Trebuchet Construction

Building a Full-Scale Trebuchet

Building a full-scale trebuchet is, by weekend project standards, a large undertaking. There was a trebuchet built for an installment of the television series "Northern Exposure" that was substantial enough to toss an upright piano, and the builder claimed it only took a couple of weeks. However, he had more equipment at his disposal than the average home-owner's garage contains; large power tools make a difference.

A more traditional approach using hand-tools was taken in Scotland some years ago. NOVA commissioned a band of timber framers to construct two full-sized trebuchets of different design in Scotland; see Timber Framers in Scotland.

In any case, a full-scale trebuchet is not considered to be a portable machine. In the Middle Ages a trebuchet would be constructed on site by an engineering team when needed; rather than hauling it from seige to seige, it would be left behind or destroyed when it was of no further use.

Building a Smaller Trebuchet

War Weasel Trebuchet

Someone with minimal carpentry skills can construct a trebuchet out of 2x4 and 4x4 pieces of wood and an assortment of hardware from the local hardware store that is capable of throwing grapefruit-sized water balloons in excess of one hundred fifty feet, and can fit in the back of a small truck or van for transport. Standard power tools such as drills and saws make such a project move along a little more quickly, but the majority of the time it takes to build a trebuchet is working out the details to make the machine work the way it should.

The small trebuchet shown here has the following critical dimensions:

To reduce friction the main axle is supported with ball-bearings (3/4" inner diameter) where the axle pierces the carriage sides; these are held in place by 3/4" inner diameter collars.

Building Model Trebuchets with Copper Tubing

Copper Model Fixed Counterweight Floating Frame Copper Model Swinging Counterweight

A model trebuchet can be made from standard copper tubing used for plumbing, along with some bushings, bearings, and a few other pieces. Anyone who has done any soldering for plumbing projects will have the equipment and skills to construct such a model. The frame can be built entirely of off-the-shelf plumbing joints. Again, it is the thinking and measuring that takes the most time and must be done right the first time; once a joint is soldered it would be hard to recover from any error.