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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Thu 19 May, 2011 9:55 pm    Post subject: Handling of Bronze Age swords.         Reply with quote

Any of you out there who have Bronze Age swords, Halstatt swords and similar, I am wondering how they handle. I have a pretty good feel for how medieval swords work, but these are a different animal. I am curious about COP, pivot points and such. Are leaf-bladed swords meant to be fairly blade heavy, or should they have forward pivot points (relative to the shoulders) that are close to the point, like a typical medieval sword? Has anyone ever cut with a (historically accurate) bronze sword or iron/steel leaf-bladed sword? Does anyone have any thoughts on what sort of techniques would be appropriate for such swords. I want to make some Naue type II's, an iron Halstatt and eventually some bronze blades, but pictures give me no idea what mass distribution should be like. Please help me.

Also, what is up with the hilts? Oakeshott says that the grips are very short, and that only three fingers go on the grip, with the forefinger and thumb wrapping around the shoulders. Is this true? How long are the grips on a typical Halstatt or Naue II? 7-8 cm? 9-10 cm? Plus, some of the pommel types used look somewhat awkward. How does a big mushroom or "Mexican hat" pommel affect handling. Any info or thoughts would be most helpful.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Thu 19 May, 2011 11:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Because of the shortness of their hilts and lack of substantial pommels, you will not find forward pivot point very close to the point on bronze swords.

Some types/examples are pretty massive and make no excuse for themselves: these blades have a lot of presence and forward pull.
Many are rather light, or at least very short in proportion to their mass. There is no need for a massive pommel to "counterbalance" these blade.
Rather it is the ergonomics of the hilt that gives you a secure hold and good control of the blade. The shortness of the hilt is the key feature: it locks your hand in place. The little disc-shaped or door knob-shaped pommel is snug to the heel of your hand and the shoulders of the hilt (the "guard") fills the part of your hand between thumb and index finger. This gives you a good sense of how the edge is aligned.
When you grip the sword tighter it will "squeeze back" like a firm hand shake.

Of those original bronze swords that I have handled (not very many: a dozen? twenty?), many give the impression of being primarily intended for thrusting/stabbing. They lack for the most part the weight and heft to deliver powerful cleaving blows. They would still be dangerous in slashing/cutting attacks against softer parts of the body: they would cut through muscle, destroy tendons and open blood vessels with out difficulty. I get the impression that they are like double edged kebab knives, with good points. Slicing meat is no problem. Cutting bone is not the intention or necessary.
Even heftier Naue swords are not like viking swords in their heft. They are cutting swords and may be more massive than other bronze swords, but they are still much shorter than later era weapons. This has an effect in how they feel.

I do not think you can get a good idea of what the swords of the bronze agewere like by judging replicas. There are very few good replicas of bronze swords on the market. Most are overbuilt and lack good observations in blade shape and edge geometry. The swords of the bronze age are subtle things often very finely made. It is important that size, proportions and shape is done just right, or the result will be very far from the real thing.
EDIT: I think a good exception from this is the work done by Neil Burridge: his blades are based on close study of originals.

Yesterday I spent the better part of the day in the basement of the historical museum in Stockholm. I had asked to study some Ulfberht swords. It was a good day.
In a box on the side were two fine and very early bronze swords. In very good state of preservation, both had sharp edges still, despite being made more than 3500 years ago. Very serious and effective edge geometry (a hollow ground edge bevel down to absolute sharpness: like a sturdy straight razor). Absolutely made with the intention to deliver deep cuts with a minimum of effort. But still: primarily stabbing weapons, I should guess. Not very long in the blade. You may think they are large daggers, but they have somehow crossed the border and feel like swords, despite being rather short and light.



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Not a plaything: this is a weapon for a full grown warrior, despite its small size.

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A very fine sword: the shoulders of the hilt makes gripping with thumb and index secure. Edges are *sharp*.
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Fri 20 May, 2011 5:35 am    Post subject: Use of bronze sword         Reply with quote

I would agree with Peter's assessment. These swords are quite something to hold. While they do not feel like a medieval sword they are more akin to the feeling of a large thrusting knife. The dynamics of the swords I have handled (fewer than Peter :-) ) remind me of the large saxes I have felt. We have one such bronze sword in The Oakeshott Collection and three sax blades and they definitely have an orientation to the thrusting action from a "chambered" position.

