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Scott A. Roush

Fitting guards on blades without ricassos.. historical and present

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I know how to fit a guard precisely to a knife with a nice, rectangular ricasso so that there are zero gaps. But how are other people doing this on blades without? I understand the 'medieval' method of the larger slot and the blade sitting on shoulders recessed into the slot.. but was this also done on smaller daggers and knives during this time period?

 

Often I will undercut the shoulders just a hair using a file guide so that the perimeter of the blade essentially sits on the guard. But sometimes you can weaken the tang too much by doing this as it creates small stress risers and by taking away too much material. Would hot fitting into a slightly undersized slot shaped like the profile of the blade be more of a historical method (obviously would depend on time period and culture I suppose). Or just filling with braze?

 

How are seppas fit? By pressure?

 

Anyway... I enjoy making clean knives without ricassos... but I always miss them when fitting guards.

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I too wish to know this as I am working on a knife right now that does not have a ricasso. How to fit the guard is something I have not totally worked out. I was considering using a brass spacer between the guard and the shoulders of the blade, filing a slightly smaller than needed slot and "persuading" it to fit with a hammer and some wood. My idea is to deform the brass so that it fits perfectly then the steel guard does not have to be as cosmetically nice because no one will see it.

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I know how to fit a guard precisely to a knife with a nice, rectangular ricasso so that there are zero gaps. But how are other people doing this on blades without? I understand the 'medieval' method of the larger slot and the blade sitting on shoulders recessed into the slot.. but was this also done on smaller daggers and knives during this time period?

 

Often I will undercut the shoulders just a hair using a file guide so that the perimeter of the blade essentially sits on the guard. But sometimes you can weaken the tang too much by doing this as it creates small stress risers and by taking away too much material. Would hot fitting into a slightly undersized slot shaped like the profile of the blade be more of a historical method (obviously would depend on time period and culture I suppose). Or just filling with braze?

 

How are seppas fit? By pressure?

 

Anyway... I enjoy making clean knives without ricassos... but I always miss them when fitting guards.

I've seen many very old blades- and to be honest, not one had what we would call a "precision fit." Nor did I see any evidence of solder or brazing.

I own old nihonto, and if anything seppa can be slightly loose. They're simply washers, nothing more, and made to fill in gaps between the habaki and the tsuba, and the tsuba and tsuka. They can be reasonably tight-fitting but even the Japanese didn't get fanatical on this point, nothing you couldn't slide off with a good fingernail. The only precision fit in the metal mounts on the blade was the habaki.

Edited by Al Massey

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Once again, the gap-free precision fit is a totally modern thing that simply did not exist in the past, ever. :lol:

 

I've seen many old bowies from the pre-ricasso days that had the guard just butted up against the shoulders of the blade with a good bit of daylight showing, and I've seen some by Woodhead in which the guard was slid on from the tip until it wedged at the tang, then pinned through the blade. The guard on many stick-tang 19th century bowies, even the ones with ricassos, usually has a rectangular hole much larger than the tang visible on both sides of the blade.

 

 

Scott's idea of hot-fitting or slightly relieving the tang would work fine. Most of the old ones are just butted up against the blade.

 

I'm not saying don't go for a precision fit. Just realize it's not historical and can be a lot of work. B)

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Thanks Alan.. but was it a matter of them trying and failing?

 

But what about the medieval period (early, middle, late, renaissance)? Was it the same sort of thing.. with a loosely made slot that just slid up?

 

Anyway.. this is one area in particular where I feel that it's better NOT to follow historical trends. It just ain't pretty!

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Thanks Alan.. but was it a matter of them trying and failing?

 

But what about the medieval period (early, middle, late, renaissance)? Was it the same sort of thing.. with a loosely made slot that just slid up?

 

Anyway.. this is one area in particular where I feel that it's better NOT to follow historical trends. It just ain't pretty!

Very few knives, per se, actually used guards. The ones that did were just as Alan said, essentially just butted up against the guard. This made repairs much easier and refitting a blade to a new grip and/or guard a snap.

Medieval cutlers would probably look on the practice of undercutting a tang for a perfect fit with horror, as it places another stress riser right on the weakest portion anyhow. Also, for a precise fitting, you have to have the tang thinner than the slot in the guard. Oftentimes it's as thick or slightly thicker, and left that way for strength.

