Bows and archery

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    Hans Hellinger

    This is the thread for all things to do with bows, shooting bows, making bows, and the overall culture of archery. Posting a pic of St. Sebastian for ‘something to aim at’



    I love that image/iteration of Saint Sebastian!

    Interesting, this is one of the images in the iconography that shows clearly the (somewhat controversial) mediterranean draw/release method with the arrow placed on the outside or dominant side of the bow (right side for right eyed or handed archers).

    Most archers who use the Mediterranean or three fingered draw/release method today place the arrow on the inside of the bow, or on the left side for a Right eyed shooter.

    Shadiversity (in)famously had made a series of videos where he has experimented with this alternate method of releasing.

    Some agree and some disagree with him.

    I think the method is absolutely plausible (Shad makes it work for himself with bows of decent draw weight, and even claims, perhaps erroneously or exaggerating, that it helps him get better draw length with higher draw weights), even if I do not think it was particularly common compared to the more standard arrow placement, which has been used for a very long time, still used today by modern archers for accurate shooting.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Hans Hellinger

    I haven’t shot a bow in a long time but it seems like there are a variety of ways to shoot them. What do you think of the thumb ring?


    I have yet to play with one, honestly. It’s “on the list”.

    One of the benefits to using a thumb ring is, using a more asiatic style draw, you can biomechanically draw an arrow a few inches farther back. Like a 32-36″ draw length something really long back like that.

    Whereas with a Mediterranean draw “to the ear”, I can maybe draw back 30-31″ at the very most, and that might be over exaggerating my t-rex arms. Shorter even for a more hunting or native American style draw length of “to the cheek” or corner of the mouth, which I tend to be better at using as an anchor point (where you try to draw back the arrow to the furthest consistent point)

    Better/longer draw length often equals greater power upon release, provided that form is appropriate in all other areas. Definitely goes into why the japanese longbow has such an insanely long draw, but comparatively lighter draw weight for a war bow. And conversely, you have very high weight crossbow with a very short draw length of only a few inches. Different methods to achieve a good momentum to an arrow or bolt.

    Back to thumb rings, I’m sure many European archers, especially those in Eastern Europe where shorter composite bows were more common, would have made use of them.

    And to play devil’s advocate to my own argument of “right hand side of bow could have been done”, it Is possible that the artists are showing longbow archers using eastern technique, but sans the thumb rings that might have been commonly used.

    It is also, to be fair, a biblical/Saint’s death scene and not usually to be taken literally as far as the style of armor and weapons goes. It could be late medieval longbows, perhaps shot with some weird ancient “style” of archery, as a mashup, to depict the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. The art is so damn beautifully detailed though, as I’m inclined to believe that the artist is showing a release technique accurately that may have been used in their contemporary times.

    Hans Hellinger

    One thing about St. Sebastian is that there are dozens and dozens of paintings and sculptures depicting his martyrdom, some crude, but many quite exquisite. I agree with you in this case as in many others, the artist is doing something typical for Renaissance paintings, wherein they simultaneously depict a story from saintly hagiography (or from the bible, or from Classical Mythology) while at the same time showing, and making some commentary upon, the realities of their own day. This was intentional.

    The thumb ring always seemed odd to me, hard to imagine. How could your thumb even with a ring / hook be strong enough to hold some of those very powerful bows. But I know they did it. I’d love to try it one day. I’ve looked with longing at some websites that sold recurve bows in the past but never could afford one at the times I was thinking about it.

    There are many heroic epics where the hero can draw a bow further back than anyone else, which is another thing I found confusing.

    The short powerstroke of the latin style crossbow is a whole nother kettle of fish. They really don’t know why or how those things worked yet (in my opinion). We had a big argument about it (yet again) on MyArmoury recently.

    The niche that the English style longbow seemed to have been big, relatively heavy (~ 60 gram) arrows – and long arrows- which could be shot at a good distance, especially as ‘clout shooting’ (area shot) weapons.


