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Any swordsman here?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Holoman, Aug 4, 2016.

  1. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

    When an experienced swordsman picks up a sword, I assume they can assess how good the sword is by how it feels, by testing it out with some swings etc and make a pretty quick appraisal of it.

    I need my protagonist to do this, but I have no idea what he would be thinking as he does it, what sort of things he would be looking for.

    Does anyone know?
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Absolutely no expert, so I wait to be contradicted...
    I don't know if you could tell it was a good sword, that might be too much down to personal taste.
    You could probably tell if something was off though; like it being wrongly weighted or if the handle/grip was to large/small etc.
    You might be able to hear flaw and cracks in the metal blade if you tapped it like tuning fork.
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Weight and balance are very important. You can feel it quite easily when you swing the thing. If you wanted to be a bit more formal you can find the point of balance by holding your hand edge up and moving the sword on your hand until it will balance there unsupported.

    I also would do a visual inspection to look for quality of workmanship or flaws.

    I would strike the side of the blade with the heel of my hand, not to find flaws (I don't think you could hear them but I could be wrong), but to watch the blade vibrate and see where the dead spot is. This is called the point of percussion and it is the best place to strike someone with the blade, if it is well placed you have a good sword.

    Depending upon the type of the sword and your beliefs you might measure the sword against your body to check the length is correct (I like a longsword that comes up to my armpit.)

    IF you were unsure you might also hold the pommel tightly with one hand and grab the blade with the other and twist it to make sure the pommel is quite secure. If there is a decoration at the end of the pommel I would check to see if that is tight as well.

    Great question btw.
    Malik likes this.
  4. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

    I'm not an expert, but I did do some Korean Sword forms and I have a degree in military history, so I may be a bit of help. First, the weight of the sword. If it is too heavy, it will be difficult to swing without getting tired, too light, and it wouldn't hit with enough force to damage the target. one handed swords weighed between 1.5-3 pounds, about two pounds the average. The other factor is the balance, how the weight is distributed. If the blade is balanced more towards the tip, it will hit with more force, but will be more difficult to control. Likewise, if the weight is more towards the hilt, it will be easier to control, but will hit with less impact. To see this for yourself, grab a hammer and swing it a few times. Notice how the weight of the head pulls forward as you swing and resists stopping once in motion. Now grab it by the head ans swing. It is much lighter and faster and therefore easier to control, but you can hit someone all day with it and there will be no damage (except that you will have a very annoyed person that has been whacked in the head multiple times, but we must all make sacrifices for research purposes).
    Ideally, the balance point on a sword should be about a third of the way down the blade from the hilt. That is close enough to the wielder that it can be controlled, but at the same time far enough away that the blade will actually have enough mass to damage the target.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Here's an article that may help you: Swordplay for Fantasy Writers

    When you pick up a sword, balance and weight are the thing you most notice. Also whether the grip feels comfortable in your hand. A sword is a personal choice, but it has to move the way you want it to (with rapier-style swords). A longsword is a bit different because they're all generally built the same (with less hardware near the hand).

    The reason rapiers are so individual is that they have more complex hilts. They function as mini shields that you can use to protect your forward arm (the most reachable target to your opponent).

    Hope the article gives you some ideas for giving your character some thoughts.

    When I pick up someone else's sword (not my own), I notice all the ways it's different, and within about 30 seconds, I can tell whether it feels comfortable or not. I prefer blades that are thicker near the hilt (rather than mine that's sort of an oval and a uniform thickness its whole length). I also like basket hilts or swept hilts because they offer more hand protection (I hate being hit in the hand), and I love quilts (the crossbar) because i use it a lot to trap blades, and with a basket hilt that doesn't have quilts just feels like a handicap to me, personally). For people with big hands, they find my sword clunky and unwieldy because my hilt is a good fit for my small hand. Likewise, when I pick up a hilt that's too big for me, I find it too loose in my hand, and it feels like I can't get a tight fit (like it feels easy to drop, the way a too-big glove feels sloppy and like it might fall off).

    ALso, another thing about blades, it's again, personal. A long blade feels heavier at the tip (in the article I covered that), but by increasing the weight of the grip and pommel, you get a better balance. A good sword for fencing has a fast tip and is maneuverable. A good sword for swinging has a sturdy blade that's sharp and has good reach.

