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Ask me about swords.

Discussion in 'Research' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

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    Thanks, I will look that up. I have yet to actually scan over all the amazing information so far available on this page - these sorts of threads are incredibly useful and the very reason why I joined this forum.
     
  2. Ah, chemistry is not one of my strong points. Though, I suppose you might be able to laminate it into the edge of a sword and make the rest of the blade out of a lighter, less hard metal. I guess it ultimately comes down to how fragile it is.

    That and, you know, using this stuff in a sword to begin with is complete overkill. :p

    Ah, I see! Your argument relies on these swords having the same mass but not the same size.

    Huh. Tricky. Now we're into cross sections and mass distribution. You're taking the advanced class now.

    Not sure what you mean by the success of the katana, seeing as it was developed in Japan and, due to Japan's isolationist tendencies, was mostly used by the Japanese to fight wars against other Japanese using the same kind of sword. Sure, today it's extremely popular all over the world, but that's because it's the in vogue sword of our modern age. It's not like it beat all other swords in some kind of international sword contest.

    (For that matter, a lot of katana don't actually match your definition of a backsword, because they have backs that are more narrow then their central spines. Actually, I'd fairly sure that's the standard. And that's not even getting into stuff like double edged katana.)

    But anyway, I'll be straight with you: This kind of discussion almost always ends up a can of worms one way or another. We folk who are into swords can't even agree if there is actually any real benefit for a sword to be curved rather then straight. Some say straight swords thrust better because thrusts come in straight lines, but other argue that the human arm makes a naturaly curved motion in a thrust anyway. Some say that curved swords focus the force of the cut to a smaller point of the target, but then others argue that the physics don't hold up in reality against human-shaped targets. I have literally never seen this debate come to a satisfying conclusion. The most people seem to agree on is that curved swords are more lethal in draw-cuts at close range while straight swords can strike deadly blows from further away.

    Me, I tend to sit those discussions out, because I honestly don't like obsessing about tiny details. Voluntarily, I mean. I personally don't think backswords are technically superior to double edge swords, but I don't think I can convince you of that and honestly, I don't think I want to. I only offered to answer basic questions, not debate the exact qualities of various sword types at lenght.

    Though, if you'd like, I could totally send you links to some other communities shock full of people who will happily discuss this issue with you all day long. I'd be honestly interested to see which conclusion you'd arrive at.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I can see how the question might have gotten lost (on reread I'm not even sure I properly asked), but I was just asking if there's a reason the backsword is only seen in later periods. It seems like they have some arguable advantages, and I don't understand why they aren't seen earlier. I'm also interested to know if there are other differences between these later weapons and earlier ones.

    Even though I'm a bit familiar with most of what you're saying, I really appreciate the highly informative posts, especially because I know that so many people will be reading.


    Wikipedia has failed me at last. It was bound to happen.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2012
  4. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

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    Wow you really do know your stuff lol Thanks a lot and if I can think of anymore questions I'll know who to ask now!
     
  5. Alright, then to put it as briefly as I can: I honestly don't know. I have been trying to figure that out myself for a while now, but there doesn't appear to be any particular reason other then: "They just weren't fond of them."

    Well... depends on how you define "differances." Obviously they didn't look the same, had different styles and were designed for different fighting styles. But, well, that's true for nearly all swords, ever.

    She's a fickle mistress. ;)
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2012
  6. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    There was at least one good reason to favor double-edged swords in earlier periods: the blades would dull or nick rapidly, especially when used against metal armor. Having two edges would retain its distinction from a skinny club that much longer.

    That having been said: if I expect to go up against someone in heavy armor, I'd favor an edge-and-a-quarter sword myself. (The extra edge makes thrusts slide home better, and I like the flexibility of being able to throw a backhand in desperation.)

    Another possible reason is that it simply uses more metal than a flatter shape of the same length, which, in an age of pre-industrial steel production, could be a factor: even marginal differences in weight add up over time.

    The relative properties bronze and iron would have varied based on the quality and place of manufacture of either, and the impurities (often desirable ones) in each—I see claims that bronze is more or less brittle than iron, harder or softer; I suspect a lot of that comes from whether the person in question is basing his comparison on cast iron (a poor choice for weapons), wrought pure iron, an accidentally-produced steel, or something forged from a nickel-alloy meteorite. (I'd have to dig through some of my text sources to be sure about this, though.) Importantly for ancient manufacture, the constituents of bronze have far lower melting points, and are easier to extract from their ores, which I suspect are the main reasons for its greater popularity in those periods. And even a softer metal can be advantageous: it's easier to bend back into shape in the middle of a battle when it deforms.

