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Brian Dougherty

A question about historical sword guards

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My google-fu must be slipping.  I've been trying to find out what is going on at the transition of a sword guard and fuller for a while now, and haven't found it.

 

It would seem that fullers extend into the tang area on most European swords that have them.  Certainly most of the "Viking" era finds I see with the handles lost to time show a fuller extending into tang, and many of the swords I see from centuries after that still seem to have a fuller that disappears into the guard.

 

What I haven't been able to figure out is what happens a the guard/fuller transition.  The only way I can think to assemble such a sword would leave a gap between the guard and the fuller.

 

Did the old craftsmen come up with a clever way to avoid this, or is it simply my modern sensibilities objecting to a gap that nobody cared about in the day?

 

You'd think that I could find a picture of a historical sword showing this transition, but they all seem to be taken in such a way to obscure this bit of information.  I did find a picture of an Albion sword that shows the gap.  I figure that is pretty good authority, but wanted to see what the knowledge base here had to say.  (If I knew if the Albion sword was one of Peter's designs, I would consider the question answered) 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Brian Dougherty said:

simply my modern sensibilities objecting to a gap that nobody cared about in the day?

 

This. 

 

It's just not an issue, as you can see by the fact it's visible on all surviving swords from the iron age into the later middle ages when the ricasso came in.  The tightly-fitted soldered guard is a product of the 1950s first generation of custom makers like Randall and Loveless, machinists who had no historical background in cutlery and thus nobody to tell them not to worry about it.  It became a selling point to say "and look, it's sealed and waterproof so the tang can't rust!"  

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Posted (edited)

I think that you will find that the historical makers weren't as good on fit and finish as modern makers are.  Todd Cutler, a noted knife and sword maker in the UK, said that if he made one of those old swords the way they were made back then he wouldn't be able to sell it.  I imagine that the fuller extended under the guard and part of the handle without the guard being "fitted" to fill in the fuller.  I've read people claiming that it would cause rust to form under the guard but there are swords hundreds of years old that do not display any such damage.

 

Doug

 

I guess Alan and I were typing at the same time.

Edited by Doug Lester
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The other important ting to remember is that a very tight fitting guard on a sword is just a bad idea. On a knife, no so much. It has to do with the forces the blade will encounter in use.

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50 minutes ago, Joshua States said:

The other important ting to remember is that a very tight fitting guard on a sword is just a bad idea. On a knife, no so much. It has to do with the forces the blade will encounter in use.

 

How do you figure?  While a tight fitting guard is certainly not necessary, I cannot imagine how it would be detrimental.  

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Posted (edited)

Maybe I'm insane. Maybe I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

I think about it in terms of vibration and nodes. A hard and inflexible point along a vibrating piece of metal is a stress point when the metal undergoes significant vibration from a force applied to it. Take a stringed instrument for example. When a string breaks, it typically breaks at the bridge, which is the hard point of attachment. It doesn't break where the force is applied, nor does it break at the nut (a much looser nodal point). Why on earth would you put a tight fitting nodal point on a piece of steel that is going to get whacked by another piece of steel? A looser fitting guard allows for the vibration to pass more easily to the end of the bar and return.

 

Edited by Joshua States

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Sword guards could go historically very tight or very loose. Some were made by wrapping an iron bar around the blade/tang junction and forge-welding it onto itself, so obviously it would be very tight, some were hot-fitted, i.e. the hole for the tang was slit/punched and then the hot gaurd was pushed into position and lightly forged down on the sides and as it cooled it contracted, and some were a very loose fit. There was no absolute standard. 

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9 hours ago, Joshua States said:

Maybe I'm insane. Maybe I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

I think about it in terms of vibration and nodes. A hard and inflexible point along a vibrating piece of metal is a stress point when the metal undergoes significant vibration from a force applied to it. Take a stringed instrument for example. When a string breaks, it typically breaks at the bridge, which is the hard point of attachment. It doesn't break where the force is applied, nor does it break at the nut (a much looser nodal point). Why on earth would you put a tight fitting nodal point on a piece of steel that is going to get whacked by another piece of steel? A looser fitting guard allows for the vibration to pass more easily to the end of the bar and return.

 

 

I can't remember off the top of my head how shear looks in cantilevered beams (I went into engineering for manufacturing, not structural dagnabbit), but technically a large enough guard should serve as an anchor and create a node there. Reasoning through it, I suppose it would put a lot of shear at that spot. I would think, though, that the looseness of the guard will only matter when it's so loose that it's just rattling around anyway. Then again, nodes could be anywhere on the handle depending on the type of sword, so while the guard will have an effect, the node will not necessarily be there and it should behave just like any other spot on the sword under vibration.

 

Al, to add to your post, many guards were fitted so loose that they shimmed them to get a tight fit to the tang. I've seen wood, copper, steel, etc. shims used for exactly this reason.

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Posted (edited)

Joshua - Guitar strings are not breaking due to the vibrations, but rather the tensile/shear load applied during the strumming/picking.  They break at the bridge because it is a stress concentrator (the relatively sharp bend in the wire/string).  The type of guard and it's fit to the sword will only make a difference if stress is applied to the guard.  A loose guard could be a problem as it could damage the sword (blade/tang) as it rattles, causing a new stress concentrator.  This could also be a bit of a problem with your guitar string, the vibrations are causing a weak point as it rattles against the bridge.  

Edited by Jerrod Miller

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Jerrod- I know why guitar strings break at the bridge when plucked, that's why I used the analogy. I also know that if you simply over tighten a string until it breaks, it breaks where ever the tensile strength is weakest along the string length. The stress applied to the sword guard happens every time you parry another blade, no? Isn't the tight fitting guard a stress concentrator?

