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Making A Short Sword

One common question that master swordsmiths get is, “How do I make a short sword?” This will usually get an eyeroll from the swordsmith because making short swords is not as easy as a truly good smith makes it look. Master swordsmiths will usually not even try to teach people how to make a sword unless those people already have some experience as blacksmiths.

The first thing that should be considered is what a sword is for. Swords of any type would not exist at all if the people using them did not want to inflict a considerable amount of damage on another person. These days, people mostly want swords because they’re into cosplay or reenacting famous battles or just playing around with friends. I tend to assume that you are a civilized person who doesn’t go around beheading people or getting into duels to the death on a regular basis. Even when you’re “just playing,” though, a sword can do some serious damage by accident. When you search for a sword, you should look for one that can hold up to the rigors of what you want to use it for and maybe find an expert swordfighting teacher to teach you how to use it safely.

Short swords were mostly used when the people using them were going absolutely eyeball to eyeball with one another. Many short swords, such as some used by the Spartans, were ideal for the crush of large battles but not so good on horseback or in a duel with an enemy with a longer sword. Even when you are just creating a piece to display on your wall or use as part of a reenactment, you want it to look like it could do some serious damage if you can get close enough to an enemy.

When choosing the type of sword you want, you’re not just considering the time period. Short swords could look very different depending on where they came from. During the Japanese Samurai era, a wakizashi was the short sword with a curved blade that the samurai would keep with him at all times. Even in situations where a samurai might need to leave all other weapons behind, it would have been the height of rudeness to expect him to leave behind the wakizashi.

Some Greek swords were believed to have been based on the earliest known sword designs. The Xiphos has a nearly identical style to the Celtic La Tene sword. Both types have a double-edged, single design. The Xiphos was generally about 50-60 centimeters in length, though the Spartans were known to use a version that was as short as 30 centimeters during the Greco-Persian wars. They were generally widest at 2/3 their length.

Making these swords was often hazardous work for blacksmiths of these ancient civilizations. Some experts say that the deformities of the gods of blacksmiths in several mythologies, such as Hephaestus in the Greek pantheon and the legendary Norse bronzeworker Weyland the Smith, were indicative of the symptoms of exposure to arsenic, a toxic substance that was often used to harden the metals used in swords in regions where tin was not readily available.

Even now, making swords is not without hazards. Experienced swordsmiths will normally make use of safety gear that protects them from the toxic fumes that used to be a serious occupational hazard for smiths. Swordsmiths still use intense heat to soften the metals enough that they can be shaped into swords. They don’t work cheap – in many cases, they own and operate their own workshops and may charge more than $100 an hour for their services just to earn enough to make it worth their while. That is one major factor in the high price of quality swords and sword replicas.

Making swords is a highly specialized process that should only be attempted by experienced blacksmiths. For this reason, master swordsmiths will usually refuse to teach sword making unless the prospective student already has experience with smithing and will often also refuse to take you seriously if what you “know” about swordsmithing comes from movies. However, they may be happy to make you a sword replica to display on your wall or use for reenactments.


This is just a bit off-topic, but I thought I’d give you a life update. We recently had a tree fall on our house and had to move in with the in-laws for a few days. Finding good roofing in Pearland was a bit of a challenge, but we finally  got it all straightened out, and now we’re back home, and I can get back to work forging the dagger I was working on. Wish me luck!

The Rapier: where agility meets class on the point of a lethal weapon

The rapier is a long, slim, single-handed sword that make its first appearance as a side weapon during the late 14th century, although it was much more popular in later periods. The rapier kept its popularity up until 16th century, when the widespread diffusion of firearms made this elegant sword obsolete. The rapier was a civilian sword at its core, and it was mostly used as a self-defense sword, although it was by far the most popular weapons for dueling, keeping its role as a “quarrel solver” even when flintlock pistols started dominating the scene.
Rapiers were almost always high-quality swords forged with the best materials available, as they weren’t conceived as weapons for everyday combat or melee battles, but a true status-symbol and fashionable object for nobles and rich merchants. Many famous blacksmiths, especially Spanish and Italian ones, built masterwork rapiers with incredibly elaborate hilts and damascus steel funneled blades, which were often shown as precious items by wealthy people because of their priced craftsmanship.

A rapier overall length was usually 50 inches (125 centimeters) or even more, but they were very light weapons due to the relatively thin blade. For this reason they were usually built only with the best metals, in order to keep the steel elastic enough not to break after a thrust. Melee rapiers used in field or siege battles were usually longer and heavier that civilian ones. The blade was comprised of three parts, the ricasso, a short, unsharpened section usually covered by the hilt; the forte close to the hilt and usually not very sharp; the mezzo and the debole, which were the middle and ending part of the blade culminating with the point, and that were usually really sharp. The most famous portion that characterizes this sword however, was the quilt, which was usually especially elaborate, and provided several sections to provide a sturdy defense to the user’s hand and sometimes even the forearm. Earlier hilt designs used a series of metal rings to protect the hand while keeping the sword as light as possible, but they eventually evolved into solid plates or cups as thrusting techniques become more common. The hilt also included a large, robust pommel which was used to balance the blade and to subdue enemies without harming them.