If you look at some of the large knife manuals such as the bowie knife you will get an idea of some of the actions these weapons would be good at. The other element to keep in mind is they would probably have shields as accompanying armament. This allows a different mix of offensive and defensive orientation for the weapon than a single handed weapon with no shield would need.

I have specs for the sword in our collection and will post as soon as I can find them.

Best
Craig
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Fri 20 May, 2011 1:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a reasonable collection of bronze swords by Neil Burridge (in various stages of completion), and I've also handled a few originals.

The shorter swords (Naue II, Ewart Park, Gundlingen etc.) are, while being very different swords in their own right, all swords for which cutting feels as natural as thrusting. But the cutting action is not similar to medieval single handers. None of them feel like daggers.

I've studied Pencak Silat for quite a while. One of the weapons Pencak Silat uses is the golok, a "machete" like blade, but much heavier. The style (or at least the style I practiced) was very fast, close-in and flowing.
Here are a few video's:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU7hKDkFj7I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHGBWh974co&feature=related
Please note that these are "form" and more flowery than the combat application, which is usually shorter and more direct.

Anyway, I find that the shorter swords handle a lot like a golok, and I imagine that they were used in a similar way, although I would imagine that a light, leather shield would play a much bigger part in bronze age combat than it does in present-day Pencak Silat. If one considers that single combat between heroes plays a large role in whatever literature we have from the European bronze age / early iron age, it would make sense that technique and skill could have played a large role.

I don't have a lot of experience with bowies, but I find them both much shorter and lighter than the "typical" bronze sword. Despite my lack of experience, I would respectfully disagree with Craig when he says that bowie fighting could give much insight into fighting with bronze age swords.

In the end we don't know, so it's all speculation anyway, but the dynamics of say, the Ewart Park, is much more like a golok than it is like a bowie.

The Mindelheim sword is in a class of it's own. It's a monster and feels very powerful. On the same level or even more so as a Viking sword. But it´s very slow to recover, leading to the idea that it may have been a sword for cavalry.

Btw Peter, you´ve made me jealous (again Wink)... Especially the second one seems like a beauty. Do you happen to have a picture of the entire sword?
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Fri 20 May, 2011 1:45 pm    Post subject: Historical Combat and weapons         Reply with quote

Hi Paul

Difference of opinion is what makes life interesting and is how you grow Happy so no worries on seeing something different here than I. We all approach these unknown elements of how the items where used from our experiential back grounds and may be seeing similarities that others are not aware of or have missed.

I would guess if we where in the same room with trainers and practicing we may well be closer than it sounds as I see some of the very elements in the golok work that I would describe from the large knife/messer work I have done. The bowie reference comes from the frankish saxes I referred to above and the similarities they have with some of the large knives of the late 1800's in America that are collectively grouped as bowie knives. This is what I was in mind of when commenting above as opposed to some of the slimmer and more action orientated modern fighting bowies that some advocate today.

I think the bronze age and early iron age pieces would work well with the short cut and thrust elements in these fighting systems.

I will try to post some pics and such with the specs I have a bit later today.

Best
Craig
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Fri 20 May, 2011 5:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you very much Peter, Craig and Paul. That is just the sort of perspective I was looking for. Now I have a reasonable idea of what I am going for. Basically, I can go really sturdy as long as it is not totally ridiculous. Can any of you tell me anything about blade thickness, distal taper and/or placement of pivot points so I can quantify your observations somewhat?

I keep imagining that those disc pommels would feel awkward. I think I will try making a wooden model/waster so I can get a feel for how the hilt is supposed to work. I have a nice flattened mushroom-shaped pommel made from the base of an elk antler, about 5cm in diameter. When I hold it in place at the end of a loose grip I have lying around, it feels as though it would dig into the heel of my hand. Am I just using too much of a handshake grip when I should be using more of a hammer grip?

