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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2021 8:32 am    Post subject: Tod testing a 200# " Assasin's " crossbow.         Reply with quote

Another crossbow testing " reality check " of the performance of a crossbow, this time the " So-Called " Assassin's Crossbow to see if it's accurately named and could in fact kill, but more importantly, would it be effective and capable of making a reliable kill !

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXRFDdlkEzw

Well, it could kill, but would it be a good choice for an assassin ? So, to avoid giving away Tod's conclusions I wont say more that he tested accuracy and power at different ranges with interesting results.

Tod also gives a " Shout Out " to " myArmoury " and encourages people to support this site with a donation as he praises this site as being a great and valuable site. Big Grin Cool

Good to return the favour and have people here go to his Youtube site, and possibly subscribe ?

In any case his Youtube site has become more and more interesting with all of the testing of crossbows, and other Topics related to period weapons and evaluations of performance.

Many of you already know that he makes very good reproductions of various weapons, scabbards and also daily life Medieval gear: But for those new here I also wanted to give him my support, and custom/Bespoke projects that I have had with Tod I can't recommend enough on the quality of his work, his communications, accurate delivery times and prices.

He is the model of under promising and over delivering, and a joy to work with for custom work, as well as buying his off the shelf products.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2021 10:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I love Tod's channel. I've thought about a myArmoury YouTube channel, but great videos like Tod's are intimidating. Happy

I've watched so many of his videos thinking "Tod has the coolest job out there."

Happy

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Graham Shearlaw





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PostPosted: Mon 01 Mar, 2021 6:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tod's lockdown long bow has been on of the high lights of this past year with out a doubt.

As for the "Assassin's Crossbow" i'm more in the over grown toy camp, its not that powerfull nor is it accurate or really quiet.
It would be ideal for pest control like an air or .22lr rifle if it was accurate.
The detailed work and the complex design is a another strike against that role, if bob the farmer needs something to keep his crops from getting eaten a simple hand drawn wooden bow can do that.

It's not powerful enough to be a good weapon, sure getting hit by one could be fatal, but its more likely to be only a relativity minor wound, an without poison or some other additive easily treated.

I should note that toothpick crossbow have in china raised up the same ban them now mob in resent years, there where a school yard craze an well it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye...
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Tue 09 Mar, 2021 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have three points on this -

One, on the idea of it's use as an assassination weapon, I think those things are a lot like a .22. And the .22 short was the preferred calibre of the Mossad for a long time. A .22 was used by the Night Stalker in most of his original murders. If you put the emphasis on catching people by surprise and when they are not ready or expecting to be attacked, something like a .22 can be a very lethal instrument.

So I would say, even without poison, in theory, if you walked up behind someone and shot them in the head at point blank range (or even 5' or 10' away) with one of those, perhaps using a needle bodkin type bolt, the lethality may actually be quite high. Kind of like with a .22. Or indeed, a stiletto.

Poison could enhance the lethality but poison could be notoriously unreliable in and of itself especially back in the day. Even today in some famous cases, would-be targets have recovered from poison.

Two, with all due respect to Todd, I think his emphasis is somewhat on making things based on his own (considerable) skill and mostly contemporary practical knowledge and equipment, enhanced with trial and error with a lot of fun experimentation.

Another approach however is to do a ton of research, learn the use of many archaic tools and techniques, and take a really deep dive into the precise methods and materials used to make weapons as close as possible to how they were really made 500 years ago. Andreas Bichler for example, who does take that kind of deep dive, gets much better performance from his crossbows.

I think "Secrets of the Shining knight" also showed us how this approach can pay off with armor. Peter Johnsson (and others) have shown that this approach pays off with swords as well.

So I think it is possible that a ballestrino made in Venice in the 15th or 16th Century might have been a bit more powerful and / or accurate.


Three
, I think those devices may have another use - if you had one handy and were walking around in somewhat typical semi-paranoid Renaissance Italian fashion armed with a sword and dagger, wearing a mail shirt under your clothing, and saw an enemy you believed was likely to attack you - quickly shooting them with the Ballestrino might be a good way to start the fight. Having a 4" dart embedded in their shoulder, face or neck might not kill them but it could be quite an impediment to successfully engaging in a sword fight. I would put this analogous to throwing a hurlbat or darts before a fight which was done on the battlefield.

Similarly, if you were say a lady or an older person being pursued by some kind of mugger or thief in a town alley, putting one of those bolts into them might be a good way to discourage pursuit, and / or degrade their ability to bother you further.

Bottom line, I tend to err on the side of believing the old sources and assuming that people 500 years ago weren't stupid. I've been to Florence and Sienna and Venice. I've seen the things those people made. I don't think they were dumb. In fact I don't believe we are smarter than they are today, especially when it came to fighting. We do have some tools they couldn't imagine, but I think the typical Venetian merchant knew more about killing than anyone posting on this board. So if they banned Ballestrino several times and seemed genuinely concerned about them, much as they also were for pistols, I suspect they had good reasons.

Todd does have a good point about why not just use a stiletto of course, but that puts you much closer to danger. Even using it in 'Assassin' mode, you could conceivably kill someone probably from 5 or 10 feet away, and that gives you a much beter opportunity to escape than if you are within arms reach of the target, and presumably his bodyguards.

