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DIY Crossbows – Improvised Arms and Ammunition Part 13

In a previous article we looked at how you can make a mini-crossbow for taking small game. The up side to the mini-crossbow is that it is small, light, easy to carry, and capable of taking small game. The down side is that it is like a pistol, therefore less accurate than a full sized crossbow. Another downside is that due to its small size the bow is less powerful than a bow or a full sized crossbow.

A full sized crossbow can not only take small game, but medium sized game as well. With the right tip on the bolt (crossbows fire bolts, not arrows) a crossbow of reasonable power would be capable of taking a small deer, or defending yourself against a human attacker.

The crossbow that I made here was able to sink the bolt about 8” deep into the foam target block. This block is rated for a 70 pound draw weight bow, meaning an arrow fired from a bow with 70 pounds of draw weight will be stopped by the block. For the bolt to sink 8” into the block tells me that if a human were hit with a bolt from this crossbow, and no bones were hit, the bolt would easily pass right through the body.

That makes this a lethal weapon, and also suitable for hunting medium game. The biggest problem is that you have to get pretty close up and personal with any type of bow.  Most shots with a bow are taken at 25yds or less.

Although not ideal for self defense, the crossbow as used in history allowed a smaller, inexperienced person to loft pointed projectiles at distances towards targets they would normally need a skilled archer to achieve.

This article will show a design and method of building a crossbow that can, in a pinch, serve as a hunting and defensive weapon in times of SHTF/TEOTWAWKI. It is also just fun to build and play with just because. It can be a family project to do with the kids and then everyone can test their crossbows and skills against one another.

Getting started

Gathering the materials

To build a crossbow of this design you will need the following materials.

  • A piece of wood about three feet long to make the stock, this can be a simple 2×6 or you could split a small log to shape into the stock if you had no access to other materials.
  • Material suitable for making the bow, I used fiberglass rods as these were readily available at Lowes for $2 each. But in a survival situation you may have to make the bow from wood. Bow making is an art unto itself, the basis of which is that by using wood that contains both sapwood and heart wood along the bow stave you get a level of flexibility that you won’t get with just a branch or regular piece of wood. This is another skill that should be mastered by a primitive weapons user and/or maker.
  • Metal for the trigger, this can be made from steel, aluminum, brass, or even copper if the piece is thick enough to maintain rigidity. Some old crossbows even had triggers made from wood.
  • Bow string – I used paracord. Any good survivalist will have an abundance of paracord, however if you have to, you can make the bowstring from fiber cord that you twist yourself. Survival weapon making is best achieved by practicing the art of exploiting the materials that you have on hand. You can use your bootlace if you have to, or even a leather strip could work in a pinch.
  • Screws. You will need a few to make a crossbow like I did in this article, however there are methods that require no fasteners at all. By making a hole through the stock and inserting the bow through the hole you eliminate the need for metal clamps and screws. The mini-crossbow was made by inserting the bow rod through the stock. You can even make the trigger and trigger pin entirely from wood if you need to, the trigger is just shaped slightly different.
  • Spring. Not a must, but makes it easier to set the bowstring.

Make the stock

To make the stock you just cut out the shape of a stock that feels comfortable for you. It doesn’t have to look exactly like this one, it can be far more complicated and fancy, like a thumbhole stock if that’s what you want to make, but I am following simplicity as much as possible. Once you have the shape of the stock cut out, you have to cut the slot for the trigger. You can do this with a drill as I show in the pictures, but if you don’t have a drill you can chisel the slot with your knife or even burn it through by strategically placing hot coals on the stock until it burns through.

step 1

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Once you have drilled the slot you can refine the stock contours with a wood rasp as shown in the pictures, but you can also do this with your knife or even a rock if you have to. Just do whatever it takes to get it done. Everything here can be done with a knife or even a sharp rock; it will just take a lot more time than it takes using power tools.

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You can easily see that I wasn’t trying for perfection, as you can see rasp marks in my finished crossbow.

Once the stock has been made you can make the trigger. Just mark the pattern on paper first then hold it against the side of the stock to see if it is shaped right. You can make adjustments to your paper pattern as needed. Once you have the shape determined, then mark your chosen material and cut it out. I used aluminum for the trigger in this crossbow as it is strong and easier to work than steel.

step 5

The small pin protruding from the bottom is to keep the spring in place. Once the trigger is cut and the trigger pin hole is drilled, you can set the trigger in the stock.

step 6

step 7

I used a spring under the front of the trigger to keep it in the up position. This makes it easier to set the bowstring. You can do without the spring if you can’t find anything suitable to use.

step 8

You can mount the side plates at this point. These are not a must have, but I just put them on there as re-enforcement plates and to help dress the stock up a little.

step 9

Next is the trigger guard, this is simple to make; you just need a semi-rigid strip of metal. I used aluminum for this as well because it is light, strong, and easy to work. Use a strip of paper to make a pattern before you cut the metal, once you have shaped the paper then you know how long to cut the strip and where to bend it.

step 10

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Next on the list is the piece on top to hold the bolt in place. This also acts as a safety as it prevents the trigger from being pushed down from the top. I used an old Saw-zall blade for this as it is tough material and it is naturally springy from being heated repeatedly under use.

step 13

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Next, and last, is to mount the foot stirrup. This is important on a heavy draw crossbow because you wouldn’t be able to draw the bowstring without it. some crossbows have a lever that is used to draw the bowstring, but this one isn’t heavy enough to warrant that. A foot stirrup will do.

To make the stirrup you just need a fairly stiff piece of rod. Bend hooks on the end to attach with a bolt. If you don’t have a bolt you can mount the stirrup simply by drilling through the stock then pushing the ends through the hole and bending them over. It might not be pretty, but it will work. But I had a bolt so I did it this way.

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At this point the crossbow is completed except for the bow. As mentioned earlier, there are several options for making the bow; I took the easy way by using a couple of fiberglass rods that I got at Lowes. Of course you might not have this luxury in the woods, in a survival situation, but you just have to keep the mentality of using whatever you can find to get the job done.

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Last shot

So there you have it, a crossbow made from items that can probably be scrounged up around the house. You don’t have to make the exact same design as this one, but rather use this as a guide to show you that it can be done.

By putting your mind to the problem you can find a solution, you CAN make a crossbow. In a time of need when you need to take game to feed yourself or your family, you can spend a day making a crossbow completely from found items or even completely from wood if no other materials are available. This crossbow is an example of what you can do with a few tools, and a day with the mindset and determination that when I go to bed I will have completed the crossbow.

Here is a video of a guy on youtube that built a crossbow from scratch

And here is another:

Those are a little more complex than the one I made, but I tried to make one that could be done with only your knife if you had to. I think that it is reasonable to say that you could make this design with only a knife, as long as you are patient and persistent it can be done.

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About Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric W. Eichenberger

Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.

A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.

The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.

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