    As far as testing metal quality, some folks bend the blade a little to see how much flex it has (I don't, as i know already that all the blades we use are standardly approved blades). A blade that's too bendy can flex and break, and one that's too rigid can, too. Again, for a longsword, it's different because it's meant to function differently. My guard is brass, and I got a stout direct hit that broke a piece off (it was welded back in place and is stronger for the welding), so materials are very important in their structure and forging. Good smiths know how to make a weapon durable, but still, defects can occur in the forging process, and a good sword isn't a sure thing until it's finished and tested. Cracks can form in the metal as it cools, and while it's a serviceable weapon, it's flawed in a way that may make it fail later...just when you don't want it to.
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

    As an aside all of my comments just apply to medieval and pre-medieval weapons. If you are asking about rapiers or other bendy-foily-stabby swords, I really have no idea.
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    mmm, and I just realized that autocorrect doesn't recognize the word quillons...I do not like quilts...though they may have a use in trapping blades, I suppose. ;)

    Yeah, I can't speak for longswords, because I'm not a longsword fighter, but my rapier is outfitted with a Scottish basket hilt, so it's less rapier-like than an actual rapier.Very friendly to chopping, but still a one-handed sword.

    So you've got a few sword-fighters here, at least, with two different experiences, and we also have an Ask me about swords thread that's really deep, if you want to look there and have a bit of time for reading. We've had periods of time when we had more sword-fighters frequent the site, and they had a lot of great things to say.
  8. Malik

    Malik Auror

    As Russ mentioned above, swinging a sword will tell you how it handles, and as CM mentioned, that's a very personal thing. There are very few "bad" swords in the hand; just stylistic preferences. Me, I like a center of percussion (COP) that's more forward than others -- I like Type XIII/XIIIa warswords with spatulate tips and 3/4 or even 1/2-length fullers -- but then, I'm a big, strong son of a bitch with powerful hands. I don't like fast, slashy swords.


    This two-handed warsword carries its weight forward; note the fuller (groove) ending halfway along the blade. The fuller lightens the blade and changes the COP. A sword like this is used to disable soldiers by wrecking their armor. It is not a fencer's blade.

    A one-hander with a heavy forward balance and a simple wheel pommel. Again, note where the fuller ends.

    Checking the center of percussion is a must, as Russ said, above. This will also check the fit of the guard and pommel, because every smith had his or her own way of fastening the hardware. Today, we can machine and peen the hardware (quillons and pommel), and top-end swords have the hardware fitted with exacting tolerances, then heated and hammered into place and then ground and buffed until seamless. Very tricky to do using period equipment. A sword that's not properly built might start to rattle after a couple of blows and could literally fly right out of the handle in a fight. That has bad day written all over it.

    Next would be a flex test to check the temper. You want a sword to be able to bend under stress and then snap back to true. A rigid sword will crack or break.


    Depending on the blade, you might even be able to do this over your knee.

    The reason for doing this is that it's almost impossible to tell the carbon content of iron with the naked eye, or even if a sword is iron or steel, by looking at it.

    With medieval tech, there were no blast furnaces, so steel was basically charcoal hammered into hot iron. The reason this is important is that steel is a Goldilocks zone of carbonization in iron, from 0.5%-1% carbon. Not much. If you add too much carbon (charcoal), the steel becomes cast iron, which is super-hard, but very brittle. Too little carbon, and you have wrought iron, which is bendy (ductile).

    A sword made of steel, or with significant steel edges, will flex and then snap back to true with no deformation. A sword made of wrought iron (low carbon) will flex and stay crooked. A sword made of cast iron (high carbon) will crack if you bend it. Also, since the blades were hand-made, a flex test may also tell if there are serious imperfections or weak spots in the sword. A good smith won't care if you flex-test his sword, but a shady smith likely won't let you do it.

    Typically, swords were made with an iron spine and steel edges. In modern times, we can cut sword blades out of homogenous, factory-produced steel, and we have the tools to selectively harden them -- drawing the edges to a super-hard temper but drawing the spines back to give them toughness and spring. Back in the days, though, it was impossible to selectively harden steel, so they had to use different types of metal for the spine and edges.

    This is a traditionally-forged broken-back saxe. You can see the line where the steel edge is folded into the iron spine.

    Anyway, I hope this helps. Lots of good stuff in the Ask Me About Swords thread. It's a lot of reading, but fantasy writing is 90% research and 10% typing. Have fun.
    Russ likes this.

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