Tod's Stuff Bog Oak Ballock Dagger
A hands-on review by Ralph Rudolph
The majority of medieval daggers fell into one of five different categories: baselard, quillon dagger, rondel dagger, ear dagger, and ballock dagger. The popular ballock dagger, with its overtly phallic grip and characteristic two lobes serving as a guard, was doubtless seen as an extension of male power and fighting prowess. Opposite the lobes or ballocks, a metal disc often serves as a pommel. In its historical use the disc provided the support for the left hand to deliver the final and finishing thrust.
After a mediocre experience with an inexpensive Czech dagger I wanted to add the real thing to my fledgling collection. Enticed by Chad Arnow's Vince Evans Ballock Dagger, I was sure that only a ballock dagger would do. I looked around for a proper smith in Europe and found Tod's Stuff willing to manufacture a dagger to my specifications.
Tod (Leo Todeschini) works on a freelance basis for museums, theatres, and film. His skills run from special effects to historical weaponry, wood and leatherwork, all with an academic industrial design background. He specializes in using only materials and workmanship appropriate to medieval times.
I sent Tod a sketch of the dagger in my imagination, entrusting him to select the proper material and adjust the specifications to come up with a well-handling period-appropriate weapon. The contact with him was personal and very friendly and he delivered absolutely on time.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Tod's Stuff of Oxford, United Kingdom.
I am used to carrying a knife on my right side with the scabbard tucked behind the belt of my pants. Tod knows this, so the nicely ornamented side of the scabbard and chape are visible in that carry mode. Drawn quickly from this position with an ice-pick grip, the dagger is held blade down, as is common for the huten (guards) of the ancient German dagger fighting arts.
In this position I really sense the dagger's power. The weight is just right. The shimmering, solid, spiky blade definitely reinforces one's self-confidence and, hopefully, diminishes that of one's opponent. The mass is just right to provide good penetrating momentum.
The sturdy and acutely-pointed blade places this weapon in the Panzerstecher category. Its purpose is to successfully penetrate armour (Panzer). Thus, the emphasis of the weapon is more on the blade's point, focusing on the thrust more than the cut.
The bonnet of my car seemed a perfect target to simulate light armour for testing this dagger, but standing in front of the car I could not overcome my guilt. Instead, I used a soft target, a loaf of bread from the bakery around the corner which offered no resistance at all. The dagger hammered through to get stuck in the wood underneath where the bread was sitting.
With all items in my collection, I prefer the simple and straightforward. It is the design principle represented by the German Bauhaus School: let the form follow function and let material speak for itself. So it is with this dagger. It features only two colors. The blade, pommel and the chape are unadorned steel. The leather of the scabbard is black. The grip is of bog oak: wood that fell into a peat marsh thousands of years ago and turned black over time. It looks stunning.
The wedge-shaped blade with a triangular cross-section and a thick spine is made of hand-forged spring steel, oil quenched and tempered at 190-200° C. It tapers elegantly to the point with convex grinding reminiscent of a gothic arch.
The grip has a simple barrel-shaped form (29 mm/1.14 inches max. diameter), ergonomically correct for the hand to grasp and in proportion with the weapon. It is capped with a steel disc of 6 mm/0.24 inches thickness and 44 mm/1.73 inches diameter. The tang of the blade is peened over the disc.
On close inspection you can see that the whole piece is handmade, a unique specimen with high attention to quality. The ballocks are hand-carved. The tang fits tight in the grip. The blade's grind marks flow diagonally towards the tip. The blade surface is polished and the edge is sharp. Both the blade and the wooden grip are slightly oiled.
The matching scabbard is made of two layers of thick (8.5 mm/0.34 inches) black-dyed leather. The outer layer features lines forming a straight but simple pattern. The seam is on the inner side and definitely conveys the handmade character. At the mouth of the scabbard a short leather strap runs between the layers and can be used to tie the scabbard to the belt. To round it off, Tod produced a slightly ornamented, beautiful chape reflecting the phallic form of the dagger. Most importantly, the dagger slips easily into the scabbard and sits tight.
This is a remarkably sensual weapon with its black oak and leather, thick, powerful blade and phallic form. I am completely satisfied with the work of Tod's Stuff and recommend it to anyone who desires a weapon with genuine life and character.
About the Author
Ralph Rudolph is an aeronautical engineer and strategist living and working in Frankfurt, Germany. His passion for medieval swords was evoked in 2005 after endless nights watching the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy, especially the sword and armoury production of the WETA workshop. Always attracted by symbols of male power and objects of outstanding elegance this led to a jump-start into a collection of high quality replicas and exploration of the weaponry and history of his own continent.
Photographer: Ralph Rudolph