Author Topic: 16th century Spanish "ballesta" crossbow - with shooting videos and testing info  (Read 12829 times)

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Offline Dane

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Hi, everyone. It has been a long time since I posted any projects. The latest is a Spanish crossbow of a style called a ballista. It was used by the Spanish conquistadors in the New World, where perhaps the ratio of crossbows to firearms (the harquebus, an early flint lock, was used by the Spanish) was two to one. Crossbowmen were considered an elite force, and I find it interesting that the Spanish were still using this type of weapon after gunpowder weapons had made the crossbow obsolete as a military weapon in most of Europe. Probably I find this weapon most interesting as it was used in North America, in Florida, Colorado, and other places the Spanish armies traveled to.

This particular weapon is very simple in design, and was very much a munitions grade weapon of a soldier, not the elaborately decorated crossbow a nobleman would use for hunting and target shooting. The tiller or stock is narrow and nearly straight, about 33 inches long, and was cocked with a goats foot, so there is no stirrup in the front of the weapon. The tiller (stock) of a typical crossbow was generally made from fruitwood, but in the case of this weapon, I had some nice thick planks of yellow heart on hand (Euxylophora paraensis), and it is a beautiful wood, very easy to work, dense, with great gluing properties. Like osage, it will darken over time, and should be handsome against the blued steel and bone inlays I plan for this guy.

Also, I wanted a relatively simple, fast project. I am carefully documenting and shooting each step in the building process, and think this will be the basis for an article for PA on building a crossbow. The Spanish bows used bow irons to fasten the prod (the bow) to the tiller, and at this point, the composite prods were long out of use. So, no hours of making a hemp bridal. Another plus is that these bows had a rudamentary safety, which will be nice to have and give me some piece of mind, particularly if someone else is taking a shot with it.

I don't plan to go into great detail always on this thread, but will if I find it is necessary and to answere any questions someone may have. Ive done at least one other crossbow making thread, and it was well recieved and fun to get feedback on. So, with that being said, here it is. this project is only 3 days old, and I estimate I have spent about 5 hours total so far. The prod is 165 pounds pull with an 8" powerstroke, so not terribly powerful, but should be a fun target weapon.

Dane







Ripping the plank, tiller (stock) blank after running through thickness planer, drilling the rolling nut socket with a 1.25" fostner bit, and testing the nut in the socket. I allowed for extra wood on top of the tiller to allow for inletting and then subsequent working down and sanding. The nut is buried 2/3 into the tiller. Note: you can see a little museum booklet I am using as part of the research on this weapon called Arms and Armor of the Conquistador, 1492-1600, published by the Florida Museum of Natural History, 1990. The page open gives you an idea of what the finished bow will look like, if you squint hard :)




« Last Edit: December 31, 2012, 04:22:41 pm by Dane »
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline JW_Halverson

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2012, 04:47:57 pm »
Good to see you again, Dane.  Always enjoy your posts. 

This is gonna be interesting!
If you lose one sense, the other senses become enhanced.  Sorta like when someone has no sense of humor....their sense of  self inportance is greatly increased.

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2012, 04:54:54 pm »
The next shots show me laying out the prod mortise. I determined how far down I want the prod to be, then use a protractor to lay out a 6 degree angle, as the string will ride lightly along the top surface of the tiller (called the table) for part of the powerstroke. This is very much typical of historic examples. Heavy serving helps to give you a decent string life, but once even one fiber in the string breaks, you have to immidiately replace it. I imagine an army would have carried many extra strings or the materials to make them during a campaign or garrison situation.

The tiller will be reenforced with iron plating, which is coming up in the build. Spanish bows used either iron/steel or bronze, but thick gauge brass would also work well. One of the things about making a crossbow is that you have to develop at least some simple metalworking skills. I still struggle with that aspect of it, but it is worth it if you want to make these things.

To make the mortise, I measured, then drilled out the bulk of the waste wood on a drill press, then used chisels and then finally rasps and files to finish the work. I find using chisels one of the most pleasurable aspects of these kinds of projects, and invested last year in a nice set of Stanley Sweetheart chisels. They are my pride and joy.




Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2012, 04:55:48 pm »
JW, good to hear from you again. One of my fan boys :). This project is going to go relatively swiftly, so stay tuned.

