Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.
Ever Wanted to Know How to Make a Crossbow?
Crossbows are not toys; they are weapons, but with that being said, they are quite a bit of fun. A while back I went to my local SCA group's archery practice and had the pleasure of trying out one of their crossbows. It is a traditional style crossbow fashioned after the crossbows used since the medieval times.
The satisfaction of the thunk as the bolt flew from the crossbow and smacked into the target is unparalleled. I love my traditional bow, but the crossbow was just too much fun to pass up. After playing with the crossbow for as long as I could, I thought to myself, "surely they can't be that difficult to make?"
The owner of the crossbow, an expert on archery through the ages, confirmed this for me; while his model was quite advanced, there are others that are much simpler to make.
So, there began my quest to learn how to build a medieval crossbow and searched the internet for crossbow plans. Since I am a historical re-enactor, and my focus is the medieval ages, the crossbow plans I have mainly considered closely resemble medieval crossbows.
I can't believe the number of DIY crossbow plans available on the net. I've tried to include as many of them as possible here, but the list is just never-ending. If you come across any I have missed, feel free to drop me a line in the comments section and I'll add it.
Free Online Crossbow Woodworking Plans
I have been scouring the net looking for the best plans for how to make a crossbow. Below is a collection of links to the best of the best of crossbow construction plans I have found. All of these plans require some skill at woodworking. If you've never done any woodworking projects building a crossbow is probably not the best bet for your first project.
This is an ever growing list of great online free plans for making your own crossbow, so check back often if you can't find the crossbow you want to build. Good luck, and if you manage to make a crossbow from one of these plans please feel free to come back and post your results, I'd love to hear how it went.
- Repeating Crossbow
A pump action repeating crossbow. What could be more fun?
- The Arbalist Guild
Not actually a specific plan for a crossbow, but rather a collection of people who love crossbows. NOTE: Arbalist is a specific type of crossbow developed in the middle ages.
- An Instructable On Crossbow Making
Instructables is a great do it yourself site with many great plans. This particular instructable is a nice design.
- Crossbow Parts
This is a site that sells crossbow parts, however part way down there are some links to detailed schematics for crossbows.
- How to Make Crossbows: The Classic Crossbow
You can make a crossbow using walnut, aluminum and a few miscellaneous parts. This article includes plans and step-by-step instructions that tell you how to make a crossbow.
- CHU-KO-NU Manchurian Repeating Crossbow circa 2nd century AD
Since comparatively little information had been published relating to the Chu-ko-nu, I have always had the desire to write a full description of it, accompanied by precisely dimensioned drawin
- Free Pistol Crossbow DIY Plan and Instructions
A small pistol sized crossbow.
- Free Wooden Crossbow Plans
Note: Membership required (supposedly free), have not verified the plans myself. Plans For A Crossbow, instant download, bill of materials, instructions, also see our other UNIQUE Plans!
- Crossbow Building Wiki
Crossbow Building Wiki is a community site that anyone can contribute to. Discover, share and add your knowledge!
- Designing medieval nut and trigger crossbow locks - Crossbow Building Wiki
This article describes design aspects of a simple nut and trigger lock commonly seen on medieval crossbows. Part of the above mentioned crossbow wiki, this particular article goes into the trigger mechanism common in medieval crossbows in considerab
- DIY Medieval Crossbow | eHow.com
DIY Medieval Crossbow. Crossbows are very accurate and powerful weapons used for hunting and for sport. While most people buy crossbows from hunting stores, people in medieval reenactment groups enjoy making their own medieval crossbows from basic pa
- Build a Crossbow using Leaf Spring
Plans from Popular Mechanics on how to build a crossbow using leaf springs.
- Home made crossbow
Not a particularly elegant design, nor would I recommend using it, however it's worthy of inclusion in this list.
- How to Make Crossbows: The Classic Crossbow
Another misleading title, the crossbows are relatively modern... but there are two separate designs on the page
- How to Make a Crossbow: 28 Steps (with Pictures) - wikiHow
This wikihow article is a decent PVC crossbow. Decent design but not all that powerful.
Crossbow Parts For Sale Online
Here are some of the best sources for crossbow parts and kits. Crossbow Kits enable you to make a crossbow on your own without having to fabricate some of the more complex parts. It's a great way to have a more complex crossbow but still having the satisfaction of DIY.
- Alchem Incorporated: Crossbow Parts
Crossbow Parts Alchem serves as a reseller of finished prods and strings, and a machining service
Canada Crossbow parts. Mainly for modern crossbows.