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that makes sense Al. I only feel comfortable undercutting in that fashion on blades with pretty hefty tangs. It's a pretty common practice in ABS knives where fit and finish are of such high importance. The stress risers involved probably aren't any more of an issue than the plunge line itself. But on a blade that is already thin to begin with.. I can see the stress risers created having a larger potential effect due to the surface area to volume ratio.

 

But.. does anybody have decent pictures of the guard/blade junction in things like rondels or other daggers that DID have guards?

 

I suppose pressure/heat fitting is the way to go if one wants a clean, modern fit.....

Edited by Scott A. Roush

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Thanks Alan.. but was it a matter of them trying and failing?

 

No, it simply was not anything anyone had ever even thought of doing for any reason. They'd have thought you were a bit touched in the head to even ask such a question, in fact. :lol: The past is a whole other world with completely different expectations, many of which are utterly foreign to modern minds and vice-versa.

 

I do understand from an aesthetic perspective, and more importantly from a customer expectation perspective, why a precision fit and immaculate solder job is important on an ABS-type knife. I'll see if I can find any pics of early stuff to show the typical fit/finish level. I'm sort of exaggerating the gap size on the better quality stuff, but even the best was still nothing that could be called precision compared to today's standards. I'd characterize historic guard fit as "tight enough not to rattle, but not watertight or invisible." These same people were certainly capable of making seamless joints, they just didn't see any reason to do so on something like a guard.

 

 

If you have a filing guide like the ones Brent makes, and you take care to level things up and completely square up the back of the shoulders (except of course for leaving a little radius at the corners), you can get a gapless drive-on or heat-shrink fit on a no-ricasso stick tang knife. It just takes some care.

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Thanks again Alan. From an aesthetic perspective... to me it makes a big difference if you TRY and then FAIL at this.. leaving an uneven, sloppy fitment where the slot is hidden here but revealed there. But if your slot is precisely designed NOT to fit (or at least designed exactly so that it fits tightly against the shoulders and tang without regard for hiding a gap)... then it becomes more palatable to my tastes.

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It would seem like most of the guards would have been of softer material, so one could get it relatively close, and clamp up the blade, and hammer the guard home for a tigther fit. I know this is done a lot currently, so it seems like it'd work well.

 

I myself have wondered a bit about "drifting" the ricasso of the blade back into the guard a bit. I know I've seen mention of doing this on a sword even using a secondary piece that recreates the ricasso are of the sword.

 

I've been thinking about trying this as you could make some really neat effects that would be quite difficult otherwise.

 

I so need to get my damn vise mounted =D

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yeah I've been playing a lot more with hot fitting. Next will be leaving my guard over-sized... hot fitting the slot until the shoulders recess into the material.. then grind down flush.

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Yep, it's a very deliberate thing. Nicely filed and finished, there's just a perfectly straight line gap. :lol: Excellent workmanship, craftsmanly, every operation still visible, but you can see and feel the joint. The whole modern thing about water, blood, gunge, etc. being able to get into the handle would have been met with a funny look. And remember, no stabilized woods or stainless steel! :o:lol:

 

To me, a soldered guard is much like a 4-wheel-drive Lexus "SUV" ( :rolleyes: )with 20-inch chrome rims that will never ever get off pavement. Interpret as you may. ;)

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Alan,

 

Not to hijack the thread but, I just got back from visiting the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron Nebraska and the Cody Museum in Cody Wyoming and of the 100 or so knives on display only 3 had a guard. Do you find this normal in your research of the fur trade era knives?

 

-Art

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Alan,

 

Not to hijack the thread but, I just got back from visiting the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron Nebraska and the Cody Museum in Cody Wyoming and of the 100 or so knives on display only 3 had a guard. Do you find this normal in your research of the fur trade era knives?

 

-Art

Not Alan (well, technically, I am, but not Mr. Longmire), but I mentioned in my first post that very, very few old knives I've seen actually have guards as such.

Medieval metalworkers were unmatched in their manipulation of the materials in their crafts, and had "seamless joints" been desired, they would have been equal to the challenge. But in fact the standard tended to be "close enough, pass me a couple of wedges, he'll want the grip changed after the next campaign anyhow."

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yeah I've been playing a lot more with hot fitting. Next will be leaving my guard over-sized... hot fitting the slot until the shoulders recess into the material.. then grind down flush.

 

 

That's what I'm thinking but rather than grinding down flush, perhaps playing with contours.

