Austin Ferraiuolo

Metal Long Bow

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Buzzkill   

1st thought:  heavy.

2nd thought:  It's not about how hard it is to pull the string.  It's about how quickly and forcefully the limbs want to return to the original position.

3rd thought:  There's probably a good reason bows aren't made of steel in general.

4th thought:  Imagine a catastrophic limb failure with a piece of spring steel.  Ouch!

I think there are a few people on here who have made their own bows and maybe they can give better insight than me, but those are my thoughts.

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Frosty   

An aluminum recurve bow was an elective project in jr. and high school metal shop class. I made one, worked well I only made it 40lbs. You adjusted the draw weight by the stock's width, not the heat treat like steel. We made them up and they went to the heat treater. Like I say not a bad bow but heavy for the draw weight and kind of too wide. My 50lb. Bear recurve was a MUCH better bow, stronger, lighter and less awkward BUT you were a lot more likely to need an arm guard with the Bear. The aluminum bow's string was better than 1" farther away from your arm.

Steel? Not unless you're a mountain dwarf or an Orc.

Frosty The Lucky.

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bottles   

There are Indian/Persian recurve  steel bows. No idea of the draw weights. From memory they tapper in thickness and width with a raised central rib.

Andrew

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Rashelle   

On a bow the place you want the least weight is the limbs. Specifically the limb tips. Steel recovers slower then wood, or composites. Though the potential draw weight may be higher for a given size. Yes occasionally crossbows have been made using steel prods. They are slow. The bolt fired can be heavier but it will be slow. Think in terms of being punched by a light weight boxer vrs being shoved by a heavy weight. I'd rather be shoved by the heavy weight. I'll still fall down and go boom whichever got me but I'm more likely to be knocked out by the light weight punching. Heavy weight moving slow can push a heavier weight further but a lighter weight moving fast can penetrate further. (Ok that's a short simplification without going into lots of detail.) You can read up on bow limb construction int the Bowyer Bibles.

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Rashelle   

I wouldn't bother making a steel longbow in the first place. If I did it'd be a spring steel. Much more efficient to make a wood or composite bow then a steel one.

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Why don't you forge an axe, froe, drawknife, scraper, chisel, and rasp, then use the tools you forged to cut down an ash tree and make a wooden bow?  It'll be a lot more fun forging those projects and you will end up with a better weapon in the end.  Not to mention MUCH better metalworking skills.  

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Rashelle   

Like Judson said. Make the tools to make a bow. Years before I started blacksmithing I cut and ground a farriers rasp to a bowie shape, then ground to bevel the edges. Oak stained mahogony handle slabs. Made sure to do all the work cold. Sharpened it up and used it as my main tool when making self bows. Lasted over 15 years. Till it disappeared.

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Heavy, hard to draw, slow, and unless that leaf spring is new, prone to breakage. I haven't done a self bow, but I've made crossbows with steel prods. I like the idea of the aluminum bow, but wood's hard enough to fire. Do you do any archery now?

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JHCC   

The biblical references are: "He teacheth my hands to war; so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms" (2 Samuel 22:35 & Psalm 18:34) and "He shall flee from the iron weapon, and the bow of steel shall strike him through" (Job 20:24). The Hebrew word here translated "steel" can also mean "brass" or "bronze".

However, regardless of the metal in question, all three instances are clearly figurative, poetic images of strength, and need not refer literally to metal bows.

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I used a small piece of spring steel, 12" x 1 1/2" x 1/8" to make a small crossbow. It has a lot of draw weight but the retraction is rather slow compared to the oak bow I made. its still a fun little crossbow, and is accurate out to maybe 15 yds, but it is not overly powerful, again lack of retraction speed. It was definitely great practice, especially for trigger design and function. 

Hope that helps some.

Viking

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Will W.   

