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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 11:44 am    Post subject: Polearm Hafts         Reply with quote

Suddenly I find myself with four polearm projects after several years without any. I notice a spike in interest on this site as well, probably due to the new market in unmounted polearm heads and the advent of the MRL "Deal of the Day". I think it's a good time to consolidate information about commercial sources for hafts. Here's what I've learned--please share your own insights, experiences and observations on modern materials and antique hafts!

Ash
As you know, ash is the preferred wood for polearm hafts. Ash rounds are available from a few sources, with prices ranging from $35-$76 (shipped) depending on length, thickness and quality. You'll take whatever the seller wants to ship you, so you might get a perfectly straight piece or you might get a piece that's bowed or checked. Given the amount of wood I typically have to sort through to find a straight piece without checks and cupping, I'm wary of ordering blind. Still, if you can get a straight one, that's an historically authentic choice for mounting most spear heads and certain kinds of poleaxe. Unfortunately, most other polearms hafts are of more complex section--square, rectangular and octagonal. Good luck finding a 7' straight ash 2"x2" (at ANY price,) which is what you need to start with in order to properly haft most halberds and even some spears. I recently realized that replacement wheelbarrow handles are a readily available option for hafting poleaxes. Those allow a variety of haft sections and give an appropriate length (up to ~60") for many of those weapons. I recently saw a badly bowed example, but all the others I've seen are very straight, and in any case the thick 2x2" section leaves sufficient room for minor corrections. Expect to pay $16 for for those. To mount light spears and javelins, check out other replacement ash tool handles. The narrow-section hardwood handles meant to screw into paint rollers might work beautifully for light javelins.

Oak
There's a wasteland beyond the 60" ash wheelbarrow handles. It finally occurred to me that hardwood hand rails could be a good, inexpensive and locally available source for longer hafts. One doesn't normally find these with dowels and trim in hardware stores, so it's easy to miss them. The ones I looked at were 8' and a bit over 1.5" in section (round, but with one flat side). There's room to get creative with section, but they're pieced rather than cut from a single, continuous piece of wood. The ones I saw were typically of three or four sections of carefully overlapped and joined red oak. There was no apparent attempt to match wood when joining, so there was light wood against dark. That's a problem if you're going to oil the haft, but should be fine if you're going to stain it dark (not typically done, historically, by the way) because the joins are all but invisible if the separate pieces are a decent match in tone and grain. Turning from the hand rails I examined long, straight red oak 1'x2' boards. I bought a couple of these in 8' lengths at ~$8 each with the intention of gluing them together with TiteBond wood glue to create a single 2'x2' (actually 1.75x1.75) from which to plane an octagonal spear haft. I think this approach is probably superior to the hand rail because it uses two long pieces instead of multiple short pieces. Russ Ellis suggested this method to me many years ago and I'm just now getting around to trying it (thanks, Russ!). Out of a rack of perhaps nine boards, I found only two that were straight and approximately the same color and grain, which tells you something about the importance of choosing wood in person. Once glued and sanded, the join will be invisible and the composite haft should be as strong as a single-piece haft (certainly strong enough to stand against a wall in my library Big Grin).

Poplar
Poplar rounds have been my fallback position for spears because that hardwood is light, flexible, inexpensive and readily available. In the last few months, though, poplar rounds have disappeared from Lowe's stores in B'ham. They have been replaced by yellow pine, and that's a line I'd rather not cross. I'll use the composite oak 2x2 for an upcoming spear project. If that turns out well, I probably won't return to poplar even if it reappears in local stores. Be aware that linseed oil gives the light poplar wood an unpleasant and cheap-looking orange/yellow cast.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Chris Kelson





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 1:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure how helpful this is but I was recommended (before I found a trader who specifically sold ash hafts for polearms around 8' in length that unfortunately I cannot recall the name of) to check local boatyards, as a lot of repairs require ash planks that could be cut down and shaved to the correct shape and there would be a likely source, if not, at least able to point in the right direction for suppliers.
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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 1:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

been working on a lucerne hammer for reenactment recently (ie, blunted backspike and spear head, no end-spike), as a "for the hell of it" challenge.
(namely, how cheap can I make a top quality reproduction, for myself for fun.)

A moment of inspired insanity that might help british people at least, there.

I had the option of ash hafts direct from a sawmill where I get wood for wasters etc, for about £15 (presawn and planed square, less if its just rip-cut square.), plus a fiver in fuel to go up there.

or, for £20, John Lewis' department store's interior decoration section sells "oak effect" curtain poles. which, if you look closely at the details, are infact ash, 35mm diameter.
they also do real oak, 30mm diameter, which I chose not to go for, but they're not nearly as good value.

so I went shopping. (a little advice for people - you get strange looks when peering closely as curtain poles, and looking to see which ones have the straightest grain...) found one that was good, 1m, 80cm, straight grain. took it home, and attacked it with planes, a t-square and some elbow grease, and was astounded as underneath the rather naff fake oak effect laquer was the most gorgeous, smooth, straight, clean white ash. The resultant 28mm octagonal haft with langets is looking gorgeous, and of great quality.

if you're just looking for one haft, and you've got to pay shipping/postage for the sawmil, but have a local John Lewis', then its well worth it.


