Ancient Engineering SeriesCatapult Kits
Have you hurled today?

Lithobolos Ballista

NOTE: This item has been discontinued.
For detailed plans to build one using your own materials, including dimensional drawings and assembly instructions, tuning hints and more, please go to

Or, for our new, smaller, wheeled version of this machine, go to

The ballista is an engine of war invented by the Greeks sometime around 800 BCE, and also used by the Romans. Ballistae were constructed of different sizes for the various purposes of siege and field warfare. The largest ones could throw projectiles weighing up to fifty pounds as far as 400 yards!

The ballista uses a pair of skeins (bundles of twisted rope) for power. Similar to the working of a crossbow, the Ballista actually preceded the crossbow in western culture by over a thousand years.

This model is in the lithobolos style of machine. Rather than shooting bolts (arrows) and darts, this machine shoots golf balls, tennis balls, eggs, lemons, tomatoes or just about anything small and round. The original lithobolos machines fired stones or lead balls, and was the ancient equivalent of the cannon.

We've extensively studied the design and construction of the ballista, and we think this model is a fantastic representation of the ancient Greek machine. This model kit is fully functional, easy to build, and a whole lot of fun to shoot. The completed model is 41 inches long and 24 inches wide (not including the sweep of the arms). It stands 31 inches tall and is capable of hurling a golf ball over 200 feet!

The kit is hand crafted from high quality hardwood and includes a working winch, forged iron trigger mechanism, real leather pouch and solid steel capstans to anchor the strong polyester-rope skeins. (Diamond-braid polyester rope has the closest properties to the ancient horsehair and sinew ropes, and it's the best material available for these machines today.)

The detailed instructions are complete with diagrams, photos, tuning tips, history notes and web links for even more information about catapults! All parts are pre-cut, pre-drilled and can be assembled to a working model in one evening.

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    Price: $159.00
    Minimum age: 14
    Availability: out of stock

    Item code: 10500

Why should a kid
build a catapult?

Because the world needs good engineers and scientists, and because the kids who will grow up to become engineers and scientists need a way to get hands-on experience with physics, math and engineering.

In this age of 200-plus channels of TV, the Internet and computer games, kids are also spending far less time building tree houses, tinkering with engines, or designing downhill racers. We believe those are important skills to have. They help form the basis for good problem solving skills and an innate understanding of the real, physical world that you just can't get from a computer game, no matter how good its physics simulation software is.

Ballistic motion was one of the key players in the development of the science of physics. The word "engineer" even originated as the builders and designer of Siege Engines

Why is a budding engineering student expected to take a year or two of calculus in high school, but she isn't expected to have any real-world experience in building or working with machines and materials? Pencil and paper (or computer screens) are only one part of the learning experience. Where will she apply all of the stuff she learned in geometry and trig? Without physical projects to touch, feel and see, the lessons become abstract, their utility questionable.

A catapult project gives students a chance to see that science and engineering really can be fun, and it's a lot more than just numbers on paper. The real payoff for an engineer is in the field, where she can see and enjoy the results of her ingenuity. And it may seem counterintuitive, but engineering projects not only help kids learn math and science, they are also great at getting kids back outdoors, away from the massive over-exposure to video games, TV and the Internet.

Why all this interest in getting kids to study science and engineering? Because it's important to our society, and it's great mental cross training regardless of what field of work the kids eventually go into. Most people develop a sense for what they want to do in life while they are still in high school or even earlier. A catapult project is fun and interesting enough to inspire some kids to study the science behind how they work, and then go on to become the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.