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Brian K.
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 10:53 am    Post subject: Scabbard wear & tear; Historical plausibilities of longe         Reply with quote

Hello myArmoury community,

For a long time now, I've been thinking about the historical aspects of the sword scabbard, and it's longevity. There isn't a lot of documentation readily available, or surviving examples for that matter. Nor have I come across reference as to what they did historically to alleviate or even repair a scabbard issue.

I suppose the main reason most of my questioning is a genuine issue, is that the cost of the scabbard is of relative note, given that a scabbard, and I've read this more than once, had supposedly cost as much or more than the sword itself. Essentially, the longevity of the scabbard would be necessary, and not considered disposable because of the cost.

One of the potential issues that I'm talking about is: Most of what I understand in the modern sword collecting world to be standard is a form fitting scabbard that snugly fits a sword to the point that it doesn't move around when sheathed, and if held upside down the sword will not fall out unless gently shaken. This is commonly the preferred fit, and most would assume this is the historical preferred fit. But what happens in a climate change? Perhaps the knight is on a journey that takes him from a dry climate to a humid climate. This would change the fit dramatically even though the change in the scabbard is subtle due to the humidity. As a designer of wooden cores, I know full well how the slightest friction can dramatically affect how the sword draws in & out of the scabbard.

Another issue would be also related to the form fitted nature of the wooden core. What happens if your sword is damaged? Most common would be any bending, or warping. This at the minimum would cause more friction, and pretty much ruin the fit. It would be near impossible to get the blade back to the exact shape it was before.

My next thought would be edge damage. We've all seen a stage sword and how it looks like a hacksaw when well used. Now I know historically this was frowned upon, but it did happen. If the nick rolled at all, or caused any sort of extra friction, this would almost prevent the blade from being sheathed at all, as the shape of the wooden core follows the tapering of the center of the blade to the edge. If your scabbard does not, you get excessive rattling. If you have wool in your wooden core, this would magnify the problem even more as a material for your edge to snag on and tear. This would in turn build up bit's & pieces which would end up at the bottom of the wooden core. This would over time cause a premature stopping point to the sheathing of your blade.

Last but not least, how often would a wooden core become cracked or broken. What was the repair method? If you made another wooden core, it probably wouldn't fit your old leather setup, as no two cores are alike in all measurements. This would essentially scrap the scabbard leather wrap too, except for the belt/suspension setup.

Given these issues, I'm often answering my own question with the answer that it is likely scabbards weren't built as form fitting as we think. I believe extra space was made to allow for potential damage, swelling, or anything that would eliminate such sheathing issues. Perhaps for a dress scabbard that was made for a formal occasion this wouldn't be the case, but for a campaign or battle ready setup I believe a loose fit was likely.

This day & age it isn't as big of a issue, as we aren't building them for longevity of campaign usage. As near as I can determine through research my methods are historically accurate. If not all my techniques can be confirmed historical, I feel the techniques are plausible. In any event, because I feel they are accurate it raises all these questions. This isn't a 'I want to change my methods' thread as much as a 'what did they do' thread.

Input appreciated on thoughts or theories, and legitimate answers of course!

Brian Kunz

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've asked related questions before. You can see those threads here:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8782
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8783

Hopefully you'll find more conclusive answers than I did.

I know it's hard to compare knife sheaths with sword scabbards, but there is evidence (published in the monograph Knives and Scabbards) that knife sheaths were not always made for the knife they housed. There is evidence of sheaths heavily modified to fit a knife, meaning it was either generic and off-the-shelf or it was an old scabbard reused.

I don't know what that implies as things relate to sword scabbards, but I think we have made a lot of assumptions about scabbards based on a scant few survivors whose condition makes it unlikely that the true fit between a sword and that scabbard will ever be measured.

I think we also need to be careful that we don't assume that it was the same across class. A tight fit and expensive scabbard may have been affordable by the wealthy, while others may have made do with cheaper, more generic pieces.

There is also a sword scabbard shown in Knives and Scabbards, that I don't believe was wood-lined. It wouldn't surprise me if poorer soldiers made do with leather sheaths instead of wood-lined ones.

But leather and wood rot more easily than iron/steel so we don't have a lot of archeological evidence to go by. We do have accountings and inventories, but many aren't clear how fancy the listed scabbard is and many are the inventories of the wealthy, so we can't assume that what works for a Baron works for a poorer man-at-arms.

