1. Maia

    Maia New Member

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    Information About Crossbows

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Maia, Jul 25, 2017.

    I'm currently writing a story with a medival-ish setting and one male character uses a crossbow. Personally I have never used a crossbow and was wondering how I can write one realistically. Any information would be helpful, from mainance, to how the character should move it from A to B, etc.
     
  2. slmurphy

    slmurphy New Member

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    They were generally carried using a shoulder strap that slung them around and behind the carrier.

    Gotta love Wikipedia!

    A crossbow is a bow mounted on a stick (called a tiller or stock) with a mechanism in it that holds the drawn bow string. The earliest designs featured a slot in the stock, down into which the string was placed. To shoot this design, a vertical rod is thrust up through a hole in the bottom of the notch, forcing the string out. This rod is usually attached perpendicular to a rear-facing lever called a trigger or tickler. A later design implemented a rolling cylindrical pawl called a nut to retain the string. This nut has a perpendicular center slot for the bolt, and an intersecting axial slot for the string, along with a lower face or slot against which the internal trigger sits. They often also have some form of strengthening internal sear or trigger face, usually of metal. These roller nuts were either free-floating in their close-fitting hole across the stock, tied in with a binding of sinew or other strong cording; or mounted on a metal axle or pins. Removable or integral plates of wood, ivory, or metal on the sides of the stock kept the nut in place laterally. Nuts were made of antler, bone, or metal. Bows could be kept taut and ready to shoot for some time with little effort, allowing crossbowmen to aim better.

    The bow (called the prod or lath on a crossbow) of early crossbows was made of a single piece of wood, usually ash or yew. Composite bows are made from layers of different material, often wood, horn, and sinew glued together and bound with animal tendon. These composite bows made of several layers are much stronger and more efficient in releasing energy than simple wooden bows. As steel became more widely available in Europe around the 14th century, steel prods came into use.

    The crossbow prod is very short compared to ordinary bows, resulting in a short draw length. This leads to a higher draw weight in order to store the same amount of energy. Furthermore, the thick prods are a bit less efficient at releasing energy, but more energy can be stored by a crossbow. Traditionally, the prod was often lashed to the stock with rope, whipcord, or other strong cording. This cording is called the bridle.

    The strings for a crossbow are typically made of strong fibers that would not tend to fray. Whipcord was very common; however linen, hemp, and sinew were used as well. In wet conditions, twisted mulberry root was occasionally used.

    Very light crossbows can be drawn by hand, but heavier types need the help of mechanical devices. The simplest version of mechanical cocking device is a hook attached to a belt, drawing the bow by straightening the legs. Other devices are hinged levers, which either pulled or pushed the string into place, cranked rack-and-pinion devices called cranequins and multiple cord-and-pulley cranked devices called windlasses.
     
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  3. Maia

    Maia New Member

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    Thank You ! This is extremely helpful. Do you use a crossbow or are you just an avid fan of Wikipedia?
     
  4. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I've never used a medieval crossbow, but I own a modern version. It has a moderate draw weight and can be operated by both drawing by hand and by crannequin. Loading it takes about three times as long, if not longer, than reloading and drawing a bow, without decent sights they're far harder to aim than a bow because of all the business that tends to sit in the line of sight of the bolt (instead of arrow) intended to keep it in place until you're ready to take your shot. When firing it tends to kick like a small calibre rifle and even with a modern safety it can be ridiculously easy to accidentally knock a shot off. Carrying one loaded and ready to fire would seem like a really bad idea unless you were marching into battle. They also need to be greased constantly on both the string and where it contacts the stock to keep it from fraying needlessly and reduce breakage. I'm not sure what medieval bowmen would have used, but I imagine it would have been similar to my home made goop that was basically a hard paste, like lip balm, made from melting together beeswax and tallow/olive oil. Fortunately, this guy on YouTube knows far more about them than I do. His channel is also a really good source for knowledge on other ancient arms and armour.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2017
  5. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Right, I use one for hunting. I find it easier and faster to cock by hand than to use a cable assist that goes over the back, just grab the string and pull with the back. Mine has a range-adjustable illuminated (red dot) sight, so aiming and accuracy is excellent. It does kick like a .22 and I got a nasty little gouge above my eye, being too close to the sight when I fired. The one deer taken with it, I penetrated the chest completely and knocked him down, so there is a punch to it. I don't carry target arrows when hunting, so to unload the bow, I step on the toe step to hold it in place, grab the string, and have my wife pull the trigger. I can't unload it on my own. And that reminds me, time to wax my string before hunting season!
     
