A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Vince Evans Scottish Dirk
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
Though swords were sometimes prohibited, men from the Scottish Highlands rarely went about unarmed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even if he couldn't carry a sword for legal or cost reasons, the doughty highlander usually carried a dirk. The Scottish dirk descended from the ballock dagger (see our spotlight article), but evolved into a weapon unique to the highlanders. It flourished in its traditional form from about 1660 until shortly after the defeat of the Scots army by the British at Culloden in 1745. Prohibitions after that on traditional Scottish dress and armaments served to change the dirk from a battlefield weapon to a bejeweled dress accessory for wealthy officers in the military.
Traditional dirks had reinforcing plates of metal (often brass) that protected the upper and lower edges of the carved wooden grip. The haunches at the base of the grip were often reinforced with strips of metal and had evolved until they lost the bulbous qualities of the earlier ballock dagger. Blades came in one of two main forms: broad at the base with a wedge-shaped cross-section, tapering to a lethal point, or made from a cut-down sword blade. Dirks with recycled sword blades seem to have been popular due to their fine heat-treatment (on the imported blades) and cost.
Vince Evans of Cathlamet, WA has been a professional bladesmith since 1981. Though he makes swords and knives from many cultures, he is perhaps best known for his recreations of historic Scottish weaponry. Vince and his wife Grace have made numerous trips to museums to study originals. Vince strives to make historically-based weapons that capture all the details of originals without being an exact copy. This allows the artistry of the craftsman to shine through these recreations.
Vince and Grace have produced many different Scottish dirk designs. Vince makes the blades and fittings, while Grace does much of the carving for the grips. More information on the carving process is available on the Vince Evans Web site.
This dirk has a blade of 5160 which has been differentially heat-treated. This gives the blade a harder edge to better retain its sharpness while leaving the spine softer to aid in shock absorption and durability. The blade itself is made to look like a cut-down backsword blade with a single fuller on each side. I had the motto of the Wallace clan, "Pro Libertate," etched onto the blade by Art Elwell's A Work of Art. The grip is stained carved maple and accompanied Vince and Grace on a research trip to Scotland where it was compared to period originals. The fittings are antiqued brass.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Vince Evans of Hawaii
I've owned many different dirks and most had grips that were simply too large. This grip, which may sound small, is historically sized and fits surprisingly well in my large hands. Vince and Grace have made historically-inspired dirks with grips as short as 4 inches! The carving adds traction to the grip for me.
Dirks were used as all-purpose knives around camp and home, and were feared weapons on the battlefield. They could be used effectively whether held point up or point down. This dirk certainly fits that description. At just more than half a pound, this dirk is quite lively in the hands. It can be used equally well whether held point-down in the ice-pick grip or point-up.
It hasn't been tested in cutting, but I have no doubts that it would perform well. The blade is quite sharp and once cut through a cleaning cloth I was using to wipe it down.
This dirk is a fine example of handmade craftsmanship. Some people simply use the term "handmade" to describe imperfections in a more glowing light. This dirk, however, possesses none of those imperfections; it is more precisely made than any machine-produced weapon I've ever owned. The blade shows no waviness whatsoever from Vince's forging. It is precisely made, with the blend of crispness and organic proportions that we see on originals. The fuller is cleanly done as well. The whole blade is cleanly and evenly finished. Vince marks every blade with his marks: a stylized "E" and a fish symbolizing his Christian faith. Each blade also bears a small number representing the year it was made and what number piece it is.
The carving on the grip is deep and well-defined: a tribute to Grace's hard work. The fittings are seamless, well-formed, and fit perfectly with the grip. The antiqued finish on the brass components gives the dirk an attractive, slightly used look. The scabbard is of wood, covered with leather which is incised with simple lines. The fittings on the scabbard are as well done as those on the dirk itself.
I've tried very hard to find something negative about this dirk, but have come up blank every time. This dirk is wonderfully historic, yet also unique. Vince Evans and his wife Grace have a relentless desire to "get it right" which shows in how they make their products and how they conduct their business.
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.
Photographer: Chad Arnow