Introduction: PVC Survival Crossbow

Picture of PVC Survival Crossbow

In a survival situation several things are crucial, water, food, shelter, and security. In this instructable you will be taking care of two of these things by building your own survival crossbow. Once finished you will have a hand crafted tool that can be used to hunt for food, and keep you safe from hungry beasties (i.e. zombies). So get your zombie slayer face on, grab a few materials from the supplies list, and let's get started!

Step 1: Parts and Tools

Bow Stock

Trigger and Safety Pin

Bow and String

  • 32" - 1 1/4" PVC (16" draw length)
  • Paracord
  • 2' 2x4 w/ 1" spacer blocks
  • 22" - 3/4" pvc
  • 5" - 1" pvc


Step 2: Stock

Picture of Stock

For the stock, I used a design from Jwilliamson. You may have seen his instructable, Building a Custom Rifle Stock. Complements to him for the design. He provided 3 printouts that you can use as a template, and I'm including them here.

Print out the stock design and cut it out. Then trace it to a piece of stock board and cut it out. A band saw would be ideal; however I used a hack saw and a wood rasp since I don't have a band saw. Test out the stock taking note of how it feels and make adjustments as necessary. I put a slight positive angle on the grip for comfort. Once satisfied, use this cutout as a template to cut out two more stocks. On the middle stock you will need to cut out a large section from behind the trigger to after the string release mechanism.

After everything is cut out, take some time to line the stocks up with each other to ensure general accuracy (you can fine tune it after it's glued together). If you're satisfied with the results then glue them together with wood glue and binding/clamping them together for 24 hours. Once they're ready you can make any detailed adjustments with a wood rasp, sand paper, or a dremel.

Step 3: Bow

Picture of Bow

To make the bow, I used a 1 1/4" PVC pipe and cut it to 32". Make three marks, one in the center (16"), and two marks an inch out from both sides of the center. To give your bow a subtle taper you can make a flattening jig with a two foot 2x4 and two pieces of 1" blocks on the corners of one end. Heat up the pipe with a heat gun until it's pliable, then use the jig to flatten it to size, one side at a time. Flatten one end by squeezing the pipe between a flat 2x4 and your jig, having the 1" blocks positioned between the center mark and the 15" mark. Clamp the boards down and allow the pipe to cool before releasing the clamps. Do this to both sides. This will create the proper shape (notice both ends are flat, and the center has depth with one flat side).

Put a recurve to your bow by first marking three inches from the ends. Heat the ends with a heat gun and use a small pot as your guide to shape the recurve. Curve it up to the three inch mark you made.

The string notches I made have a 3/4" gap between them. Mark the center of the bow's width and make two marks at 3/8" from the center mark. Now cut out the notches with a saw. Once you have the notches cut you can give the bow its proper curve. Tie a piece of paracord across the bow, then heat the center of the bow and pull up on the cord until the bow comes into shape. Keep it in place until it cools. Then you can cut your final cord and string your bow. I used two bowline knots to string it up. At this point I took the opportunity to paint the bow. It's not necessary, but I like the way olive drab looks over white.

To keep the bow in place I cut a 1/4" hole through the end of the stock and hammered a length of 1/4" dowel rod through the hole. I then used a long length of paracord to tie it down using the rod as an anchor. I used a clove hitch knot on the rod first and proceeded to wrap back and forth across the bow. Finally I finished with a clove hitch and tucked in the excess line.

Step 4: Make the Trigger System

Picture of Make the Trigger System

Be sure to click through the pictures for added detailed notes about each process.

The elements of the trigger system include the trigger itself, and the string lock gear. I made the trigger from a spare piece of wood. I cut the general shape and used a wood rasp and sand paper to fashion the details. The trigger pivots on a bolt, and is spring loaded to bring it back into position after it's pulled.

The locking gear is made out of a piece of wood sandwiched between two washers. The washers are cut in the same shape. I used a dremel and a metal cutting wheel to cut the washers. Make sure you use proper safety precautions when cutting metal. Sparks will be flying so use gloves, ear protection and proper eye protection. DO NOT CUT METAL WITHOUT GOGGLES. After the washers and wood are cut to size, use super glue to bind them together. The gear is similar to the trigger in that it rotates on a bolt and returns by the aid of a spring.

