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Late Medieval Cooking and Utility Knives


Ryan Hobbs

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Howdy! Does anyone have sources on this topic? So far I've only been able to find one historical journal entry discussing 7 knives from Medieval England. I'll link it below for those interested. It's a cool article, but the sample size is rather limited.

I'd like to make a few domestic knives for my reenactment groups, (both portray early 15th cent. England) and would like to use a historically accurate construction. I have some bloomery iron and 30+lbs of wrought iron waiting to be made into something. 

Thanks for any help y'all can provide!

 

 

 

Metallographic Examination of Medieval Iron Knives from ... https://historicengland.org.uk/research/results/reports/4844/METALLOGRAPHICEXAMINATIONOFMEDIEVALIRONKNIVESFROMCOPPERGATEFISHERGATEANDBEDERNYORK

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This one is the bible thereof:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Knives-Scabbards-Medieval-Excavations-London/dp/1843833530

 

There are others, of course.  Be sure to also check out the stuff Tod Cutler sells,  https://todcutler.com/en-us/collections/eating-knives-cooks-knives-and-other-knives. His stuff is based on museum finds and in consultation with the professionals in the subject.

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2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

This one is the bible thereof:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Knives-Scabbards-Medieval-Excavations-London/dp/1843833530

 

There are others, of course.  Be sure to also check out the stuff Tod Cutler sells,  https://todcutler.com/en-us/collections/eating-knives-cooks-knives-and-other-knives. His stuff is based on museum finds and in consultation with the professionals in the subject.

 

Sweet, thanks!

 

I actually have some of Tod's stuff, (funner items than eating knives, haha) really nice work.

 

Does the book go into detail on the metallurgy of the knives? I'm trying to see what techniques were common for welding the iron to the steel blade, i.e. a sandwich construction.

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Yes, there's a small section on construction techniques, but for the in-depth analysis you need (well, need is too strong, but you'd like to see) the out-of-print "Metallography of Early Ferrous Tools and Edged Weapons of the British Isles", Tylecote and Gilmour, British Museum Research Series, 1986.  You can often find it via interlibrary loan.  

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On 7/3/2023 at 9:51 AM, Alan Longmire said:

Yes, there's a small section on construction techniques, but for the in-depth analysis you need (well, need is too strong, but you'd like to see) the out-of-print "Metallography of Early Ferrous Tools and Edged Weapons of the British Isles", Tylecote and Gilmour, British Museum Research Series, 1986.  You can often find it via interlibrary loan.  

 

Sweet, thanks!

I'll see if my library can get it in for me.

 

And is there really such a difference between "need" and "really really want"?

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"The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology:An archaeometallurgical, technological and social study of the manufacture and use of Anglo-Saxon and Viking iron knives, and their contribution to the early medieval iron economy" by Eleanor Blakelock is an interesting read.

 

It is a PhD thesis that I found and read to take a break from reading other theses. It has details on construction and metallurgy, one of the most interesting to me being combined metallography and microhardness readings. It also examines societal factors that may be responsible for the distribution of different techniques of knife manufacture both around the British Isles and in time.

 

EDIT: I realize you were asking about late medieval knives specifically. There will likely be some info here that is relevant, but the general time period is earlier.

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On 7/11/2023 at 11:43 AM, Aiden CC said:

"The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology:An archaeometallurgical, technological and social study of the manufacture and use of Anglo-Saxon and Viking iron knives, and their contribution to the early medieval iron economy" by Eleanor Blakelock is an interesting read.

 

It is a PhD thesis that I found and read to take a break from reading other theses. It has details on construction and metallurgy, one of the most interesting to me being combined metallography and microhardness readings. It also examines societal factors that may be responsible for the distribution of different techniques of knife manufacture both around the British Isles and in time.

 

EDIT: I realize you were asking about late medieval knives specifically. There will likely be some info here that is relevant, but the general time period is earlier.

 

Dang, this is awesome! It's like 400 pages, wonderful! I still love that time period, thanks for the recommendation. The level of detail astounding.

The study I linked seems to be a short version of it, mainly focusing on construction with a few cool cross-section diagrams.

Thanks! Now I have to figure out a way to print it off at work while no one is watching, hahaha. Just wish there was something similar for a 500 years later!