    Iridium would make a lousy sword, I'm fairly certain. For starters, its density isn't just "higher" than iron's, it's nearly three times higher. Which means a sword would have to be very skinny to be wieldable. Unfortunately, it isn't three times harder than a good steel. Nor is hardness everything: something can be amazingly hard and still be brittle (iridium is). And hardness has nothing to do with whether or not something can take an edge: obsidian isn't especially hard, for example… and the relative abundance of industrial diamond, and relative ease of producing synthetic ones, would see it being used for, say, surgical blades if it could be made significantly sharper than other materials (it is sometimes used for this, but not often)—whereas obsidian is used thus, being capable of blades many times sharper than surgical steel (which also makes lousy weapons, by the by)—so there's no special reason to believe an iridium-coated blade would be any sharper than a steel one, possibly considerably less so.

    Of course, iridium is also forty times rarer than gold—in fact, the amount of iridium mined annually is comparable to the amount of gem-quality diamond mined annually, which is only about a tenth of all diamond mined—so getting enough of it in one place could be problematic itself. In fact, it's scarcity is so great that a noticeably anomalous concentration of it occurring in a specific layer of rock led to one of the more fruitful theories about why the world is how it is today—ask Jabrosky about the K-T Boundary some time. ;)
     
  7. Valiant

    Valiant Scribe

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    About how late did the sword stop seeing combat, to be replaced my the musket and other such gunpowder weapons? My story takes place in an era that would be equivalent to when the Europeans first started experimenting with gunpowder.

    Also, what sort of swords were in use at about that time? Would a rapier, or a long sword be the historically accurate weapon of choice?
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Swords last saw real use in WWI with cavalry charges, and those would be different from infantry weapons. Musketeers still used swords for backup, and the elite squad in France sometimes wore a wedged breastplate capable of stopping a bullet. Off the top of my head I know they at least used Rapiers, of which there are thousands of varieties. Most had an edge, but they emphasized thrusting, I'm not sure why. I'm sure Anders will have more, but that's a quick answer.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2012
  9. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    @Ravana: Accidental steel production did take place during the iron age, but bronze weapons were definitely superior to iron!! The reason that iron replaced bronze was that iron was more abundant, and as soon as they discovered how to easily separate it from its ores they could produce larger numbers of weapons and this was the main advantage over bronze =)

    I have to disagree with you on the point about bronze swords being easier to bend back into shape in the middle of a battle... First, it's not easy to bend a bronze sword like Neil Burridge and his friends have discovered in destructive tests (that takes a lot of strength and many savage blows) and when a bronze sword was damaged like that, it took the careful work of a bronzesmith to repair it.

    Many people think that bronze weapons were soft and weak, but believe me, they are not!! I could show you disturbing pictures of what a bronze sword slash can do to a pig carcass, but Neil asked me not to share the pictures with anyone else =P
     
  10. Like Devor said, swords were still used by cavalry on the battlefield during World War I, and a young Winston Churchill allegedly came very close to crossing swords with an Indian insurgent at one point, but opted against it when enemy reinforcements arrived.

    Firearms never actually "replaced" the sword, they just made swords less useful as time went on, due to changing battle tactics.

    Actually, Europeans started using gunpower as early as the 1300s - they had primitive firearms and even cannons that were used as seige weapons. During the Hundred Year War, you'd see people with early muskets fight alongside knights in plate armor. The swords of the time would mostly have been variations of the late medieval sword styles.

    I'm guessing you had more of a Renaissance setting in mind, though. Actually, the 1500s was a pretty interesting time when it came to swords, because people used a bit of everything. The more elegent complex hilted cut-and-thrust swords and baskethilt broadswords had just started to develop, but there were still be people fighting with longswords or bastard swords, while those of lesser income could rely on the huge variety of the messer family, including the large kriegsmessers - these huge two-handed sabers. There were mercenaries weilding katzbalgers and giant zweihanders. The Italians favored short swords inspired by the antique blades of Rome and Greece, meanwhile the Spaniards invented the espada ropera which would soon evolve into the rapier. There was a lot of different blades to pick from.

    The rapier, notably, was specifically a civilian sword. They were used for self-defence and for dueling, but not on the battlefield. Depicting musketeers carrying rapiers while on duty is actually inaccurate - they would have carried more versatile cut-and-thrust swords:

    [​IMG]

    But returning to the rapier: The reason it emphasises the thrust, from what I've managed to find out, has to do with how Renaissance people built their cities. Cities of the time would have a lot of these very narrow allyways, where defending yourself from attackers could be tricky as the cramped space did not allow for much swinging about. In such a situation, a long thrusting sword was the ideal self-defence weapon.