Medieval Or Modern
What's the Difference?
Modern crossbows haven't really evolved that much, we've altered the trigger mechanism, the materials used, and added pulleys to create more force with less strength required to draw; other than that the design remains essentially the same. The trigger mechanism is really the primary change, on most medieval designs it is not a trigger as we are used to but rather a lever which holds the nut in place, which in turn holds the bow string, when the lever is squeezed the nut is released allowing the nut to turn freely which acts to release the bowstring. It is really quite a simple concept.
The image to the right is a crossbow nut (image is public domain). The scoop on the top is what holds the bowstring, the notch on the bottom is where the lever clicks into the nut. Often the nut was made out of antler or bone in medieval times, but sometimes it would be made of metal.
A Brief History of Crossbows
The earliest known European reference to crossbows comes from ancient Greece in the form of the gastraphetes, which literally translates to "Belly-releaser". The gastraphetes is remarkably similar to a modern crossbow, on of the biggest differences is simply its size. The gastraphetes is simply a device for allowing you to pull a standard bow into launch position easier and quicker.
The gastraphetes didn't really catch on, however it did evolve into the Ballista, which is a huge crossbow that shoots massive bolts. The Ballista was a siege engine that is sometimes called a scorpio or scorpion.
Other than the scorpio the crossbow didn't really show up in Europe again until 1066, the famous Battle of Hastings. Ever since their appearance at Hastings there have been debates about which is better, the long bow or the crossbow, the Battle of Againcourt could be the decisive argument for the superiority of the longbow. The English forces were severely outnumbered at Againcourt against the French, however it was still a slaughter of the French forces. One of the main reasons for the success of the English forces in this battle has been accredited to the longbow. Well trained longbowmen could fire more arrows per minute the the French crossbowmen, add to that the longbow had more range and more force behind them, plus the fact that the English had the high ground. it made for a bloodbath.
Logically Againcourt should have demonstrated the military advantage of the longbow, however that was not the case. The crossbow continued to grow in popularity and continued to be developed. Eventually a crossbow became at least as powerful as most longbows, but the firing rate of the longbow was never met. Despite its disadvantages, the crossbow had one major advantage which the longbow would never achieve. The crossbow was relatively easy to master. Within a few weeks of training a crossbowman could be just as effective as a longbowman that requires years of training and constant practice. The crossbows ease of use meant it became the weapon of choice for most armies for their artillery.
China, unlike Europe, developed the Crossbow early and kept improving on it. There is evidence of crossbows in China as early as 771 BCE, and they had both repeating and multiple bolt crossbows in 210 BCE.
Image is of plans for how to make a crossbow the ancient greek method, a gastraphetes, image is public domain due to expiration of copyright
To Make A Crossbow
I am hoping to make a gastraphetes sometime soon. My idea is simply buy a simple recurve or longbow and outfit it to be a gastraphetes with mountable tripod. My hope is to make is legal to use in SCA combat archery.
I recently moved to Alberta and the local SCA group The Shire of Vinjar is heavy into archery, specifically combat archery, and they make their own period accurate(ish) crossbows. So I think I will be making a crossbow with them. It will be much more fancy than I was intending, but I love their design so much.
Update June 27 2013
I got a chance to use two different styles of SCA period crossbows in order to figure out which I would like to make. One had a longer butt that you could rest your chin on to stabilize it, the other was shorter. I found the short one to be quick loading and lighter, however the longer one made for better shooting, and I think with practice could be quicker loading. Both bows were fun to shoot and such, but I think I will go with the longer design.
Crossbows for Hunting
Hunters have a completely different set of needs when it comes to crossbows. While technically some of the crossbow plans I found on the internet could be used for hunting I do not recommend it. When considering a crossbow for hunting one shouldn't consider how "cool" it is, but rather how effective, and how well if suits the hunter.
Modern crossbows are extremely effective, especially for hunting, but they look and feel considerably different. If you need some tips on picking an appropriate hunting crossbow, check out this article on The Best Crossbow for the Money.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Jeff Johnston
Shoot me some comments - I can take it!
Joseph Thomas on September 04, 2019:
Super interesting, well done for this article!
Ted Neeley on August 11, 2017:
I a man looking for someone to make a cross bow for me. I have an old compound bow and an old rifle stock. I live in Calif. and I am disabled. If you know of anyone that could help me I would be very appreciative. Thank you. Pastor Ted Neeley.
