Custom 13th Century Type X Sword by Peter Johnsson
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly

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During the middle ages, steel production was a costly business. Often times a handful of iron nails could buy a man a night's lodging in a fine establishment. Consequently, items were constantly recycled, and kept in service as long as possible. In this respect, swords were no different. The blade was considered to be the heart of the sword, and it was not uncommon for a blade to be remounted in the latest fashion of the time. In this way a sword's active life of service could span generations, even centuries. Swordsmith Peter Johnsson has provided a modern recreation of this concept for us.

Peter Johnsson is a swordsmith who resides in Uppsala, Sweden. At an early age, Peter began working with his father, who is an artist in his own right. While working in his father's shop, Peter's artistic interests were cultivated and formed into a fascination with the European medieval sword. This fascination has led Peter to pursue the vocation of sword making. While Peter has been making swords for nearly fifteen years, it is only within the last four that he has chosen to turn his passion into a fulltime occupation.

One thing that sets Peter Johnsson apart is his commitment to historical detail. Many hours are spent in the documentation of any given piece. Scale line drawings are made of every sword being considered for recreation, complete with detailed measurements of scale and proportion. This engrossing study has resulted in the maker having a deep understanding of the European sword, its properties and construction. It is one thing to simply copy an existing sword. It is another thing to truly recreate it. Peter Johnsson's work is proof of what an art form true recreation is.
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While most of the swords made by Peter are exacting recreations of existing originals, this one is not. With this project, Peter's intention was to illustrate a sword which utilized an older blade that had been remounted in the latest style of the time, in this case the 13th century. While the sword is not based on a specific original it does incorporate features that Peter has observed in other historic originals.

Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:3 pounds, 1 ounce
Overall length:37 3/4 inches
Blade length:30 3/4 inches
Blade width:2 5/16 inches, tapering to 1 1/2 inches
Grip length:4 inches
Guard width:7 inches
Point of Balance:4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology:Type X blade, Type H pommel, Style 2 guard

Replica created by Peter Johnsson Sweden.

Fit and Finish
One really cannot appreciate the attention to detail which Peter gives his work until one sees it firsthand. The smallest detail has been attended to in the course of this sword's creation. The sword's pommel is a variation of Oakeshott's Type H, a style popular c. 1180-1350. The pommel is of a slightly oval profile. This feature adds a nice subtle bit of visual detail. The guard is of Oakeshott's Style 2. This style of guard was very popular throughout the early middle ages. The guard features an octagonal cross section, a detail that became common in this type after 1350.
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The Hilt

The pommel and guard are forged from mild steel and have been finished with a very attractive, yet practical satin finish. Both components have been installed and secured in the correct historic fashion. The guard has been closely fitted to the blade's tang, the underside of the guard is then peened against the tang, thereby firmly securing the two components. The tang slot in the pommel has been filed to an exact fit. The pommel is then tightly fitted to the tang without the need of further wedging. The end of the tang is then hot-peened over the top of the pommel. In this case the rivet head has been fashioned into a very attractive pyramid shape, a detail that compliments the overall line of the sword.

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The Grip
While various forms of grip construction have been found on originals of this type, this sword features the design considered to be the most common for the period. The grip is set into place only after the guard and pommel are secured. The grip's core is fashioned from birch wood. Peter prefers to work with birch as it is a strong wood, yet is elastic. These features make for a strong core that will resist shrinkage and cracking. Birch also cuts well, a feature that eases the shaping process. The core is fashioned in two halves that are hollowed out to accept the tang. It is then secured over the tang with glue. A binding of fine cord is then wound around the core. The importance of this feature is two-fold: The cord adds support to the core and it also provides a firm gripping surface that does not abrade the hand unnecessarily. The final feature of the grip is its leather covering. Peter uses goatskin for this application, which has been vegetable tanned. Goatskin is thin yet strong and durable. The leather covering is glued into place and dyed black. No matter how closely I looked I could not find the seam in the leather. When finished, this method of construction results in a grip that is strong and durable, yet also aesthetically pleasing.

This method of hilt construction is the type most commonly found on swords of the medieval period--and for good reason. Most modern replicas will use a much later method of hilt construction wherein the components are all secured in place by the tang being peened over the pommel, or by a threaded pommel alone. No peening or wedging will be used on the individual components. While this method can be, and is used with adequate results, it can lead to undue stress being placed on the peened and/or threaded end of the tang. When the historically correct method is used no individual component takes the stress alone. When all components are individually secured they do not rely on each other for their security. This results in a much more durable and stable hilt assembly.