Anyway, that's my $.02

J

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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Wed 10 Mar, 2021 7:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for posting this up Jean.

In response to Jean Henri-Chandler
Quote:
I think those things are a lot like a .22.
.

I see the point that this is a about as low as you could get as a viable device and so there is a parallel, however a .22 is around 145J and this (my version) is around 6J. It may go through the temple or the eye, but it would not penetrate the front or back of the skull or reliably the chest or deeply into the abdomen.

Jean Henri-Chandler wrote
Quote:
Poison could enhance the lethality but poison could be notoriously unreliable in and of itself especially back in the day. Even today in some famous cases, would-be targets have recovered from poison.


Yes it was, but so is a low powered weapon of difficult accuracy status. Practice would improve accuracy for sure, but it is is not sighted and awkward to aim, so it cannot ever be better than OK and for a very low powered device, placement of the bolt would be critical, so even though poison is unsure, it can only add to the hope that the device will do its job.

Jean Henri-Chandler wrote
Quote:
with all due respect to Todd, I think his emphasis is somewhat on making things based on his own (considerable) skill and mostly contemporary practical knowledge and equipment, enhanced with trial and error with a lot of fun experimentation.


Thank you. I think that there is a massive overlap between contemporary and historic knowledge as you cannot make most of these pieces without understanding how they work and the processes that go into them and the fact that I choose to heat bend a bow using gas rather than forge makes no difference, however what does make a difference are the little aspects that are lost to time that can only be discovered by doing. Some I have found and many I have undoubtedly not.

Jean Henri-Chandler wrote
Quote:
Another approach however is to do a ton of research, learn the use of many archaic tools and techniques, and take a really deep dive into the precise methods and materials used to make weapons as close as possible to how they were really made 500 years ago. Andreas Bichler for example, who does take that kind of deep dive, gets much better performance from his crossbows.


I agree that his work is quite extraordinary and I only wish I had the time available to try and work as he does, so I can only stand back in awe of what he does. However also consider when it comes to performance, he works in composite and wood bows whilst I work in steel so they cannot be compared, however with every bow I make I learn more.

Jean Henri-Chandler wrote
Quote:
So I think it is possible that a ballestrino made in Venice in the 15th or 16th Century might have been a bit more powerful and / or accurate.


A bit more accurate certainly, but the whole object is not inherently accurate and now to power. The RA bow is in fact considerably smaller than mine and so the draw is also smaller, but if we assume that my bow is half the delivered energy of the RA one (which I very much doubt) that still means it would deliver 12J on a light bolt and this will still require very precise delivery to do damage. However mine was a 44mm draw at 200lbs and the RA one is I would estimate a 35mm draw or less at 220lbs so I cannot see it delivering 12J under any circumstance.

Then it comes to the question of how differently efficient mine is. The steel is EN45 0.7% spring steel with a double tapered bow, albeit a bit different in profile to the RA one and drawing a comparable weight. I very much doubt my bows perform as well as the originals and would never have the arrogance or naivety to think they do; so much has been lost. So I will admit they are different; but how different?

Not different enough to transform 6J into 30J for something with some real grunt, or indeed the 18J of a nice pistol crossbow now, if for no other reason than the bolt weight is just not likely to be there.

I cannot say they were not used for assassination, however they just strike me as so very unlikely to succeed and that chance of getting caught pretty high that the pay off just wouldn't be there and if the assailant was caught, so would the weapon be and almost all are so highly decorated that the maker may as well have signed and addressed his piece and would shortly be awaiting a knock at the door.

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Michael P. Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Mar, 2021 8:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Another approach however is to do a ton of research, learn the use of many archaic tools and techniques, and take a really deep dive into the precise methods and materials used to make weapons as close as possible to how they were really made 500 years ago. Andreas Bichler for example, who does take that kind of deep dive, gets much better performance from his crossbows.


But he is working with composite prods, yes? That is a much more efficient material than steel. But as historically, it has its disadvantages: They take a long time to make (Andreas told me "At least a year"), they can be sensitive to weather conditions (he told me "They must be carefully protected from moisture") and cannot be left strung for extended periods or they will take a set, or even delaminate.

But in any case, comparing a composite bow to a steel one isn't a good comparison. Would that Andreas would sell his prods, but alas, he does not. As he told me, he would have to charge WAY to high a price to make it worth his while, and it would eat far too much of his time.

It would be nice, of course, to be able to calibrate modern steel prod replicas to surviving steel prod bows, but I cannot imagine that those older bows are dramatically better than a well-made modern replica. The modulus of elasticity of carbon steels is fairly consistent, and does not seem to be dramatically altered by alloys in the same way other properties are (like hardness, for example). I am not a metallurgist, so I stand to be corrected, but I am a mechanical engineer, and this kind of thing (springs) was bread and butter in my early career. See here:

https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/young-modulus-d_773.html

I don't think anyone could argue that the originals used a superior steel or heat treat. Of course, Payne-Gallwey is famous for making some claims, but his experiments were poorly documented, and therefore not possible to replicate, even if we were permitted to shoot these old surviving bows. I personally find his claims questionable.