The rapier is an incredibly agile weapon, whose main strength relies on its superior maneuverability and powerful thrust. As armors evolved to became nearly-impenetrable, weapons changed their shapes accordingly. During melees soldiers used heavy maces and war picks to pierce through the heavier, thickest plates, but a well-aimed, pin-pointing thrust was still able to precisely strike those areas which weren’t covered by armor, making this kind of weapon very effective in close combat. Due to the inherently powerful piercing thrust of this type of sword (which can be considered a somewhat smaller, one-handed version of an estoc), this weapon sported the unique ability to deliver deadly blows at a great distance while still being classified as a light weapon (as opposed to a pike or halberd). For this reason it became a favorite in civilian duels, as a competent swordsman was still able to recover from a missed blow by delivering a series of quick strikes that only the most experienced warrior could parry or deflect. Still it was a really sharp weapon, and as many other swords, it was more than able to deal terrible cutting blows to unarmored opponents. Somewhat, although the rapier evolved as a variant of the sword and the estoc, due to the way it is used, it could be considered as a quirky, giant dagger rather than a sword.

Many different sword schools taught the proper use of the rapier, giving birth to the all the maneuvers and techniques that we still practice in fencing sports. As it evolved to the peak of its popularity, the rapier became a little shorter, its hilt became more protective, and it was usually coupled with a side weapon whose role was to parry blows, while the rapier techniques focused entirely on offense. The off-hand could be a small dagger, like a main gauche or stiletto with twin, upturned quillons used to catch, trap, and eventually break the enemy’s blade. Alternatively, popular off-hand weapons included small buckler (with or without pointed edges to punch and maim opponents), armored gauntlets (to grab and break other blades and people noses), reinforced cloaks (the famous “sword and cloak” technique), or even another smaller sword.



The Broadsword

The broadsword is also known as the basket hilted sword. It is a sword that traditionally has had a broad blade and two cutting edges that, if they hit their mark, were often fatal. This is because the Broadsword was not used for parrying or slashing, but to cut. Used mostly by the medieval knights, this was a weapon of choice by knights. Their training, weapons, armor, and horse were expensive, and knights were often brutal warriors on the field. The Broadsword would have been used to ultimately devastate the opponent, causing serious damage if a blow were to land and taking out their opponent for good– or at the very least, injuring them severely enough that it drastically lowered their odds of winning the battle.

The Broadsword was one of the earliest of the Medieval Swords. It was used early in the sixth century for the purposes of battle. It came equipped with a two edged blade (a double edged blade) that measured roughly two to three inches in width at the base. From there, the broadsword stayed wide as it went up, eventually culminating in a tapered point. Just how long was the Broadsword, exactly? This type of sword came in at thirty to forty five inches, depending on the blade. It was heavy, too– coming in at a hefty three to five pounds. This of course would give it plenty of swing and a lot of force when it did connect.

This weapon was primarily a close contact weapon. It was designed to be used in close quarters, when your opponent was within reach of it. The Broadsword was definitely one weapon that you did not want to hit its target. If the broadsword made contact with its opponent, it could well cut off a limb, completely severing from the body. No matter if it were arm, leg, or neck, the broadsword would do some serious damage. The opponent would likely bleed severely if the broadsword were to cut or impact the limb and hit a vein or artery, ensuring their demise. It was for this reason that it was so important to watch yourself when dealing with a broadsword, and to have not only strength but skill on your side if you and an opponent were both yielding one of these impressive weapons. If it were to reach the head, it could swipe the head clean off from the body.

The Broadsword was and remains a cutting weapon. So does the Baskethilt broadsword, a sword that was used from the 17th to 18th century and was a type of broadsword– for instance, the baskethilted claymore that the Scots used. The basket was close to the base, and was implemented so as to protect the hand while the knights or warriors were in combat. The baskethilt sword began to be put into use by experts so that they could distinguish between other swords, like the rapier and small sword.

Back in Medieval times, you had to be trained in how to not only use the weapons that were available to you, but in the strategy and art of war as well. This was important if you wanted to stay alive. A knight would be required to spend many, many hours training to use the Broadsword. This was a major requirement if you lived back then and were a knight. However, knights did not always start as knights and immediately get to train. They started off at the bottom of the heap, in the position of page from 7 to 14. Once they turned 14, they would graduate to Squire and remain in that position until they were 21 years of age.

Only at the age of 21 did boys move on to using the broadsword and becoming a knight. Knights would train in places called pells. These would allow them to practice using this weapon of destruction and practice not only their swings and strokes, but also moving while hefting such a large and unwieldy blade. Knights would train themselves to thrust with the sword and also cut. How much they trained would ultimately have an effect on how skilled they were in battle and also whether they would live to see another day.

The Broadsword would have been a time consuming process to make. Liquid metal would have been poured into a mold, and the sword would have had to been forged and worked with a hammer to get it smooth. The Broadsword hit the peak of its popularity during the Medieval times, when using this type of sword would have been useful, as battles consisted of multiple men charging each other, either on horses or on foot, and close combat would have been common. Later, of course, as cannons and guns became common in battles, the Broadsword was already obsolete as a weapon of war. Although it is no longer actively in use, it takes such skill and effort to master it that you cannot help but respect the Broadsword and those who used it.