    That said, it's true some rapiers were more then capable of cutting, some having almost medieval-style blades.

    (I should also mention that its a myth that rapiers were light swords: Many of them were in fact quite heavy. The main reason modern fencing swords are ill suited for rapier fencing is because they are far too light. In fact, most complex hilted swords are heavier then one might believe, often heavier on average compared to medieval swords.)

    The rapier was developed in Spain and then spread to France and Italy and then to England, where the fencing master George Silver famously objected heavily to what he saw as a weapon for foreign weaklings and cowards, claiming that real Englishmen should fight with the baskethilt sword. He didn't managed to convince his peers, however, and soon the rapier had conquered Europe.

    The demise of the rapier a few hundred years later is, I think, and interesting example of what factors can determin the popularity of a sword: In the early 18th century, the roads improved which made it fashionable for gentement to travel in coaches. The rapier, however, was too long and cumbersome for this mode of travel. For this reason the much lighter Dutch smallsword gianed popularity - they were light enough that one could do away with the baldrics and belt suspensions one would carry a rapier in, which in turn affected how people dressed. The rapier soon became thought of as a large and boisterous weapon for unrefined braggarts. Only the Spaniards insisted on using the rapier for decades longer then the rest of Europe.
     
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  11. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Good idea. It is done.
     
  12. Valiant

    Valiant Scribe

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    Wow. I am fascinated. Thank you very much.
     
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Sorry: I was unclear. I meant that the iron ones were easier to bend back in shape… one of the advantages they did have over bronze. Definitely, bronze was harder than plain iron. Even when wide-scale iron production began to become common, bronze was still often favored for other tools (when it was available) for this reason. (For that matter, it still is, in some applications.)

    However, as mentioned, hardness is not always a good thing: while iron swords would be more likely to bend than bronze ones, bronze swords would be more likely to break than iron ones–precisely because they were harder. While the relative percentages of breaking was probably not much of a factor in early replacement of bronze by iron, it does start to become significant when you consider that you can make longer weapons, while retaining the same weight, out of a material that's less likely to snap when it's thinned out… and bronze is heavier than iron to begin with. If you're packing a bronze blade that's nice and hard, but a foot, or even half a foot, shorter than what your opponent is carrying, you're going to seriously contemplate the advantages of switching. Roman officers may not have felt any reason to change when everyone in the army was carrying a gladius… but they also eventually replaced the gladius altogether–with a longer iron blade borrowed from the Celts–at which point nobody in the army was carrying a bronze weapon.

    Unquestionably, though, the ultimate replacement of bronze had to do with advances in ferrous metallurgy, from extraction, through carburizing and alloying, to tempering and annealing techniques.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  14. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    Hello Ravana, I had misunderstood your post, sorry!!

    Well, I have little knowledge about iron swords but you are right, they were indeed longer weapons and that was another advantage over bronze swords- I am very curious about bronze: it's quite a legendary metal with an aura of magic around it, and I have considered to purchase bronze bars to work with instead of the Aluminum but it's more expensive and it may not be real 88% copper and 12% tin traditional bronze after all.

    Everyone, please check out my thread Aluminum Swordmaking in the Chit Chat section =)

    Anders, do you own swords??
     
  15. The sword you are refering to is called a spatha - it's a Roman word but it applies to most longer iron/steel swords of the late Roman and Migration periods.

    As I understand it, the spatha was longer because it was a cavalry weapon, whereas the gladius was an infantry sidearm. (Following the Greek model, the primary infantry weapon was still the spear.)

    Indeed, I have a few, though not nearly as many as some of the collectors I've gotten to know online. My economy doesn't allow me to buy swords often, nor does it allow me to spend a lot of money on really expensive high-end pieces. I try to stay in the lower middle range, focusing on affordable yet functional swords.

    To date I own:

    -A 32" o-katana from Dynasty Forge.
    -An antique Dutch infantry saber. (Ca 1850.)
    -The Valiant Armory Warder. (A fantasy sword inspired by the Wheel of Time books, designed by John Lundemo.)
    -A couple of shorter blades I forged myself back in my blacksmithing days, which I need to grind into shape and hilt when I get the time.
    -A lower quality medieval sword that I found rather disappointing (it was the first sword I bought) which I have now begun regrinding into a somewhat lighter backsword.
    -A cheaper odachi that I've begun to cut down. (Long story.)
    -Various other junk blades and half-finished projects.