  6. slmurphy

    slmurphy New Member

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    Don't use them personally but plan to have them in my books. Not an avid fan, but it's a good place to start research
     
  7. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I have a replica of a medieval crossbow, which I've used a bit. It uses a stirrup setup; I put my foot in the stirrup so that I can draw the string back with both arms to cock it. I second what others have said about it having a kick, and about being somewhat harder to sight than a longbow (which I've also used). In target shooting, I've found that the bolts often go completely through the target and backstop, which makes it hard for me to score my performance.

    One definitely does not carry them around cocked. I remember one recent movie where people were using miniature crossbows all the time, as if the screenwriters had been thinking about handguns and, when they were told that handguns weren't in period, simply went through the script, crossed out "pistol," and wrote in "crossbow."

    When using them in re-enactments of medieval battles, the first thing that you learn is that they do indeed take longer to load and fire, leaving you quite exposed unless you're behind something. Their advantages were that they could be used by people with little training, whereas one had to practice long and hard to develop the strength and skill to use a 100# longbow. As for penetration power, they usually (but not always) out-performed longbows, particularly the kind that used a windlass action.

    In short, if you had protection and plenty of time to rel0ad, they were an effective weapon at short range, and continued to be used for a while even after muskets had made their appearance on the battlefield.

    The definitive text on the subject is The Crossbow by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey. It was published in 1903 but is still in print, I think (my copy is dated 1993).
     
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  8. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    BTW, I cock mine when I go hunting, and keep it cocked while I am in my stand, but usually unloaded... broken strings are one thing but bolts through body parts are definitely another. I have not had much success with firearms or crossbows walking around on the hunt. Given the sensitivity of deer, if you are not cocked when you see a deer, they will be gone when you are ready to shoot.
     
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  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Those are good points. AFAIK, there was no sort of locking mechanism on medieval crossbows.

    As for your second point, I think that Maia's character was to be using the crossbow in a combat setting, not a hunting setting. I'm not sure that crossbows were ever used in hunting scenarios; at least, I'm not aware of any references to it, whereas there is evidence of hunting with conventional bows and, if you really wanted an extreme experience, hunting boars with spears, which was a really manly thing to do.
     
  10. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with JLT, a bow is much more appropriate for hunting. Back then, anyway. I never mastered archery, so for me, hunting from a concealed blind, it works
     
  11. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    One other point that nobody's mentioned...a longbow can have several strings to its bow - literally - which a crossbow wouldn't have. The significance of this is that a longbowman would unstring his bow when just on the march - he could re-string pretty quickly by stepping across the bow and using his leg strength to bend the bow enough to attach the string to the other end. He would also have a spare string in case he snapped the one he was using. The significance of marching with an unstrung bow is that the string wouldn't get wet and less effective.
     
  12. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    If a crossbow string is properly waxed then the results of it getting wet would be negligible. If you were referring to The Battle of Crecy, it's been pretty much agreed on that the Genoese were pretty much just trying to save face with that story.
     
  13. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I have different strings for my crossbow, which I use if I want to change the draw weight. It's really not hard to change the strings on a crossbow, although you need a "stringer string" that pulls back the arms of the prod so that the old string can be slipped off the prod and the new one slipped on. It's just another piece of the paraphernalia that we carry.
     
