The potbellied little crossbow…

As promised, today I have a post about a weapon other than a blade. In fact it is a post about a funny little crossbow pistol I ran into earlier this week:

Belgian Crossbow Pistol

Belgian Crossbow Pistol
[view full size]

Now I found this to be an interesting design, though the design is not without a purpose. Crossbow pistols designed to fire heavy metal bolts would often be made such that there would be as little contact between the bolt, the string and any part of the crossbow as possible, presumably to reduce frictional losses that would otherwise be incurred by trying to make it run on a rail, like other crossbows.

Because the draw length is so short, power has to come from a very strong bow prod, in this case a short, springy steel bow. A steel crossbow prod can generate a lot of power over a short distance, however at those speeds, if the bolt/string had to run across a rail every time it was launched, both the rail and the string would wear out very quickly.

For these reasons, short, powerful crossbows like these were sometimes built with no rail, and a large gap to ensure that the vibration of the spring didn’t cause it to hit any part of the crossbow. But while this little crossbow is probably fairly lethal, I have to admit that I still think that deep belly between the string latch/catch and the bow prod is a little excessive.

Perhaps I’m just being nit picky, but If I were designing such a weapon, it would have just enough gap to clear the bow string, but nothing more than that. This design, as it stands, just reminds me of a little, hand held, potbellied pig that fires lethal steel bolts…

Belgian Crossbow Pistol – [Medieval Weapon Art]


14 Responses to “The potbellied little crossbow…”

  1. 1 ladyofspiders
    January 12, 2008 at 1:29 am

    Wow I love it! Very cool. Personaly I like the gap on this one. I sooo want one now.

  2. January 20, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Weeell, while this crossbow is cool, I find the gap a wee bit much. I think the little straight black one I have is much sleeker looking…, though I’d bet it’s not as powerful. But then again it fired lighter bolts too…

  3. 3 dustin
    February 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    its a pretty cool cross bow ….. but im more of a sword type of guy lol

  4. February 18, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Yeah, this isn’t particularly my kind of weapon, at least not this particular design, but it’s still pretty cool…

  5. 5 Wesson
    August 31, 2008 at 2:25 am

    I think you will find this is a stone bow, it was used for hunting small birds.
    The bow string would have two small upright ivory pegs interwoven in it to accommodate a small leather pocket in which the stone went.
    The shape of the stock was to make sure it had enough clearance when loosed, it would have been impossible to fire a stone from a straight stock, not without chewing up the bolt guide.

  6. August 31, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Hey Wesson,

    I’m don’t think this is a stone bow. Perhaps a similar weapon, but not quite the same. In fact I think I may have blogged about a stone bow in another post. Slightly different design. The stone bow has a recess in the front for the stone to go through, instead of a bolt guide.

    I doubt this is a stone bow because of the front bolt guide and the straight serving area, as opposed to the pocket you described. Plus, it’s got a crossbow bolt in it… 🙂

  7. 7 Wesson
    September 1, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Hi, Phyreblade,

    No! you are quite right its not a stone bow, but at the same time its not a bolt crossbow.

    Its something thats been made up to sell as a peculiar sort of replica hand weapon not one or the other, in all probability its been cobbled together from reference books.

    The original small hand crossbows didn’t have a deep wood frame but a straight frame to fire small bolts at song birds.
    If I could up load a pic I would but don’t know how ;-{

    The one in the picture is wrong, I suspect the only reason there is a “C” clamp over the bolt is to stop it falling off, when handled.
    I could pick loads of holes in it but I don’t want to bore you to tears 😉
    eg: I doubt very much if its a steel bolt whether it would manage to fall out let alone fire out the end of the bow.
    Or if it had wood bolts can you imagine the problems with damp bolts jamming up in the “C” clamp arrangement?

    Stone bows are full size and have two upright posts which allowed whatever size stone you used through.
    Stone bows later where transformed into Bullet bows.

    Also the “Belgian Crossbow Pistol – [Medieval Weapon Art]” Link, well who ever wrote this had not read up the history of crossbows.

