Strange Weapons of the Middle Ages, Worldwide

This blog cannot be complete without at least one post detailing a list of strange weapons many people never knew were used in earlier times.

The first I will discuss is the Urumi.

Urumi

urumi

     Take a long look at this whip. Does something look rather odd about it? How about the handle that looks like a sword hilt? That’s because this whip, the urumi, is actually a sword!  This sword originates from India. The urumi could have one or multiple band blades attached to the hilt of the sword. Each blade would have been forged into very thin bands with very little blade width so the blades could be wrapped into a tight coil and used as a whip. These blades were sharp enough to slice! If you think this blade looks dangerous, you’d be right! This blade posed serious danger to both enemy and wielder. Often times, the wielder had to always keep the urumi blades swinging in circular motions in order to avoid cutting himself.

urumi-battle

 

     The next weapon in the spotlight is the Roman Scissor.

Scissor

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     It seems as though the gladiatorial scissor is a weapon surrounded by speculation. Either way, the speculations seem to say that the scissor consisted of a hardened steel tube which covered the entire forearm, allowing the wearer to block and parry attacks with the forearm. The scissor then ended in the blade seen in the picture which is said to have been sharp enough to inflict serious woulds by just the slightest scathing blows.

200px-Scissor_01

 

Next up on my list is the Chinese Zhua!

Zhua

Zhua

     I could find no photos of any reproductions of this odd weapon. It is known as the Zhua, or literally, “The Claw.” It was a rod that ended with a metal hand which bore sharpened claws. Imagine that tearing in!

 

     Last but not least is the Hungarian Shield!

Hungarian Shield

659px-Jagiellonian_Ms_Germ_Quart_16_(Gladiatoria)_55r_-_Messer_and_Hungarian_shield

     According to this image from a German fencing manuscript known as the “Gladiatoria Fechtbuch,” the Hungarian shield was a small shield which attached to the forearm, protecting it from saber cuts, but it also had a slim steel point also used for offense. I have actually really considered making one of these and I still may!

hungarian shield

 

     Well folks, that’s it for today! I hope you all enjoyed! There will be another installment of strange weapons on another, later date! Until next time!

Katana vs. European Swords.

     Everyone knows about the katana: The most famous and well-loved sword of this age! However, is it truly the best sword ever made, as has been suggested by so many?

Antique_japanese_katana

     Let there be no doubts: The katana was indeed an effective weapon! It happens to be one of my favorite weapons, both technically and aesthetically and is the weapon I have the most experience in. Many of us have seen the amazing feats of masters in the Japanese sword arts: The Katana can cut! But back to the question: Is it the best?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UMCsoDljUk

This video shows the cutting capabilities of a particular katana in the hands of a highly skilled practitioner. He cuts straight through the mat with ease. Some say that bamboo is another great test of sharpness of a blade and skill of the user, but check this video out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFQ4aanmupU

Here is another cutting tatami too!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR9k23U-P10

     These videos show that even a completely blunt sword can cut these targets using proper technique. This means that the katana is not more capable than another sword.

      Furthermore, in the construction of a katana, the blade was not folded because that made it a superior sword. The reason katana were originally folded was that Japan had very poor iron and steel of large quantities could not be made, nor consistently in their carbon content, so they steel had to be folded to create a stable solid. Also, with the differential hardening technique used for the katana, that gave the blade rather uneven durability. Yes, the soft spine could absorb shock well, but it did not spring back to shape once bent too far. Also, the hardened edge was prone to chipping badly. It took a professional swordsman to be able to care for these swords and use proper technique for these swords to survive battle.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

     European swords, on the other hand, tended to be through-hardened and then tempered. This made the entire blade a long, durable spring. It still took a professional to properly use these swords, but their construction made them tougher in general.

     Long story short, European blades tended to be more durable and better for piercing armor, but in this modern age, it’s all about our preferences!

Leather Work: Vambraces

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Since this blog is about both weapon and armor crafting, I will be talking a decent bit about smithing, but I will also talk a bit about woodworking and leather work. The photos above are of the right arm piece of a pair of vambraces I made out of scrap leather. I bought a 2 lb bag of farmer’s saddle grade leather at the local Michael’s craft store and immediately found some nice, large pieces I could use. I knew I would use the leather strips that came with the scrap to bind the pieces together, but at first, I wasn’t sure how I would make the holes. I then remembered that I had an X-Acto knife. For those who do not know what an X-Acto knife is, it is sort of a utility scalpel. It cut through that thick leather like it was nothing and that greatly improved the speed of the project. The knife is actually the only tool I used.

Anyway, this pair was made entirely for decoration, but I could probably also use them as armor for sparring with wooden swords. I could pretty easily convert these into real armor pieces by sewing more leather layers onto them or by riveting pieces of strap steel onto the back of the bracers, and I may do exactly that. Either that or I will use a woodburner to burn designs into the leather.

I intend to make more of these in the future and begin to sell them. I am thinking $25 or $30 for a pair of decorative ones and $45 or $50 for actual armor pieces. I am currently limited to scrap, but I may be able to work my way up to whole pieces of this type of leather eventually, improving the look and function of my pieces.

I have future plans to create a leather chest piece, but I do not yet know when that will be. As stated in my last post, I already have a lot to save up for and do for my wedding!

Chainmail Decorations!

I am getting married in 7 months. For the wedding, we are having a traditional ceremony, but a Medieval/Renaissance themed wedding. One part of this I am most excited about is what I am making for the groomsmen.  Since I have shared this blog with Facebook, I cannot tell here what I am making for them! One of them knows, but it is a surprise to the other!

