The flesh-head bolt cuts more than flesh

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Tod Cutler of Tod’s Workshop shot a medieval crossbow (350-lb draw weight) using three different bolt heads (needle bodkin, flesh head, plate-cutter), against three types of flexible medieval armor (gambeson, aketon, and mail):

(Tod and his friends previously showed that medieval longbow arrows explode on impact with a breastplate.)


  1. Paul from Canada says:

    It is interesting how little we really know about these things, and how much we think we know is just not true.

    Some years ago I crossed off a bucket list item and visited the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Besides the huge collection and the various demonstrations and re-enactments, they also had tours given by various currators and experts related to their particular area of expertise.

    I lucked out and got a tour with one of the metalurgists, who brought out some radiographs (x-rays) of some of the exhibits he wanted to talk about.

    I learned a great deal about the early european/viking swords and how they were pattern welded. Looking at a rusticle that didn’t look anything like a sword, and then looking at the x-ray photo, showing the layers inside which would have been good as new was very interesting.

    More related to this video was what he had to say about so called court or parade armour and barbed arrow heads/bolt heads.

    Contrary to common belief, both parade armour and broad head military heads were actually made of very good steel, and that broadheads WERE used in war, by the military, not by the peasant levies.

    In the case of the arrow heads, for shooting at unprotected flesh (i.e. for hunting), this would have been an unnecessary extravagance, but in a military context made more sense if, as in this video, you are actually planning to shoot at (fabric) armoured targets. Particularly since the vast majority of the enemy would likely not have the money for propper armour, and gambesons would most likely be the only protection.

    In the case of so called parade armour, making guilded and engraved and otherwise extravagantly decorated armour out of steel would be very difficult, as the engraving and embelishing would need to be done on soft/annealed steel, and once hardened and tempered, guilding or bluing would be difficult to do without wrecking the temper.

    If court armour was meant for show only, there would be no need to make it out of scarce steel and temper it properly, but almost all of the armour he had studied was in fact so made, meaning that it was actually meant to be used. So the previous distinction between “combat” armour and “parade” or “court” armour was likely false.

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