We can measure surviving prods with great accuracy and can pretty accurately estimate its performance as a spring. Tod, having an engineering background, no doubt has considered the dimensions of the prods carefully.

There are potential gains to be made in subtle geometry differences, perhaps. But the efficiency improvement here is unlikely to be above the low single digits, I think. The greatest efficiency thief other than the prod itself being the friction of the bowstring on the table. but again, we can measure angles. We know how the trigger systems work. The skill of the old masters no doubt allowed some improvements over what may be possible today, but it would not even double the energy or momentum of these low power balestrinos, regardless of any "lost secrets."

As always, my opinion is subject to change if I become aware of new data.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Mar, 2021 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't really have the time for a big debate at the moment, so I'll try to be succinct and draw the demarcations clearly.

First let me stipulate, Todd undoubtedly knows far more about making crossbows (and sword and knives and warhammers and many other wonderful things) than I ever will. I am now and have long been a great admirer of his work which is not only functional, but typically looks quite beautiful. If I had the opportunity I suspect I would love nothing better than to spend an afternoon at his workshop shooting bows and crossbows and examining all of the marvels he has created. It would be like a time capsule.

However, respectfully to Tod and everyone else here, the distinction I have made is one that I deeply believe in. Time and time again since I began taking a serious interest in medieval history and material culture more than 20 years ago, I have been told that modern materials and techniques are far better. And time and time and time again I have been told that the people of this period did XYZ for reasons of fashion, or faith or superstition, or just because they didn't know any better because you know, medieval.

And in both cases, time and time again, as more and better research emerged, I have learned that there were reasons. They did what they did they way they did it because it worked better for them. We have seen this with swords. We made a lot of assumptions about how they were made based on limited data, and much of that turned out to be wrong. Thanks to Peter Johnsson we have acquired some insight into why they made them "more like an airplane wing than a crowbar", and it turns out it probably wasn't fashion or backwardness or superstition, but very good practical reasons (which may have also been intertwined with faith and a variety of spiritual beliefs). But it took a long time, a ton of research, some insight, and I suspect a bit of humility to reach that level of understanding.

The experiment central to Secrets of the Shining knight shocked even Allan Williams. Who in the modern world knows more about medieval armor than Alan Williams? But how much does Alan Williams know about making armor compared to Lorenz Helmschmied? Again with respect for someone far more accomplished than I, I would bet Dr. Williams could teach that old fellow very little. And apparently the armorers of the Augsburg tradition still have a lot to teach us modern enthusiasts*, as we learned when that musket ball bounced off of the harness at twenty paces. One of the factors in that experiment was that they made their own bloomery and smelted their own iron to make that armor. They did everything from smelting to forging to heat treatment as they believed it had been done in period. Even then, in the electron microscope analysis, they did not achieve quite as good a result as the 16th Century original.

Would modern steel have worked better, or even as well? I suspect not. I am no metallurgist, certainly not an engineer or a physicist. But I am somewhat familiar with a variety of records and primary sources from the late medieval period, mainly in Central Europe. And I've read a lot about crossbows specifically. Not too long ago here on myArmoury as the result of a discussion similar to this I found and posted some records from schützenfest competitions, including the invitations to events in two German towns, Subsequent to that we found 4 more such invitations from the 15th and 16th Centuries. These documents give the size of the target, the distance to the target in their own specific unit of measure (the size of which is also indicated), how far away the target will be, and how many hits are required to qualify, among other things. No modern crossbow replica I know of, and no modern crossbow, is likely to perform well enough for these contests. Yet. But I think we will get there if we keep digging.

To wit, I have been following the development of modern replica crossbows for a long time (we have a thread on here which is 10 or 15 years old I believe) and I have seen performance steadily improve. I think we have a long way to go simply because the market is not that developed... which is in part because we don't know enough about these weapons yet (it's all a bit circular).

Today nobody is making medieval style crossbows for warfare. So far as I know, using them for hunting as was still being done in the 18th Century is also quite rare. We are making them as curiosities, for target practice - and not even hard stuff yet like shooting the popinjay. Only a few people have the skill Todd and Andreas have to even make such weapons (and the spanners that go with them). We don't use crossbows to kill people and horses, to punch through shields and armor. So there isn't much drive to push them to perform in that manner - doing so just makes them more dangerous to use and to handle. I think Todd could tell you a 1,200 lb draw crossbow (contrary to some pseudo historical legends) is not something any idiot can handle safely.

On the steel prods
I have yet to see any convincing period evidence (though I'm ready to be proven wrong) that at the time when crossbows were still being used for war, that the people who used steel prod crossbows believed they were in any way inferior to composite prod weapons of the same size and intended function. The only thing I've seen along those lines are comments that steel prod weapons were more likely to snap in extremely cold weather. The fact is that many armies, town arsenals, guild armories and mercenary contractors switched over to the steel prod types because they were a bit cheaper. But if there was a substantial downgrade in terms of capability I don't think they would have done so - because for them, it was a matter of life and death. I have seen no evidence that there was.