Happy

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 1:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would guess it was the other way around; wood is cheap, and skilled woodworkers where plentyfull. Poorer soldiers would probably have wooden scabards without the leather, or with a cloth cover instead.

A MODERN scabard might cost as much as a sword, but this is mostly because modern buyers readily fork out a couple of hundred dollars for a scabard for a sword that also costs a couple of hunded dollars, since the total is still not THAT intimidating.
However, if you where buying a couple of thousand dollars worth of Assault Rifle (which is closer to the historical value), you would not pay the same amount for a suitable assault sling. Unless you want one covered in bling-bling, because you can aford it.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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T.F. McCraken




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Elling has a point on the wood scabbard. I have a couple wood scabbards I made without the leather overwrap and that is specifically because I haven't the money to invest in the leather. (The peasant class still lives!)
I've gotten quite a few compliments on them and they essentially do the same thing...protect the sword from the elements and provide a hands-free way to carry it.




Does a scabbard HAVE to be leather wrapped when a polyurethane coating on a wood scabbard does essentially the same thing?

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T.F. McCraken wrote:
Does a scabbard HAVE to be leather wrapped when a polyurethane coating on a wood scabbard does essentially the same thing?

For those going the historical route, yes -- at least for many historical periods discussed on thie site. Perhaps more importantly, one must ask why historic scabbards are not just bare wood but are often instead comprised of layered materials. One reason is strength: a leather cover protects the wood core from the elements and adds a "binding" force that can often add strength. Polyurethane didn't exist historically and for those of us going that route, it's not an option.

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T.F. McCraken




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very good point Nathan. The second scabbard I showed there has a leather throat because the wood separated on the seam at one point. As far as the Poly, wouldn't boiled oil be used, historically, to the same effect? (Please forgive the ignorance, I'm learning quite a bit here! Big Grin )

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Peter Lyon
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 2:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
There is also a sword scabbard shown in Knives and Scabbards, that I don't believe was wood-lined. It wouldn't surprise me if poorer soldiers made do with leather sheaths instead of wood-lined ones.



A point that is often forgotten is that scabbards are partly about protecting people from the sword - I have seen a sharp sword punch through the side of a leather scabbard that flexed, and repeated drawings could slice the inside of a scabbard, exposing a sharp edge that can cut the wearer or people nearby, so I am pretty sure that wood-cored scabbards were preferred when possible and affordable.

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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 6:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From a purely practical point of view a closley fitting scabbard can be a nightmare.

If the sword fits the core really perfectly it does not allow for any changes in the core during the manufacturing process so when you add the locket or chape or mid point hanger, if it squashes the core at all the blade will bind.

If the application of the leather changes the core shape at all, the sword will bind.

If you wade a river or ride for 2 days in rain the wood will swell, and the sword will bind.

If any debris gets into the scabbard, the sword will bind.

If a edge nick shaves off some core a few times, the sword will bind.

A rattly scabbard may not be aesthetically appealing then or now, but a scabbard that allows some movement without being unattractively sloppy would always get my vote for practicality and I very strongly suspect back then also. I think the modern requirement/desire for the scabbard to be size for size as per the sword is historically incorrect. I don't mean sloppy I just mean a bit of freedom.

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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2009 6:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Peter Lyon wrote A point that is often forgotten is that scabbards are partly about protecting people from the sword - I have seen a sharp sword punch through the side of a leather scabbard that flexed, and repeated drawings could slice the inside of a scabbard, exposing a sharp edge that can cut the wearer or people nearby, so I am pretty sure that wood-cored scabbards were preferred when possible and affordable.


Leather sword scabbards are also not very good at half of their job and not very good at the other half either. Peter is bang on about scbbards protecting the wearer and they do that adequately on the whole, but can cut through as he says and that makes them a second rate choice for me. Their one benefit is that for reenactors fighting on the field they are less prone to damage.

The other problem with them is that they often bind and the sword can be hard to extract and the longer the blade the more this is the case, get them wet and you are really going to struggle. Historically this would also make them a second rate choice. A sword has to be reliably easy to draw from the scabbard.

Both wood and leather were relatively cheap and the skills required to work them were less than smithing, so I think that these were in respect to the sword, cheap.

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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 5:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From what I've gathered, Leather was never cheap in the middle ages.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 6:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

M. Eversberg II wrote:
From what I've gathered, Leather was never cheap in the middle ages.

M.


