Ask me about swords.

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

  1. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Any sword that is going to be useful is going to be made of steel. If you make a sword out of gold, it would be useless. Steel is almost magical; its properties are ideal for making swords. They just are. Make the blade out of steel (or iron with steel edges if you want to be really authentic) and gild / engrave / bejewel the hell out of the rest of it.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    Thanks a lot for the link. That is a good resource to have.

    Something like this is what I was picturing in my head:

    LATE GOTHIC ITALIAN BROADSWORD C.1500-10
     
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  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Yeah, if only I had $12,600 laying around, LOL.

    And to echo, Malik, steel is the choice in general... unless you have a bronze age culture, of course. As I understand, bronze is rather effective, but there’s a reason that longer bladed swords didn’t develop until after iron/steel came into use.

    And steel is almost magic, but not magic... in the middle of worldbuilding I developed a systems of metals which included “elementally infused” ores. The best metals for a weapon’s blade would (even then) be made from an elementally infused iron (Ikoruv) alloy. The system is rather detailed, and a helluva lot of fun, LOL. I even went into percentages of various ores and alloys and varied effects.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2018
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  4. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    For those who haven't heard my steel spiel, here it is in a nutshell:

    Steel is a Goldilocks zone of carbonization in iron.

    Steel is just charcoal mixed into heated-up iron. That's it. But if you mix too little, you get wrought iron, which will deform under impact; if you mix too much, you get cast iron, which is so hard that it becomes brittle and will crack under impact. (Cast iron is called cast iron because carbon lowers the melting point of iron, allowing iron to be poured into molds and "cast." This is all the more reason that the beginning of Conan was bullshit. Going into battle with a cast-iron sword is really just an elaborate form of suicide.)

    That sweet spot right in the middle between bendy and holy-shit-don't-drop-it is steel. Hard yet resilient. Holds an edge but can be sharpened.

    Swords, which are just long sharp pieces of steel with handles, are shaped the way they are and used the way they are because of the properties of steel, which are unlike literally any other metal. If you had the ability to make swords out of unobtanium or annealed pixie dust or crystal or whatever, they wouldn't perform like swords unless you gave that magical compound the same properties as good steel.

    I can totally understand mixing other fantasy substances into iron to replicate various tempering processes for which a pre-industrial society might not have the technology. It would still pretty much perform like modern high-speed steel. Once you get outside of the performance characteristics of good steel, you need to come up with a different kind of weapon. ("Swords are swords because steel is steel.")

    The central tenet of my series revolves around swordsmen from modern-day Earth who wind up in a pre-industrial fantasy society but bring modern tool-steel weapons and spring-tempered steel armor, which turns out to be kind of like wearing Iron Man's suit in a bar fight. The power of their weapons--which are just swords and armor--kick off an arms race. That's what good steel is worth.
     
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  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Well, magic changes a good deal if the system is correct, because there becomes more than the sweet spot of hardness and flexibility. Different forces come into play. Elemental conductivity and other properties more worthy of a world building or magic system thread. Effects and counter effects. But, I would also contend that the sword (and its longevity in warfare) is a sword because its basic design and function is well-suited to both defense and offense in hand to hand combat. Improving its pfysical/magical characteristics wouldn’t demand a redesign.

    But then again, if a man had brought a gun (or more specifically, bullets) into the world of the Sister Continents, it wouldn’t have went well for him. If he made it so far as to fire a few rounds, all other rounds (including in the magazine) would’ve fired, and any rounds he was carrying would’ve gone “pop”. The point being, once magic is involved, you can’t really make any definitive statements nor make real world asumptions about the functionality of materials and physics.
     
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  6. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    I assume that after a battle all the swords and other weapons left on the field (from the dead soldiers) would be gathered up and taken to smiths to get the nicks and dents taken out of them so they could be used again.

    Would that be something that blacksmiths could pay for? For example, would there be such a thing as buying a cart full of battered weapons for a bulk price and then fixing them up for sale at their shop, or would everything be claimed by whatever government or lord won the battle?
     