Last edited by JG Elmslie on Thu 09 Sep, 2010 2:04 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Eric Hejdström




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I actually buy canadian ash (or american depending on availability) at the local store here in Visby (Sweden) and make hafts myself. For a peice suitable for a polearm I pay ca $6 but then I have to shape it myself. John Waldman descibes the making of hafts in "Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe" and the most common wood is definately ash. Oak actuallt seems to have been the poorer mans choice. Moste are octagonal or ocal in shape. Please note that most octagonal hafts are more or less rectangular in crossection with just a little wor on the corners. So octagonal crossection is most unusual. If you have not read the book I strongly suggest you do it since it's the absolutely best book on the topic I found so far. Expensive though...
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 3:35 pm    Post subject: Re: Polearm Hafts         Reply with quote

Sean Flynt wrote:
I examined long, straight red oak 1'x2' boards. I bought a couple of these in 8' lengths at ~$8 each with the intention of gluing them together with TiteBond wood glue to create a single 2'x2' (actually 1.75x1.75) from which to plane an octagonal spear haft. I think this approach is probably superior to the hand rail because it uses two long pieces instead of multiple short pieces.


This should also be more splitting-resistant than a single piece, since the two separate boards will reinforce each other. More thinner boards might be even better.

For mounting tanged polearm heads (e.g., naginata), this kind of 2 piece haft has the obvious advantage that you don't have to split a section to cut to fit the tang.

And along these lines, I'm just about to try a new material:

Laminated bamboo
Lighter and more flexible than most woods that would be used. Also should be very strong. I found a source of laminated bamboo staffs for martials arts (courtesy of an ad at the bottom of a myArmoury page! http://www.slamboo.com/). Standard bo length, so only 6', and round, 30mm. Should be excellent for short spears, and looks to be a good size for mounting a GDFB poleax head - a task for either this coming weekend or the next.

I was thinking that laminated bamboo skirting boards would be good for 2-piece naginata hafts, but I haven't found a source closer than 2000km :(.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Thu 09 Sep, 2010 7:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Hejdström wrote:
Please note that most octagonal hafts are more or less rectangular in cross section with just a little work on the corners. So octagonal crossection is most unusual. If you have not read the book I strongly suggest you do it since it's the absolutely best book on the topic I found so far. Expensive though...


These are important points. Some modern polearm heads are made to fit the most commonly available haft--1.25" hardwood rounds ((we're now seeing better socket designs from the likes of GDFB). That just isn't a good choice, either historically or practically. As Eric says, most halberd, glaive, bill, axe, etc. hafts are either oval or of octagonalized square or rectangular section. Some spears do seem to have been mounted with more symmetrically octagonal hafts (see the restored haft below,) and that's the type I'll be using for my spear project.

Eric mentioned Waldman's assesment that oak was considered a secondary material. Soft wood was used for some of the robust weapons of the Morgenstern group, but for little else, apparently. I keep waiting for somebody to apply a chainsaw and nails to a pine 4x4 to make a nice Morgenstern. Happy

I second the recommendation of Waldman. It's the most comprehensive study in English (there is almost no competition, in fact). It's expensive for a new book at ~$150 USD, but that's the price of a mediocre MRL Deal Of The Day sword! The book will give a MUCH greater return on investment, in terms of education. It will almost certainly hold its value better, too.



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-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Sep, 2010 12:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Timo, what do you think a native timber equivalent to things like Ash and such, 'cause it's hard enough trying to get stuff on the Mainland let alone down here Sad (Also means I'll get in less trouble when I *coughcutdowngumtreesonotherpeoplesproperty/bushlandcough*).
Oh, and good job guys! Just when I thought I'd give some of my projects a rest, I'm now going to have to go try out some of these techniques! Razz
Note to self: Quaterstaff, Bastone, Halberd, Pike, Spear (long, short, and throwing), Command Baton, Club, Gondendag, Maces, Flails and spikes everywhere and (I blame you for this one Sean) pole/pollaxe's and hammers!
I'd better get started then...