I can't dispute that, as I haven't studied materials costs through the ages. Happy What I will say is that the book Knives and Scabbards details many knife scabbards and doesn't mention wood being used at all as far as I can recall. A number of scabbards were made of two layers of leather, not just one. A number were simple, crude affairs, but still used leather, not wood.

It is, of course, entirely possible that there is a class of wooden-cored knife scabbards awaiting discovery or that all the wooden-cored knife scabbards have rotted away. Happy

A wooden core would be of the same benefit in a knife scabbard as it would in a sword scabbard, right (giving some structure and keeping from cutting through, etc.)? And we do have some dagger scabbards with wood cores, but we have plenty of knife and dagger scabbards without them. We even have a sword scabbard (with pocket for two auxiliary knives) that doesn't appear to have had a wooden core.

Now, of course, there are many factors at play. As noted above, some of these sheaths may have been bought off the rack (i.e. they weren't made for the knife they carried) and were remolded later to kind of fit the knife they housed. And we have far fewer surviving scabbards than we do surviving weapons that would have been housed in them, so it's hard to draw firm conclusions.

We're running into the same issues we seem to always run into with scabbard discussions. We have a lot of guesses (a lot of it educated,) a lot of speculation (much of it well-founded), and modern personal preference, but we lack enough hard data to say for sure.

We don't have many surviving sword scabbards. Most of the ones that survive have a wood core. We have some surviving knife and dagger scabbards (perhaps more of these than sword scabbards). A goodly number are just leather. Does that follow that swords used leather-only scabbards as often as knives may have? Of course not.

My guess is still that leather-only could have been used. It seems to have been affordable enough for crude knives when carving a core out of wood could have been done instead. When you're out campaigning and you break or ruin your scabbard, wouldn't a leather scabbard be cheaper, quicker, and easier than the hours it takes to carve a core, then wrap it? A leather sheath can be made more quickly than a wood-core scabbard. If thick enough leather is used and it's not too supple, it can be difficult to cut through.

These are just my guesses and speculations, though. When hard proof emerges to confirm or deny my thoughts, I'll gladly read it because we've had so many of these speculation-filled discussions about scabbards. Happy

Let me just state for the record that I think that wood-core scabbards were preferred and perhaps even the norm, despite the rest of what I've said. Happy

Happy

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Carl W.




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 8:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo & Brian list several pretty convincing (to me) practical arguments for some looseness. Has anyone seen historic scabbard with a loop over the guard, or some other "latching scheme"? Modern knife sheaths have loops with snaps. Maybe a loop to tie the sword in for travel?
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Carl W. wrote:
Leo & Brian list several pretty convincing (to me) practical arguments for some looseness. Has anyone seen historic scabbard with a loop over the guard, or some other "latching scheme"? Modern knife sheaths have loops with snaps. Maybe a loop to tie the sword in for travel?


I make a "peace tie" for every sword I own. My wife does, actually. She uses ebroidery floss, (like with "friendship bracelets" the kids wear) and I'll add a cool bead. Most Rennies are pretty used to having to secure their swords to avoid it being drawn in Faire.




The loop goes over the crossguard and the bead gets snugged up, then a quick knot secures the bead.

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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Theoretically, if the walls of the core are thin enough they could swell without binding the sword, right? The sword could displace them outward as needed. But if the scabbard walls are as thick as some made today, that's not possible.

I'll second and elaborate on Nathan's comment about composite construction (leather over wood). The thin leather cover allows the walls of the core to be very thin without compromising the strength of the scabbard. Many modern homemade scabbards are extremely overbuilt--like two bed slats glued together. In that that case the leather doesn't serve all the purposes it might have served, historically.

Finally, historic artwork sometimes shows scabbards broken at their tips, with the bare blade exposed (associated with low-status people). This suggests that:
•The area was prone to damage
• Such damage was not considered catastrophic enough to justify the cost/effort of replacement/repair.

The most famous of these images is by Dürer. It shows three peasants--one holding an out-of-fashion sword and broken scabbard. The other image that comes to mind is from roughly the same period and shows the end out of a short messer scabbard.

-Sean

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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 12:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey,
maybe this sounds a little bit odd and off topic for the first moment,
but i recently had some thoughts about the purpose of the so called rainguard, additional to the debatable rain guarding.

And i think it might fit in here. Especially the third one:

1. The rainguard is a safety measure for the enemy's blade sliding down the flat of your own blade,
if you fail to turn out the cross correctly. The guard stops the blade and/or gives it an impulse to lift it over your swordhand.

