Thursday, December 18, 2014

Build a Quick and Simple Montagnard Style Crossbow

Montagnard is a French term referring to several hill tribes in Southeast Asia.  Many Montagnard tribesmen, with the help of U.S. Special Forces, joined in the fight against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Historically, the Montagnard people used crossbows for hunting and self defense.  These crossbows are simple and no-frills, but they are very effective and can be very powerful. 

I have recently become interested in crossbows, and for my first project I decided to build a copy of a Hmong crossbow.  Although there are tribal and individual variations in these crossbows, they all work pretty much the same.  The major difference that I found in these bows is the trigger system.  Some of the bows used a “T” shaped wooden trigger that drops down through a slot in the tiller (stock).  Other bows use a little lever on the side of the tiller that lifts the string when you push down on it with your thumb.  I used the “T” trigger on the first bow that I built, but I couldn’t get it to work reliably enough to suit me.  I ditched the “T” trigger and tried out the lever system.  This worked very reliably, but because the lever is mounted on the right side of the bow it tended to lift the right side of the string first and thus caused the bow to shoot to the left.  I corrected this short-coming by putting a lever on both sides of the tiller with a dowell connecting the two levers.  This lifts both sides of the string at the same time, and although it is probably not strictly traditional, it makes the bolt (arrow) fly much straighter.

Here is a quick tutorial on how I built my Hmong style crossbow.  The tiller is built of scrap ¾” shelving lumber, and the 30” prod (bow) is made of hickory.  I won’t go into making the prod in this post as there are already several posts on this blog about how to make a bow and bowstring.  I will say that I have made one similar crossbow using 3/4” schedule 40 PVC pipe for the prod, and it worked very well.  If you are leery of trying to make a wooden bow, you may want to go the PVC route.

First I drew out the outline of the tiller on a ¾” pine board.

Then I used my band-saw to cut out the tiller.  You could do this with a jig-saw or even a hand saw, but it’s quicker and easier if you have access to a band-saw.  I used a wood rasp and sandpaper to round off the edges and clean the stock up.

You need a shallow groove in the top for the bolt (arrow) to rest in.  I made this by drawing a line down the center of the top then using my knife point to scratch a shallow groove along the line.  With the groove to act as a guide, I rubbed back and forth with a round file to create a rounded groove about 1/8” deep.  That’s as deep as you really need.

Now it’s time to mount the prod in the tiller.  I found the center of the prod and took a few measurements which I transferred to the side of the tiller.  I drilled several holes through the tiller and then used a rattail file to complete the slot.  I took my time on this with a lot of pauses to check the fit of the prod.  It needs to be a snug fit.  Don’t worry if you get the slot a little too large.  You can use a small wedge or two to hold the prod in tightly.  I have seen these wedges on several Montagnard crossbows.

The trigger assembly consists of three parts; two levers and a short piece of ¼”dowel rod.  I cut the levers out of some ½” scrap.  I cut them in a little bit of a fancy shape, but this is not at all necessary.  They could be simple rectangles.  

 I drilled a hole in each lever, making sure that the holes lined up perfectly.  The holes in the levers are a little smaller than the dowel so that the dowel can be trimmed down and wedged tightly into the levers. 

I positioned one of the levers where it will need to be on the tiller and marked the tiller where I could drill a hole through it for the dowel.  I drilled this hole a little larger than the dowel so that the dowel will turn easily in it.

I put a little wood glue on the dowel and inserted it into the right lever, then I stuck the dowel through the hole in the tiller.  I held the other lever up to the dowel and marked the dowel so that I could cut it to the correct length.  I removed the dowel from the tiller and trimmed down the other end until it would fit in the left hand lever, but I did not glue it.  Repeat, DON’T GLUE ON THE SECOND LEVER YET.

Now I paused in construction to give everything a nice coat of stain and took a break to make some arrows while it dried.   

Montagnard arrows are made of straight, round shoots or bamboo splits.  They are split on one end, and a folded bamboo leaf is inserted for a fletching.  The split in the shaft is then glued back together and wrapped with thread to reinforce it.  

 I made a traditional arrow, but it didn’t perform very well and the bamboo leaf tore up after about three shots.  I guess I need a Montagnard to show me how this should be done, because I obviously did something wrong.  As an alternative I cut some 5/16” dowels about 14 inches long and fletched them with duct tape.  They performed much better.