On the composite prods
As far as I know, Mr. Bichler is the first to start making composite prods with any success. Prior to becoming aware of his work, I read a major (and expensive) academic study of composite prod crossbows in which the three examples they made all de-laminated within the first three shots. Obviously there is a lot to learn, and I suspect Mr. Bichler will continue to improve his devices. I don't think such fragility was the norm 500 years ago, though no doubt they were aware of the risks of moisture and knew what steps to take to prevent it.

Ultimately this comes down to faith, I think. If you are an engineer or a physicist, you are likely to have faith in modern materials, modern processes, and modern understanding. I am an amateur historian, and I have acquired a hard-won faith in the people of the Renaissance. In their understanding, their processes, and yes even their materials (even though I am aware some of it was flawed).

I have learned from 20 years of fencing practice that those people knew more about martial arts than anyone in the modern world could come up with, unless they were also borrowing from some other ancient tradition. I have seen with my own eyes the art and architecture, the artifacts and indeed the weapons from this era. I have learned over a long period of time, that these people had a very different approach to problem solving, to seeing the world, and to thinking than modern people, and I have come to the conclusion that their way while very different from our own, was not inferior, and that we have a great deal to learn from them still.

In one of the last videos I saw that Mr. Bichler posted on youtube, he was shooting his crossbow at a reconstructed pavise shield, based as I understand it on an original found in a museum in Munich. They very carefully examined the original and found that it was made of pine wood, overlapping pieces of rawhide, textile, and a gesso paste which contained iron filings and ground glass.

Why does the shield include a layer of iron filings and ground glass? Could I assume it was because of fashion, or superstition, or blind ignorance? Yes absolutely. Few would contradict me. But I already know that these kinds of pavise shields were being widely used in the 15th Century by people in Central Europe, notably the Germans, the Lithuanians, and the Czechs in particular, who were pioneers in the open field use of firearms. They seemed to believe that their pavise and 'hand-pavise' shields had some utility against the very hard hitting crossbows of the era, and against firearms.

The wood on one of those that I've seen in a museum wasn't thick enough to stop a bullet shot from even a relatively low-powered medieval firearm. Does ground glass and iron filings and the other materials in the Munich example change it's properties enough to make it work? I have no idea. But as the result of hard experience, I am going to suspend judgement, and tentatively err on the side of assuming that the folks back then just might have known something about the construction and use of pavises that we don't.

J


* because the Greenwich armorers share a lineage back to Augsburg

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Last edited by Jean Henri Chandler on Wed 10 Mar, 2021 1:07 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Mar, 2021 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As for the .22 short analogy, I don't mean to compare the physics as in joules - pistols are very different from bows after all, bullets not the same as bolts.

The analogy I was trying to make is between something which seems almost like a nuisance or toy weapon, a tiny .22 pistol, can in the right context be quite deadly.

It doesn't compare at all, in other words, to a battlefield weapon. A .22 short is nothing like a .308 FN FAL or something.







The comparison is almost ludicrous in terms of power. But if you think about the context a bit more, the .22 is also quite lethal, even of Strategic value, if it ends up employed at the right place in the right time.

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Mar, 2021 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
On the steel prods
I have yet to see any convincing period evidence (though I'm ready to be proven wrong) that at the time when crossbows were still being used for war, that the people who used steel prod crossbows believed they were in any way inferior to composite prod weapons of the same size and intended function. The only thing I've seen along those lines are comments that steel prod weapons were more likely to snap in extremely cold weather. The fact is that many armies, town arsenals, guild armories and mercenary contractors switched over to the steel prod types because they were a bit cheaper. But if there was a substantial downgrade in terms of capability I don't think they would have done so - because for them, it was a matter of life and death. I have seen no evidence that there was.

My understanding from when I did a deep dive into the engineering 10 or 15 years ago is that steel bows and horn bows are good for different things. Steel prods seem to work well with massive draw weights which would be hard to achieve in a manageable sized wood or horn bow, but they need much higher draw weight to get the same performance as a yew or composite bow of the same length and powerstroke. When people run the numbers in modern handbooks steel just doesn't make sense as a material for crossbows spanned from the belt with a draw weight of a few hundred pounds- and that seems to be what we see in the museums and the purchase records. The artists start showing us the winches and cranquins about the same time that steel bows start being purchased in large numbers (documents and chronicles tell us that some kind of winch was common by the 1180s, but possibly more for sieges than hunting and skirmishing).

Edit: AFAIK, steel crossbows were only popular in Europe for about 80 years (the Dukes of Burgundy start purchasing them in quantity around 1440, around 1520 towns in Tirol are replacing them with arquebuses) whereas wood and horn prods have been used since around 400 BCE

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Thu 11 Mar, 2021 6:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm aware of the modern consensus on steel prod crossbows - it's also a modern consensus that the type of short powerstroke, high draw strength bows used in late medieval Europe "don't make any sense" from a design point of view, must have been relatively ineffective compared to either modern crossbows or several period self-bows. I don't think the historical data bears that out. And I also don't think Ralph Payne-Gallwey's famous shot was a fluke, or an outlier, or a legend.

Many people also say similar things by the way about steel self-bows used in South and Central Asia by Indians, Mughals and others. But I don't think they know much about those weapons either, any more than they fully understand the process for making wootz.