Dane
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2012, 05:04:24 pm »
The next and last step for today is to install the bow irons. Bow irons are just so nice to work with, and as steel bows became common in the 14th and 15th centuries, they replaced the old sinew and horn composite bows that used a heavy bridle binding to hold the prod into the tiller.

Hopefully, the photos will explain better than I can how these things work. I did practice on a pine 2x3 before I committed to possibly runining the tiller with foolishly placed cuts. Besides the two side brackets, you have two end brackets made of steel and inbetween those, two wedges. The motise for the irons is made, then as you tap in the wedges, the side brackets pull the bow down and gives you a rock steady mounted prod. I was sure to keep in mind not to make the prod mortise too tight, as the pulling action coupled with shooting the bow may have resulted in splitting the tiller. That would be kind of a drag.

I must state here I did not make the irons, but purchased them from one of the few manufacturers of crossbow parts. IM me if you want info on that, but I can't post sites, as it violates PA's policy of advertisers only. I did modify the irons, getting rid of the little docorative flurish with a hacksaw and some quick file work, and also modified the inside of the bracets. You an possibly see a little slot that works in conjunction with a foot stirrup. Since there is no stirrup, no need for that slot.







Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2012, 05:06:31 pm »
And finally, the weapon as it appears right now. The poor artificial light really takes away from the beauty of the wood, but better pictures, like better times, are coming.

Stay tuned. More soon.

Dane



Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Onebowonder

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2012, 05:14:45 pm »
I shall certainly look forward to your updates!  I remember following one of your previous projects with pure envy for both your courage and your talent.  I wanna be you when I grow up!   :P

OneBow

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2012, 05:29:11 pm »
Thanks, OneBow. That is quite a compliment! Mostly, like bulding bows, it is a matter of doing it over and over again and learning from mistakes. You should see my graveyard of crossbows who didn't make it. :)
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Shaun

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2012, 07:07:02 pm »
Excellent thread. I remember another some time ago. Will be watching with interest. Thanks Dane

Offline gstoneberg

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2012, 09:36:36 pm »
Woohoo, another Dane crossbow thread!!  Life is good. :)

George
St Paul, TX

Offline criveraville

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2012, 10:27:04 pm »
Oh this is so interesting!! I will be following and looking forward to more pics..

Cipriano
I was HECHO EN MEXICO, but assembled in Texas and I'm Texican as the day is long...  Psalm 127:4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2012, 03:55:15 am »
Thanks, guys. I'd be working on it now, but it is only 5 AM, and I don't want to wake anyone up. Today I am making the trigger bar (the tickler) out of 0.375” by 0.5” 1018 steel, and chiseling in the trigger channel. Then I can locate the pivot point, drill the axel hole, and make the arrow groove. This crossbow is light enough that I don't feel I have to case harden the trigger sear point. It wont be long before I can then go off looking for El Dorado. :)

Dane
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2012, 04:11:31 am »
BTW, if you are a Lovecraft fan as I am, I highly recommend one of his stories, "The Mound." Lovecraft made most of his writing income from revisions and ghost writing, and this story is one of those. The hero and narrarrator is a Spanish conquistador officer who meets utter horror (of course), and the story is very much a repudiation on the evils of technology and the machine age, which I think would appeal to those who embrace a more primitive worldview. The nicest volume is "The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions," Arkham House, 1989. You can find the story in paperback and in libraries, of course. I think those things still exist. :)
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts

Offline Del the cat

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2012, 04:13:08 am »
Nice work Dane...
Can't wait to dee that baby finished.
I'm sooo jealous of your workshop, mind I don't have the machining experience to use it anyhow...but I'd sure be willing to learn ;D
Del
Health warning, these posts may contain traces of nut.

Offline Dane

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Re: 16th century Spanish "ballisa" crossbow
« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2012, 04:29:38 am »
Thanks, Del. Regarding my workshop, it is very humble, a little part of a 1 car garage and cluttered beyond belief. My machining skills are very rudimentary, too, but enough to do these kinds of projects. I use as many hand tools as possible, and one long term goal is to make a crossbow entirely using medieval tools and methods.

Speaking of medieval technology and projects, here is a link (I think it is okay to post this, since it is not a commercial site) for an amazing project in Normandy. Guédelon castle is being built using only medieval technologies and methods, and it is expected to be completed in 25 years. There are some amazing videos and information on this project, which I find stunning and inspiring.

http://www.guedelon.fr/en/the-guedelon-adventure_01.html
Greenfield, Western Massachusetts