More on Trigger Mechanics

The string is drawn and rests behind the top notch in the gear. The gear will want to rotate counter clock wise to release the string due to the force. Follow the counterclockwise force placed on the gear and you will run into the top of the trigger. The trigger then will have a clockwise force placed on it. For this reason I drove a nail just behind the top notch in the trigger to prevent the trigger from moving clockwise, and the gear from rotating counter clockwise (releasing the string). The string is locked into place since the gear will not move because the trigger will not move. When the trigger is pulled this pushes the gear clockwise slightly until the notch in the trigger releases the gear to act on the force placed on it by the string. The gear releases the string and the string pushes the dart forward. The gear and trigger are then pulled back into position by their springs. Hope this helps.

Step 5: Arrows

Picture of Arrows

I made my own arrows using a 5/16" dowel rods cut to 18". I cut feathers down the center and super glued them to the back. I made a notch with a wood rasp where the arrow will rest on the string. Finally I made an arrow by cutting a washer to the proper shape and sharpened it. I attached the arrow by cutting a notch in the top of the dowel rod, sliding the arrow into place (it was snug), and wrapped twine around the end to keep the arrow in place.

To keep the arrow in place I cut two pieces of PVC and shaped them with the heat gun. After this I cut two ends off of tooth brushes and glued them to the pieces of PVC. I then screwed them onto the front sides of the crossbow stock. When the bow is cocked you can drop the arrow into place; the bristles will keep it there, you can even flip the crossbow upside down without losing the arrow!

Step 6: Test the Bow

Picture of Test the Bow

You'll need some Crossbow Bolts for this step. Either make your own like I did, or buy them. Remember to be safe as you are now dealing with a dangerous tool. Make sure you aren't in a residential area when using your crossbow, this can seriously injure or kill someone. Once you have found a safe location set up your Target away from anything you don't want to shoot. Draw the string back until it is locked. Insert the bolt. Aim at the target and fire.


DEEJAY246 (author)2017-06-30

Hello, I tried to make this but completely failed... After shaping and forming the prod and letting cool down for a while I flexed it just a little bit and it just folded in half... I was using 3/4" white pluming or electrical PVC (I don't know for sure which one it was). What do you suggest as I don't think the more expensive furniture grade PVC is available in my country...?

poppa50 (author)2017-02-20

Crossbows are perfectly legal in Az., for recreation and hunting. Still, be absolutely what is behind what you are shooting at, otherwise an innocent could be maimed or killed.

AkselS (author)2016-01-11

Its illegal without a licence but its for educational project of medieval times in social.

sjeverett75 (author)AkselS2016-12-13

whether it's legal or not would depend on where you live. It's pefectly legal where I live.

AkselS (author)AkselS2016-01-11

And hey its not illegal if theres no rope to go with it during transportation right?! That cant do anyways. ._. im just wondering about the bus though. haha

Shabraiz10 (author)2016-06-21

hi I tried making this for my son, I failed miserably I was wondering if you sell it me or make me one please it's awesome.

Actually I gave my crossbow away as a gift myself so I no longer have it. Perhaps I could help where you failed?

Shabraiz10 (author)2016-06-21

hi I tried making this for my son, I failed miserably I was wondering if you sell it me or make me one please it's awesome.

Helmcon (author)2016-03-08

this is an awesome design and i am super happy with what i have made

The Survivalist (author)2015-11-17

spaceman spiff could you possibly make a youtube turtorial that would help me out alot thanks!!!!

cristoph (author)2015-07-16

You should check out backyard bowyer's crossbow arrow holder

JohnR21 made it! (author)2015-06-26

Great 'ible, I made one out of unflattened (normal) 3/4PVC, 2x4, misc.wood bits + hardware and a $30 scope.

Warpig909 (author)2015-04-29

I have a fair amount of experience in building pvc crossbows. I noticed that when you flatten the pvc you might get one good shot before the power drops drastically. Overall, it is just a bad idea to use pvc. If you want real power then you should get a fiberglass prod.

msw100 (author)Warpig9092015-06-16

An old saw blade works well

Theelvenarcher (author)Warpig9092015-05-15

in that you are incorrect i have owned a pac bow for several years and it has only dropped by about 5 fps in all that time

Warpig909 (author)Theelvenarcher2015-05-18

Did you flatten it or is the prod still round?

Spaceman Spiff (author)2015-06-16

I've gotten a few messages about how to go about flattening the PVC. Here's a video that helped me when I made my own. If you're having trouble with flattening the PVC I'd take a peek.

Lachlan Van Vliet (author)2015-05-08

This is great.

I know everyone else has said this, but check up with the laws of where you are. In Western Australia (yeah, I'm that far away) crossbows are now illegal unless you are part of a club and you preowned one. you can't even join an archery club for crossbow now, only other bows(such as compound, recurve or long)

boomvenus (author)2015-04-17

wow, to shot like a boss! :-)

logan_KING12 (author)2015-04-10

This actually a really good idea!

