The Workbench: Windlass English Tuck/Estoc
An article by Sean A. Flynt
Do-It-Yourself questions and tips are common fare in the myArmoury.com forums. It's simply amazing how many people want to know how to make a targe, peen a tang, replace a grip wrap, or otherwise take a more active role in their hobby. The myArmoury.com Workbench article series documents a variety of such projects and presents them in a more practical and better-illustrated format. Readers aren't meant to duplicate the projects described, but simply to see how others solve specific technical problems. Most importantly, the editors and authors of this series hope the articles will inspire everyone from novices to experts to challenge themselves at the workbench.
Transform an off-the-shelf sword replica into a better representation of a historical antique
Essential tools and materials
File(s), Sanding sponge, Fine steel wool, Filter mask, Craft knife, Cord, Chamois, Glue, Dye or shoe polish, Mineral spirits/lacquer thinner, Salt
Recommended tools and materials
Bench vise, Rotary tool or drill, Brass wire brush bit, Sanding drum bit, Ear and eye protection (if using power tools)
Many collectors of reproduction arms think of swords by Windlass Steelcrafts as kits or project pieces. I'm certainly in that camp. It's amazing how much the appearance of an inexpensive reproduction sword can be improved with a little time on the workbench. My latest candidate for this treatment is the Windlass Steelcrafts English Tuck/Estoc.
Although I was impressed with the overall look and construction of the estoc, a few things about it bothered me. It had the standard bright Windlass finish that left the steel looking like plastic chrome. The grip, also typical of Windlass swords, was solid and of correct shape but somewhat crude and shiny. Each globular terminal of the cross featured a strange, ill-defined little cone like a bird beak. None of these problems seemed too daunting, but before I began correcting them I needed some visual guidance.
Inspiration and Goals
As usual, I began my workbench project with a search for photos of historical examples. The photos of original estocs shown below served as my guides through each step of the project. I took special note of the originals' leather-over-cord or cord-impressed leather grips, multiple grip risers, and random staining of the steel of these otherwise well-preserved examples.
As with many Windlass swords, the estoc's pommel is of the screw-on variety. In my experience, such pommels are difficult to remove simply by gripping them in the hand and turning them because Windlass uses glue in the threads of the pommel or on the tang. A firm tap on the top of the pommel with a light hammer or mallet usually breaks the glue's hold. That wasn't sufficient in this case, so I turned the weapon point-up and gripped the pommel in the rubber jaws of my bench vise. This allowed me to use the long cross as a lever and easily get the piece apart.
I rubbed a fine sanding sponge over the surface of the pommel and discovered this component, at least, was lacquered. As the accompanying photo shows, such lacquer becomes opaque with a small amount of sanding. A little more sanding reveals the bright steel beneath. Just after the moment shown here, I experimented with a brass brush bit mounted in an inexpensive electric drill. This did a wonderful job of removing the lacquer, but was awkward. Gripping the drill in the vise and using its "hands off" switch allowed me to hold the hilt furniture in both hands and apply it to the brush precisely where needed.
I used a long bolt as a handle to improve control when working with the pommel. I wore no gloves for this work because the spinning brush won't damage skin with brief accidental contact but I did wear eye and ear protection as well as a good quality filter maskall mandatory anytime wood and metal particles are through the air.
With the hilt furniture cleaned and brushed, I reassembled the hilt in order to create a solid platform for the grip re-wrap, an easy and inexpensive upgrade.
I removed the original wrap by slicing through the stitching with a craft knife, pulling the leather away from the core and peeling off the cord riser at the grip's waist. With the core exposed, I noticed that it was slightly asymmetrical. I guessed incorrectly that this wouldn't be noticeable under the new wrap. Instead of reshaping the core as I should have done, I proceeded to the rewrap.
For the wrap, I used inexpensive chamois from the automotive section of a department store. I cut and dyed a piece slightly larger than I knew I would need. Then I simply glued one end of the leather to the base of the grip core, allowing the leather to extend slightly beyond the end of the core. When that glue was dry, I tied one end of a long cord to the cross, covered the lower half of the grip with glue, and started winding the cord around the grip, closing the leather over the core as I worked my way toward the pommel. For the sake of uniformity, I made sure that I crossed each riser in the same place as the other two (each would have a similar small cord mark).
Before I got to the waist of the grip, I was congratulating myself on how well the cord wrapping was going. I had not anticipated that the sudden narrowing of the grip toward the pommel would create problems, but as the wrap suddenly didn't want to close neatly, I didn't feel so clever. I grabbed a knife blade with my gooey fingers and quickly made some small cuts that allowed the leather to close properly.
With the grip finished, I again disassembled the estoc for the final finishing of the hilt and blade. These tend to get messy in the process of re-gripping. I was surprised and pleased to find that the blade was not lacquered. A fine white dust which may have served as a rust preventative was easily wiped off. To make sure I removed all the dust and adhesive left from the Windlass sticker, I used a small amount of mineral spirits on a rag. The brass brush helped take the mirror finish off the blade, but it and the hilt furniture needed a bit more help. Spraying the steel with salt water and allowing it to rust slightly before cleaning it with 000 steel wool and Renaissance Wax created a grey finish with random staining from the rust, similar to what I saw on antique estocs.
The transformed estoc met my basic project goals and in some ways turned out even better than I expected. The photos below show the sword in both its original state and after transformation on my workbench.
Note how the very simple file work on the finials gives the cross a more refined appearance. Also notice the seam of the new grip wrap. Even without any special technique, it has a very low profile thanks to the thin leather and temporary cord overwrap.
Workbench projects typically provide at least one "duh!" moment. This time I realized that gripping the pommel in the rubber jaws of the vise would allow me to use the cross as a lever to unscrew the pommel. Using the wire brush to remove lacquer and small sanding and file marks was a bright idea, saving a great deal of time and labor and creating an attractive finish. I could have run into serious frustration on the grip re-wrap, but some messy, last-minute knife work saved that part of the project. I was smart to abandon the hemp cord I've been using for grip wraps, and smart to use cord only as a temporary overwrap. These decisions resulted in my best re-wrap project to date in spite of the noticeable asymmetry of the original core. Workbench aficionados should note that such minor asymmetry is easily corrected with coarse sandpaper or a craft knife and won't be concealed by chamois alone.
I'm pleased with the final results of this project. Reproduction estocs are rarely encountered anyway, but the new finish, detailing and grip wrap of this one make it truly one-of-a-kind.
About the Author
Sean Flynt is a public relations professional in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in the martial culture of all periods and people but focuses on 1450-1650, with special interest in German and Austrian arms and armour.
Photographer: Sean Flynt