I find the hollow-grinding of the edges to be an interesting feature. I am so used to thin, convex or wedge-shaped edge geometries, it is a little hard to adjust to the idea of a sturdier concave edge. I imagine this has something to do with having less of a need to combat armor, as well as a way to have a good flesh-cutting edge while maintaining stiffness with a weaker, softer or more brittle material. Am I far off?
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Sat 21 May, 2011 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am going to start my mild steel Naue this week. I am thinking about making the mid-rib about 10-12 mm thick at the base and 6-8 mm thick at the widest part of the blade, about 2/3 of the way down. I am going to try to get the forward pivot point to fall somewhere close to the same point. The blade will probably be about 5cm wide at the base and COP, and about 3-4cm wide at the narrowest part near the forte. Total blade length will be fairly short, somewhere between 40 and 55cm. This will be a sort of prototype. Do these guidelines seem reasonable?
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Tue 24 May, 2011 12:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Scott Woodruff wrote:
I am going to start my mild steel Naue this week. I am thinking about making the mid-rib about 10-12 mm thick at the base and 6-8 mm thick at the widest part of the blade, about 2/3 of the way down. I am going to try to get the forward pivot point to fall somewhere close to the same point. The blade will probably be about 5cm wide at the base and COP, and about 3-4cm wide at the narrowest part near the forte. Total blade length will be fairly short, somewhere between 40 and 55cm. This will be a sort of prototype. Do these guidelines seem reasonable?
It sounds rather thick, especially for such a short blade. But it depends a lot on the shape of the cross-section. Mind that most examples with a strong midrib have very thin parts right next to it to keep the weight low. For a 50-60cm sword, the weight would generally be in the order of 500-700 gram. The really big ones at >80cm, like the mindelheims, could get up to 1kg.

Regarding the hilts, they were helt in two ways: handshake with one finger before the hilt, and hammergrip. On many swords, the first part of the edge before the sword is not sharpened, so you can wrap your finger around it. This allows you to point the sword straight forwards parallel to your arm. The hilts are identical to hilts on tulwars in a lot of ways. The curved blade in a tulwar makes the sword move very differently, but otherwise there are many similarities with bronze age swords.

As Peter mentions, it's very easy to do bronze swords wrong, difficult to get them right. So it's important to pick one specific example of which you can get as much data as possible. Having line-drawings and knowing the weight is a start, but still leaves far to much variables open. Also keep in mind that the cross-section drawings are usually very inaccurate, with usually only the maximum thickness being more or less correct. The rest is just sketched visually to indicate the shape roughly, but edge geometry, actual thickness distribution is usually way off.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
- Barbarian metalworking
- Museum photos
- Zip-file with information about saxes
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Tue 24 May, 2011 7:19 am    Post subject: Example as promised         Reply with quote

Here are some pics that will give folks a base of what I am mentioning in my comments above.







A- Northern Europe c. 1300 BC Total weight is 2.48 pounds or 1125g, Overall Length 28.5 inches/ 724mm , Blade Length is just a hair over 24 inches/ 609mm long and 1.8 inches/46mm wide at its widest point, which is 13.25 inches/ 336mm in front of the guard. The upper 2 inches of the blade edge is rounded.

In the second pic you can see the ricasso area of the blade quite clearly. WHile my hands are not small I can grip this sword very comfortably and it has a very nice heft to it.

B-D Frankish Sax blades

E- Luristanian sword

Jeroen's comments on the cross section are very important. In the two examples above the cross sections are completely different. Sword A is very thick and lenticular in cross section. Sword B is the classic heavy ribs that transition into a very thin body of the sword at the base of the rib. This is quite thin out to the edge. Makes for a lighter faster weapon, also uses less material but does not have the same energy when making contact with a target.

I would suggest that the two swords pictured here would have different ways of being used most effectively in combat.

Hope these images and comments are helpful to the discussion. Sorry took me some time to get them up been a hectic weekend.