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  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I have no idea how this would work. Seriously. I wouldn't even know who to ask or where to begin researching it. Good question. What does happen to weapons left on a battlefield? I'd presume looters, but . . . huh. No clue.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Well, I think the answer would depend on a lot of factors... first and foremost, spoils go to the victor. Winning soldiers (if they had time) would quickly nab anything useful, upgrade or replace any of their damaged weapons, scavenge arrows, spears, etc. But, after that, looting as Malik says, is probably the best bet. Locals would be looking for valuables. So many variables involved for speculation, I think one could do pretty much anything that makes sense, LOL.

    So, I would absolutely say a smith COULD buy a cart full of damaged weapons and armor (just like gold teeth and other valuables will be plucked from a battlefield), but would it be a norm? And if all that steel is so valuable, would it all be “property of the crown” of the winning side, loaded up and given to smiths who serve that leader?

    One might be able to find info on what happened after civil war battles to get a clue... human natur tends to stay true. But I’m with Malik, I don’t know who to ask... maybe Skip.Knox would know, or know who to ask.
     
  9. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    Yeah, it is just something I was curious about when I started thinking about it, but there's not really much information on it out there, at least that I could find.

    The only record I found was of the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 where is said something along the lines that after a battle push the successful defenders picked out the best of the fallen weapons and disposed of the rest. It never said what 'disposed of' meant, but most likely it means they were given to the smiths to be melted down and reforged later.

    And in another article about blacksmithing it basically says that all iron/steel can be recycled, no matter how bad of a condition it is in. But the problem is that the more rusted it gets, the more work and energy is required to remove the impurities. And different smiths would have different standards about what metal was just not worth the effort to bother reforging.

    Which makes me wonder if there wasn't a thing where lesser grade metal would be gathered up and sold to local smiths in smaller villages for cheap while the better stuff would be kept for smiths working for lords or royalty.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2018
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I think you have to run with what makes sense. Recycling is logical, unless there is abundant high grade ore available. It makes sense, so long as the profit margin is there, including labor time.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    OK, I don't know this stuff but I sure do know whom to ask. MEDIEV-L. Posted and got replies already. Here's the post from Bernie Bachrach, a leading authority on medieval warfare.

    "The place to start is Thordeman's two volumes on the Battle of Wisby. Take another look at the Bayeux Tapestry, reread Nithard on Fontenoy, Go through the Annals of St. Bertin and Fulda. Nb. the plan of St. Gall has a workship [sic] for reparing [sic] swords. "

    So, Thordeman means Armour from the Battle of Wisby, 1361 by Bengt Thordeman, published in 2001. Grotesquely overpriced, like most academic works, but maybe you can get it through a library.

    I'm not sure what the Tapestry will tell us, but Nithard is the continuator of Einhard (Charlemagne's biographer), and he has an account of the Battle of Fontenoy in 841. While I can find Einhard in English for free, I'm coming up empty on the continuation. But it's for sale at Amazon.
    https://www.amazon.com/Carolingian-Chronicles-Frankish-Histories-Paperbacks/dp/0472061860

    The Annals of Fulda were translated by the redoubtable Timothy Reuter in 2000. Again, best bet will be an academic library.

    Professor Bachrach's references are mainly early medieval because that's his stomping grounds. But anyway, there are some references.

    As for what happens to the metal afterward, I'm advised that most every metal could and would be melted down and put to some use or other. For anyone scavenging after a battle, it'd be pretty close to free money. Even so, we do have remains from battles (per Thordeman). I guess if the battle took place in a relatively isolated place--even if just twenty miles or so--then the scavenging might be more work that it was worth. And an army, as I said before, might well not want to take time to scoop up more than what was obvious and valuable. Also, if you grab too much stuff, now you have a transport problem.
     
