A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Windlass Steelcrafts Long-bladed Hewing Spear
A hands-on review by Greyson Brown
While most people tend to group spears into the categories of thrusting spears and throwing spears, this is a bit of an oversimplification. For one, many period writings suggest the existence of Viking hewing spears. These weapons were designed so that they could cut effectively. They are mentioned in many of the sagas, and Ewart Oakeshott describes them as "long and blunt ended." Despite their apparent popularity, this reviewer is not aware of existing spears that have been positively identified as hewing spears. Windlass Steelcrafts, however, produces one that is based on Hank Reinhardt's research and ideas about what a hewing spear should be like. Not surprisingly, their offering is named the "Long-Bladed Hewing Spear."
As stated above, this spear head is not based on any particular historical piece. Despite the dearth of extant hewing spears, there are numerous references to them in Norse sagas. Hank Reinhardt, formerly a consultant for Museum Replicas Limited, has used those references for inspiration. This weapon does not possess the blunt end that Oakeshott described, but it is not as sharply pointed as many other spear heads.
Windlass does not provide this spear with a shaft; they sell only the head. I was not worried by that, as they do not try to mislead anyone about this fact, and it meant that I did not have to pay for shipping on the shaft. I debated what size shaft to use for this piece; in the end, I grabbed a 60-inch wooden handle that I had lying around just so I could get an idea of how that would handle. This spear's socket is intended to take a 1 1/4 inch shaft, but the handle that I used is only 1 1/8 inches in diameter. This resulted in a small gap between the socket and shaft at the opening, but it did not create any performance problems for me. Because the handle was pre-tapered, it ended up fitting tightly (I placed the spear head in a vice and was not able pull the handle out), and I decided to sharpen it for some cutting tests.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
When I first took this Hewing Spear out to test it, I wasn't quite sure how to go about using it. Should I hold my hands together, or far apart? Should I start with my hands apart and bring them together like one would with an axe? Handling was a bit awkward for me, as I am not very used to spears. For someone who has more experience with polearms, it might not have been bad at all. Of course, a different shaft is going to change the feel of the weapon, and practice will make it more comfortable.
In the end, I decided to keep my hands apart with one about half way down the shaft and the other three-quarters of the way to the butt. This was comfortable, and I felt confident that I could hit the water-filled jug that I was using as a target, but I wasn't sure if it would produce enough leverage or momentum to be effective. This approach proved to be perfectly adequate. As I got more comfortable, I was able to swing the spear more like an axe by sliding my top hand down to meet the lower one during the swing.
Both approaches produced very nice cuts with almost no resistance. Cuts were clean, and I had not trouble hitting my target, as I had originally feared. I was surprised that I did not have any difficulty aligning the edge with the target, as I expected a round shaft to make this more difficult. The spear cut through jugs with the same ease as swords that I have used on the same medium. Recovery might have been a bit slower, since the hewing spear generates greater momentum, but this spear was designed to cut, and cut it does.
That said, this is still a spear, and most of us still think of stabbing when it comes to spear use. Not surprisingly, this piece was very effective at that as well. The broad blade did cause the spear to resist more than a slender blade would have, but I was still able to pass almost the entire blade through a water-filled jug. Keeping the point on target was not at all difficult, and I hit my target squarely each time. A hewing spear may be designed for cutting, but this one, at least, retains much of its thrusting ability.
Fit and Finish
Windlass Steelcrafts has not always enjoyed the greatest reputation for quality control, but they have made noticeable changes for the better in recent years. This spear is an example of that improvement. Some of the other Windlass spear heads that I have owned or examined in the past were crooked. The socket would be straight, and the blade would be straight, but they were not put together in a straight line, making for a very noticeable bend at the top of the socket or bottom of the blade. I was extremely pleased to see that this spear does not share that characteristic. Even with my cheap shaft, the spear was straight from butt to tip.
Like almost all of the pieces from Windlass, this one is finished to a mirror finish. It is a little too shiny for my tastes, but for the price I paid, I will not complain. I believe the socket and blade are welded together, but the welds were cleaned up nicely. There is only one mark where any evidence of welding is visible. The central ridge of the blade does wander slightly, but it is not too bad. I have certainly seen worse on pieces in this price range.
I don't know if it is intentional or an accident of construction, but the blade of my hewing spear tapers distally for about two-thirds or three-quarters of its length, and then thickens slightly just before the point. This results in a nice thin section for cutting, but also helps to reinforce the point for thrusting. This did make it a little harder to sharpen the very tip, but I still managed without too much effort.
I sharpened this piece myself rather than having a professional do it. I clamped the socket in a vice, and used a large file to draw file the edges. This is a technique wherein you hold the file roughly perpendicular to the edge, and pull the file along the edge. This helps, at least in my opinion, to maintain an even angle along the length of the blade, but it also results in a secondary bevel that can be rather noticeable.
This Windlass Steelcrafts spear cuts nearly as well as some of the swords that I have handled, and at $45 US, was certainly a more affordable alternative. It also has no problems thrusting. Whether one chooses to cut or thrust, it has a reach advantage over most swords. The shaft that I used was adequate, but I think I will go with something a foot or two longer when I get a chance to mount a better shaft. This decision is based mostly on a desire to give this piece just a little bit more reach. Handling would vary based on the shaft that is used, but there is no question in my mind why our ancestors chose to make and use spears of this variety.
About the Author
Greyson Brown is a soldier in the United States Army, and a student of European history. He has been interested in arms and armour for as long as he can remember. That interest has also inspired him to become a hobby blacksmith.
Photographer: Greyson Brown