Best
Craig
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Tue 24 May, 2011 6:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you very much Craig and Jeroen, the weights and measurements are especially helpful. I had developed the impression that these blades were quite thick from looking at illustrations of cross-sections. The measurements I gave above were for a blade with a thick, rounded mid-rib with much thinner edges. A more lenticular section I would make somewhat thinner. These blades look pretty beefy in the photos. Considering the materials used, it makes sense that they would have to be in order to maintain a good working stiffness. 1125g for a sword with a blade only 60cm long is indeed heftier than a typical medieval sword. Bronze is only infinitismally heavier than iron or steel, right?

Jeroen, both you and Peter said that it is hard to get Bronze Age swords right and easy to get them wrong. What would you consider to be the most common mistakes to avoid? I would certainly like to take your advice on copying one sword that I have lots of info on, but I am having a hard time finding the sort of data I would need. I am getting over my first stumbling block, namely too close of comparison to medieval swords. I am serious about performance and am not one to make a boat anchor. If anything, I am more likely to err on the opposite extreme. If I could find some hard data on blade thickness and degree of distal taper, it would be a god-send.

Thank you all again, you have all been most helpful.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Tue 24 May, 2011 10:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two most common mistakes I think is making the grip bigger "to make room for modern bigger hands" and to overbuild the blade, making the edges too thick.
Distal taper is important. Not all swords have this to a great degree, but it is still important to get the small amount there is right.
Shape of the grip is something one should look carefully at. Not only size, but where and how it curves and swells.
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 9:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you Peter. I am currently carving a wooden model for the purpose of working out the size and shape of the grip. The grip is about 3 1/2 inches from the swell of the shoulders to the pommel. With the fleshy base of the thumb in the indentation at the base of the shoulder swelling and fore-finger wrapped around the shoulder, my thumb-tip falls into the notch of the shoulder plate alongside the base of the mid-rib and the fish-tail at the pommel-end of the grip cradles the heel of my hand. Does this sound like the way it is supposed to work? As to the blade, I like them stiff so I plan on making the mid-rib pretty thick (maybe 8mm thick) with thinner edge sections (about 4mm next to the mid-rib.) Maybe 25-30% distal taper on this one? I have also have a piece of spring steel that I want to use to make a lenticular-section blade. It is only 4.75mm thick. Is that too thin? Not much room for distal taper at that thickness, so maybe more like 15%? Thank you again, your help has been invaluable.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 11:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most common mistakes:
- Too large handle
- Too heavy blade (thickness and/or lack of distal taper)
- Wrong cross-section
- Wrong material

Scott Woodruff wrote:
Does this sound like the way it is supposed to work?
Sound ok to me, if I understand you right. Happy


Scott Woodruff wrote:
As to the blade, I like them stiff so I plan on making the mid-rib pretty thick (maybe 8mm thick) with thinner edge sections (about 4mm next to the mid-rib.) Maybe 25-30% distal taper on this one?


I've misplaced my calipers... Worried But 8mm and 4mm sounds a bit too thick. I would say 6mm midrib and 3mm blade, but that's just me eyeballing...
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 9:08 pm    Post subject: More info         Reply with quote

Hi Guys

I realized I did not include the cog in my specs above for sword A.
Here are some more specs and a rotational view of the grip to show the dimensions and structure.

COG from Pommel: 11.125"/282mm
COG from Tip: 17.375"/441mm
COG from Guard: 6.5"/165mm

Thickness of blade
at Guard: .343"/8.7mm
Guard +3": .375"/9.5mm
Guard +6": .375"/9.5mm
Guard +9": .343"/8.7mm
Guard +12": .343"/8.7mm
Guard +15": .281"/7.1mm
Guard +18": .219"/5.6mm
Guard +21": .171"/4.3mm
.5" from tip: .094"/2.4mm

Hope this info is helpful.


As for the cross section on this sword it is a bit of a saucer or UFO shape. The center of the blade is convex, then transitions into an area of concave and again shifts to convex prior to reaching the edge. Complex, strong and very subtle.