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On 7/22/2023 at 6:42 PM, Ryan Hobbs said:

 

Dang, this is awesome! It's like 400 pages, wonderful! I still love that time period, thanks for the recommendation. The level of detail astounding.

The study I linked seems to be a short version of it, mainly focusing on construction with a few cool cross-section diagrams.

Thanks! Now I have to figure out a way to print it off at work while no one is watching, hahaha. Just wish there was something similar for a 500 years later!

It's definitely a long one! This and Stefan Mäder's  "Stähle, Steine und Schlangen" are some of the most interesting literature about construction of old knives to me. For whatever reason, a quick search found more metallography of early medieval knives a opposed to later ones. The study "METALLOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION OF IRON BLOOMS AND BARS FROM THE SMITHY SITE OF KÄKU, ESTONIA" seems to be on a later site though, and includes analysis of an un-finished knife billet, which is quite interesting. 

 

One thing I have found reading papers like this, is that the authors often have a limited understanding of the practical considerations of actually making things out of bloom material. The biggest example of this is how the refinement process is often overlooked, with folding, etc rarely mentioned. Weld lines are often, ironically, faint to imperceptible on the micro-scale when you might be able to see them with the naked eye on a more deeply etched sample. Mäder is an exception to this, as that study consulted with a Japanese sword polisher (and had some old finds polished). The low hardenability of these steels is also something that isn't often considered, especially with the likelihood of an "auto hamon"; Blakelock concludes that knives with martensitic edges and pearlitic spines were "gradient quenched" (edge quenched, clay quenched, etc.), and Mäder suggests the visible hamon on a polished seax blade may have been the result of clay, when both cases could have resulted from a standard quench of a knife with a thin edge and thick spine into oil or possibly even water.

 

Sometimes you can also tell that the authors of a paper were more on the archaeo side than the metallurgy side, or vise versa. The former seems more common, though that might just be that my background makes it easier to spot. There are lot of instances in the literature where I would have loved to see a higher magnification micrograph, more appropriate polish/etch, etc., to support some claim.

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On 7/25/2023 at 11:32 AM, Aiden CC said:

For whatever reason, a quick search found more metallography of early medieval knives a opposed to later ones.

That has been pretty frustrating throughout this whole process. I think, to the majority of people, the Early Medieval period is a little bit "sexier" than the Late Medieval period, especially in terms of knives. No doubt, the modern fascination with "Vikings" adds to this. I have met few people that didn't find a  seax cooler than a rondell or quillion dagger, and I can't say I blame them, haha. There's just a little bit more mystery to that period, and I have to admit that despite however much I love researching the 100 Years War time period, I find the material culture of 900 A.D. Europe much cooler. 

I think this is turn leads to more research being conducted on the earlier time frame. for instance, just compare the number of seaxes made on this page compared to the number of later knives. Once again, I can't blame people. Seaxes are sexy ;)

On 7/25/2023 at 11:32 AM, Aiden CC said:

The study "METALLOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION OF IRON BLOOMS AND BARS FROM THE SMITHY SITE OF KÄKU, ESTONIA" seems to be on a later site though, and includes analysis of an un-finished knife billet, which is quite interesting. 

Awesome, another study for me to check out! 

On 7/25/2023 at 11:32 AM, Aiden CC said:

 

One thing I have found reading papers like this, is that the authors often have a limited understanding of the practical considerations of actually making things out of bloom material. 

I've found the same thing to be true when academia gets involved with historical weapons and armor. I practice HEMA, archery, and am getting my own custom suit of armor made so I do armored HEMA. I have, at least in my own mind, a decent understanding of how Medieval weapons and armor are used and what their capabilities and limitations are. Unfortunately, a good deal of the research I'm interested in is conducted by people who are entirely unfamiliar with the items they're writing about.

On 7/25/2023 at 11:32 AM, Aiden CC said:

Sometimes you can also tell that the authors of a paper were more on the archaeo side than the metallurgy side, or vise versa. The former seems more common, though that might just be that my background makes it easier to spot. There are lot of instances in the literature where I would have loved to see a higher magnification micrograph, more appropriate polish/etch, etc., to support some claim.

If you're at all interested, the study I linked at the beginning seems to lean more towards the metallurgical side of things. 

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