    Ahem – as an aside, if you want to get back into the medieval crossbow discussion, I’d be happy to re-hash some of our conversation from the old forum. I do think there are in fact a lot of merits to the narrow and short power stroke crossbows, though that does not make them the best. There are reasons for why you would want both Eastern and Western-style crossbows; neither is necessarily better in my (current) opinion.

    Hans Hellinger

    Interesting! Please expand on that.


    Well, to start, if you just want to make things easy, here is the old discussion:

    …Without making things easy, one of the first things you can make note of about a bolt – almost any bolt, regardless of the style of crossbow – is that they are shorter than arrows in general. Some may state that this potentially makes them less aerodynamically efficient, which is a statement I’d need to analyze further, but it also makes them stronger, so long as the diameter of the missile meets or exceeds that of a comparative arrow. My first argument in this regard is going to be in regards to something called the Slenderness Ratio, which you can read about here:

    Regarding actual numbers for strength, the article does mention the Modulus of Elasticity, which would be covered in a separate set of equations. We’re not there, so there is no need to worry about that just yet.

    So, here we are so far: Other articles I refreshed my mind with used the Greek Lambda as the variable to denote the Slenderness Ratio. So we’ll go with that. Your equation so far is thus:

    [Lambda] = l / k

    Refer back to the article, and it tells you how to calculate k:

    k = (I / A)^0.5,

    …Or the square root of I / A. Note that I’ve re-written the article’s formula because I’m actually solving for k here, and not just writing an equation a certain way for convenience.

    A is the cross-section area of the bolt shaft. Yes, I do believe some of those buggers taper, which would make computations a bit more complex, but we will worry about that later of the conversation ever gets to that place (I actually do need a refresher on some more complex calcs like that, to be honest). Area of a circle is pretty easy, of course:

    A = [Pi] * [r^2]

    …Where Pi ~ 3.14 and r is the radius (half the diameter) of the bolt shaft.

    I is the Second Moment of Area of the shape in question, which is of course the circular cross-section of the bolt. Use Ix or Iy from the circle formula on this page here:

    In general, you use the second moment of area to evaluate how strong a structure is in relation to its cross-section in relation to a given direction. A circle is the same in all directions, and so that is why Ix and Iy are the same.

    …So, you calculate all this stuff, kind of going in reverse-order from reading at this point. Eventually you can calculate that [Lambda] = l / k noted from earlier, etc., etc.

    And what’s the point? Bolts will have a lower slenderness ratio than arrows, which makes them tougher given that both missiles are made of the same materials.

    AND THEN, the final point is this: Why didn’t Europeans just make Chinese-style crossbows with wide, bow-like prods with long power-strokes? They could have. Maybe they wanted the bolts short and stocky explicitly for the purpose of dealing with increasingly heavy armor found on European battlefields…

    Hans Hellinger

    Very interesting. That said, I am certain that they do not understand the physics of the late medieval crossbow. I’ve debated this with modern engineers for 20 years, but historical data and now modern testing keep proving me right.


    Great points on the crossbow bolts and power stroke/draw length. A longer draw isn’t necessarily better, and a good reminder on qualities of ammunition being an important factor is a great addition to the topic. Apologies that the physics calculations go way over my head at the moment but I will take a closer look at them when I can.

    I know that shorter arrows tend to be stiffer as well (stiffer in terms of arrow spine), which means that they would perhaps flex less in flight (not always good; you want just the right amount of arrow flex) and upon impact.

    I am Not sure that European longbow arrows were necessarily all that long. I’ve seen some models suggesting some could have had arrowshafts as long as 32″, but I would consider that more of a maximum length.

    I think the Mary Rose arrow shafts which were recovered, from what I remember, averaged at maybe 30″. Granted, their arrows could have been an inch or two longer, but if we say 30″ as a rough average, and we (assume or infer from the sources we have?) guess? that the arrow draw length is drawing to the base of the arrowhead at the longest draw that is safe, that is probably roughly a “to the ear” or slightly longer draw for an average arm-length person.

