Tod's Stuff Bronze-hilted Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
Judging by period art and the number of surviving examples in museums and private collections, rondel daggers were popular weapons indeed. What usually comes to mind are the many rondel daggers with simple metal rondels (discs) and a grip of some organic material, most often wood though occasionally bone or horn. Rondel daggers have survived in many forms and can be found with great variation to the basic theme: rondels that are sandwiches of wood and metal (or metals); a rondel only in place of the guard with a pommel of wheel, fishtail, or other form; hilts made entirely of metal; and a host of other forms.
Most of the all-metal rondel daggers history has left us sport intricately decorated hilts, made entirely of steel, and date to the 15th and 16th centuries. A somewhat unusual German dagger, though, predates these and has a hilt fashioned out of bronze. This dagger, from the Museum Für Deutsche Geschichte, dates to the 14th century and is published in Europäische Hieb- und Stichwaffen (European Thrusting and Slashing Weapons) by Hartmut Kölling and Heinrich Müller.
Its grip is said to be made of bronze plates (or sheets). Based on the very brief description and close examination of the published photograph, the grip appears to be made in several sections. While it's not possible to be certain of the exact construction, it appears that the central grip is connected by two somewhat conical sections to the rondels. The rondels and the conical sections appear to be joined by having the edge of one piece crimped over the other. Based on the published weight (around 7 ounces), it is highly unlikely the grip is solid bronze.
The grip is decorated with wavy punched lines and its faces are bordered with dotted lines. Atop the pommel is an interesting feature: a small loop. While its true purpose is a matter of speculation, it is known that it was fairly common in the fourteenth century to use lengths of chain to secure swords, daggers, and helms to a knight's breastplate to prevent them from becoming lost in battle. Perhaps this was the loop's purpose. Despite the unknowns about this dagger, I've always admired it as a very interesting and beautiful example of a somewhat atypical rondel dagger, and as one of the earlier surviving examples of the type.
Leo Todeschini, known as Tod, has been making knives, swords, and reenactment supplies since the late 1990s. Through his business, Tod's Stuff, he strives to make weapons that "feel good, look good and work well" and prides himself on crafting pieces that capture the spirit of antiques.
Since I had been intrigued by the German rondel dagger above I asked Tod for a quote to replicate it when we were discussing making a different project, a Scottish dirk. Tod was helpful and prompt, and I was happy to agree to have him make it in addition to the dirk. While the declining strength of the US dollar makes purchases from the United Kingdom a bit steep, I felt Tod's price was more than fair. The dagger arrived about six months after it was ordered. Delays at the foundry in casting the grip and a few other things contributed to the dagger being slightly overdue. Throughout it all, Tod was helpful in letting me know where things stood and when I should expect the dagger to arrive.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Tod's Stuff of Oxford, United Kingdom.
There are some differences between the replica and the original. The most obvious is the grip itself. Casting the grip in solid bronze was the most cost-effective route. While Tod could have made it in sections, it would have added to the cost. On top of that, without knowing the exact construction of the original's grip, any reconstruction would have involved a great deal of guesswork.
In addition, the dagger has been made larger in general. The entire hilt length on the original dagger, rondels and grip together, was around 4 inches. Since my hand is 4 inches wide at its widest point, we felt it was wise to add a little length to the grip, around half an inch. To balance the piece visually and in terms of weight, the blade was made wider and around half-an-inch longer. The result is piece that captures the feel of the original while making some concessions I personally find acceptable, not to mention affordable.
This rondel dagger feels really nice in the hand. I believe that, for me, having the size of the hilt increased a little bit helped it fit me; the smaller size would not have worked. Even with this slightly larger version, the fit is tight when I wear my hourglass gauntlets. It just barely fits but it doesn't feel cramped.
The solid bronze grip gives the dagger a bit of heft, but not in a bad way. It feels solid in the hand, yet very maneuverable. Point control is easy in an overhand grip and the dagger feels lethally efficient in the point-down "ice-pick" grip.
The edge is quite sharp and easily sliced cardboard and foam noodles. It takes some time to get used to the blade's thickness (around a 1/4 inch at the base) when cutting these light targets, though. Perfect blade alignment was needed to cut through the target and, when achieved, produced some very fine cuts. More time and practice with it will help that.
While it can cut well, the stoutness of the blade and its wicked point make it a pretty lethal thrusting weapon, appropriate for the late 14th century. In thrusts against its hard, 1/4" thick cardboard shipping tube, it penetrated easily every time. The shape of the rondels and the size of the hilt kept my hand locked firmly on the grip.
Fit and Finish
The hilt is topped with a loop, mounted on a plate soldered onto the top of the rondel. It's a curious feature and one I'm glad Tod included. The loop got damaged a little bit in shipping, but I was able to bend it back to shape without too much trouble.
The decoration of the hexagonal-sectioned grip is done like the original in rolling waves of punched dots, often connected by thin lines. Like the original, it's not perfectly done in every instance, lending it that handmade quality I'm finding more and more desirable.
The blade is nicely done as well. The fullers are well-executed, though the fuller is a little longer on one side of the blade than on the other. The finish is nice and even, though I wouldn't call it a satin finish. I can see my reflection in it, but I can also still see slight regular, even marks from the grinding and polishing process.
This is my second piece from Tod and the scabbards of both have been very impressive. This scabbard is made from two layers of heavy leather, dyed a nice maroon or burgundy color. The two risers (one tooled with diagonal marks) create some nice visual interest as do the two panels. These panels are tooled with a diapered pattern broken up by small floral dots. There is even tooling on the scabbard's back: five parallel lines follow the dagger's edge. The scabbard's chape has some simple filework at the top and an acorn-shaped finial with twisting grooves. Though it's provided with a cord for tying it to a belt, the weight of the hilt likely means the scabbard and dagger would have to be tucked behind the belt, not tied to it.
I was looking for an early rondel dagger, preferably one that would stand out in a crowd. I was happy that Tod accepted the challenge of recreating the unique German example. As I hoped for, the piece was solidly and expertly crafted, capturing the feel of the original while having unique qualities of its own. It is always a pleasure to work with Tod's Stuff and the resulting work is a pleasure to own. I hope to be able to send more projects that way.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Europaische Hieb Und Stich Waffen (European Thrusting and Slashing Weapons), by Hartmut Kolling, Heinrich Muller
Photographer: Chad Arnow