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Crossbows - Everything about Building, Modding, and Using your Crossbow Gear

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    Question about cow horn.

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    Post by pacer Tue Feb 14, 2012 2:42 pm

    Been lurking here and finally decided to join so I can ask questions. Has anybody here or in Medieval times made a rail for a crossbow out of cow horn? If so how does it hold up against a hard wood such as ebony? Sorry if I use modern terms but I don't know if it was referred to as a rail in Medieval times. Thanks in advance!
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    Post by Basilisk120 Tue Feb 14, 2012 3:32 pm

    I don't think so, as far as I know it was either bone or wood with horn being researved for other uses. But hopefully one of the experts will weigh in on the matter.



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    Post by 8fingers Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:05 am

    I am not sure what you mean by rail but I was swapping some e-mails about using Oryx/ Gemsbock horns for bolt grooves. In period, horn was used extensively, as we would use a plastic.
    My recollection from a museum visit 25 yrs ago, was a well used crossbow with a dark material for the table. My German was pretty bad so I didn't translate the explanation very well, but it didn't appear to be wood.
    I think a dark table is a better choice for any crossbow as it reduces glare and allows better sighting. From the lack of wear on the other bows- the white ones,bone or ivory and the amount of wear on the other crossbow, plus my translation, my conclusion is an experienced hunter had the bone table stripped from an excellent bow and had a dark, horn like substance installed in its place.
    This is best taken as opinion, but the crossbow was in a display in Nuremberg,German National Museum
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    Post by pacer Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:32 am

    Thanks 8fingers! As a person that hunts your explanation makes sense to me. From my understanding of modern crossbow terms the rail is the flat space on either side of the groove. I have made bows and a modern crossbow and decided to try my hand at a medieval style. I have one I bought years ago and am using it as a basic pattern as I have had fun tweaking it over the years. I am in the planing and gathering parts stage right now. As I do wish to hunt with it when done, the black cow horn seems the way to go but didn't know if it had been actually used like that in the past.
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    Post by Geezer Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:51 pm

    Geezer here: Concerning horn vs. antler/bone/ivory for the 'table' between lock and head of bow. Horn/bone/ivory is harder, can be polished to a slicker finish. You will get slightly less friction on the top, and most of the really fine period bows use that. I have seen a few medieval crossbows that used cow-horn, or possibly whale-baleen for this purpose. It should work out just fine. Go for it.
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    Post by pacer Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:09 pm

    Thanks Geezer!

    Of course I can't stop at just one question. The modern crossbow I made and the medieval one I bought both have tiger stripe maple stocks. Was wanting something different this time. I don't want to use an open grain wood such as ash, hickory or oak. Walnut seems a bit too common to me. I have a friend that has a sawmill and kiln and have access to most Northeastern U.S. woods. Any suggestions?
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    Post by stoneagebowyer Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:07 pm

    Pacer, why not go for whatever wood you like? I was thinking flame birch would be awesome for a tiller. Elm is a favorite of mine, as is ironwood / hophornbeam.

    I was visiting my local hardwood dealer, they have a vast selection of domestics and some tropicals and exotics like bloodwood, yellowheart, etc. Osage is from down further south, but would be handsome. And you can set aside a really interesting wood for the table, maybe zebrawood.

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    Post by pacer Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:39 pm

    There is actually osage growing here and I rescued several trees when they put in a new water line. They are now staves in my garage. I actually did consider it for a tiller but decided to save it for bows and a prod or two. I do have some birch and I really like working with it. Never thought of using it as I usually make smaller stuff with it. I don't think I have any long enough but could do a splice with a different wood. I hate to say never but I have worked with ironwood before and rather not do so again! Elm would work or possibly dogwood if I can get a large enough piece. Want to stick with the local woods as I can obtain them cheap or free. If I wasn't going to make the rail/groove out of horn, pear would be a good local alternative.

    Thanks for your suggestions Dane. You've really got me thinking about choice of wood.
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    Post by Geezer Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:08 pm

    Geezer here, shooting off my mouth about suitable woods for crossbow stocks: Medieval crossbows were usually made with whatever hardwood (fruit or nut woods mostly) was available to bowyers. I prefer cherry, walnut, and oak for stocks, but have also used maple (soft and hard) ash, birch and mahogany with good success. I've made a few stocks from poplar, but it's really too soft for strong bows and dents easily.
    I carefully avoid really hard woods like Osage, rosewood, purpleheart and the like... they're just too hard to work. Many tropical woods are toxic, allergenic, or very-very hard. That pretty much rules them out for me, but honestly, you're not liable to kill yourself through making one rosewood stock, so if you're up for it, go for something spectacular. Geezer.
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    Post by stoneagebowyer Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:08 am

    Osage in the NE?! Wow. The southern boys will be jealous. I have some yew that was harvested in Massachusetts, so we do have some interesting woods in this area, too.