    Maybe the arrows, while comparatively heavier than most Eastern archery arrows, were also a little shorter than average to deliver a good, stiff stabby strike? I know that Manchu and Japanese bows had an incredibly long, 35-37″ draw length (though they used the length of the arrow, and NOT a specific anchor point, as far as I know, unlike say, other historical Mediterranean, Ottoman Turkish, Arab, and Persian archery styles which Did have a variety of different anchor points specified in texts, see the Armin Hirmer videos below)

    Like, if we think of an arrow delivering a similar-ish (caveat: I’m sure there are a LOT of differences, and my grasp of physics is absolutely terrible!) kinetic energy to a thrust from a sword blade. A more rigid sword blade would penetrate more easily. Wouldn’t the same be the case for an arrow or crossbow bolt?

    A thought on that. Shorter and stiffer=better for penetrative qualities, which with more combatants armored on average (?? is this even the case? I know that lamellar armor, more prevalent especially for horseback fighting, in east Asia and eastern Europe, is excellentt protection vs. most arrows and a good deal of crossbow bolts as well), armor penetration going into arrow design makes a good bit of sense, though it isn’t everything. A LOT of military grade arrows were Not necessarily designed specifically for armor penetration, and yet were shot from relatively heavy weight bows anyway for good range and power.

    Some youtubers worth mentioning who have some excellent archery related videos that might relate directly to what we’re talking about:
    rydragon has some excellent thoughtful videos on his list:

    Armin Hirmer is also an excellent archer with great understanding of form, as well as a LOT of different draw styles:

    Scott Rodell showing some Manchu archery style:

    Yes, the controversial Shadiversity stuff. He likes to ramble on, and again I halfway agree with him that what he demonstrates is a plausible technique (but I don’t think it was the majority used at the time, and not all historic artwork examples can be said to exemplify this without some big chunks of salt) but he does make his unorthodox technique work fine for him:

    I think there are a few other videos that show him shooting higher weights (I don’t think weight is the issue with this style, just adjusting the form you need to; it does seem that you’d need to practice this draw variant or the more standard version, either way, as they don’t lend themselves to doing at the same time)

    And I’ll throw in a Tod Cutler classic as well:

    I’ll probably have a little more to add in a bit. In summary:
    Yay short bolts being a good thing potentially! And were European longbow arrows necessarily all that long?


    I am adding this video, with this guy who is so much fun (it’s his laugh, ah ha ha hah!)! He’s using modern custom-made equipment including his “instant legolas” device, but at least some of the principles of penetrative power or capaility would be the same, or at least similar, yes?

    Notice how both the broadhead arrow and crossbow bolt penetrate roughly comparably lengths.

    As far as the physics goes, how would one (roughly) calculate the equivalence in penetrative power of a shorter crossbow bolt with a higher draw weight vs. a longer longbow arrow with a lower draw weight? Other factors put aside, which I’m assuming there are many to consider, what kind of draw lengh and weight ratio is similar enough to compare to?

    What would an 8″ crossbow bolt draw length have to be to compare to say, a 150 lb. bow at 30″ draw shooting a 1/4 lb. “maximum weight” arrow?

    Hans Hellinger

    Wow epic post! I’ll hve to watch those videos to catch up.

    My point about longbows is this (from a historical perspective):

    Steppe nomad recurve bows were used basically two ways – with flight arrows as harassing weapons from a distance, and with heavier arrows to kill at close range.

    Jan Dlugosz described it this way:

    “The Tartars wage war in a way quite different to that of other nations. They fight from a distance, pour a rain of arrows around and on the enemy, then dart in to attack and swiftly withdraw; and always they are on horseback. Often they pretend to flee and then wound or kill those who thoughtlessly pursue them. They use neither drums nor trumpets. Often they leave the battlefield in the full fervour of the fight, only to return to it shortly afterwards.”