  14. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Well you would have to make the assumption that they were properly maintained, which isn't always the case. The Genoese were forced straight from their march and into battle, without even being allowed to grab their pavises for protection. After an exchange of missile fire at long range (where arrows are better than bolts) the Genoese retreated in good order... Until their French employers decided to slaughter a third of them for LOLs.

    But aside from speculation on the exact state of the Genoese equipment, we know that well maintained crossbows of the kind used at Crecy shot at 60% the rate of English longbows, and that bolts lost accuracy and kinetic energy faster than arrows at range, despite having superior kinetic energy at close ranges. So without the protection of their pavises (shields used as mobile cover), the Genoese were at a disadvantage. By the way, Genoese crossbowmen often had servants for reloading their crossbows in battle, so the listed figure of 6,000 crossbowmen at Crecy is likely inflated by three or so times- there were most likely 2,000 Genoese crossbowmen (with missing equipment) fighting 5,000 longbowmen.

    Crossbows and longbows/bows fought long before and long after Crecy, and throughout most of Europe the crossbows were the weapon of choice, we just don't hear about it due to our Anglophile culture. The Mongols in their own accounts state they had significant problems dealing with crossbowmen, but seem to hold no such grudge against bowmen. But I'm getting carried away.

    The point being, crossbows could be anything from a replacement for a bow, which could be given to peasants, to a large mechanism used by small crews of trained and heavily armored mercenaries. The crossbow mercenaries of the late middle ages were armored in brigandine or mail, both of which were extremely expensive in the time period, and usually fought from behind static shields.

    Make sure a character with a powerful crossbow isn't running around and shooting bolts like a machinegun.
     
  15. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    The Chinese used, and some say invented, the crossbow. Primarily it was issued to their conscript peasants who could use it well with very little training, whereas to use a bow to its full potential requires quite a bit of training, often from childhood.

    They also had a repeating crossbow, the lian-yu, which had a block on top of the stock which served as a magazine for ten unfleched bolts. By lifting the magazine up and back, it cocked the weapon, dropped a bolt into the slot and fired it. Modern replicas get off about 10 bolts per minute. However, it lacked power, the flechless bolts lack accuracy, and anyway, the stock rested on the shooter's thigh, so aiming just a matter of up and in the general direction of an enemy. A large number of them could put up cloud of bolts in the hopes of hitting something, or at least distracting the enemy.
     
  16. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Skallagrim! Love that channel. There are a few others to check out, like The Metatron.

    Also, leaving your bow strung for long periods warps the wood and consequently robs the bow of power. It is recommended that even modern bows only be strung for 8 hours at a stretch, so that the limbs can "rest."
     
  17. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Quite right. The Chinese had some great crossbow designs, though I think the lian-yu was at the bottom of the stack, like the European lantern shield or whatever this is...

    [​IMG]

    European and Chinese crossbow designs seem to have somewhat different applications though. The European ones were narrower and more often used from behind cover to 'snipe' enemy soldiers, and were especially effective during sieges. The Chinese ones are generally wider and more cumbersome, but can achieve better range. They are more of a horizontal bow that can be loaded using your back muscles to achieve higher draw strength. Some could get absurdly big...

    [​IMG]

    Here are a late European crossbow and a Chinese crossbow for comparison-

    European:
    [​IMG]

    Chinese:
    [​IMG]
     
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  18. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    When I went clay-pigeon shooting with a team from work, one of our guys just shot from the hip; he outperformed most of us, who were sighting along the barrel.
     
  19. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Not as much of an issue with medieval European crossbows, which usually had metal prods. Crossbows that had laminated prods of wood and horn (which, I think, were common in Asia) would have been a different story.
     
  20. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    Oh, I was replying to a comment about marching with unstrung longbows.
     
  21. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Got it. You are absolutely right about longbows.
     
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