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Cole B





Joined: 05 Mar 2008

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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2010 9:26 pm    Post subject: Questions about viking swords         Reply with quote

I've been doing something I imagine a lot of you do lately: thinking about my 'perfect' custom sword I would have if I won the lottery.

I realized I go on quite a bit in a way that's not super necessary to the questions at hand, so if you don't feel like reading through a wall of text I've bolded my main questions.

My problem starts when I have to balance what is aesthetically pleasing to me vs. historically accurate. I don't want a lightsaber katana, but I still like things to look good. So if I'm being totally ignorant in the following, feel free to point it out.

For the blade, I'm okay, a relatively historically accurate pattern weld is fine with me.

Pommel and guard, I'd want a plain, lobed pommel like a type 2 or 9 in Geibig. Just a straight cross pommel, appeals to me more than the curved ones. Probably satin finished steel. Am I still in the realm of possibility here? I know lots of viking weapons had a lot of decorations like inlays and so on, but I prefer the kind of minimalist but extremely high quality look.

The grip is where I get into muddy water. For the grip I would want a really nice, light beige polished wood like custom knife makers are doing nowadays. A simple leather handle can look great, but I'm going for an overall lighter color for the entire thing. This made me realize I don't really know anything about viking grips. Was wood ever used? Did they wire wrap? Did they even use leather like I'm assuming? Just how many Norse swordsmiths would roll in their graves?

I know a bit more about sheaths, they were leather with a chape, etc. But in my mind I can't help but want a fur sheath. A really light colored, high quality fur with shorter fur on most of the scabbarb and maybe a longer 'ruff' down one side. The kind a viking living in a really snowy area might skin off an animal like a fox or wolf. Were there ever fur sheaths that we know of? I know they sometimes wore bear cloaks & other animal skin.
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Reece Nelson




Location: Overland Park KS
Joined: 18 Oct 2007
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2010 10:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Cole,

I myself have thought about this quit often too Big Grin. My preference would be something historically accurate yet blunt, for safe sparring...so our tastes are different. I decided to hop online to hurstwic's site ( http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manu...sword.htm) and see what they said about viking sword grips. This is what they said on their site.

"The grips were made with a variety of materials, ranging from simple wooden grips wrapped with leather, to elaborately decorated grips wound with wire made from precious metals, or covered with embossed plates of precious metals"

I imagine they may have even used bone if they were wealthy, but im not really sure of practical that would be, considering you may lose your grip with it being so smooth.

As far as the fur sheath, I'v never heard or read any evidence regarding a fur sheath...I would really see no point in it. Doesn't make much since to keep your sword warm Razz and besides I would use the fur on myself before ever thinking of putting it on a sheath.

Hope you search goes well!
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Cole B





Joined: 05 Mar 2008

Posts: 44

PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2010 10:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Reece Nelson wrote:
Hey Cole,

I myself have thought about this quit often too Big Grin. My preference would be something historically accurate yet blunt, for safe sparring...so our tastes are different. I decided to hop online to hurstwic's site ( http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manu...sword.htm) and see what they said about viking sword grips. This is what they said on their site.

"The grips were made with a variety of materials, ranging from simple wooden grips wrapped with leather, to elaborately decorated grips wound with wire made from precious metals, or covered with embossed plates of precious metals"

I imagine they may have even used bone if they were wealthy, but im not really sure of practical that would be, considering you may lose your grip with it being so smooth.

As far as the fur sheath, I'v never heard or read any evidence regarding a fur sheath...I would really see no point in it. Doesn't make much since to keep your sword warm Razz and besides I would use the fur on myself before ever thinking of putting it on a sheath.

Hope you search goes well!

Thanks! I actually just read that page a little before I made the post and must have completely skipped that section. They don't really mention pure wood grips, so maybe I'm being a little crazy. Is it really that much worse on a sword than a knife where you see wood much more often?

As far as the fur, it has about as much practical use as inlays or engravings, I guess, it just looks nice. Then again maybe it would keep the sheath warmer in cold weather for some hand comfort, or be easier to use than treated leather.
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2010 11:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Welcome to the forums!
Well there are finds of swords without much, if any inlaying and other decorative work - although sometimes the time and conditions of the find might be guilty of destroying what was once richly decorated fittings.

As for pure wooden grips - I, personally can not claim to have seen any samples of surviving swords with wood-only grips, then again, many swords are found with only metal parts surviving, so I would not rule out a possibility of wooden grip - just make sure the wood you use would have been available to a viking age smith Happy

As for sheath- well here you do enter a realm of fantasy, as far as we know - there are no surviving remains of fur-covered scabbards, there are no menthions of such scabbards in sagas, and basically there is no evidence that fur was ever used to cover a sword sheath before or after Viking age too. Reasons for this are several - one, scabbards primary "task" is to protect the blade. Thus it must be durable and, preferably, waterproof. Hence the wooden cores used on most swords, covered in leather. Leather, though, quite possibly was tooled and decorated - and if very thin leather was used, it might well be that wooden scabbard itself was elaborately carved, then covered in leather creating a very beautiful scabbard. (One of surviving examples of such is scabbard from famous Valsgarde 8 grave, although it predates viking age, at least we know the technique for decorating scabbards in such way was known and used in the geographical area).
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Cole B





Joined: 05 Mar 2008

Posts: 44

PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 12:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Artis Aboltins wrote:
Welcome to the forums!
Well there are finds of swords without much, if any inlaying and other decorative work - although sometimes the time and conditions of the find might be guilty of destroying what was once richly decorated fittings.