    With flight arrows, the recurve bows had very long range. All their arrows varied somewhat in weight and length but the average was about 20 grams for flight arrows, and 40 grams for war or hunting arrows. Their range with the war-arrows was considerably less than with the flight arrows. Maybe about 250m effective range with war arrows and 350 or more with flight arrows.

    Longbows were also used with both flight arrows and various types of war arrows. With broadhead arrows they could still shoot pretty far, perhaps about the same 250 meters range as Mongols and Turks managed with their recurves. People in the English warbow society have managed shots as far as 300 meters with broadheads. But their arrows are heavier, again there is a lot of variability, but the average weight for a broadhead is estimated at around 60 grams. So that is a much heavier payload. However maximum range with the (roughly 30 gram) flight arrows is only slighly improved, at around 280 – 300 meters.

    Crossbow bolts for hand portable (as opposed to siege type) crossbows were around 80 grams. Wall crossbow bolts could be as much as 250 grams. Range is still hotly debated, but Raplph Payne Gallwey claims to have shot an antique one a distance of about 400 meters around the turn of the 19th / 20th Centuries. Modern replicas have rarely exceeded 250 meters.

    Hans Hellinger

    So I think from reading about them, the niche for the longbow was to shoot as ‘clout shooting’, or shooting into an area as opposed to specific individual targets, to a distance of 250 meters or maybe more, with relatively heavy killing arrows.

    Whereas the recurves had a bit more range with flight arrows but were used at that range to wound and harass. Both weapons had a relatively short range for shooting individual targets closer to around 50 meters. For the Steppe Nomads, that is where the killing was done. They could take advantage of their mobility to cause incremental damage at what was for them a safe range, then move in closer for the kill when the enemy morale was wavering.

    Crossbows, especially when used supported on a wall (or on a pavise, the gunwhale of a boat, the side of a wagon etc.) could hit individual targets out to about 150 meters. The Mongol secret history describes their horses being killed at (what we think is) about that range. They were also used for ‘clout shooting’ depending on the circumstances, but were apparently not as effective in that role.

    Crossbow bolts were as we have already noted, much shorter as well as being heavier. They also had paper instead of feather vanes and usually only two instead of three as was more typical on bows (? or was it?)

    Crossbows were also used on horseback, as were (somewhat surprisingly) longbows apparently though so far as I could determine, not until the 16th Century and mostly up in the Scottish border region.


    Just saw this on MyArmoury, and it’s very relevant to arbalests:

    …Might be worth chewing on for a while. We’ll have to wait for Tod’s next video on the matter for sure!

    Hans Hellinger

    I saw that too, and I really like Leo (Todd) and makes some magnificent replicas (I would love to get one of his bauernwehr in particular) but I’m quite suspicious of his youtube tests, particularly because his crossbows aren’t very historically accurate.

    This particular test is ok since it’s really more about comparing the bolts, so regardless of how poorly his replica crossbow performs, the relative performance of the various types of bolts is still informative.

    Basically he’s a very good tinkerer and a competent bladesmith, but his analysis of period weapons is perfunctory, and he tends to buy into alot of the old tropes about the middle ages and medieval technology, so many of his tests are kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this one for example he notes that the ranges he is getting are way below what is to be expected. Too many people assume these tests are representative of the real thing.

    I’m much more of a fan of this guy, who unfortunately is far less prolific, but whose crossbows are based on pretty deep research into extant antiques etc. Not surprisingly his weapons perform much better than Todds.

    Note for example, massive 222 gram bolt shot 250m with a large siege crossbow

    69 m/s with an 80 gram bolt and a smaller crossbow. I believe Todd is getting around 40 m/s which he blames on steel prods being less powerful than horn prods, but there is zero historical evidence for that.

    Sadly Todd gets tens of thousands of views while almost nobody even knows about this guy Bichler who does the real deeply researched work.

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