Arms & Armor Medieval Knife
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow

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The desire to carry a good utility knife is an old one, shared by many throughout mankind's long history. Many men of all classes during the High Middle Ages must have had this same desire, using their versatile sidearms for self-defense, eating, perhaps light skinning and game preparation and other everyday tasks. While not as glamorous or as highly decorated as the battlefield daggers of the knightly class, a utility knife of some kind was affordable for almost every man regardless of his station in life. Good steel and useable knives would be recycled and reused as long as possible before finally being used up and discarded.

Utility knives of all kinds, from the crude to the more refined, have been found along the banks of the Thames River as it runs through London. While finding weapons on or along river banks is fairly common, trash was dumped along the banks of the Thames. Archeologists sifting through this have found hundreds of discarded knives or knife fragments, giving a wonderful picture of these oft-overlooked weapons.

Short-bladed weapons are common in today's market, but there seems to be a preference by makers and collectors to produce the knives and daggers of war rather than the utility knives that likely saw everyday use. Arms & Armor of Minnesota has had a simple Medieval Knife in their catalogue for many years and its elegant simplicity has always intrigued me.

The Medieval Knife is drawn from some of the surviving fragments found along the Thames. The fittings are bronze, surrounding an ash grip. The simple blade is shaped well for a variety of tasks and would have given good service to one of our ancestors.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:3.125 ounces
Overall length:10 inches
Blade length:6 3/8 inches
Blade width:13/16 inches at base, tapering to 5/8 inch
Grip length:3 5/8 inches
Guard width:15/16 inch

Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.

Handling Characteristics
This is not a large weapon of war, so tests like swinging hard against foam noodles or pumpkins or something else won't tell us much. However, the blade is sharp and well-tempered. It feels light in the hand and should be maneuverable enough were it to be used for self-defense, though that is not its primary purpose. For everyday tasks, it feels quite comfortable and sure in the hand.

The grip is comfortable and its octagonal cross-section helps lock it into the hand. There is not much room to spare with my hand on the grip, though, and I feel if I ever had to thrust with it, I would shift a finger or thumb (depending on how I'm gripping it) under the end cap to prevent my hand from sliding onto the blade if I made contact with something hard. This doesn't concern me too much, though, as knives like this would only have been employed for hard, quick thrusts in a self-defense situation where a cut on the finger from one's own blade is the least of one's worries.

Fit and Finish
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While the knife is largely a simple affair, it still has an understated elegance to. The blade is well-shaped and evenly finished. The tip could stand up to thrusts against softer targets if required to do so.

The hilt is more complex than the blade, but is equally well-done. A simple octagonal plate of bronze separates the blade from the stained ash grip. The grip is also octagonal in section getting wider and thicker as it approaches the end cap. It is not entirely symmetrical (though it's close), but I'm not sure I'd want it to be so perfect. It has the look of a period weapon with some of the charming asymmetries so many originals possess. The grain of the ash is attractive and one side the grain's pattern changes at the border of one of the facets—a nice visual effect.

The bronze end cap is the most complex part of the knife, yet it doesn't overwhelm the rest of the piece. Each of the side faces bears one of three designs: a lion or leopard, a fleur de lis, or a quartered shield. The top of the end cap is smooth and the tang is peened over it.

While this knife by Arms & Armor isn't the fanciest knife or dagger I own, it has the look of a quality tool that would readily fill a variety of roles. I could imagine wearing it daily and feel it would give good service for many years, even as it accumulated the attractive wear of a hardy, well-used tool. Knives of this kind had to have been ubiquitous in ages past, and it is nice to be able to hold such a representative piece of everyday medieval life in my hand.

About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.

Photographer: Chad Arnow

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