A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

Justin King Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Gordon Clark

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Daggers—stabbing weapons with stiff blades—have been used as a sidearm throughout recorded history. The type of dagger known as the rondel dagger is quite simple in basic form, being a stiff-bladed knife with the upper and/or lower guards of the hilt formed by roughly circular plates of various sizes and compositions. These discs are known as the rondels, giving the dagger its name. Within that rough description however, historical examples exhibit a large range of blade sizes, handle shapes and materials, and rondel size, composition, and decoration.

The range of blade size, from a few inches to perhaps a full two feet long, suggests that the rondel dagger form was used to make weapons for many possible uses—from small, concealable and easily wearable weapons for self defense and close quarters combat, to daggers that were almost a short sword in size. These longer daggers, with blade lengths of 15 or more inches, might have been used as an alternative to a sword, as a sidearm, and probably a backup weapon for archers and soldiers armed with long pole weapons.

After reading the myArmoury article Spotlight: The Rondel Dagger, I decided that I very much liked the larger rondel daggers, and wanted to own an example. I sometimes participate with a 15th century living history group as a billman, and I liked the idea of carrying a long dagger rather than a short sword as my backup weapon to my glaive. I contacted Justin King, who I knew made nice custom knives, and he agreed to take on the project. We carried on an email exchange about what we liked and most about both historical pieces and modern interpretations, and found a couple of daggers to use as inspiration.

It was a complete pleasure to work with Justin. He provided me with periodic updates and in-progress pictures. He also asked several times for my input, which made me feel invested in the process. I believe that Justin had never made a knife this large, and in fact, his quench tank for heat-treating was too small to accommodate the length so he had to come up with another solution in mid-stream. The entire exchange was a nice combination of professionalism regarding the knife and the transaction, with enough personal communication to let me see that Justin was excited about the project. I would not hesitate to work with him again.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:13 ounces
Overall length:18 15/16 inches
Blade length:15 1/8 inches
Blade width:1 1/8 inches at base, tapering to 1/2 inch
Grip length:4 1/8 inches
Guard width:1 5/8 inches
Point of Balance:2 1/4 inches from guard

Replica created by Justin King of Arizona.

Handling Characteristics
The idea of a large dagger was appealing to me but I had never handled one of this size. When I first picked it up, I was surprised by how little it resembled my other daggers in terms of its feel in the hand. The feel is much more like a short sword than any dagger I have handled, and even though the stiff blade is suited much more for the thrust, its blade presence indicates that it would make a decent cutting blade as well. The grip seems delicate and rather small in diameter, but it fits my hand well, and allows a secure hold.

Fit and Finish

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Fluted pommel nut

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Shown in scabbard

While I had seen pictures of Justin's work, and based on those pictures I expected the piece to be well constructed, I was impressed and pleased by the level of fit, finish, and detail present. The blade (of 5160 steel) has a polished finish, and the fuller is very well done, even and perfect as it tapers into the blade. The edge is sharper than any replica I own and easily shaves hairs from my arm. The back spine is not completely straight, as a result of the heat-treating process, but curves almost as much as the sharp edge, making the entire blade almost symmetric. The back of the blade along the fuller is rounded over somewhat, which creates an interesting and subtle change in cross-section as it tapers back to a flat edge with sharp corners where the fuller ends.

The elegant grip is one of my favorite things about the entire piece. It is made of kingwood, with very attractive grain pattern, and has steel rings inside both rondels. The general shape, with the swell in the middle, is pleasing to the eye and hand. The steel rondels are file-worked in a scalloped pattern, and slightly darkened (with some sort of acid wash) to give a more aged appearance. The pommel nut is fluted and shaped to somewhat match the scabbard chape, and the hilt is permanently mounted, with the tang end peened over the pommel nut.

The scabbard fits so well that the blade will not slide out when the whole is upended. The blade is easy to insert or remove by hand, though. Its steel fittings are aged and as well-made as the dagger. The scabbard is poplar-cored and is elliptical in section, rather than following the shape of the single-edged, triangular-sectioned blade. This gives it a rather overbuilt appearance near the scabbard mouth—probably my only complaint about the piece. It does seem to be very sturdy, however, and is covered with a nice piece of smooth, very dark brown leather.

Overall, the quality and level of finish make this dagger one of the finest looking weapons I have ever held, and put it perhaps a half step above most of the rest of my collection in terms of craftsmanship and execution.

I could not be more pleased with the Justin King dagger as a functional piece of art, and historically based recreation. The level of workmanship is so high that it seems more like the very expensive custom knives that I have seen at knife shows and on the internet, than the production and custom historically based swords and daggers which I currently own. It seems a bit too fine an object for my billman persona to carry as a backup weapon, and might be more at home on the hip of a rich man at arms. It holds a special place in my collection. I continue to be amazed and excited by the piece every time I hold it.

About the Author
Gordon Clark spent seven years as a wandering college mathematics professor before settling down to a real job. He is now an analyst for a scientific consulting firm in the Washington DC area. A few years ago he realized a childhood dream of owning a real sword. His wife says that he has re-realized that dream too many times since then.

Photographer: Gordon Clark

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