 

I also would respectfully question this statement:

On 3/23/2020 at 12:40 PM, Jerrod Miller said:

A loose guard could be a problem as it could damage the sword (blade/tang) as it rattles, causing a new stress concentrator.

How does that cause a stress concentrator? Wouldn't it act much the same as snares do on a drum skin?

(I love my musical analogies :))

 

 

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The guard is very near the proximal null node of vibration, aka the spot in the grip where there is no vibration, so it doesn't make a whole lot of difference..  A guitar string isn't really the best analogy.  

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46 minutes ago, Joshua States said:

How does that cause a stress concentrator? Wouldn't it act much the same as snares do on a drum skin?

I mean as it rattles around it can damage the blade/tang.  Like hitting that area repeatedly with a small hammer, thus eventually deforming it.  

 

48 minutes ago, Joshua States said:

The stress applied to the sword guard happens every time you parry another blade, no?

You almost never parry with the guard directly, but rather with the strong of the blade.  The guard should only really come into play in an incidental type of way, after the vast majority of energy has been dissipated by the blade.  

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6 hours ago, Jerrod Miller said:

after the vast majority of energy has been dissipated by the blade.  

How does that energy dissipate and where does it go?

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All energy that isn't stored ends up as noise and heat.  Actually noise eventually ends up as heat.

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I'm no expert but thought you might appreciate these photos of sword fullers.  If it were me, I would make a tightly fitted guard and not worry about a small gap between the guard and fuller.  If possible one could silver solder a small piece to fill the gap.  Not going to proclaim this approach is period correct, just an idea from a novice.  

fss-843-mounts-full-Bestk-.jpg

Studio_20200325_061355.jpg

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13 hours ago, Joshua States said:

How does that energy dissipate and where does it go?

What Brian said, but also I was meaning that nearly all the brute force goes into the blade, any impact to the guard is going to be pretty secondary (blades bouncing/sliding or a followup cut with much less energy).  Kind of like when you're forging a piece down pretty hard on the anvil.  You hit the hot piece really hard (relatively speaking) and not the anvil.  But when you are done hitting the piece you can let the hammer bounce a bit on the anvil, but you don't swing hard to hit the anvil.  

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I think you have missed the point. When you impact a long and supple blade, the force of that blow acts much like plucking a string. It is transferred into the bar which then vibrates in harmonic motion. A waveform radiates out from the impact point and travels to the ends of the blade and returns to the other end. Much of that is transferred into the user's hand and arm, which in turn acts as a vibration isolator and harmonic dampener. The energy is quickly dissipated. A tight fitting guard would cause, how did Jarrod put it? A stress comcentrator. Actually, it causes a false end point that sends some of the waveform back to the point rather than letting it pass through to the handle and be absorbed by the hand/arm. Your body can absorb a tremendous amount of force and dissipate it quickly. The soft tissue is like a sponge. What we commonly look for in a tight fitting, no gap guard on a knife is counterproductive on a sword.

Unless that guard is very small and lightweight. Compare the two guards in the photos Doug posted. The Japanese guard is very thin and perforated. The European guard is not tight fitting through the entire section. It probably only has a very thin and small amount in direct contact with the blade or tang. There is a reason for this, and it's not because European smiths didn't care. They did care and they knew why they did it.

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13 hours ago, Joshua States said:

then vibrates in harmonic motion. A waveform radiates out from the impact point and travels to the ends of the blade and returns to the other end.

This is entirely irrelevant.  Only the initial first wave of stress is going to matter, since it is the highest.  I can't stress this enough: vibrations DO NOT MATTER.  At least as far as blades breaking, they matter for user-friendliness.  

 

13 hours ago, Joshua States said:

A tight fitting guard would cause, how did Jarrod put it? A stress comcentrator.

No it will not.  

 

13 hours ago, Joshua States said:

There is a reason for this, and it's not because European smiths didn't care. They did care and they knew why they did it.

As far as I am aware, there is no evidence to support this at all.  In fact there is evidence against it, as noted by AJ Chalifoux.  

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OK

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I believe there is a number of reasons for the gap in hilt and blade.  One of the primary ones, would be simply they were not made together to begin with.  Depending on what era we are thinking on. Swords are made of of various components, all of which may not have been made for one particular sword.

 

For instance, a blade would be made in Germany, and shipped to various location.  Once at a new market, swords would be given regional fittings (hilt and pummel).  Those hilt and pummels were probably never made with the blade in mind, and if they fit - they just fit.  It wouldn't matter to the person who owned it. It just had to be a practical tool that could get some attention *bling*. 

 

Blades may not have survived as long as we think them too either. You may have gone into battle, battered your sword to a point that the blade needed to be replaced but kept the fittings for the new blade. There is not much evidence I know of that supports that, but all tools are subject to wear and tear.

 

There is also the amount of people who have monkeyed with historical blades that survive today.  The romanticist/Victorians did a lot of what they believed with conservation and interpretation of what swords and armor where like during their time.

 

As for harmonics, overall, I believe Peter Johnson has stated that old smithy may or may not have known of this, its hard to say as swords range of design is so vast.

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Anyone who makes or works with swords is intimately aware of the harmonics. It's just that the guard simply doesn't enter the equation given its location,  be it tightly fitted as as possible or just shimmed enough that the grip core holds it in place.  It's a non-issue.  As I seem to recall mentioning earlier... ;)

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I love it.

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