Thanks I'm glad you liked it!

Jobar007 (author)2015-04-01

Check local regulations. In some places, it is illegal to fire a crossbow.

I really like the shape of your stock. Really good for snugging it into your shoulder to steady your shot. One recommendation I would have is to not have straight cuts in your washer where the string lies. A slight curve makes it much safer and doesn't prevent firing.

About how much draw weight does your prod have?

G-W-H (author)Jobar0072015-04-02

Did you know it is illegal in Florida to have sex with a porcupine? Stupid is as stupid does. I realize that common sense isn't all that common but if more Dads did projects like this one with their kids maybe common sense would become more common. If you build it and learn how it works then you have respect for it. Otherwise you can just pick it up, point and shoot. We have to teach responsibility.

Jobar007 (author)G-W-H2015-04-03

I plan on doing similar projects with my kids when they are older (my oldest is 2 and youngest is 3 mo) for the exact reasons that you've stated.

pfred2 (author)Jobar0072015-04-01

Illegal to fire a crossbow? That's crazy talk! Heck we can shoot whatever we want here. Except throwing stars. They're illegal. Which is kind of crazy too, considering we don't even have gun licenses. I need to make a crossbow to add it to my collection of stuff to shoot in the backyard.

Juki62 (author)pfred22015-04-02

Actually, you can have Crossbow in Australia. You need a
special permit for it as a prohibited weapon.

Only Northern Territory you can buy Crossbow without any

Even slingshot controlled or prohibited weapon depending

This list
is going on and on. That is, list real joke. Unfortunately the Australian law
makers, solution prohibits items after when accidents happen or someone is doing
something stupid.

I am
originally from Finland and I made Crossbows etc. items over there, what are prohibited
in Australia.

Light_Lab (author)pfred22015-04-02

Not wishing to add to the argument, just supplying some facts:
Instructables has a global following. In Australia crossbow ownership and use is very strictly controlled:
West Australia in particular makes new crossbow ownership illegal. In 2009 there was a single crossbow accidental fatality; as a result crossbows were virtually banned.

Jobar007 (author)pfred22015-04-02

Yea. The power, accuracy, and ease of use of a rifle without the sound. Where I grew up in St. Louis, MO it was illegal to shoot one in city limits. Same for air rifles.

Throwing stars being illegal but other things not? Looks like some legislative person saw one too many kung-fu movies.

xarlock667 (author)2015-04-02

I made one similar when I was a kid. I used a 4x4 for the stock, and a leaf spring from a 62' Scout for the bow. I had to use a steel cable for the string. It really SUCKED. Why? I had to clamp the bow down and use a winch to cock it, and it broke the sear over and over and over. I only got about 20 shots total out of mine, BUT they hit HARD. I used some aluminum rods my grandpa had laying around for the arrows, and just made some steel heads. I put one half way through a cross tie. Grandpa beat my arse raw when he found out I ruined a bunch of his stuff though. Oops. This looks a LOT cheaper, and a LOT more fun.

Have you considered stacking your PVC for more power? You might try putting a close fitting piece inside the main and melting them together. Or just stacking them like leaf springs.

How much power does your bow put out? Could it drop a deer unassisted? What about a dog, or rabbit? What is the accuracy?

bombastinator (author)xarlock6672015-04-02

Leaf spring bows work and work well. The thing is you need to cut the spring in half, and make a variable prod set for each half to get the tension right. They were originally designed for use with model t spring leaves which were so soft individually you got a pull of under a hundred pounds.

xarlock667 (author)bombastinator2015-04-03

Well, while not modern by any standard, scouts were built to take one hell of a lot of punishment. Those springs were about 1/2 an inch thick, and about 3" wide. They came with a hole pre-drilled dead center so you could bolt your springs togather in a stack. That made mounting it to a bow really easy. It also had mounts for the spring ends on the vehicle and they just bent the tips into a circle and put bolts through them. It was an ideal place to mount the steel cable. The biggest problem with that design was weight. I am a STOUT person, and I could barely stand to hold it up and fire it. I may start on making another one. A slick new one designed to shoot trees and building with. A modern day hand held balista. FUN.

I can't imagine a flattened pvc pipe lobbing a bolt further than you could throw it!

Light_Lab (author)xarlock6672015-04-02

I did almost exactly the same thing with a leaf spring when I was a kid; but I cocked mine with a 4 foot long lever. On one occasion the cable broke at the bow tip and the frayed steel cable end whipped past and barely missed me. The draw was so strong I needed two fingers to pull the trigger. The crossbow eventually destroyed itself when the bow pulled the mounting bolt right through the stock and split it.

xarlock667 (author)Light_Lab2015-04-02

I would like to do a modern one. But amped up. Cast aluminum frame, steel cable with that core material I cant remember the name of, and a stack of 3-6 springs with an electric winch to cock it, and a clip fed loading system. It would have enough force to put a railroad spike through a cross tie.