Kind of an old post, but I'll throw my two cents in. I actually have more experience making bows than at the forge. A steel bow simply would not work well. When you bend a bow, pulling the string back, the wood fibers are resisting you, and they want to return to straight, hence, you release the string, wood bends back as straight as the string allows it, and launches the arrow. Steel, put simply, doesn't really want to go back to straight. Spring steel, tempered correctly, may try to snap back, but nowhere near as efficiently as wood. And, if not tempered correctly, all you would have is a bent piece of metal. Plus, steel is harder to bend, so the bow would have to be very thin in order to be able to draw it back over and over, which increases the likelyhood of breaking. I have broken many bows, back when I started, and it would be terrifying if they were made of any metal and broke! The tiller (evenness of both limbs bending in relation to each other) would also be hard to achieve. All in all, not worth it. Make a drawknife and a rasp, and thats about all you need to make a good wooden bow. That's all I use.

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Can you explain why steel was the preferred material for crossbow prods for centuries?  They went from composite prods to metal ones which were the norm up until fiberglass ones became available.  I've had several steel prod crossbows that were sold commercially in the 1960's/1970's

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Will W.   

Thomas

Mostly because of the size. The smaller you make a bow, the more pressure is put onto each limb in order to achieve the same draw weight. A 72" bow (common for an english longbow) has less pressure on the limbs compared to a 58" or 60" bow (common for recurves like horse bows) despite being very similar draw weights, typically. Once you get down to the size crossbow prods need to be (rarely over 24"), metal is superior to wood, simply because wood usually cannot withstand the pressure. Plus, you can use the stirrup (part your foot goes into) on a crossbow to help you pull it back, something longbows obviously dont have. That helps compensate for the imense draw weight the metal provides. For a longbow though? Wood is definitely superior, hands down. 

If I remember correctly, most ballistas and similar seige engines used wooden limbs as opposed to metal ones, even though they are just ramped up crossbows, for the above stated reasons. 

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gote   

It seems that one way to use a steel cross bow bow is to use pulleys to multiply the speed. I have seen a number of these but never used one. this is obviousy not possible on a longbow. The oriental Mongol "S-shaped" bows (as opposit to the Japanese) are turned "backwards" when there is no string. I do not know for sure wether this helps or not. As far as I know they were mostly made in composite material but not from metal. The speed of the arrow is determined also by the angle of the string. The more the end of the bow mowes outwards rather than forward the faster the string moves. The peculiar shape of the mongol bow probably gives that effect. the string is shortened and pulled sideways by the curvature of the bow ends.

If I had to make a steel bow it would be a mongolian one; not a longbow.

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Frosty   

In high school, 60s high school where a boy could make dangerous things, a 35lb. aluminum bow kit was available for IIRC $15.00 or $20. ?. Making steel bows became the preferred alternative, the limbs didn't need to be nearly as wide or thick to have the same draw weight. The plans we built from called for 3 pieces, limbs and grip. The ONLY bending was the tips and only slightly to secure the bow string. The bow had no arc until strung and they made much more effective and frankly pleasurable bows to shoot. Than the aluminum kit bows that is.

The aluminum spring steel was much more dead in the rebound so arrow speed per lb. was maybe 75% that of a wood bow. The steel bows were lighter weight and with narrower limbs spent less time mauling our arms. The draw was smooth and apparently the equal lb. to lb. as our wood bows. The REAL downside is they rusted and no matter how you shined up the string hook they wore strings.

No, we didn't heat treat our steel bows, we bought heat treated spring steel and formed them ourselves, a good band saw, files and sand paper did the major work, a bit of heat bent the string hook and plain old HSS drill bits drilled it to pin it to the handle.

I preferred my 47lb. Bear recurve but the steel bow I made in shop class worked just fine for a 40lb. recurve bow.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Will W.   

Gote

I have never heard of an S shaped bow. The entire idea is fundementally flawed in my mind. I could be wrong, idk. What I believe you are referring to there is a horse bow. They are similar to recurve bows, but with A LOT more recurve when unstrung. Some are so heavily recurved, they look more like a "C" when unstrung, rather than a "(" from a typical recurve (keeping in mind both are bent in the opposite direction of their bend when you string them.)

images.jpg.c31fbdb9944a8d3f5386839afefdb0a2.jpg

This.