The types of crossbows being made in 400 BCE were nothing like late medieval European crossbows. Those were the supposedly more efficient ones with the long powerstrokes which were used in may places. The artisans in Agusburg and Venice knew how to make those too, they just chose not to. The Condottiere and Hauptmann in 15th Century Europe could have acquired any kind of crossbows they wanted - they wanted these new types instead. Steel prod crossbows by the way, go back a lot further than 1440, and were available in a variety of grades from the type you could span with a belt hook or a goats-foot, to the type spanned with a cranequin or a windlass (cranequin or windlass being two distinct types, usually).

As I said upthread, I really don't have time to get down into the weeds with a big detailed argument about it, so we'll just have to agree to disagree. Suffice to say that I have discussed all this before, many times, and I have data which I believe supports my own conclusions. Maybe one day I'll write a paper about it, but today isn't the day because I'm up to my neck in alligators.

I just wanted to articulate my point of view on this particular issue, for the record, because this will all come up again, and it will be useful to have this to point to. And the TL : DR on that is that I don't think modern academics or amateur enthusiasts in aggregate know very much about medieval crossbows, at least not yet.

One day we'll dig into all this a bit deeper.

J

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Michael P. Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 7:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All good discussion!

Modern metallurgists and engineers KNOW how to make great leaf springs. And we know the properties of materials. There is no alloy of steel which will dramatically increase the Young's Modulus. Chrome-Moly steels have a slightly higher value, but not dramatically so. Again, I am not a metallurgist, but I just don't think there is a deep dark secret alloy that medieval steel prod makers knew of that we don't. In addition, most prods would have have to been made from multiple pieces of steel forge welded together.... each weld an opportunity to introduce potential failure points and each steel type having slightly different properties leading to an uneven heat treat, and stress discontinuities at the welds. So yeah, I feel some confidence in saying that modern steels would be superior just as a basic material, unless someone can tell me why that's not true.

I personally do not think the short powerstroke is a mystery at all, and neither do any materials engineers I know. It's simply a matter of safety. If you cannot trust the material, then you stress it well below it's theoretical performance limits. This "factor of safety" is a pretty standard part of design, particularly where injury could result from a catastrophic failure. And given the potential failure modes I suggest above, a hefty factor of safety is well advised for a heavy hunk of steel that could let loose under stress close to your head. There is an efficiency loss here, on a pound for pound of pull, but one beauty of the steel bow is that you can make them very strong. The penalty being weight and difficulty of spanning. The windlass and cranequin seem to have dealt with the spanning issue adequately enough, though at a speed penalty, of course. And there is no doubt a reason that many high-end bows for sport continued to use composite prods even after steel prods were easy to acquire. I'd suggest it is because they were rather lighter than steel prodded bows of similar capability.

And I would say armor is a bit of a different animal that a steel prod. As I said above, the engineering "state of the art" for making springs has only continued to increase. The need for high quality springs, unlike high quality functional armor, never disappeared, it only increased. Metallurgists and engineers have only ever sought to improve the quality and reliability of springs, without interruption. Armor, on the other hand, became something of a lost art, and the engineering acumen sheer skill that men like Helmschmied had lost its utility and atrophied. That is a very different situation from steel crossbow prods. And while the shapes of armor pieces are very complex, crossbow prods are remarkably simple. It's basically a rectangular cross-section leaf-spring.

I'm not sure why you think Payne-Gallwey's claims are particularly reliable. Antiquarians of his era are notorious for exaggeration and extrapolation, and without details of his experiments, his claims are next to useless. They can be no more than anecdote. Not to mention, reading his book now, there are bits that are very declarative that we now know are not accurate. And his claimed performance is generally not marginally better than what modern quality replicas can do, but dramatically better. We would have to see efficiency improvements not in the few percent (which I concede might be possible with some geometry improvements), but in the tens of percent..... and the math just isn't there. Steel has the density it does. It has the modulus of elasticity it does. The inertia is what it is. And we know the dimensions of these things. There just isn't any place to gain a huge amount of efficiency. But without knowing the exact specs of the bow Payne-Gallwey used, it's impossible to say for sure.

In any case, I appreciate the thoughts of everyone here. I find this subject eternally fascinating. And yeah, maybe we just agree to disagree, but I look forward to knowing more.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 8:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The question isn't why a powerful crossbow used a short powerstroke, it's why they went with that particular compromise of traits rather than using English style longbows, Central Asian style recurve bows, or the older long powerstroke crossbow designs. Because they had all that available if they wanted it. In fact they also used all of those other types of weapons. The explanation that it is because crossbows were supposedly so much easier to train people to use simply does not apply to 1200 lb draw arbalests, or to the high rates of pay for even infantry crossbowmen, let alone mounted.

Modern materials scientists and metallurgists do not fully understand all ancient metallurgy. One need only point to the processes of making wootz steel. They have managed to determine that wootz swords have carbon nanotubes and nanowires which contribute to their remarkable properties (properties which I hopefully don't need to enumerate here, but I will if I have to - suffice to say that they in some ways outstrip modern materials including specifically for springiness.) They also have determined that trace elements of vanadium, molybdenum and some other rare metals played a role in the creation of this specific type of crucible steel, but they have not yet reliably managed to replicate the process. Wootz is certainly not superior in every way, but is certainly different from modern alloy steels using some of those same elements.