As previously mentioned, the sword's blade is a classic cutting design of the period. This design will be found on swords from the Viking age up through the 13th century. While capable of thrusting, it is a dedicated cutting design. The blade's fuller is cleanly defined and runs nearly to the point. The blade features excellent edge geometry and is extremely sharp. Anyone subscribing to the outmoded theory that medieval swords were not sharp would do well to examine this blade. To say this blade is large would be an understatement. The blade is very wide at the base, almost two and a half inches. While there is a fair amount of taper to the blade it is still nearly an inch and a half wide at the tip. This is a blade with definite physical and visual impact. Peter's maker's mark is stamped cleanly into the base of the blade, and the blade is finished with the same attractive satin fish of the other metal components.

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Scabbard Detail
The sword's scabbard is as impressive as the sword itself and warrants discussion. Its core is fashioned from the same birch wood as the grip. The core has been beautifully shaped and tapered. Even the mouth of the core has been shaped to conform to the blade's cross-section. The core has been covered with leather, in this case calfskin that has also been vegetable tanned. Peter prefers calfskin for scabbard covering, as it is very "elastic and plastic" when worked wet. This allows for close forming, and for the application of decorative touches. Care must be taken in the fitting of the cover, as calfskin will shrink while drying. This scabbard's cover has been incised with simple geometric lines, which frame the scabbard's profile, as well as the belt's components. Decoration of this type was very common in the medieval period, as was tooling and the embossing of precious metals. The cover has been dyed a very attractive chocolate brown color, which has a subdued yet very natural and organic look to it. The scabbards belt is made from the same calfskin as the cover, yet thicker. The belt has been treated with leather fat, which has been worked in until the belt is soft and supple, but still durable. One point of interest is that no stitching or riveting was used in the belt's attachment. At the ends, the belt has been forked and laced into itself. This is a method that Peter has observed in original scabbards, and is just one more example of the maker's desire to leave no historic stone unturned. The belt is also dyed brown but just a shade lighter than the scabbard, a detail that adds contrast. A chape and a buckle that are both hand-forged finish off the whole ensemble. The chape features a very attractive foliate pattern that is elegant and beautifully executed.

Handling Characteristics

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Sword in Hand

At just over three pounds this sword cannot be considered a lightweight; however, its weight belies its true handling characteristics. While handling this sword, and discussing it with Peter, my eyes were opened as to the importance of mass distribution. The blade features a non-linear distal taper, something that is very important in terms of mass distribution. The blade's distal taper is performed in increments, which in conjunction with profile taper, as well as size and weight of hilt components, provides for an excellent distribution of mass. This allows for a sword that is massive in size, and heavy in weight, yet features excellent dynamic handling characteristics. I took delivery of this sword from Peter during a visit to Albion Armorers, of New Glarus Wisconsin. At the time Harlan Hastings, owner of Mercenary's Tailor, was also present. When I handed the sword to Harlan he immediately asked about its weight. When I told Harlan that the sword weighed just over three pounds his response was "No way!" Indeed. Ewart Oakeshott once described a medieval sword as balancing like a fishing rod. I took that statement with a grain of salt before I handled this sword. Now I know what he meant.

While at Albion I was also able to do a bit of cutting with this sword, using the traditional Japanese cutting medium of rolled, wet straw mats. I performed various cuts, both with the tip and at the center of percussion. All cuts gave good results, at least on the giving end. I doubt if you'd think so on the receiving end. The blade exhibited good edge retention and flexing throughout these exercises. No loosening of the hilts components was encountered. This is no surprise, since the sword is assembled in the historic fashion. You would literally have to destroy the hilt components to get them apart.

This sword would have given outstanding service in the sword and shield fighting of the period. It is also an outstanding example of how all of the mechanical details of a sword's construction must work together to achieve an effective outcome. Things such as weight and balance mean nothing by themselves. When a sword is properly constructed, it can feature weight, mass, and dynamic handling all in the same package. Here is the proof.

The only thing that impressed me more than the sword itself was its maker. Peter Johnsson possesses a deeper understanding of the medieval sword that any other person I have ever met. Peter's long hours of travel, expense, and research have given him an unprecedented view into the inner workings of the medieval sword and its mechanics. His dedication to research and detail is such that his total production of items remains very small. Only a few are present here in North America. I am proud to be the custodian of one of them.

About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.

Photographer: Nathan Robinson

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