Medieval crossbow almost done

Well, finally found enough time to complete the crossbow – last ivory carved, glue made, mastic made, calligraphy filled, ivory inlaid, pivots cut to length, metalwork installed, prod lashed on, stirrup lashed on, string made. Time on this phase about 20 hours. Still got to do the string centre serving (half hour), carve the bolt rest(half hour) make a set of bolts (10 hours), tune the bow and snag the whole thing (two or three hours) but basically it’s shootable and I’m calling it done. To be honest, it is way more pretty than I expected, that curving tickler is just stunning, setting everything off beautifully and it’s a LOT of fun to shoot despite being only 75lb draw weight. Hope you’ve enjoyed the long and drawn out process, now, I really need to get to grips with that composite!

Colletieres a Charavines style 11th century crossbow

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11th century style crossbow

Its half term and I spent some time catching up with half finished projects,  in this case following the archaeological drawing of an original tiller and trigger. The original finds date to the 1040s AD and are from Lac du Paladru, Colletieres a Charavines,  in France.

The lath was roughed out and sent to me last summer by Derek Hutchinson ( and is a lightweight 30lb prod of walnut sapwood,  33 inches from nock to nock with a 10 inch draw

 I have to say, this is a really sophisticated design, you lean against the trigger with your thumb which you activate by pushing it toward you (not pulling) while lightly laying a finger on the bolt (no bolt clip) and holding the back end of  the cut-out section, all with one hand, the other hand being at the fore-end holding up the bow.  The trigger has a stop designed into it and gives a lovely positive action,  clicking into place on both ends of its movement, though carving the stop into the trigger channel is a bit of a potch.  I messed the geometry up and had to put the nose of the trigger into a groove in the string notch to stop it gapping as it reached the top of its arc.  Its all mated to the bow with a late gothic type binding as no-one knows what the binding should be and this type of binding is as likely as any as well as being very effective. Properly carved and rounded out its a beautiful little crossbow and I’m very pleased with its feel and performance, now on to build the proper one, according to the drawings of the original artefact it had a 12 inch draw, 48 inch prod in yew, 1.5 inches thick, probably in excess of 150lb …

Harp part 1

In January 2017 I posted that I hoped to build a celtic style harp during that coming year. For various reasons, especially the difficulties of sourcing the timber, it didn’t happen. I still haven’t been able to get what I need from a timber merchant or tree surgeon but the autumn storms have brought down what I hope will be a suitable tree (for the soundbox) nearby and so I have started roughing out some well-seasoned hawthorn half logs for the pillar and neck. Pretty much all done with axe, a number 3, 1 inch gouge, and a rasp. I haven’t posted any details until now as its not really been a very technical process, just knocking off all the waste and trueing everything up. Roughing out isn’t quite finished, but it’s getting there.

Light-weight push-pin crossbow

So, the gnarly little yew branch, made of magic, did it hold together? Oh yes. It was far from simple, and started with trimming the sapwood down to a couple of mm thickness so that the heartwood would run right to the tips. Following this the tapers were laid in and much careful tillering followed. The result was a very sweet little bow with no set and plenty of character.

Medieval crossbows follow a rule of thumb where the tiller is a similar length to the bow string. The yew bow was a few inches shorter than the ash lath which meant the tiller needed shortening. This actually made it nicer to handle.

Next came lots of little touches: bone bolt rest, antler insert on the string slot, antler end cap on the tiller, steam-bent tickler, steam bent horn bolt restraint, multiple coats of oil and wax. Was it worth the effort? Yes, absolutely, it all came together into a really beautiful little weapon I am trying very hard to avoid passing on to its new owner.

Light weight push-pin crossbow

The photo at the end of the last post shows the beautiful ash bow I carved for the crossbow. If you’re observant you may notice the deeply curved belly, like a medieval long-bow. Ash likes a flat belly but I wanted to see what would happen. It wasn’t pretty, I fitted a temporary lashing and began test firing. Almost immediately compression fractures (called crysals) appeared. Time for lath number 2.

Taking the dimensions of the ash lath but moving to a flat belly I turned to my favourite bow-wood, apple, of which I had 2 short billets but both had tiny, almost invisible pin-knots and both failed. It was time to go fully medieval and raid my yew stash. I had one small, gnarly, sorry, characterful, yew branch that was only slightly too short but yew is made of magic. This one will work, won’t it?

Light weight push-pin crossbow

This should have been a straightforward project but I decided to break several rules and see what happens.  Should have known better.

The tiller design was going to be based on the medieval target bow below, straight, no curves, simple all-wood push-pin mechanism

I selected a knotty, beautifully figured mulberry branch. Never carved mulberry but its fruitwood so it should be lovely, right? Picked up my best carving axe and set to. The knots were like iron and the wood was having none of it: had to resort to my chain saw! Having squared off the branch I returned to the axe for the rough shaping, things are moving along nicely when there was a bit of a bang and a very large piece just behind and along the place where the lock will be cut split out with absolutely no warning. Suddenly my nice square block has a sizable chunk out of one side. Time for a redesign.  If I was careful, a slender, curvy tiller might just about be doable. Just got everything sorted and there’s another bang and a second section split out. This one I couldn’t fully carve out but it didn’t reach the centre-line. If you look you can see the asymmetry it caused but as the bow is for a left-hander it allowed me to raise a cheek piece, so turning a negative into a positive. Everything is very delicate but the bow is going to be very light weight so the delicate feel is really nice.

Carving a wooden knife sheath part 3

Once the pattern was pressed in came 30 hours of champfer and clean to carve out the little hollows on each scale. The most difficult cuts were the partial scales where the leaves and stems blocked off a tiny area of scales. Once all the carving was completed I sealed the whole thing with thinned varnish and stained it with Danish oil tinted with umber artists oil paints.