So with all due respect to your expertise, based on not just this one glaring example but many others, I am not convinced that we know everything from earlier eras about this type of metallurgy. Modern steels are very good for making washing machines, rebar, i-beams and so forth, as well as certain types of springs, but not necessarily this specific type.

To me there is nothing deep or dark about any of this, it's just the accumulated wisdom of another era, which we do not yet fully understand because we don't have time machines. I know this is a controversial idea, but I don't think we are at the pinnacle of all knowledge and human wisdom about literally everything today, even though we do have smart phones and air conditioning. And living in New Orleans, I really like air conditioning.

That said, I do not know or claim to know if the differences between actual antique military-grade crossbows and modern replicas thereof are due to with metallurgy or some other factor. It could be the shape or geometry of the prod / lathe, it could be the string, it could be the intentional physical lamination of different grades of steel as turned to be the case with swords*, it could be some other factor that we do not yet understand. However contrary to what you just stated, I think there is indeed enough wiggle room about the metallurgy specifically

Armor never did entirely go away. In WW2, the British examined late medieval armor with an eye toward improving armor used in warplanes and tanks. They concluded that it was too expensive to replicate the processes used for example in the Greenwich armories (in the unlikely event that they could even do so) but the study led to the adoption of tempered steel armor for use in aircraft and military vehicles, which allowed them to be made tougher for roughly half the weight.

Military personal body armor today has once again reverted substantially to steel 'ballistic' plates, but they are not yet as efficient either in terms of shape or metallurgy as some of the best late medieval armor.

I have faith in Gallweys test because as I already pointed out, his results are perfectly in sync with the medieval records, including from the schützenfest (and Italian equivalent)- some of which I already posted here - and the records by the Teutonic Order and many other sources. This is the main reason I don't buy the (sorry to be blunt) to me glib dismissals of the work of the craft artisans of that period.

Modern analysis hasn't even caught up with the basic different types of military crossbows which is more sophisticated than Gallweys now quite dated book. This article which I have posted here many times, written by Sven Ekdahl, one of the experts on the Teutonic Order makes an admirable attempt to categorize the distinct types mentioned in some of their records, but no attempt has been made to systematically categorize the data of this type from around Europe. I believe the numbers he quotes for ranges in that article would exceed the capabilities of most modern replicas. Another mistake? I doubt it.


More generally, I have learned that late medieval artisanship, material culture and what you might call proto-science were very subtle, very different from our own current approaches, and not necessarily inferior. How many scholars today have read Euclid in the original Greek, Vitruvius in the original Latin, and have real life battlefield experience? I'm not saying their way was superior, but I am pointing out, they had their own strengths. And for them, things like crossbows, swords, and armor were far more important than they are for us.

* This deserves a closer look as well. For a long time people confidently wrote that medieval swords were made with different grades of steel because they couldn't produce homogeneous steel in large enough pieces. While that was indeed the case in the early Iron Age, by the late medieval it clearly was not. Peter Johnsson has proposed one plausible interpretation of the reasons behind the composite construction of swords. It may well be that something similar was going on with prods. By the late 14th Century medieval bloomery forge complexes were quite sophisticated, powered by water wheel driven bellows and trip hammers, and some were extremely large scale. I have seen with my own eyes steel billets dated to the late 13th Century which were two meters long. They were also able to heat-treat very large pieces of steel in this era, and heat treating had become it's own distinct specialty with it's own craft organization in the more prominent metalworking towns in Central Europe (like Nuremberg and Augsburg), and I assume Italy as well. If and when they were making things like prods from smaller pieces, I suggest to you that it was on purpose.

So I think the jury is still out, and I'm Ok acknowledging that this is an outlier position on my part.

J

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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I want to emphasize though, none of what I've been saying here in this thread is meant to pick on Tod or give him a hard time. I think what he is doing is really cool, I love his work and would be a customer if I was a little more flush (maybe later this year). I think Tod is also doing great work in expanding interest in the weapons and other material culture of this period I find so interesting. I really like the nature of the experiments as well, and I think they are very helpful.

I would just say we should be cautious in drawing firm conclusions even a couple of experiments. We don't always know all the factors that go into these things, their design, fabrication and use, and in general, I think experience shows us it's risky to take firm positions based on limited data, especially when it comes to medieval history. New sources of information are constantly emerging, we are in an era which is quite good in this sense, thanks to the internet and the collaborative spirit embraced by many amateur and scholarly researchers (Tod included). Of course the more experiments we do, along with the deep research, the better.

So by all means, please keep doing what you are doing Tod, and please don't take my comments about 500 year old weapons as criticism of the marvelous artifacts you create and the great fun you are having putting them to the test.

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Duncan Hill




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 2:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a terrific discussion! Jean Henri Chandler -
Quote:
it's why they went with that particular compromise of traits rather than using English style longbows, Central Asian style recurve bows, or the older long powerstroke crossbow designs. Because they had all that available if they wanted it.
What a great point!!!! I have wondered same - obviously such a crossbow would be more ungainly than the smaller size that seems to have become the standard, but I cannot imagine that that was the limiting factor.