When the stain had dried I inserted the trigger assembly and very carefully glued the other lever on.  You want to make sure that you don’t get any glue on the inside of the lever or you may end up with it permanently, and immovable, glued to the side of the tiller.  Also make sure that the two levers are dead even so they will both lift the string at the same time.  Now I have to set it all aside until tomorrow so the glue can dry.

OK, the glue is dry and it’s time for a little test firing.   

Using a pointed dowel and duct tape arrow I shot at a dense foam target from 30 feet.  The arrow still shot a little to the left, but the penetration was about five inches.  Not bad.   

I shot it for distance, and boy was I surprised.  The arrow flew 82 yards which was about twice what I was expecting.  The crazy thing is that the arrow hit a treated post in front of my shop at the end of its flight and the sharpened wooden point stuck 1/2 “ into the post. 

This is definitely not a toy.  I believe that with a little practice you could easily hunt small game with this crossbow.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Winter Care for Your Asparagus Beds

If you live in the southern United States, and if you raise asparagus, then it is probably time for you to winterize your asparagus beds.  After the weather has turned cold and we have had a freeze or two, your asparagus ferns will begin to yellow and die.  To keep your plants vigorous and to avoid disease it is best to cut down these dead ferns and either burn them, or dispose of them well away from your asparagus bed.

 I start off by taking a pair of pruning shears and cutting off all of the ferns right at ground level.

I gather all of the cut ferns in a trash can and haul them out into the woods on the other side of my yard from the asparagus bed.  I would prefer to compost them, but my compost bed is right next to my asparagus bed so I haul them off.

After I get rid of the ferns I gently rake the dead leaves and such out of the bed.

Next I go through the bed and hand pull any weeds that have grown there.  I don’t use a turning fork or any kind of mechanical cultivator for fear of damaging the crowns which are right below the ground.

When the bed is all cleaned up I cover it with about two inches of good compost.  I prefer to use my own compost, but I didn’t have any ready, so I was forced to buy six bags.  This cost me a wopping $9.00, but I’ll get my money back many times over when I harvest this bed next spring, so I didn’t complain too much.

I water the bed thoroughly at this point.  Remember, just because you can't see anything growing doesn't mean there's nothing there.  Your asparagus still has a massive, living root system down there and it needs regular watering throughout the winter.

A little general weed eating and clean-up around the bed, and it’s good to go for the winter.

In late winter/early spring, just before the asparagus shoots start coming up; I’ll broadcast a little 13-13-13 fertilizer on the bed and water it in.  I hope to have a good crop this year, and I hope you have one too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Build a Manger for Your Goats

For most of the year I feed my goats brush from the woods along with a little all-stock feed.  Goats love leaves, bud, and shoots; and it’s a simple matter to cut down a good load of greenery for them.  The problem comes in the winter when there’s no greenery to be had.  So, in the winter I have to feed my goats hay.  Hay is not cheap, and goats are messy eaters.  As much hay ends up on the ground as ends up in the goats.  So I decided to build my goats a manger to try and cut down on the wasted hay.  As usual, I used a lot of scraps that I had laying around the farm, but I did end up having to buy a few boards for this project.  Here’s how I built the manger.

First I assembled what scrap lumber that I could find along with some cedar posts left over from a fence project.

I used a chainsaw to cut the cedar into two foot lengths and split the logs in half with a splitting wedge.

I took an eight foot 2x4 and sawed it in half length-wise then cut these in half so I ended up with four 2x2’s that measured four feet long.

Next I nailed the cedar splits to the four foot 2x2’s so that they looked like two short ladders.  These will be the sides of the manger.

I cut some more 2x2’s to use for end pieces then nailed the sides and ends of the manger together.

To complete the bottom portion of the manger, I cut two 2x4’s about four feet long as a base and screwed the manger down to the base with some long dry-wall screws.

I wanted to put a roof over the manger to help keep the hay dry, so this is where I had to buy a few extra boards.  I nailed a couple of four foot long uprights to the ends of the manger to support the roof.

Rather than go into a lengthy explanation of how I built the framing for the roof, I will let you look at the pictures below.  They are pretty self-explanatory.

To cover the framework I cut two sections out of an old toneau cover that had come off of my truck.  It’s made of heavy plastic, and it worked really well. 

I used some old rubber weather-stripping to cover the ridge of the roof.

When I moved the manger into the goat pen, I drove four stakes next to the base and nailed the base to them.  This is to keep the goats from tipping the manger over.

As a final measure I nailed a couple of angle braces between the base and the uprights to make the manger more stable.

The goats seem to like their new manger, and they haven’t been able to knock it over yet.