Anyway, what I wanted to post about is some of the decorations I will be making for the reception! I will be using chainmail rings and colored aluminum scales to make flowers which are candle skirts for tea light candles! It is actually a rather difficult project and gets pretty frustrating when the piece slips out of my pliers, but I am still enjoying the process so far! Here is an example of what these will look like when completed:

1338009526_384577457_4-Lotus-Flower-Tea-Candle-Skirts-chainmail-For-Sale il_fullxfull.278926490

Once I have finished one, I will post an update!

I am also going to make a chain garland with colored chains and scales!

Saber or Straight Sword?

In the sword communities, a debate still rages on: What sort of sword is best? Saber or double edged straight blade? My answer for this is that that depends on the use of the blade and the user’s preferences!

Many say that the European straight sword is best because it was adapted for piercing armor, whereas a saber cannot pierce the heavy plate and chainmail armor used by European knights. It is said that a European knight would destroy a Samurai in battle because the slashing motion of the katana, once again, could not get through the armor. However, this heavy armor was so expensive that many men on the battlefield would not have it. There would be many dressed in mail, but there would likely be many more dressed in leather armor. These light infantry could easily fall prey to any blade, saber or straight blade.

As a bit of a ranting aside, swords were actually very expensive weapons to create! Most men on the battlefield were likely spearmen, pikemen, or axemen. Despite swords being so expensive, however, in many cultures, peasants carried either a knife or a crude form of sword, similar to a large knife which was generally single edged. The vikings had the sax, later Germans had the grosse messer during the renaissance, and there were others.

It is true that the rapier and smallsword eventually took over as the new civilian weapon, due to the thrust being such a simple motion, as well as the weapon using less steel to make. It is also a lighter, faster weapon, making it difficult to face a rapier with a slower saber which was more often used by cavalry. Some have said that the saber was later only useful on horseback, but I would personally disagree. There are fencing techniques documented and illustrated which utilized a shorter, single edged blade during the renaissance period. A small, light saber may have still been in use during this time. As said before, the grosse messer was still in use by peasants because it was effective against light armor and was cheaper than a sword to own.

So there we have it: The straight, double-edged swords were effective against light and heavy armor, but single-edged, saber-like weapons were cheaper to make and still effective against light armor and on horseback. In this modern era, very few people wear even light armor, much less heavy armor. This being the case, in the event of an emergency, both straight sword and curved blade are good for modern use. So there we have it: Preference is key!

Forged by the MAD Dwarf Workshop

Forged by the MAD Dwarf Workshop

This beauty of a blade is an arming sword forged by the MAD Dwarf Workshop, which has now split into two equally wonderful companies. This particular sword is a wonderful example of a European Medieval sword which was made for piercing heavy armor with a thrust. These swords, as previously stated, are good for heavy or light armor.

kriegmesser

This sword is a German Kriegmesser. It is basically a two-handed saber.  One type of sword which is of a similar (but completely different) construction is the katana. I say this because the Katana is a two-handed saber, of sorts, as well. The blades, however, are made completely differently, however, and are much larger. The Kriegmesser can be seen as the battlefield version of the grosse messer.  This blade may not pierce plate armor or chainmail like an arming sword, but it could still severely injure a man through blunt force trauma and could pretty easily slice through leather. I personally like this design and may forge one like this.

Lutel_czech_dussack_11016A

This simple, crude blade is known as a dussack. It is a cutlass forged with blade and hilt as a single piece of steel, maybe wrapped with cloth or leather. This would have likely been an inexpensively made peasant weapon, but still effective for self defense against light armor. I may also forge one of these someday as well.

Rapier1smallsword 1

These two swords are the rapier (left) and the smallsword (right). The rapier was used during the renaissance period, but the smallsword was used during the late renaissance and  pre-modern eras. They were lightweight and fast thrusting implements used by military and civilian alike. The rapier was longer and heavier than the smallsword.

So what do you prefer: Fast thrusts, powerful slices, or somewhere in the spectrum between?

Sparring and Pads Continued

As promised in my last post, I am continuing today on the topic of sparring and pads.  I will admit now that I am no trained swordsman, so I will never claim to teach. I merely spar or fun and experiential training. I use my small amount of Iaijutsu training for a base.

Along with the cheaper paddings I have found, one could also pay more money for more historical sparring padding: A gambeson!

gambeson-langarmelig-verschlusse-vorne-extrlang-laj-120

A gambeson like this is used in traditional European sword arts, but you’d better hope you have a lot of money for it! Gambesons like these cost between $100 and $300 online. If I had a great job and were training in these arts, I might pay for this kind of thing, but I believe I will just stick with the lacrosse pads, gloves, and hockey helmet. All three items together cost around the price of one of these gambesons.

Now that pads have been discussed, we can discuss practice swords. As stated before, I generally spar with my best friend using oak dowels covered with a pool noodle. However, one can also buy or make wooden swords to give a more realistic sword feel. There are many types of wooden swords that can be found online at all different price and quality ranges.

PB-longsword_01 shainais_und_bokken_neu Wooden-Chinese-Broadsword

Along with wooden practice swords, there are also many synthetic lines, one of the best being Cold Steel’s polypropylene practice swords.

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These unpadded swords are great for use if you have the needed pads discussed, but if you lack chest and shoulder padding, it is best that you spar with a padded sword. However, there is also the option to use all of the above padding and be even more safe!

As a disclaimer though, no amount of padding can eliminate the danger of swinging objects at people! If you are not careful, even with pads, you or a friend can still get hurt if you are not careful, but the pads will greatly reduce the chances of injury.