    They have been around since Roman times.
    Did you know the crossbow was Banned in Britain in 11 cent as being an Assassins weapon and was punishable by Hanging if found with one.
    The Chinese made a multi-shot crossbow capable of fire in a dozen bolts in under a minute.
    Not very powerful just enough so that they would penetrate their enemy’s skin.
    Imagine, 100 Chinese soldiers armed with these automatic crossbows, thats 1200 poisoned bolts being fired at you in just under a minute!
    “RUN AWAY”

  8. 8 Wesson
    September 1, 2008 at 5:43 am

    BTW has anybody seen or heard of a weapon called a “Silent Bess” from what I little info I have found, it was basically a sprung load knife blade mounted in a pistol grip.
    It could shoot out a short dagger blade? 20 feet or more, yet another Assassins weapon.

  9. September 1, 2008 at 10:25 am


    You are right, the design is odd for a regular pistol crossbow, it’s one of the reasons I thought it would be interesting to blog about. And please, where you have holes to pick, please do so. You are very unlikely to bore me, as I am more interested in it’s technical aspects than it’s aesthetics.

    I noticed a few inconsistencies myself, like the odd flint lock looking string latch mechanism, as if the entire grip was taken from a pistol. Then there was the front clamp over the top of the front bolt guide, also an unusual feature. Bow strings do vibrate, but technically a bow with as short a draw as this should not vibrate so much as to justify the size of the belly, and probably not enough to catch on the front clamp, (there seems to be a good gap between the clamp and the bolt.) So I simply attributed it to artistic license.

    That’s not to say that the clamp we see couldn’t just have been a cosmetic cover for a real clamp than is holding the bolt in place, but if it wasn’t then it should have enough clearance for the bolt to slide though. Another issue is that, without a guide rail, the bolt would have to have a nock in order to ensure reliable operation, which is something that is usually not done with crossbow bolts.

    However on the other hand, if this had been designed to be a stone bow, the front of the bow would be slightly lower than the latch point at the rear, or would have a recess for the stone to go through. There would be no point in having the big void in the belly otherwise. Basically this is rife with functionally conflicting characteristics…

    So you’re probably right, it was probably cobbled together to replicate a medieval pistol crossbow, but mixing the design elements from two different kinds of crossbows, either because they did not know the difference, or for artistic effect…

    Medieval Weapon Art site isn’t exactly a good source of accurate historical data, but they have a lot of cool medieval stuff. Also, regarding, the Chinese machine crossbow, I have read a lot about them, I believe they are called Chu-Ko-Nu. Perhaps the very first pseudo semi-automatic weapon ever devised. My kind of crossbow… I think I will be dedicating a post them at some point… 😀

    Silent Bess? I dunno… I know there are projectile knives called ballistic knives, that are basically spring loaded knives that fire the blade out about the same distance you are referring to… But they don’t have a pistol grip, usually just a regular cylindrical knife grip.

    Certainly don’t recall any specific ballistic knife design referred to as Silent Bess…

  10. 10 Wesson
    September 1, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Just in case you might like to have a quick look at my album of Crossbows.
    It has the hand held Pistol grip style cross bows and the much larger stone bows.

    You might find the bolts interesting too.


  11. September 3, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Hey Wesson

    Great Collection you have there! Love it!! I have actually seen pictures of similar bolts before. (or perhaps they were the same pictures, who knows) But I always found it interesting how many crossbow bolt designs were major departure from the broadhead school of arrow design. Most I see are field tips, then you have the funky ones like the ones in your collection that seem to be inspired by medieval armor breaching impact weapons. I can imagine where those particular designs came from but I still find it weird to see them on the tip of arrow like projectiles… 🙂

    I also noticed a few stonebow designs I have not seen before. They appear to have a straight stock, and have a space for the pocket to travel un impeded, but with the front of the bow at the same height with the latch mechanism. They appear to compensate for that by canting the prod downwards so the stone and pocket clear center of the prod.

    On the one above the latch and prod are the same height and in line, but the prod is not canted. At least not that I can see. Definitely reinforces the idea that the one in the post isn’t a real crossbow of any kind… Blasted marketing depts… 🙂

  12. September 11, 2008 at 12:21 am

    I believe that the potbelly itself is there by accident or by design for one another purpose it itself acts as a bow to give the projectile more firing energy.Oh yes it will have a tendency to throw the arrow downwards hence a similar upside down potbelly in conjunction with the bottom one will be an added advantage.

  13. September 13, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Yeah, I’m thinking it was a design snafu. The belly itself appears too stiff to add anything to the energy imparted to the projectile, so it’s either a design liberty or a mistake…

  14. 14 Donavan
    January 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    The potbelly is so it can fold over upon itself. collape down to transport better I guess.

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