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Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Early medieval sword research

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Close to 25 years ago I came into contact with this particular sword, and it was the first time I saw a patternwelded blade. I've had the intention to make a reproduction of it for a long time. But for a sword that I've known so long I still know remarkably little about it, the age, the type, the measurements. The hilt is a reconstruction, based on another example with a completely preserved horn hilt, but may or may not be correct for this blade. The total sword is about 92cm long. It consists of three torsion billets with a high amount of twists. The tip is quite pointy, though it's a bit emphasized by the lack of edge material remaining around the patterwelded core at the tip. The core may have been build up from 3 torsion bars on either side, with a layer of plain wrought in between, but I'm not fully sure. At least in some areas where the diagonal lines of the torsion bars are completely corroded away, there seem to be linear lines below. The core is quite wide, and it seems that the fuller is more narrow, about 1/3rd of the blade width. The official date in the description says 700-800AD, but I can't verify if that's accurate. Unfortunately I don't have access to it beyond the glass, so I can't take measurements of it. Nore do I know any publications of this sword.

Can anyone give more information on the potential date and type? And what would be realistic thickness distributions of the blade, and what would be a realistic weight and point of balance? 

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So far the measurements I could derive from the photos I've taken:

  • total length: 93cm
  • blade length:  82cm
  • max blade width at hilt:  47mm 
  • blade with 20cm from the tip: 45mm
  • fuller width: 20mm
  • edge billet width: 9mm
  • torsion bar width 20cm from tip: 3 x 9mm 

I've seen in my literature that for a blade with those kind of dimensions, a maximum blade thickness at the hilt usually is 5mm or thereabout. I would expect a significant taper, perhaps down to 3mm at 20cm before the tip? A quick estimate would bring the blade mass excluding tang at around 600-700gram. That sounds pretty light, I'd have expected a bit more, around 800-1000gram for the blade. What do you guys think?

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I have held exactly two originals of the general period, one of which was an Anglo-Saxon pattern-welded blade that did indeed fall in that range of measurements and weight, the other of which was a possible Ulfbehrt (and thus at least 200 years newer) that was a little longer and heavier, I'd estimate in the 1000- 1250 gram range. So yes, it certainly could have been in the 600-800 gram range.  Armor being what it was in the period, you know.

And I agree, it does look like the torsion bars are a veneer over an iron core.

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10 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

I have held exactly two originals of the general period, one of which was an Anglo-Saxon pattern-welded blade that did indeed fall in that range of measurements and weight, the other of which was a possible Ulfbehrt (and thus at least 200 years newer) that was a little longer and heavier, I'd estimate in the 1000- 1250 gram range. So yes, it certainly could have been in the 600-800 gram range.  Armor being what it was in the period, you know.

And I agree, it does look like the torsion bars are a veneer over an iron core.

Thanks Alan. Was that Ulfbehrt a bare blade, or including hilt?  The Ulfberht in the museum here is about 1500gram total including hilt. It's a bit longer and wider then the sword I'm after, but also 5mm at the thickest point.

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Trying to get my head around the measurements of the billets, number of twists etc and getting to the same kind of pattern on the surface. If I'd use the iron core, with 3 billets on each side, the surface pattern will be greatly affected by the amount of material los during forging, grinding etc, considering that the final thickness of the patterwelded layer will only be about 1mm thick. A few 10nds of a mm more or less material removal, and the surface pattern will look very different. It's all quite a bit of planning. Pretty sure I won't get it right the first time, but I've got to start somewhere.

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4 hours ago, Jeroen Zuiderwijk said:

Thanks Alan. Was that Ulfbehrt a bare blade, or including hilt?  The Ulfberht in the museum here is about 1500gram total including hilt. It's a bit longer and wider then the sword I'm after, but also 5mm at the thickest point.

Partial hilt, the pommel cap was missing.  

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I have been thinking about these composite blades for quite a while.  While we know how to get a particular pattern through forging and grinding, I suspect the ancients used scraping and chisel cutting more than grinding since they did not have the fancy abrasive belts and such that we do.  I have split twisted bars lengthwise with a bandsaw and bookmatched them in reverse to get that effect.  If you know how to use a chisel, it is not too difficult to do that hot.  It is harder to do cold, but you get less distortion.  At the size of each component torsion bar, forged to about 8mm square and then flattened crosswise without drawing it out, a little time with chisel and scraper could give you those veneers.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking with machines.  The old masters did not have these machines, so it behooves us to think of how to accomplish the end result without relying on welders to hold things together and grinders to remove huge amounts of material.  I am certainly not saying it is easier, but if you think with hand tools instead of machines I believe one comes closer to understanding how to arrive at the end product in the most efficient manner with the tools available.  They had files, chisels, scrapers, and stones, plus a large pool of skilled labor.  We have machines to help with the labor, but it does not produce identical results unless used with careful forethought...