    Go for any wood you can get for free or harvest cheaply, that is always satisfying and helps the wallet, too. But as Geezer said, think big, I have some lemonwood / degame planks and some osage planks I am thinking of laminating together for a future crossbow. The black walnut I am using right now is stunning, nothing boring about it, though reglar walnut is not that exciting to me.

    Good luck whatever you do.

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    Post by pacer Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:41 am

    Thanks Geezer and Dane. I'm actually in Ohio, when I was said Northeastern I was just quartering the country. Sorry for the misunderstanding. If I could find a big enough piece of birch that would be great. Your right about the walnut Dane, that can be spectacular. I was thinking the dark heart of black walnut and the black of the cow horn would not look good together. Maybe walnut with the top 1/2 inch done of the tiller done in birch? That would put the cow horn next to the birch. Your lemonwood/osage would look nice.

    Geezer, isn't cherry a bit brittle for a stock/tiller? Never really worked with it. I was wondering if it would tend to chip where the roller nut is. Don't much care for poplar either and would use some pines before it.
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    Post by Geezer Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:54 am

    Geezer here: Cherry is my favorite wood for crossbow stocks. It cuts clean, finishes very slick, and isn't crumbly like walnut, and doesn't check and split like red-oak. I sell more bows in black walnut 'cause they look spectacular (red oak trim on walnut looks even better) but given my 'druthers, I'd work in cherry allatime.
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    Post by stoneagebowyer Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:33 am

    I will second what Geezer says. Cherry is fantastic wood to work with, and is so beautiful too. I just love birch, though, the colors and patterns are suble and sometimes magnificent. And, you may want to consider a dark on dark look for your project. Until the maple tiller I was building died, it was light on light with the bone table, and looked great. Think outside the bun, lol.

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    Post by pacer Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:07 pm

    Geezer, Dane, you almost have me convinced to go with cherry. Maybe with some birch glued somewhere. You two are a bad influence. I haven't even started the first one and I am already thinking of making another!

    Now for my next question. Is there any way to get the roller nut (nylon) a permanent shade of brown. The white looks terrible.
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    Post by Geezer Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:18 pm

    Geezer here, concerning the color of Delrin rod. You can get Delrin in black, rather than white, and some plastics are also available in a funny sort of reddish-brown. Take a look at plastic/delrin suppliers online and see what's available.
    In fact, bone/staghorn roller nuts are usually an off-white, mixed with a bit of pale yellow and occasionally a bit of purple, but basically white-ish. Then again, they're not nearly as white as basic Delrin. The stuff is essentially polyethelyne... if you can find something that will dye polyethelyne, you should be in business. I've always wondered if a strong solution of tea would do the trick... it stains everything else in the world, but oddly enough, I've never tried it. Perhaps later this evening, I'll try it out. Geezer.
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    Post by pacer Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:27 am

    Walnut husks work some. At least my roller nut isn't glaring white anymore. Never tried tea. The walnut hulls make it a bit off white and yellow in the spots that are a bit rough. Maybe if I soaked it longer. I was pricing moose the other day and it was just a bit too expensive for my first try. Didn't know Delrin came in black. That would look good with a black cow horn rail. I'll google and see if I can find some.
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    Post by Gnome Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:08 pm

    I haven't tried it, but I've read that delrin can be dyed with RIT dye. I looked it up when I saw pocketknives described as having dyed delrin handles. I got antsy waiting for my first order from Alchem and bought a 12" rod on Amazon that I've been using to make my roller nuts, but didn't really like the bright white color. Then I got the parts from Alchem, and the roller nuts were this lovely cream color! I wonder if he dyes them, as I haven't seen off-white delrin advertised anywhere, only white and black.
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    Post by pacer Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:57 pm

    Thanks Gnome, I'll give it a try before ordering any Delrin. I did find a Delrin that came in a weird brown. It had fibers in it where as the black and white do not. It also cost a good deal more.

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