Best
Craig
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Wed 25 May, 2011 10:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow, Craig, that is awesome! I am set!
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 1:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Take note of the pommel button on the sword Craig posted: it has a grove at its base and there is a hole in the base of the pommel-disc. There was most probably a thong secured around the pommel button with a loop going through the pommel disc. This loop could be passed over the hand, and so give the wielder of the sword a more secure hold of the sword. A small detail, but interesting, in that it gives us a small clue to how these swords were wielded.
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 7:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting. I noticed when wielding my wooden model that when striking my grip would shift from the one described above to one in which the fleshy thumb-base went into the indentation next to the pommel with my thumb-tip falling into the indentation next to the hilt plate and forefinger in the opposite indentation, with the pommel going more into the palm of my hand. When transitioning to a thrust, it was quite natural to resume the more choked-up grip. I can totaly see how a wrist lanyard would be a useful feature on such a grip, allowing a light, easy-transitioning grip without fear of losing the weapon. I wonder, do Naue type II,s and Mindelheim's show any sign of similar wrist-straps? I suppose that even if they lacked the hole, a strap could easily be looped or tied over the pommel.
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 9:56 am    Post subject: Lanyards         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
Take note of the pommel button on the sword Craig posted: it has a grove at its base and there is a hole in the base of the pommel-disc. There was most probably a thong secured around the pommel button with a loop going through the pommel disc. This loop could be passed over the hand, and so give the wielder of the sword a more secure hold of the sword. A small detail, but interesting, in that it gives us a small clue to how these swords were wielded.


Peter has pointed out a very important element here. Many styles of sword where used with lanyards and this has been done from the bronze age to the final days of Calvary charges and smallsword use. It is probably one of the most over looked areas of sword use study and one that has little research done on it. There are even mentions, in the sagas, of viking combatants having a second sword tied to their wrist in case they needed it.

This is different than many perceptions of how swords where used in period. It is one of those aspects of the sword that adds more diversity and complexity to understanding it as a tool. One that a lot of scholars overlook or are unaware of.

Best
Craig
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Greg Mele
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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 11:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can only add input from a swordsman's point of view. I have handled all of the pieces Craig showed, and example "A" three or four times now. It is one of my favorite swords in the entire collection. There is something very different about bronze swords from their steel counterparts, and from most replicas. The blade as a "presence" in the hand, comparable to a messer or early Viking piece that modern smiths often try to reproduce with mass. It isn't that at all. As Peter said, the blades are carefully shaped and tapered, and while yes, example A certainly has some weight for its size, it balances in the hand quite nicely.

I mention this because Peter said something early on in this thread that I think people miss - even the smaller bronze swords feel like *sword*, not daggers, when you take them in hand. A machete is not a great comparison, because the machete doesn't really thrust and is not balanced the same way. I think a large bowie knife is closer.

Anyway, my point here is that from someone who knows a lot more about how to use a sword than how to make one, I really find these ancient bronze weapons fascinating because their size, thickness, etc gives us an impression based on ferrous blades, as that is what we are familiar with, but then you pick one up and realize it is quite something else.

I'll tell you this much - don't ever let someone tell you that these weapons are "crude"; they are works of art and handling the one's in the Oakeshott collection and a few others really gave me a new appreciation for Bronze Age smithcraft

Greg Mele
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Scott Woodruff





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PostPosted: Thu 26 May, 2011 3:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for your input Greg. I agree that there is nothing crude about these weapons. Sturdy, yes. Brutal, yes. Crude, no!I find that swords were extremely finely-tuned tools right from the beginning. My experience has been that blades less than 60cm or so can be quite beefy and still be very agile and quick, whereas with longer blades things get much more critical, with tiny differences in mass distribution having a HUGE effect on handling. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I am going for, now it is time to see how it translates into metal. One final thing would help me quantify all of these subjective impressions. I get the feeling that the forward pivot point (relative to the shoulders) should be somewhere near the broadest part of the blade. Does that sound correct? Given the measurements Craig provided, that is where I would guess it should fall.

Craig, I am a big fan of wrist lanyards. Most of my clubs and axes have them, and I use the amentum on my spears as a wrist lanyard when not throwing them. Is there any evidence for them on Naue II's or Mindelheims? Do you have any ideas on what would be the most historically plausible way to incorporate one?
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