Thursday, 3 September 2009

15th Century German Sports Crossbow

I started this crossbow for a mate in 2009. The crossbow is based on the images supplied found in Galwey-Payne’s awesome book on medieval and renaissance crossbows (and ballistae).


The stock is made from Tasmanian Blackwood. I had a local engineering workshop make the hardware for the crossbow in stainless steel.

The stock was cut from a 1 1/2” thick plank of blackwood on the table-saw and then rough shaped on the bandsaw. Then I used rasps, chisels, planes, draw-knives and smoothing scrapers to finish the shaping.


The head has been rebated to accept the lathe.


The trigger was inset into the stock by matching the movement to the paired pieces.


The headstock is routed to allow the bolt to move in a controlled direction.

I made the cheek plate, trigger plate and siting plate from 16 gauge steel sheet and then etched the steel using the electro engraving method.




These certainly add interest to the piece and enhance the apparent age of the reproduction.

I made a timber finish for the crossbow by combining gum turpentine, bees wax and linseed oil (1 part each). The turps helps the finish to penetrate, the linseed keeps the timber cells from collapsing while the beeswax contains resin and helps to hold a polish. Also, the finish helps the bow to repel water and protects the steelwork.

I think I’d like to make some relief parts for the bow from cast aluminium or brass.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Pewter Casting

Making stuff with molten metal is fun. I wanted to start playing with casting metal objects, mostly decorative stuff and the easiest way that I could see to start was with a low melt metal … such as pewter. I wanted to use a lead free pewter so I looked … and looked … and looked some more and found some at the local tip shop. Mostly old mugs and such that people have thrown away. The tip shop usually has some pieces, but be careful, most of the stuff marked “made in China” is lead based pewter. If it is marked as silver pewter, you are fairly safe.

Next I had to find some soapstone (steatite). I was able to source soapstone in small quantities from an art supplier.


Steatite is a soft stone that is used in making talcum powder, I was able to cut the stone using my bandsaw and then clean it up on my belt sander.

I wanted to carve the stone in as direct a fashion as possible … no power tools, so I picked up some very cheap carving tools from a discount shop.


Most of these tools are rarely used, I mostly use the straight edge and the narrow curved knife shown above.

I draw the basic design onto the soapstone first and then start carving. I find the carving to be very cathartic, and I can get lost in the process. The hardest thing about carving soapstone for making molds is remembering that to reverse the image. The bits that I want raised in the cast, are cut deeper, and the parts that are inset are raised in the carving. Also, using these tools I don’t have a very fine finish (probably because I haven’t practiced much). You can get good results if you work to your level of competence.


Here I have made a badge for some friends of mine who are medieval artillery enthusiasts.

I have notched the edges of the soapstone so that I can key the two parts of the mold. On the reverse face, I have carved a gate to allow the molten metal to enter the void.


I’ve also carved my initials into the back so that the badge ends up with my moniker.

To melt pewter, I use a simple and cheap portable gas (butane) stove and a stainless steel pot.


This gets the pewter from solid to liquid in about 10 minutes (depending on volume).

The two haves of the mold are clamped using a simple spring clamp and sit in a cooking tray.


When the metal is molten, it is carefully poured into the gate and, moments later, the object can be demolded. Some care should be taken because it is still going to be hot. Always take care when working with molten metal. If your mold gets wet at all … do not use it until it is completely dry. I once cast a metal figurine when there was a tiny amount of water in the mold. It exploded in my face when the water vaporised and I am very lucky to still have two eyes!

Rest the mold between castings as the steatite retains a lot of heat from the casting and can become too hot to use.

Here are some of my castings.


The badge needed to be cleaned up and there was too much air trapped. This needed more gating so that the gasses could escape. The carving was not crisp enough either, so I still had more work to do.

The nice thing about pewter casting is that you can melt and pour fairly quickly and remelt and repour. This means that you can refine your design fairly quickly.

When I made the button, I used a wet nylon scouring pad to smooth the inside of the mold. I was quite pleased with the result.


The above is an Anglo Nubian goat head that I cast. This is before I cleaned the casting up. The design went through a couple of alterations but essentially looks the same. To clean the design up more, I used a set of fine files (and a Dremmel). I made a pair of these along with a pair of prick eared goat pendants as giveaway’s for the goat club that I am a member of.

All up, the hobby is quite fun and gives you stuff that you can show off. The stove cost $15, the carving tools $2, a block of steatite (6” x 6” x 6”) was about $30 and the pewter has cost me, on average $5 per mug. I melt the mugs down as soon as I get them and make ingots by pouring the metal into a steel muffin tray.

A word of caution. Any molten metal is going to be very hot, it sticks to you and burns. You have to take care and wear safety gear at all times. Don’t play around with molten metal and if you are a kid … ask your parents for their help! Seriously, it really hurt when I had that figurine blow up in my face and I had to peel lead off my eyeball.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Furnace Tongs

I needed a decent set of furnace tongs that didn’t need to be forged (my forge isn’t set up yet). So I grabbed some flat stock, an angle grinder, my arc welder and some re-bar and got to work.

I built this set of furnace tongs so that I could easily get the crucible out of the furnace without turning to ash.


Basically, the tongs are a couple of lengths of steel re-bar welded to a couple of bits of angled steel.


The hinge in the middle is simply made from a welding a bit of flat stock in the middle of the re-bar so that I could pass a bolt through the middle.


Not terribly pretty, but the tongs work very well.

I needed to be able to position myself over the furnace and lower the tongs, grip the crucible (without crushing it) and then lift. I also wanted to give myself enough distance between my face and the furnace, so the tongs had to be long enough that I could do the whole thing standing up.

I still need to make a crucible cradle that I can use to hold the crucible and pour the molten metal into the flask. I can do that with the tongs, but it gets a little difficult … different design needed to do that.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Flowerpot Furnace

This is my first furnace. I have based the furnace design on the classic “Flowerpot” method described by Lionel Oliver on his excellent site (
Basically, the furnace is a large terracotta pot that has been lined with a refractory. I searched online for a suitable mix and came up with 3 parts fire clay; 3 parts Portland cement; 1 part perlite. In retrospect, sand; Portland cement; fire clay and perlite would have been better … but … whatever.
I used a plastic flower pot to make the void in the middle where I will burn my fuel and a steel tube for the air intake.
I let the refractory cure for a week and then gave the furnace a test firing.
I dodgeyed up a connector for an old cheap vacuum cleaner for the fan and connected it to the furnace. The burn was pretty good. Initially, my crucible was a stainless steel pot that I bought from the tip shop. This gave me about half a kilo of aluminium, but the pot was a little thin, so it died after a few firings.
furnace and pump
There are loads of resources out on the web for finding good recipes for refractory and cheap home-made furnaces. I suggest that you look far and wide and read as much as possible. Start small and have fun.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

A View into Hades

The Flowerpot Furnace was my first smelting furnace. The melt in the furnace above is aluminium destined to become an unfortunate lump of ... aluminium. This was a pretty fun experiment and left me with the desire to melt stuff.

Since the first melt, I have indeed melted other stuff. including some old brass tap-ware. The furnace didn't like being cooled down rapidly in a Tasmanian downpour, however, so I need to repair my furnace.

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