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Eric Hejdström




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Sep, 2010 3:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I also forgot tom mention another importatn thing. The first halberd I hafted had a nice, octagonal haft that was the same thicknes all the way through. I felt that it was a bit front heavy and therefor I made the next one tapering from a quite thick end to a slimmet top where the head was fastened. This proved to be completely wrong. As I read more from Waldmann I discovered something odd, most hafts were actually tapered towards BOTH ends. Hence they were thickes at the middle, just about where you grip it. I thought this was very strange until I got the opportunity to handle a very nice stavesword made in this manner. And what a change in balance it was! I was surprised about it and the next weapon I make I will definately make this type of haft on. I think it's my half ready polehammer actually...
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Fri 10 Sep, 2010 12:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And, of course, there's this option for hunting spears. When the smaller boar spear (these are bear spears) became a symbol of military rank, some retained the rustic aesthetic of a knotted haft, incorporating the knots as decoration. They're a far cry from these very crude mountings, though.


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-Sean

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Sep, 2010 10:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Gordon Campbell wrote:
Hey Timo, what do you think a native timber equivalent to things like Ash and such, 'cause it's hard enough trying to get stuff on the Mainland let alone down here :( (Also means I'll get in less trouble when I *coughcutdowngumtreesonotherpeoplesproperty/bushlandcough*).


AFAIK, proper ash (Fraxinus sp.) is restricted to the Northern Hemisphere, so we living on ex-Gondwanaland miss out. Eucaplyptus regnans is called "mountain ash" apparently due to the similarity of the timber to ash. Similar grain and similar density. This is what is marketed as Tasmanian oak.

As a literal answer to your question: Tasmanian oak is our native equivalent. I don't think it's a good enough substitute. I've used it for spears and a bill, but I don't like it. Splits easily in my experience. Specifically, cracks or small splits grow and spread with the greatest of ease. Better than some other alternatives, and certainly better than nothing. I've cut some Acacia (species unknown) in the past that was better than Tassie oak.

I'd be more inclined to trust a laminated Tassie oak haft than a single-piece one. 6mm boards would give me a 4-layer naginata haft.

(Whether Northern Hemisphere mountain ash (Sorbis sp.) is a working substitute for ash, I don't know. I think it gets it's name from the leaves being similar, so maybe not. I don't know whether E. regnans is supposed to resemble ash or mountain ash in timber.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 1:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, thanks Timo.
But bugger; ironic that Tas-Oak is the closest equivalent, but isn't that good, and here I am living in its namesake! Eek!
I'll have to try Acacia or the laminated idea though. God forbid I end up using dowel.
Cheers mate Laughing Out Loud

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Mark Hanna





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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 8:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am hafting a Golloglass axe so I need something with a shoulder at the axe head. I guess I would have to use a board and cut it down. Anybody have any experience with this? I am using one of the old albion giant axe heads.

Mark
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Eric Hejdström




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've shaped hafts from boards as well and as long as the grain is good you won't get in any trouble.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Hejdström wrote:
I've shaped hafts from boards as well and as long as the grain is good you won't get in any trouble.


Doesn't matter too much if the grain runs at an angle along the board - the width gives you some room for the grain to walk across the board. Don't cut the board, split the board along the grain. If this won't give you a good haft, get a different board.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 3:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Gordon Campbell wrote:
Ah, thanks Timo.
But bugger; ironic that Tas-Oak is the closest equivalent, but isn't that good, and here I am living in its namesake! :eek:
I'll have to try Acacia or the laminated idea though. God forbid I end up using dowel.


Even pine dowel will do for display pieces - wallhanger polearms. Tassie oak hafts with grain running along perfectly along the length won't fail catastrophically; at worst, it should just split along the length. Which would need replacement, but should not result in detached heads or blades flying at high speed. A reinforced Tassie oak haft should be safe - perhaps a nice Tibetan-style spiral metal wrap, or cloth wrap. For functional but ugly, even spiral warp with fibreglass tape should work.

I need to rehaft my bill soon, since it's tree-pruning time! (This is a working bill, not a military bill, but it does perform spectacularly against armour.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
... A reinforced Tassie oak haft should be safe - perhaps a nice Tibetan-style spiral metal wrap, or cloth wrap. For functional but ugly, even spiral warp with fibreglass tape should work...

Ah, thanks, I give that a try.
And with regards to people saying they use planks, does that mean that it's a very thick plank (ie. split it and you've got your haft) or are they nornmal thickness for planks and simply split then glued together?
It just sounds odd to use a plank to make a haft.

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sat 11 Sep, 2010 11:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Gordon Campbell wrote:

And with regards to people saying they use planks, does that mean that it's a very thick plank (ie. split it and you've got your haft) or are they nornmal thickness for planks and simply split then glued together?
It just sounds odd to use a plank to make a haft.


For the axe haft above, I think the intent was to use a thick plank. Need to start with wood the thickness/width of the thisckest/widest part of the final haft, and cut down from there. What benefit is there from starting with a round pole when you cut it down so much?

For a laminated haft, thin pieces should be best, so that you end up with many layers. Thin pieces for trim would work; clamp and glue a bunch together to make a laminated square piece, and then plane down the corners a bit, and you have a nice split-resistant octagonal haft.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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