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Just about weights of early swords. It's hard to fight with a sword of 1500g. Usually they were around 1000g I believe. Uless some swords were used just for look and showing the prestige of a warior/leader. Here there is a picture of a sword found in the lake in Giecz (Poland) dated 9th/10th cent. Blade lenght (remained) is 73cm  (29,8"), total lenght is 87cm (35,5") and it weights... only 720g! (At least the book says so :lol: I've never held it myself ). I dare to assume it's weight before it had corroded was approx 900-950g.

So, Jeroen, 600-700g for a such long blade without the hilt seem to be realistic. If you add 300g for a hilt it gives us 900-1000g.

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Giecz 1.jpg

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On ‎7‎/‎31‎/‎2017 at 1:37 PM, Jeroen Zuiderwijk said:

The core may have been build up from 3 torsion bars on either side, with a layer of plain wrought in between

 

On ‎8‎/‎2‎/‎2017 at 3:19 PM, Alan Longmire said:

And I agree, it does look like the torsion bars are a veneer over an iron core

A question, if I may, on this concept when used with a fuller. It occurs to me that if scraping or grinding the fuller into the blade were the chosen method, the veneer layers would be pretty thick to start with. In which case, why would the maker choose a veneer over a full bar? That leads me to believe the fuller would have been forged in (to keep enough material)and then lightly sanded or polished to produce the pattern. Am I missing something?

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No, you are correct.  Cross-sections show the "veneer" bars to be of uniform thickness across the fuller, so they had to be forged in rather than ground or scraped beyond what was needed to finish the blade.  

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Remember "sanding" was unheard of until early in the 20th century, because "sandpaper" did not exist until then. Cabinet/furniture makers used rasps and finally scrapers both flat and contoured. Knife/sword makers had files, scrapers, stones and hand-foot-water powered revolving stones later in the era.

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2 hours ago, Vern Wimmer said:

Remember "sanding" was unheard of until early in the 20th century, because "sandpaper" did not exist until then. Cabinet/furniture makers used rasps and finally scrapers both flat and contoured. Knife/sword makers had files, scrapers, stones and hand-foot-water powered revolving stones later in the era.

When I refer to archaic "sanding" I typically mean that which was achieved through the use of abrasive stones. This has been in use by humans since prehistory.

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I'm sure you knew that, as should most of the forum members, but there are folks out there who are unaware that there used to be something called a "telephone" that was actually connected to a wall by a cord???

As a former museum curator I found the amount, of historical "things" that some didn't believe, to be scary. I could tell stories....

Just remember after 9/11 the great thinker Rosie O'Donnel put forth a conspiracy theory based on,

"They expect us to believe, that on that day, for the first time in history, fire melted steel, that is too big a coincidence to be believed"

Edited by Vern Wimmer

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Today the National Military Museum (Soesterberg, Netherlands) was kind enough to let me handle and study the sword. I have to process my notes, but some photos. 

The overal blade length is 790mm, total sword length including reproduced hilt 906mm. The thickness: 4.3mm at hilt, 4.2mm at 55mm, 3.8mm at 160mm, 3.6mm at 285mm, 3.4mm at 460mm, 3.2mm at 600mm, 2.8mm at 725mm.

I was able to confirm that the blade truly consists of a centeral core, with patternwelded veneer on both sides. It looks like the patternwelding is just the top slice of a torsion bar, probably less then 25% of the original thickness, and quite consistent at that over the whole blade. Edge is slightly convex, but not much. Also missing quite a bit of the edge. The fuller is more narrow that then torsion welded area, but hard to measure (20mm wide was my estimate, which I believe is more or less correct). The fuller depth was also hard to establish as well in this condition but max. 1mm, probably less. 

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That is awesome. I saw this while at work and couldn't take too much time to really look at it until I got home.

On 11/27/2017 at 8:54 AM, Jeroen Zuiderwijk said:

The fuller is more narrow that then torsion welded area,

So it looks like 3 bars in the center/fuller area? The fuller only occupying the center of the 3 bars?

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19 hours ago, Joshua States said:

That is awesome. I saw this while at work and couldn't take too much time to really look at it until I got home.

So it looks like 3 bars in the center/fuller area? The fuller only occupying the center of the 3 bars?

The torsion bars extend outside the fuller. The section would look like this (but much thinner):IMG_20171129_230849.jpg

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