    Out of these, the katana is by far the best. It's not traditionally made - a plain through-hardened monosteel blade, no folding or hamon - but it's sharp and durable and can perform frighteningly powerful cuts.

    Lately I've been thinking about getting a new sword to play with, but I've been a bit indecisive. At first I planned on getting a longsword or hand-and-a-halfer, but I've also found a saber-like falchion I'm rather infatuated by. Meanwhile, the nihontophile part of me is trying to convince me to go for another Japanese-style blade. It's hard to decide because my exact taste tends to fluctuate a lot.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012
  16. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    @Anders: That's quite a collection, congratulations!! I want to own many swords too, but unfortunately the only swords that I can buy around here are those useless stainless steel wallhangers that you cannot even play with =(

    I do own a huge 80cm machete that I play with, cutting targets and so on, but apart from that I have only my Aluminum swords and the neighbors can sometimes see me in my garden playing with them too- I consider that machetes are swords too, just not so romantic but powerful after all!!

    Also, I own a Knights of Columbus sword that is carbon steel (I think!!) it was given to me as a birthday present by a friend back in 2010, and even though it's a functional weapon, there is something about that sword that I don't like and now I have no idea what to do with it =P
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012
  17. Gian Carlo Benedetti

    Gian Carlo Benedetti New Member

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    I have a question: I found a sword in my grandma's cellar. I would like to find out the history of it and determine whether or not its a real piece. I can describe it very well but its better if I could send you a picture of it. Do you think you can help me? Its 54' long, iron,wire bound hilt,no scabbard, the cross-section of blade is diamond shaped. I have been researching but cant find anything like it out there.?? There are the words ABRICA ARRIDO CLEDO near the bottom of the blade. There is what looks like an "I" for a symbol on the end of the round hilt. Also MADE IN SPAIN in the same lettering. the sword has some rust on it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012
  18. Konjurer

    Konjurer Dreamer

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    I've seen many examples of knives or daggers made of stone but Is it practical to make swords from very hard minerals-such as diamonds?
     
  19. Hey, at least you are smart enough to not try to play with stainless wallhangers. ;)

    Lord knows too many people do that already.


    "Made in Spain" suggests it's a souvenir sword, probably from Toledo or something like that. Can't say the rest of the discription rings a bell, though, and the diamond cross-section is a bit unusual.

    Oh well. Show me a picture if possible. If I can't identify it, I can direct you to people who can.

    Fair warning, though: You shouldn't get your hopes up. Sadly, most old swords people find or get from their relatives are just decorative pieces that aren't worth much.

    Not really. Like I said before, hardness isn't the same thing as strenght. Also, the denser the material is, the heavier it will be. One has to consider all properties of the material, not just the most advantageous one.

    Now, I don't know much about diamonds, but a quick Google search tells me the following:

    So basically, while diamonds are relatively durable for their hardness, they are hardly indestructible. (Pun not... Well, okay, pun intended.) Being crystals, they're rigid and will fracture rather then deform.

    I imagine that a diamond sword would be very heavy, quite fragile, and probably not superior enough to a steel sword in cutting power to make it worth it. So you end up with an over-all inferior weapon worth roughly the same as a small kingdom, the cost of which you could hire the best weaponsmiths in the world to manufacture a whole armory of top-class weapons for you.

    This scenario is similar to the Iridium idea Neurosis posted on the second page, and it's a common falacy based on the assumption that one can improve a sword by maximizing a single aspect of the weapon. Problem is, unless you involve actual magic, you will probably be doing so at the expense of all the other aspects.

    If you're writing a fantasy story and want there to be an incredibly sharp and strong sword, just say it's enchanted, or that it's a mystic metal forged with secret techniques. Or, if you're writing some kind of space opera, write something about monomolecular polymers and nanotechnology. You know, make something up.

    But trust me on this: If there was any material more suited for swords than steel, people would already have tried it a long time ago.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012
  20. Gian Carlo Benedetti

    Gian Carlo Benedetti New Member

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    I think i found an ancient sword

    Im not sure if a sword I found is real. Its made of iron and its 54 inches long(thickness is slightly tapered to point). The blade is a diamond shape and bears the marks: ABRICA ARRIDO CLEDO , MADE IN SPAIN in very small print . The hilt is round and straight with slight bend toward handle. One end of the hilt has a symbol looks like an "I" Handle is wrapped in reddish wire. The bottom is also round slight downward bend. Some rust. Very long and heavy. It was in my grandmothers cellar and her house still has gas lamps on the wall so its very old. Local guy said it wasnt more than 100 years old but I think it is much older than that.? Thank you very much for your time . ?????
     
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