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I'll agree with Alan and others here, from my years of dealing in ethnographic edged weapons, almost none exhibited a 'modern' fit and finish. A lot of knives these days are hugely influenced by mills and lathes and other tools made on such kit. Just a different approach, a different time.

 

Most impressive historical pieces look rather crude when examined up close. The only exception I've found for this in the available material I've dealt in has been Japanese sword mounts of the last few hundred years.

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Hi Al,

Just one more question; do the redheads have green eyes?

Green, blue or iron-grey. Never tick off the latter. They'll kill you and STILL stay mad at you.

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Hey, Art, (and Al!)

 

Yes. In the US, Guards were pretty rare on anything not military in nature until the Bowie came along, and even with those the first ones were guardless.

 

Oh, and Al is absolutely right about the grey eyes. :ph34r:;)

 

Scott, I'm not finding the pictures I want, but I'll keep looking... :wacko:

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There are a few ways to make a modern fit

 

Cast them in place with low melting temp metals...like pewter.

Use thin metals sheet/foil and burnish them to fit.

Take great time and hand fit them...with all the aggravation that this entails.

Fit wax models and then into metal.

 

We all really like the old work, but what we do not like about the old work is where it differs from our perception of what the old work should be. (the old adage to "not meet your heroes")

I think it very rude of past makers for them not to meet our modern standard of what their work should be....very bad form on their part if you ask me.

 

Sole authorship,

master of all trades,

precision fit,

excellent heat treatment,

mirror finish

 

All these are modern thoughts imposed on old work...they did not exist at the time these pieces were conceived, constructed or ordered......

 

As with many things if you wish to make an item then make it your way.

If you making "reproductions" then do it as close to the way it was done as you can (this has the major limitation of us rarely actually knowing how it was originally made so it is all a construct). I have, however, found that few people actually want a reproduction...very few indeed.

 

Ric

Edited by Richard Furrer

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Hmmmmm.... I'm wondering if I need to start anticipating what future collectors will think about my current level of fit and finish.

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There are a few ways to make a modern fit

 

Cast them in place with low melting temp metals...like pewter.

Use thin metals sheet/foil and burnish them to fit.

Take great time and hand fit them...with all the aggravation that this entails.

Fit wax models and then into metal.

 

We all really like the old work, but what we do not like about the old work is where it differs from our perception of what the old work should be. (the old adage to "not meet your heroes")

I think it very rude of past makers for them not to meet our modern standard of what their work should be....very bad form on their part if you ask me.

 

Sole authorship,

master of all trades,

precision fit,

excellent heat treatment,

mirror finish

 

All these are modern thoughts imposed on old work...they did not exist at the time these pieces were conceived, constructed or ordered......

 

 

 

Ah, that ol' devil "sole authorship" has really deterred a lot of decent potential bladesmiths, because there are lots of people out there who love forging and playing around with heat-treating, but aren't thrilled by the sound of grinders and could care less if they never turned on a buffer in their lives, and positively loathe sawdust, horn dust, etc.

Of course, historically, bladesmiths did just that-'smith blades. Some folks have said- I think Jimmy Fikes was among them, but it's been a lot of years- that the American Bladesmith Soceity should really change its name to the American Knife-Polishing Organisation. Or maybe it was the American Guard-Soldering Soceity, can't remember, I had a lot of beer that night.

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The aspect of sole authorship that I'm really starting to despise is the pressure to provide sheaths/scabbards with your work. It just seems to get harder and harder to sell something that doesn't have a sheath to go with it. I admire the people who are good at both... but the customer can potentially really come up short by not going with a professional leather worker.

 

But ... all-in-all..... I'm blown away by some of the craftsmanship and artistry being displayed by the modern 'jack of all trades'. After all.. knives and swords nowadays do fall more in the category of 'art' than utilitarian trade goods. And there ARE still a number of people who currently make blade blanks, pre-cut guards, damascus billets, etc...

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I think historically there were both extremely well fit guards and the opposite. I don't know if you know this site but just check out some of the pics there for reference.

http://www.vikverir.no/ressurser/wallace_collection/?dir=&page=all

 

Quite a few swords there where the blade fits neatly into the guard slot... those were probably made with a punch mirroring the blade's base, just the way it is still done today (Peter Johnsson once posted some pics). Soo, I think if you go with what looks good, there's plenty of evidence for it. It's true that on many swords the guard slot was made rather generously and doesn't fit too well but on the finer examples, especially from later times, one finds guards fitting to tight tolerances.

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