bench grinder and various hand tools hammer, chisels, files.

    Most machine shops I have talked to are only interest in volume work. Was refered to a guy who has a small shop he works there himself. Showed him a clap lock part I wanted made. Told me it would cost 120 to 150 dollars or maybe even more. Well I wound up making it myself from a wood splitting wedge useing hacksaw, grinder, and files.



    Amazing what you can do with patience and persistence.



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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Sat Aug 25, 2012 6:58 am

    Geezer here, regarding Skane bows. Skane-Castle crossbows, discovered at Skane castle, (N. Denmark or Sweden, depending on political lines) in an archaeological dig. This bow dates no later than @ 1525, since that's when the castle wall fell into the moat, on top of the two Skane crossbows found there 400 years later.
    You can find drawings of these bows in Josef Alm's "Survey of European Crossbows, originally published @ 1947... translated and republished to British Tower Armouries. (incidentally, it seems the Skane bows were made entirely of wood and natural fibers... no metal at all)
    Though the Skane bows are pretty lightweight weapons, I have seen photos of others (In Alm's book as I recall) that featured similar notch and pushpin locks that were substantial, military-weight bows, including a 'whalers' crossbow that featured improved leverage for the 'tickler'. It's true trigger-pressure goes up with a more powerful bow... probably more-so than with roller locks, and it would probably be wise to reinforce the front edge of the notch with a chunk of staghorn, but a longer tickler-lever and better leverage as in the whaling bow could help with that.
    The biggest problem with Skane bows is excessive string-wear and the necessity of having the bolt rest some small distance from the string on release. This results in a hard 'slap' of string against butt of bolt, which again increases string wear, as well as hammering the bolt. That might not be much of a concern with military bolts, which would only be used a few times, but for target shooters who use bolts many times, it would eventually be a problem.
    As for lathes... yeah they had 'em in the old days. Archaeological evidence says pole-type lathes go back to @ 1000 AD in northern europe, and quite honestly, I can't imagine as sophisticated a society as the Greeks/Romans without lathes. Otherwise, how could anybody build something as intricate and accurate as the Antikythera Device (look it up, you'll be amazed)
    So yeah, you can build a strong notch-lock and make it work... but there's a reason why roller- locks were so popular... and indeed you can make one without a lathe... particularly if you have access to a drill-press. Have fun stormin' da castle... but don't drop your crossbow in the moat. We know what happens next. Geezer
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by kenh on Sat Aug 25, 2012 7:29 am

    Hey! I posted a reply to this discussion last night 8/24. Who the heck removed my post and why???

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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Sun Aug 26, 2012 7:22 am

    Okay, up to what point in history were rotating nuts "free floating" (in other words, held in place only by the shape of the socket, with no axle or other securing method)? Seems like the hardest part, given the tools I have available, would be getting the axle hole centered properly and going straight through rather than at an angle.

    I found 6" long, 1-1/2" diameter white delrin rod pieces on EBay for about $10, shipping included. Is that a good deal? Seems like I would be able to make several nuts out of that.

    If I went with Delrin, or similar material, how would I go about inserting a steel wearing surface? I found a copy of Gallwey's "The Crossbow" online, but I am afraid his line drawings are not entirely clear to me as far as the details go.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Sun Aug 26, 2012 8:54 am

    Geezer here, on crossbow nuts. The Padre Island bows, a very common late 15th century type, very-very similar to the bows currently in the armory at Valetta in Malta, were made with neither axle nor nussfaden-cord to hold the nut in place. The Padre Island bows were in service as defense weapons on a Spanish galleon in 1545, so in fact, there are plenty of late-period medieval-type bows with no axle or pin in the nut. Having said that, there are good reasons to have a floating pin or nussfaden cord. Such things aren't really intended to carry any load when the bow is spanned. The socket and tickler (trigger) do that. They're mostly there to keep the nut from accidentally falling out and to prevent the nut from oscillating and hopping in the socket when they're spinning like mad on release. So you don't need a really accurate center-hole thru the nut. All you really need is a fairly large hole (say 1/8 inch diameter) approximately at center, and a small brass nail or pin... (I use no. 16 or 18 escutcheon pins) that floats in that hole.. inserted from one side (or both sides) if you use lockplates on the sides, you can hide a pin under one or both of those. If you're making a round-sided Germanic bow with mortised lock inserted from the top, you'll want a nussfaden cord that goes through the center of the roller, but once again, it's not rocket science to find the approx. center (or buy a center-finder at the hardware store) and drill a 1/8 inch hole right through the nut. String the cord thru on a harness needle, tie it off underneath, and you're ready to go. Have fun stormin da castle.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:02 am

    Thanks, Geezer! Now, what about a steel bearing surface to protect the softer material nut from wear on the sear surface? As I mentioned, I know Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey talked about a steel wedge insert in his book, but the line drawings in the book are just confusing me (I found an e-book copy free for downloading on Google Books).
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:07 am