This bit I have to disagree with:

Quote:
The explanation that it is because crossbows were supposedly so much easier to train people to use simply does not apply to 1200 lb draw arbalests, or to the high rates of pay for even infantry crossbowmen, let alone mounted.

I believe it does apply - years of training for a longbowman, e.g., versus weeks, or perhaps months (?) for a crossbowman? No contest.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 2:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would say the fortune in gold spent organizing and running schützenfest in Central Europe and the crossbow shooting contests in Italy make my point. Training to shoot crossbows was something that hundreds of municipalities invested a great deal of money in. If it was so easy, why bother?



You could also point to the influence and prestige of the crossbow shooting guilds, including in Flanders where they also had longbow shooting guilds as well, and the comparatively high pay of crossbow marksmen compared to other kinds of soldiers.

From your avatar I'm guessing you have some experience with crossbows? Have you shot the high draw weight type replicas? Because it is not something rank amateurs should play around with. An accident spanning such a weapon could easily cause injuries.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 2:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Duncan Hill wrote:

I believe it does apply - years of training for a longbowman, e.g., versus weeks, or perhaps months (?) for a crossbowman? No contest.


According to whom? Do you have specific data saying how long it takes someone to learn to span and shoot crossbows? What type of crossbows and when?

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PostPosted: Fri 12 Mar, 2021 3:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How long do we assume it took this guy (upper left corner) to get proficient enough with his crossbow and spanning device so as to be comfortable hunting bear with one from horseback?



Click here for higher res

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Andrew Gill





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PostPosted: Mon 15 Mar, 2021 5:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi everyone

I loved that video as well as Todd's others (thanks Todd!)
The ensuing discussion is also pretty interesting, so much so that I'm going to cast my tuppensworth in Razz

Both Jean Henri and Michael make good points.
I think that Jean's analogy of the .22 pistol is pretty good. These things may not be very lethal compared with a heavy war crossbow, but as a last-resort weapon of defence, probably a lot better than nothing. Also its worth remembering that on a subject with as much emotional loading as one's own personal defence, many people are not perfectly objective or rational, then as now. Todd is quite right that a dagger or a good period pistol would both be much more lethal and effective (he was using the context of assassination weapons, but it is generally true). But for some people, the perceived advantages of a small crossbow (including the "cool gadget" appeal which he mentioned) would outweigh these. And of all the modern people who own .22 pistols, how many have actually ever used them in actual self-defence, compared with the number who have them because they find them desirable on principle, not too big or scary but with some potential for useful defence, and perhaps occasional recreational target-shooting?

As for how they got a reputation as assassin's weapons, here's another comparison: parachutists' gravity knives and balisongs were both originally designed as utility tools, not weapons for muggers, but achieved notoriety as the latter when pressed into service in that dubious and unintended role - so much so that many countries ban these while happily selling kitchen knives with foot-long blades that are far more lethal. People tend to fear small, easily concealed weapons in the hands of criminals out of all proportion to their actual effectiveness, and even one case involving an assassination attempt against a famous person would probably be enough to secure the little crossbow's notoriety as the weapon of an assassin rather than an early executive toy.

Where I am inclined to agree with Michael is regarding the properties of steel (disclaimer, I'm also a mechanical engineer by training).
Its true that something like wootz has wonderful properties regarding when and how they bend permanently or break,and how much stress or shock it takes, but these do not greatly affect its ability to make an efficient spring. Steel density and modulus of elasticity (in layman's terms, its stretchiness for a given force) are relatively constant, no matter what exotic or mundane alloy of steel you look at. These things are controlled by the basic physics of interatomic bonds and crystal structure, and won't fundamentally change (modern material scientists, including an office-mate of mine, can actually predict these things very accurately from fundamental principles of physics, given a big enough computer). You can get closer to the ideal strength of steel, but not exceed it, at least without some unforeseen revolution in physics (which I think is very unlikely, though "never say never" is a good principle in science).

So I don't think it likely that there was some special 600% superior alloy lost in the mists of time that made superior crossbow prods. I consider it more likely that the craftsmen of the day were constructing crossbows with certain goals in mind, and were aware that they had to make certain compromises to get an acceptable product, just as modern engineers do. They were smart and knew a lot from experience going back generations, and they decided that for some reason, a steel prod would be better than a composite one, despite its drawbacks. I certainly don't underestimate the value of empirical knowledge and experience acquired over generations, but I also think it can be overrated - there has been some progress over the past millennium; knowledge builds on itself.
Relative cost and time to manufacture a steel or composite prod might well have been the deciding factor. General sturdiness and ease of maintenance may also have been important. In addition, I would suggest that it should be remembered that efficiency is not the same as power. In car terms, for a family hatchback, you want fuel-efficiency, but don't expect it to be able to compete with a racing car that burns through fuel at an alarming rate but has two or three times the top speed of the former. Similarly, compare a supersonic fighter with a modern airliner. The former is far more wasteful of fuel, but needs to be to do its job, despite the cost. Sometimes you want the biggest bang for your buck, sometimes you just want the biggest bang, period.
Perhaps steel crossbows could just be made more powerful, despite the seriously diminishing returns due to poor efficiency, and that was good enough (I haven't done calculations on this; I'm lazy, I know). This argument would be more applicable to larger military bows than the diminutive one in Tod's video, of course.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I'd love to be corrected or otherwise have them adjusted and/or expanded.