Medieval Crossbow on November 01, 2015:
I think you will find my website interesting as well. it's about how to make a crossbows in your own home
Joebeducci on November 09, 2013:
I'm not really into the medieval stuff, but actually my uncle build a crossbow himself, so it was interesting to read you lens. Very well-done! Greets, Joebeducci
Avast90 on October 08, 2013:
jura on August 25, 2013:
Crossbows are very powerful wepins .
MartialArtsEvolution on August 09, 2013:
Ive always loved crossbows. Now its time to try and make one. Thank for sharing
Birthday Wishes from Here on August 07, 2013:
Wonderful lens!!! You know what you are talking about! Thanks for sharing!
silvermander on August 04, 2013:
I think crossbows, specifically medieval crossbows are great, I just wish it was easier to find parts for them.
fcinternetmarketing on July 06, 2013:
garagerob on July 01, 2013:
Never tried this before but it looks very fun! Very nice presentation. Will share this with my brothers.:)
Gina Valley from Arizona on May 31, 2013:
I have a couple replica medieval swords - I'm so obsessed! I have teenage nephews and the really want a crossbow so this was very helpful - thanks!
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on May 25, 2013:
@MBurgess: :D glad I could help. I really have to get on making my own crossbow sometime soon as well LOL :D
Maria Burgess from Las Vegas, Nevada on May 25, 2013:
I have been looking at crossbows in sporting good stores, but have not decided on one yet. With the links you shared I may get some materials and hit Dad's shop instead! =) Thank you!
chuckholmes301 on April 23, 2013:
I'll take the longbow over the crossbow any day of the week.
Sharon Weaver from Los Angeles, CA on March 18, 2013:
My dad was a bow and arrow hunter and I went with him a few times so I am partial to it but have thought about trying a cross bow. Even Leonard de Vinci designed one.
worldflashpacker on March 14, 2013:
Crossbows certainly aren't toys. Great lens I feel inspired to give this a try.
AstroGremlin on September 26, 2012:
I used to practice with a 50-pound bow all the time. But when I was invited to go bow hunting, I knew I wasn't good enough for a clean kill and didn't think I would enjoy chasing a wounded deer. I figure I owe an animal a quick exit.
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on September 12, 2012:
@anonymous: Thank you. Yes most assume that crossbow became the favored weapon due to its superiority, but it really never did much more than match the longbow for power at best, in the end it is its simplicity that won out. Its a tidbit most miss out when they learn about weapons, they assume advancement means more powerful, but not always the case.
anonymous on September 11, 2012:
I'm thinking that one crossbow isn't enough and once you have one you want other versions ....and a collection is born that becomes quite the center of conversation with many stories to tell. Now I just took for granted that the crossbow was the superior weapon and just learned that the longbow really is but mastery is the issue and the crossbow won out that way...interesting! Congratulations on your much celebrated purple star!
mic604 on September 11, 2012:
Just had the opportunity to shoot my first crossbow a few weeks back, as they are now legal to hunt with in Jersey, and my friend purchased one. This thing had a scope, and once sighted was extremely accurate. Seems almost like cheating...lol Still like the longbow as it is more fun to shoot in my opinion.
glenbrook on September 10, 2012:
I'd take a crossbow over a longbow, but when it comes down to it my favorite weapon is a well-tuned AR15.
Bill from Gold Coast, Australia on September 10, 2012:
I know plenty of people who have made their own longbows, but not crossbows. The problem with crossbows is that here in Australia you need a licence for them, but all other bows do not require a licence.
miaponzo on September 10, 2012:
I have always wanted to learn how to shoot the bow... I ended up doing Olympic Air Pistol, because this sport wasn't available in Kuwait until only very recently... but I absolutely LOVE it! Blessed!
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 09, 2012:
I now know something about the crossbow. Well done.
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on September 07, 2012:
@athrunzala: Thanks hope I can get around to making one myself ASAP :D
athrunzala on September 05, 2012:
wow nice plans you have!
Jeff Johnston (author) from Alberta Canada on September 01, 2012:
@hntrssthmpsn: They are pretty neat plans :)... and actually there is some historical precedent, even if you are looking to make a historically accurate one. Many cultures had a repeating crossbow.
hntrssthmpsn on August 31, 2012:
Those repeating crossbow plans are awesome!!! Five shots in five seconds... I've just got to have that. And yet another project joins the DIY queue...
Camden1 on August 28, 2012:
I think my son would enjoy making a crossbow...that could be a good summer-time activity for him.