A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

Oakeshott Type XII Sword by Castle Keep
A hands-on review by Russ Ellis

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From the late 12th century to the early 14th there was probably no type of sword that was so common as what Ewart Oakeshott classified as a Type XII. Oakeshott describes the sword as "A broad flat evenly tapering blade generally with a good sharp point and tending to widen perceptibly below the hilt." The fuller is well marked and tends to occupy 2/3 to 3/4 of the length. Many of the finest surviving historical examples currently extant along with literally innumerable examples from period paintings and sculpture are of this type. The type is so common that for many when the phrase knightly sword is mentioned this is the sword that comes to mind.

Rob Miller of Castle Keep has been a practicing bladesmith since 1990. He's mainly been self-taught which makes his success in the field that much more impressive. Rob typically produces weapons indigenous to the area where he lives and works (the Isle of Skye). Claidheamh cuil (basket-hilted backsword), claymores, sgian dubhs, dirks, Viking style swords, and high medieval period swords are all part of his repertoire. Rob is, however, always willing to accept new designs. As with many artisans he has discovered that making the same thing day in and day out grows dull from time to time.

Interacting with Rob has been a pleasant experience. He has been extremely responsive in his emails and has gone out of his way to provide all the information that I have requested of him. The sword that he sent me proved to be well packaged and arrived safely with no damage. He had coated it with a thick coat of oil to insure that there would be no rust damage as well.

As mentioned, this type of single-hand sword was in continuous widespread use at least from 1200 to 1330 and may have been in use as early as the mid 12th century. This particular sword's form is absolutely archetypal of the classification.

Rob Miller uses EN45 in his sword's construction and he tempers between 55 and 62 on the Rockwell scale. I was initially concerned about this hardness as the upper range sounds like it might perhaps be getting a bit brittle. Rob however states that he has had few problems with customers having damaged blades, despite heavy usage. All of Rob's blades are hand-forged. The machinery he uses mostly consists of belt grinders for finishing work. In his construction, Rob uses a threaded tang and a screw-on pommel. He does not employ any sort of nut mechanism at the end of his tang, but relies on the pommel itself to be the nut.
Click to enlarge
Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:2 pounds, 8 ounces
Overall length:38 inches
Blade length:30 3/4 inches
Blade width:2 inches, tapering to 1 inch
Guard width:6 1/2 inches
Grip and Pommel length:7 inches
Point of Balance:5 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 1/4 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type XII blade, Type J pommel, Style 2 guard

Replica created by Castle Keep of the Isle of Skye, Scotland.

Handling Characteristics
This sword handles rather well. As can be noted above, the point of balance is pushed out toward the tip of the blade, but is typical and appropriate for this type of sword. This balance point is not pushed out so far as to make the sword seem blade heavy, but instead gives it a very solid presence. This sword feels like the one that you would want to slam into an opponent's shield without having serious qualms about the consequences. In cutting tests this sword preformed reasonably well against soft targets and excelled against harder targets. Quarter-inch thick plywood was no problem for this sword. Throughout the testing process the sword stayed tight with no rattling or noticeable damage to the edge.

Fit and Finish
Visually this is a very attractive sword. To many, it is the epitome of the double-edged knightly sword. Rob does a fine job of polishing the blades to a near mirror polish. His fullers are crisp and even with no wobbles. The only aesthetic flaw to the fullers is a slight run off at the tip. Rob tells me that he does his fullers by hand. The pommel and cross are well executed and also nicely polished. The grip is made of ash or beech and wire wrapped.

On my particular sword the wire wrap is loose. Rob believes that the grip may have shrunk during shipping. He may need to switch to some sort of stabalized wood in the future. For the moment, however, I am contemplating rewrapping the handle with a wire wrap myself. There are also silver ferrules at the top and bottom of the wire wrap that are very attractively done with small Celtic tryskeles. I believe any of our ancestors would have liked the visual appeal of this sword.

I believe that Rob Miller is probably another of those significantly underrated smiths. I also believe that it is just a matter of time until the community as a whole "discovers" him and he will have a serious backlog. With that in mind, I believe I shall endeavor to get at the head of the line. If this sword is a good example of his work then he is a very talented artisan.

This sword is well worth the purchase price. It has two minor cosmetic flaws: both easily correctable and I'm sure that now that I have brought them to his attention Rob will make sure that neither of them occurs again.

Aesthetically and dynamically this sword is a joy to own and hold.

About the Author
Russ Ellis is a Systems Engineer working for Northrop Grumman by day and a scabbard maker by night. He has been a student of medieval history for many years and this eventually led him to the world of sword collecting. He currently resides in Alabama with his wife and three children.

Photographer: Russ Ellis

Click photos to enlarge:

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