Andrew
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 15 Mar, 2021 9:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Why did they make this choice? what advantages did it have?" is a very different question than "this choice can't possibly have had disadvantages, so how can we explain them away?"

The military crossbows of the Franks seem designed for simplicity. The locks are far simpler than ones thousands of years earlier, but they are much easier to make and harder to break than those other types of lock. The Franks were clever about mechanics and clockwork, but they chose to make crossbow locks as simple as possible.

Here is the data on when steel crossbows become common in the house of the Dukes of Burgundy. I would love data that they were common at different times somewhere else, but it has to be data.

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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Mon 15 Mar, 2021 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Gill wrote:
Hi everyone

And of all the modern people who own .22 pistols, how many have actually ever used them in actual self-defence, compared with the number who have them because they find them desirable on principle, not too big or scary but with some potential for useful defence, and perhaps occasional recreational target-shooting?


Good point. Even if something doesn't have a very high likelihood of killing you, the fairly high likelihood that it will put a hole in you may give you pause long enough for someone to make their own safe exit.

Quote:

As for how they got a reputation as assassin's weapons, here's another comparison: parachutists' gravity knives and balisongs were both originally designed as utility tools, not weapons for muggers, but achieved notoriety as the latter


Another good point. Although I'll say this - the rates and patterns of personal violence were different in Italian towns in the late medieval period than they are today, as are the rates and patterns of personal training.

Though the ballestrino was around from the mid 15th Century, pistols were not available until well into the 16th, so whatever caused the authorities to ban the former had already occurred, when pistols were not actually an alternative.

Knives and swords are more efficient for killing, but they also put you closer to harms way. If I learned one thing in 20 years of historical fencing, it's that it's very hard to strike someone with a sword without putting yourself at risk of being struck. Even if the effective range of a Ballestrino may only be 10 or 15 feet, that much distance can be significant, both in a surprise attack and when trying to keep someone at bay.

Quote:

Where I am inclined to agree with Michael is regarding the properties of steel (disclaimer, I'm also a mechanical engineer by training). ... Similarly, compare a supersonic fighter with a modern airliner. .... despite the seriously diminishing returns due to poor efficiency, and that was good enough (I haven't done calculations on this; I'm lazy, I know). This argument would be more applicable to larger military bows than the diminutive one in Tod's video, of course.


These kinds of discussions tend to expand, and then rapidly get distorted in short order, losing their original meaning. Let me clarify what I actually said. We were originally discussing the ballestrino and this was then expanded into a more general discussion about crossbow replicas vs. the originals, due to the question of whether the ballestrino prod could be made stronger. I say yes, it could be..

I brought up wootz as an example that modern science does not know everything about pre-industrial metallurgy. If they did, I believe they could find a use for true wootz, if only to sell replica swords to all us goons around here. But probably a lot of other industrial uses too. We could also get into some other things like the iron pillar of Delhi and metal self bows but that will have to be when I have more time.

I was not suggesting that wootz was used for crossbow prods or that late medieval bloomery forges produced super metals.I grasp that there are certain limits to the efficiency of steel springs, and that these are known. I am also confident to the point of near certainty though that modern materials scientists and engineers do not know everything or even most things about medieval crossbow prods whether they think they do or not. I also pointed out the armor test on NOVA to make a similar point.

Again, I don't know or claim to know what the 'x factor' was for making period crossbows. As I said already it could be the string, it could be the geometry of the prod (i.e. it's shape) it could be the lamination of different metals. All I know is that the records indicate performance for late medieval crossbows - both composite and steel prod- which is far superior to most of the replica weapons out there today. Andreas Bichler has gotten close with his composite prods, but contrary to the claim upthread, I don't think it's because composite prods are inherently superior (I wonder what mr. Bichler things about that) I think it's because they are quite different technologies requiring different tools, skill sets, and equipment, and Mr. Bichler focused on the composite prods first to take his deep historical dive. Maybe later he'll give steel a go.

I have yet to see any period records indicating that steel prod weapons were inferior in power to composite prod, as has been suggested here. They were a bit cheaper, as in maybe 20-40% depending on the subtype, but considering the relatively small size of medieval armies, and the fact that most trained marksmen (sorry guys but they had about as much training as longbow archers had) were paid enough to afford their own crossbow (or two) and spanning device(s), I really don't see cost as a major factor either.

The bottom line for me is, I believe the records. I believe Gallweys report, because I believe the records. To assume the records are all made up or are all exaggerated, is to propose an ancient conspiracy along the lines of Flat Earth. Sounds like a funny idea for a short story or something but not plausible to me for reality.

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Last edited by Jean Henri Chandler on Mon 15 Mar, 2021 12:47 pm; edited 4 times in total
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