    Geezer back yet again. Nya ha ha! I anticipated the sear-question. I hope my answer is clear. Take a piece of allthread, cut a slot from one end... about 1/4 inch deep. A hacksaw will serve just fine... if you can make the slot a bit off-center that's good. Now cut off half of the narrower side. What you've got left is a piece of slotted rod with a step. The bottom of the slot will accept a flat screwdriver. The notched-off bit is where the trigger will bear. If you screw that into your roller from the bottom... cut off any excess, so it stays round... now chisel away a little square keyway for the trigger to engage the sear. Make it nice and clean so there are no 'false' lock positions, and voila, you've got a roller-nut with sear.
    If you're making a really strong bow, you might want to use 3/8 in. stainless allthread in place of the mild stuff, but beware, harder sears mean the end of the trigger wears instead, and that's a lot more trouble to re-surface when the time comes. Since I guarantee all my work, I worry about these things... and yes, crossbows really do come in for service after 20 years, and I really do fixem.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:14 am

    Don't suppose you have any photos? I tend to do much better with visual aids... Embarassed
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:28 am

    For detail photos, try looking at Apprentice Dirty's flickr page. It's great. http://www.flickr.com/photos/28962712@N06/sets/72157611937565699/
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:31 am

    Geezer again: I just looked at the apprentice's site. This set might be more useful for getting the sear-plug into the roller-nut. The nut in the pics is a moose-horn one, but the principles are the same.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/swifthoundbows/sets/72157612720020116/

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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:34 am

    Thanks! Very Happy

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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:17 am

    Well, I found my materials for the nut and socket on EBay. The nut will be made from 1-1/2" diameter white delrin rod, while the socket will be made from a 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" x 2-1/4" block of black delrin. Should be able to make all the parts on my benchtop mill-drill machine.

    Now, as I have never made an kind of bow or prod before, is there an inexpensive modern-made prod available that will suit my purposes, and which could be disguised to it looks "period"? And how would that be done, anyway?

    Also, how would a spanning stirrup be attached to the front of the tiller, period-style, if I am not using bow-irons? I will more than likely be spanning this either by hand, or with a belt-and-claw.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by kenh on Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:59 am

    There are plenty of 120+# fiberglass prods available on Ebay. They can be disguised by covering with a wrap of thin leather (chamoix) or even cloth that is sewn over the prod. A stirrup could either be lashed or bolted to the nose of the tiller, I should think.

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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:27 pm

    How well would this one work?

    150 pound prod with string - Ebay

    Seems a bit light for a Medieval crossbow, though. Unfortunately, it is the heaviest one I can find.

    Given the listed specifications, what dimensions should I use for the quarrels, if I use a prod like this? Also, should I use the stock string, or make a heavier one?
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by kenh on Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:52 pm

    You did say "inexpensive" and "tight budget" Smile Using the commercially available chinese bow replacement parts is the inexpensive way to go, it seems.

    You could go to www.slobowscrossbow.com and spend:
    Bow Irons & Stirrup $32
    Complete Roller Nut, Pin & Trigger arm $25
    String $16
    Prod 190-250# $65
    ...call it $140 not counting the maple or oak or other hardwood 2x4 for the tiller...

    Bolt size? I'd say 14" to 20" long, 1/4" or 5/16" diameter, two-fletch, cedar...

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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:59 pm

    I always though medieval crossbow bolts were much heavier than that? I have seen photos of ones that were short and quite thick. Some were even sort of barrel-shaped.

    Does the groove in the tiller (or the notch in the front guide), as well as the slot between the fingers of the nut, have to closely match the diameter of the bolts?
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:42 pm

    For a bow in excess of 150 lb, I would go for 11/32 in. cedar arrow shaft, or perhaps 3/8 in diameter ash or birch. Typical medieval bolts you see in armories are rather thicker... more like 1/2 to 3/4 in. thick, usually of ash,birch, or oak, but they're for much stronger bows. Typical medieval bolt lengths run anywhere from 12 to 18 inches, but average around 15. Bolt-groove need not match bolt diameter closely, but it's possible to have a groove that's too large or too narrow. String diameter is a different matter. You don't want your string to be too thin or too thick... otherwise misfires occur.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by RKnack on Wed Aug 29, 2012 9:49 pm

    Would 3/8" hardware store dowels, if properly straightened, make good bolts for a 150# crossbow? I have no idea what kind of wood they're made of, though...

    As far as string diameter goes, what should I be looking at? I am assuming the string that comes with that prod is meant for "modern" sized aluminum or carbon or fiberglass bolts. Will it still work? Or too small of a diameter?
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Geezer on Wed Aug 29, 2012 10:16 pm

    The hardwood dowel from your local hardware store is probably 'Ramin', which makes tolerably good bolts if straight. The important thing about string/bolt relationship is to have the string push the bolt from approximately the center (top to bottom) if your string is too thin, it'll probably just break. If your string pushes the bolt near the top (string too thick, bolt too thin, or groove too deep) it's liable to ride over the bolt and make it misfire. If the string pushes from near the bottom of the bolt (groove too thin, string too thin, bolt too fat) the string can sometimes get underneath the bolt and flip it into the air... that can get pretty exciting... I still have a tiny scar on my forehead from a misfire in my apartment that bounced the bolt off the ceiling and into my eyebrow. Lots of entertainment there.
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    Re: New here - looking for info on a simple 15th century crossbow

    Post by Todd the archer on Thu Aug 30, 2012 2:09 am

    I have mine from 3/8" oak dowels from Lowes. Cut them 18" fletched with two feathers and tipped with 125 grain points. Total bolt weight is around 500 grains but can vary quite a bit.

    I shoot them from my 150 + and 205 pound crossbows and seem to work fine. Also they are quite durable as well.



    Had to tap the bolt back out but otherwise it was fine and I am still using it.



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