As for pure wooden grips - I, personally can not claim to have seen any samples of surviving swords with wood-only grips, then again, many swords are found with only metal parts surviving, so I would not rule out a possibility of wooden grip - just make sure the wood you use would have been available to a viking age smith Happy

As for sheath- well here you do enter a realm of fantasy, as far as we know - there are no surviving remains of fur-covered scabbards, there are no menthions of such scabbards in sagas, and basically there is no evidence that fur was ever used to cover a sword sheath before or after Viking age too. Reasons for this are several - one, scabbards primary "task" is to protect the blade. Thus it must be durable and, preferably, waterproof. Hence the wooden cores used on most swords, covered in leather. Leather, though, quite possibly was tooled and decorated - and if very thin leather was used, it might well be that wooden scabbard itself was elaborately carved, then covered in leather creating a very beautiful scabbard. (One of surviving examples of such is scabbard from famous Valsgarde 8 grave, although it predates viking age, at least we know the technique for decorating scabbards in such way was known and used in the geographical area).

Interesting info on the decorated scabbards, I hadn't thought of that.

Do you think a thick fur over wood (I believe I read they also often lined the insides with some kind of fur) would be less protective than leather over fur? Am I being completely crazy with this idea or is there any evidence of other cultures or time periods using fur for the outside of scabbards?
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 12:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I am aware there is no evidence of fur beeing used for that purpose. For one reason it would be because dampened fur takes a lot longer to dry than, say, worked and waxed leather - so that dampness might find it's way intot he wood which would eventually damage the scabbard.

As for inside of the scabbard - the most common way would have to be the use sheepskin.
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 1:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Regarding the hilt, I don't think I can remember seeing any intact viking-age hilt, so I can't say whether they were plain wood, wood covered by leather or bone. The only thing I've seen on some is a wire wrap, but it's rare.

Regarding the scabbard, we know that carved wood, probably covered with leather, was used. I've never seen any direct evidence for fur, but I don't really see the technical problem of using fur, as I think it can be made as waterproof as leather.
The fact that Patrick Barta used fur for a replica made for the Moravian Museum in Brno makes me wonder...
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Cole B





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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 2:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
Regarding the hilt, I don't think I can remember seeing any intact viking-age hilt, so I can't say whether they were plain wood, wood covered by leather or bone. The only thing I've seen on some is a wire wrap, but it's rare.

Regarding the scabbard, we know that carved wood, probably covered with leather, was used. I've never seen any direct evidence for fur, but I don't really see the technical problem of using fur, as I think it can be made as waterproof as leather.
The fact that Patrick Barta used fur for a replica made for the Moravian Museum in Brno makes me wonder...

Maybe I'm not so crazy then. I was under the impression most of the knowledge for hilts/sheaths was from the sagas.

Interesting on the Patrick Barta replica, and as an aside, wow, he's extremely good. Would definitely be in consideration for who would construct this dream project.
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David Wilson




Location: In a van down by the river
Joined: 23 Aug 2003

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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 5:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My Patrick Barta viking has a fur-covered scabbard. I got it second-hand, so I don't know whose idea that was. Not that I mind it; I kind of like it. It's cute. A cute, fuzzy scabbard. Okay, so, Vikings shouldn't be into "cute", whaddaya gonna do. Anyway the sword itself was the point, the scabbard was just the cheese on top (I use "cheese" intentionally).

Is it accurate? Not so much. As mentioned, there's no evidence the ancients (Vikings, or anybody else, really) did this. I'm sure, it's got this "Barbarian-Chic" kinda vibe, all the fashionable berserkers will be into it this season.... but historically? Yeah....

David K. Wilson, Jr.
Laird of Glencoe

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2010 11:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cole B wrote:
Maybe I'm not so crazy then. I was under the impression most of the knowledge for hilts/sheaths was from the sagas.
There are quite a few examples of preserved of at least partially preserved grips and scabbards. For scabbards, there is also a lot of pictorial clues (Frankish though, but contemporary):



I've seen scabbard remains that match the complex wraps as shown in the above image.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Cole B





Joined: 05 Mar 2008

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PostPosted: Thu 21 Oct, 2010 1:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Cole B wrote:
Maybe I'm not so crazy then. I was under the impression most of the knowledge for hilts/sheaths was from the sagas.
There are quite a few examples of preserved of at least partially preserved grips and scabbards. For scabbards, there is also a lot of pictorial clues (Frankish though, but contemporary):


I've seen scabbard remains that match the complex wraps as shown in the above image.

So is there archaelogical evidence of leather wrapped hilts/scabbards then? Or has it all completely rotted to nothing if there ever was any leather?

Not trying to imply I doubt they used leather, it makes perfect sense to me, just wondering if the partially preserved parts included leather wrappings.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Thu 21 Oct, 2010 2:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cole B wrote:

So is there archaelogical evidence of leather wrapped hilts/scabbards then? Or has it all completely rotted to nothing if there ever was any leather?
Yeah, I've seen grips with leather sheat glued on, using wire wrap to compress the leather over the hilt while the glue dries, just like in later medieval swords (one example I have in mind that clearly shows the wire imprint on the leather is older though, 7th century IIRC. Of Viking period examples I have not seen the wire imprint yet), as well as leather string wrapped grips. Leather/textile scabbards there are f.e. remains sticking to the blade, to virtually complete leather covers of scabbards or leather sheats preserved in dumps. It's actually surprizing that so little of the finds are generally known, as they are fairly common. I guess it's because the majority of well known Viking period swords are the museum displayed examples that are nice and clean (probably a result from rather thourough cleaning to bare metal during the 19th century on a lot of those examples), which look "better" on photo in books. You'd be surprized at how often blades from the period are preserved with at least some organic remains.
Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
- Barbarian metalworking
- Museum photos
- Zip-file with information about saxes
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