What would you use it for? Why Zombie Dragons, of course! My uncle bought a .50 Bear sniper rifle once. Said it was for rabbits. Big Damned Rabbits. And escaped circus animals.

I have considered stacking for added power. I would have to make a few adjustments to handle it. The trigger system for one would need an update which should be an easy fix. This setup pulls 85 LBS. I'd be hesitant to take down a deer unless I was super close, but small to medium sized game shouldn't be a problem. It's also pretty accurate and consistent at a reasonable distance.

If I were you, I would look into making your arrows more deadly. The bow is just the delivery mechanism. A long time ago I learned how to make a CO2 cartridge blast into the target, but making the arrow fly straight was the problem. SUPER deadly if you can make it hit.

alcurb (author)2015-04-02

I like this instructable, if anything, for the educational value. I now understand how the trigger mechanism works. The bristle design to hold the bolt in place is genius.

A thing that I'm not clear about the design is do you find that the trigger body, where the wood rubs against the gear, would wear out rather quickly rounding eventually losing its functionality? Does the top edge of the trigger have a metal covering to safeguard against wear?

What kind of range and accuracy do you get when you shoot a bolt at a target? Seems to me that there is not enough spring with the PVC to do much, but I have no experience with that type of bow, so my assumption is likely wrong.

Spaceman Spiff (author)alcurb2015-04-02

You bring up some great points about the wear and tear of the trigger hardware. On my next build I'm going to make everything out of metal to minimize any damage.

Be damned careful about metal in contact with the string. There is a lot of pressure and sliding friction involved there. You might try a hard plastic scavenged from a cutting board, or a harder wood. Snapping strings gets old real quick.

bombastinator (author)2015-04-02

This strikes me as an anarchist cookbook setup: Designed to both not work and be dangerous to the user.
The safety systems have been mentioned by others, but I would like to address the concept of a plastic spring under constant tension. Think about that one for a minute. That bow is going to be good for maybe a dozen shots in a space no longer than an hour, IF it even has a useful draw weight to begin with.

Seret1 (author)bombastinator2015-04-03

looks cool also entered mine into the apocalypse contest please vote for me on Monday thanks! Plus mine is the protection apocalypse helmet

Thanks for checking it out, and for voting!

Anarchist's Cookbook... Oh that takes me back!

I'm sure i have a copy of that on a cd somewhere, along with the Terrorist's Handbook probably with a pdf of illegal killing moves and other such funny reads :)

BernardM (author)2015-04-02

On the PVC bow I did , I place the string a different way !! I made the same cut that you did , but place the string around the outside tip of the bow , first , then back inside the 2 cuts !! That way I wanted to take o lot of effort off the center part of the bow tip !! To explain better , the string makes a sort of W , with the 2 outside V on the back of the bow , and the inside V on the belly of the bow !! I really do not know if it is stronger but I feel better that way !!

bombastinator (author)2015-04-02

This might actually work if the PVC had longitudinal glass reinforcement. Glass actually works as a spring. PVC doesn't. It does have memory, but it's nothing like a metal quality memory. It WILL deform.

NathanSellers (author)2015-04-01

Really cool. Such a clear and simple process. Thanks for the great instructable.

pfred2 (author)NathanSellers2015-04-01

You think? I have to admit I am a bit confused by the trigger mechanism myself. I am not quite seeing how it all goes together.

Dustin Rogers (author)pfred22015-04-02

Great use of readily available items, but I was a bit confused by the trigger design too. Having the pivot for the trigger so close to the gear will cause you to have to essentially pull the string farther back. When pulled, the trigger will rotate CCW causing the gear to rotate CW until the trigger tang can clear the gear. The gear moving CW will cause the string to be pulled more. While it may work, you've probably got some pretty heavy trigger pull depending on how stout your bow (prod) is. If you moved the trigger pivot farther to the rear, the trigger tang could kind of "fall" out of the way of the gear without causing too much CW rotation of the gear or additional pull on the string.

Overall, it's a great instructable. A crossbow has been on my list of projects for a while now.

pfred2 (author)Dustin Rogers2015-04-02

Thanks for the drawing. I think I can see how this one works better now. Yesterday I browsed the net for crossbow trigger mechanisms after i left here, and I ran across on I liked. So I saved it on my PC.

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