2. The rainguard acts as a sweatguard. Many techniques work better with the thumb on the flat...you get the point.

3. The rainguard's purpose is securing the blade in its scabbard. The hardened leather tube slips very tight over a riser or another structure on the scabbard's mouth, and thus secures the sword in it. Imagine it working like a contemporary kydex sheath, this might avoid buying a new scabbard: If the old one gets too loose due to severe sharpening, the local cutler might fix it with a "rainguard". This would work much better than a loop or anything else requiring two hands to loosen.

I wonder if medieval south germans were that penny-pinching like they are said to be nowadays. If so, they'd have done about anything to avoid spending more than nescessary, or might even put a rainguard on sword with a perfectly fitting brand new scabbard, for the neighbours not to notice they got the funds... like some nowadays swabians driving to a second garage a few streets away, where the well hidden porsche waits inside. Wink
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 3:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:

A wooden core would be of the same benefit in a knife scabbard as it would in a sword scabbard, right (giving some structure and keeping from cutting through, etc.)? And we do have some dagger scabbards with wood cores, but we have plenty of knife and dagger scabbards without them. We even have a sword scabbard (with pocket for two auxiliary knives) that doesn't appear to have had a wooden core.


A knife scabard is fundamentaly diferent from a sword scabard in that the hilt of the knife is inserted into the scabard. Thus, it does not have to squeese against the blade to hold it in place, reducing the problem. Long knifes and swords are also more prone to slice the inside of the scabard as they are pulled out. I have owned several 10" sami" knifes that eventually cut through their leather scabards. On a smaller knife, hower, this is usually not a problem.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Jun, 2009 5:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Among sites that offer historical findings, chapes seem to have been found frequently. I have the personal impression that they fell off many scabbards, and were sometimes lost as they are often described as found individually with no mention of any sword components associated with the finds.

I am not sure what the expectation of lifespan was for scabbards. Regardless, they seem conveinient for protection of the sword and safe travel while not actively engaged in battle. Even if only expected to last something like one year, I could see them as being perceived as worth a significant expense. Regular maintenance is often a reality with any high performance gear. (Those who repair and work with armour in reenactment sparring/ combat could probably make some strong paralells.)

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jun, 2009 4:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another point worth notig is that it is quite posible to have two scabards for a sword, one for looking good and one for fighting. Or simply two swords, if yoy are wealthy enough.

You will also often see images of people that have discarded their sword belts before a fight, as a wooden scabard would be in the way, especially if you expect to fall and/or grapple.
My last wooden scabard had a combat life of 30 minutes, before I fell on it after heroically jumping a ditch into certain death, and broke it in two. The hanweii plastic scabards are also dying like flies once you introduce some terrain, or show kills.

So I am quite inclined to consider wooden scabards disposable.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jun, 2009 8:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:

I'll second and elaborate on Nathan's comment about composite construction (leather over wood). The thin leather cover allows the walls of the core to be very thin without compromising the strength of the scabbard. Many modern homemade scabbards are extremely overbuilt--like two bed slats glued together. In that that case the leather doesn't serve all the purposes it might have served, historically.

.


With a leather only scabbard I find that thick leather works fine until it gets bent and creases and then if it very prone to bending at that point(s) in other words no longer really rigid and a sharp being inserted into a bent scabbard it going to " walk " through the side of the scabbard very easily: Only careful attention when putting the sword back in will prevent this.

Once in the scabbard, even a weakened ( pre-bent ) leather scabbard, still seems safe and functional as the blade itself keeps thing from bending. I don't think scabbards are meant to protect the blade from damage from a forceful side impact but more to keep the blade sharp, safe from the elements, rust and scratches, but even more to keep the wearer and other people close to the wearer safe from the edges.

Now, the wood core needs only to add enough rigidity as to help preventing bending of the leather and also the leather doesn't need to be very thick since it's the combination of rigid wood and leather helping thin wood from splitting that work together better than each alone and can be very light and thin.

If the scabbard furniture is expensive it, I assume, could be transferred to a new core/leather if the original is damaged beyond repair.

( Again, just my theoretical, hopefully logical, musings. Wink Laughing Out Loud ).

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PostPosted: Sun 28 Jun, 2009 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

According to some discussion on the armourarchive, scabbards from the later 14th cent. were supposed to be made from only very thin slats of wood formed around the sword while wet and then covered in fine leather. I tried this myself, found it quite easy to finish. The result is stiff enough to perform one of Fiores "scabbard actions", though it deforms when lighing around without a sword inside.
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