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  12. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    Haha, I kind of feel bad now for bringing up the subject due to all the effort you guys put in trying to answer it. I was just plotting my story and I wasn't sure if my main character buying a sword from a wagon full of scrap weapons for cheap since he couldn't afford a custom made one was realistic or not.

    I guess the take away from this is that if no one can give you a definite answer either way than anything is fair game and the reader wont care.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It is my scholarly opinion *snort* that you absolutely could do that. Some rough and seedy types have a wagon full--not as full as they would wish--of scrap weapons (in worse shape than they would wish) and are glad to sell off a sword as a sword rather than as just scrap metal. Most readers won't give it a second thought, and if they do, they'll think it a nice touch.
     
  14. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    Good to know.

    Also, even though this is a thread about swords, I'm curious to know if shields made completely of iron or steel were real things or if that is just a fantasy invention and shields were just made of mainly wood in order to keep the weight down.
     
  15. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I have seen examples of all metal shields, smaller types, but to the best of my knowledge, most shields were made of wood and other lighter materials. I’ve also seen what I was told was a rhino-hide shield. Very cool. Speed with a shield is important. Like all things, the material is going to depend on its use and the availability of material. Some jousting shields can be made from metal, but even then, wood was often used. The heater was sometimes made from metal, from what I understand, but was more often wood reinforced with metal.

    Side note: in vikings 1-on-1 duals, it would be common place to go through a few shields as they got destroyed.

    But I’m not a shield expert, LOL.

     
  16. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    One more thing about the wagon-full-of-swords idea: you wouldn't melt them down. Not unless you had either a blast furnace (invented in the 1800s, and instrumental in kicking off the Industrial Revolution) or a wizard who could put the whammy on your forge and get it superhot. It's almost impossible to get steel hot enough to melt without the aid of modern technology. As we discussed a few posts up, cast iron is iron with lots of carbon in it, which lowers the melting point so that it can be liquefied and poured into molds. Cast iron is brittle due to the carbon content, and therefore a terrible choice for swords.

    The problem with the magical-furnace-to-forge-steel idea is that if you had a furnace that could melt and re-forge steel, you'd have a supply of cheap homogeneous steel, and then you'd have a worldbuilding problem, because you'd have steel everywhere: steel doors, steel stairs, castles with steel-reinforced walls and drawbridges, to say nothing of plate-steel armor and steel helmets that steel weapons would just bounce off of.

    What you could do is heat the broken or chipped blades enough to make them malleable and then hammer them into functional shape again. However, the heating and quenching would change the temper of the blade and you'd risk ruining the weapon unless you really knew what you were doing.

    Also, you could grind off broken tips (it would take a LONG time with a manual grinding wheel, especially one of those foot-powered jobbies, but technically it's doable; maybe a grinding wheel hooked up to a water wheel?) and then make shorter swords, sword-hilted daggers, or what-have-you out of the remainder of the blade below the useless part.
     
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  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I’m glad you tackled tht one, you put that all more succinctly than I would’ve.

    Magic causes all kinds of weird issues if it becomes common place. Now, imagine if dwarves are the only ones with the magic tech to make that plate? Who’s going to walk into their caves? heh heh.
     
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  18. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    The first time I smashed up an iron plate with a steel weapon I knew I had my entire series laid out . . .
     
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  19. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Minstrel

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    If a steel sword was lying on the ground (say a basket hilt sword) - Would it be possible to snap the blade of a steel sword by stomping on the flat side of the blade close to the hilt?

    Assuming hard boots for the stomping and hard ground or floor that won’t give way.
     
  20. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Yes, if it was rusted, damaged, badly tempered, or had a weak spot when it was forged. A well-tempered and properly forged steel sword blade, especially one with the width and sectional density of a basket-hilted broadsword, will flex under impact and spring back to true.

    That said, if it was a crap sword with a "rat tail" tang--the kind of sword you buy at a tobacco shop at the mall, for instance--then yes, absolutely. The blade will separate at the tang.

    A traditionally crafted sword can take a hell of a beating.
     
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