 

The Mongolian bowyer's used no metal. Most didn't even use wood, because of the lack of good material. They were usually made from a composite of a bamboo back supported by a sinew backing over the bamboo, and animal horn belly for the limbs, and solid horn sayahs, with natural adhesives. 

The speed of the arrow is determined by how fast the string moves, which is determined by how fast the bow moves back to its brace height, which is determined by material used, thickness and width of limbs, yada, yada. The "angle" of the string, as you say, is important, yes. Take a bow that's 50# at 28" draw length, and draw it back to 32" (therefore increasing "angle"), it may be 60# now. But that may also break your bow if it is not tillered properly.

Apologies for getting a little off topic. 

Frosty

That is all very interesting. I can definitely see the rebound being dead from an aluminum bow. How was the hand shock? You say " pleasurable to shoot" so I imagine it wasn't so bad? And did the metal bows take a set badly? I expect it to be much worse than wood, not certain though. 

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As a medieval hobbyist who has dappled in bow building and working on crossbows, as well as some metalworking things I've done, I'll say that I'd rather not think about a bow being made of metal, unless it was aluminum or spring steel. There are working steel Horsebows out there that you can find, so yes, it can be done, but is it really cheaper to go steel than it is to buy a piece of hickory or maple and carve your own?

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gote   

I used "S-shaped" in lack of a better word partly inspired by the Chinese character which does not show the whole bow. The shape I refer to is when strung. 

The arrow is not pushed by the bow but by the string and thus the direction, speed and force of the string's ends are important. The possible speed of the bow ends is limited not only by the reaction force in the string but also by their weight. Thus a heavier bow of the same pull and geometry is slower. The speed of the arrow is higher than the speed of the bow tips because of the angle of the string and the more the bow tip movement is outwards the more the speed increases. It seems to me that the Mongolian bow is more efficient than the longbow in this respect. It is of course also more handy on horseback.

That the mongolians did not use steel or other metal is not a reason not to use it now.

The above refers to the ability of the bow to transfer the stored energy to the string. Another important factor is the amount of energy that can be stored in the bow when pulled. Steel can store more energy per volume than any wood Thus it is a rational choise for a crossbow which is pulled using a stirrup or even using rack and pinion.

By the way I want to correct myself. It is possible to use pulleys also on a bow - provided that the strings do not interfere with the arrow. The string is not fastened to the tip of the bow. Instead both ends go over a pulley to the other tip. This allows a stronger bow to be used and increases the speed of the arrow. A possible solution is to have four wheels; one on each side of the bow tip and two strings, tied together in the middle. This way the arrow has space between the strings.   

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The terms you are looking for are "reflex" and "recurve" reflex bends the limbs forward at the center wile recurve bends the tips forward. Both where used to make short flat bows more effective by reducing stack (the pinch of the string when a bow is overdrawn) and increasing the speed of the bow tips. Like our descusions with hammer weight vs speed, a fast arrow is more desirable. 

TP, I would offer the opinion that steel prods were faster to praduce and less seuseptible to damage buy neglect and abuse. As a good archer (or slinger for that matter) took years to praduce he tended to take care of his bow (that took a year to praduce). Wile a crossbow man could be quickly trained (not unlike an infantry rifle man) and wile seasons timbers could be salvaged from old buildings for the stock, the prod only required shaping, heat treating and finishing (no seasoning) and were relitively unefected buy rain and humidity. 

Compsit prods add emensly to the problems of heavy draw prods with bone, wood and sinue bonded with hide glue. Now consider the lackluster care the average conscript gives his equipment. 

Wood is still considerd more lively (tho the composit wood and glass "actions woods even more so), that is they cast a missile faster for a given draw weight (compound leverage is slower than reflex/recurve as well). 

Man archer who spent years protecting his craft by hunting and competition was certainly more respected than a peasant given a few weeks training and a cross bow, that he could shoot in the rain. No wander the church outlawed this tool of evil exept in use against the infidel... 

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In general: longbow men were peasants and crossbowmen were lower middle class as the cost of a crossbow was much higher and many mercenary units you had to supply your own gear.   The difference in training time makes a big modifier too!

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