Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Tang size question Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
D. S. Smith




Location: Central CA
Joined: 02 Oct 2011

Posts: 221

PostPosted: Thu 27 Oct, 2011 7:40 pm    Post subject: Tang size question         Reply with quote

I'm shocked when I see pictures of the tangs on historical swords. Many of them seem incredibly small. Even modern reproductions that use decent sized tangs like these...
http://www.albion-swords.com/bareblades.htm

...still seem very small and breakable to me. I'd think that under hard use they would bend or break often. I know many modern knife makers of high quality knives use a "hidden tang", I believe it's called, where the tang is the same width as the grip itself, just with slabs over it. What would have been the downside of making sword hilts with tangs like this? it would obviously add a slight amount of weight, but not much, and it would seem far more sturdy.

I've seen a few historic blades that used this design, but none of them seemed like the steriotypical "medieval aged sword".

Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them,
In the halls of Valhalla!
Where the brave may live forever!
View user's profile Send private message
Tom King




Location: florida
Joined: 11 Sep 2009
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 429

PostPosted: Thu 27 Oct, 2011 8:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tension within the whole hilt assembly helps keep the tang from being over strained. Besides that, lets say the tang of a sword is 3/4 to an inch and 1/4 odd inch wide properly tempered. The amount of force necessary to actually break the tang is almost like running it over with a truck. Repeated blows over time can weaken it (especially if there is a low quality weld or flaw that could create a stress crack) and it could eventually break. The yield strenth of most steel types from low carbon to high carbon is in the range of 30,000psi to 70,000+ depending on the specific steel type. its some pretty strong stuff. And there are European designs that use a scale grip on a wide tang (The messer immediately comes to mind) http://pics.myArmoury.com/view.html?messer_kit01.jpg
View user's profile Send private message
Aleksei Sosnovski





Joined: 04 Mar 2008

Posts: 313

PostPosted: Fri 28 Oct, 2011 12:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually many medieval swords had soft tangs which could possibly bend but were very unlikely to break. But, as already said, tension of the grip assembly keeps the tang from bending.

Many medieval swords (especially later ones) had thicker tangs than most normal reproductions. While most reproduction swords are about 6mm (1/4") thick authentic swords could be as thick as 8mm at the base of the blade. And many earlier swords that were thinner had pretty wide tangs.

Also one should keep in mind that people did not understand the process of heat treatment very well. Some swords were a total crap by modern standards. Blades were far more likely to break than tangs. And even bent tang does not render the sword useless.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,307

PostPosted: Fri 28 Oct, 2011 5:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also, "hard use" may not have been nearly as hard as you might think! Swords were not meant for trying to smash shields apart or cutting horses in half or chopping fire wood. You really don't need much force to lay flesh open to the bone, so the average stroke didn't have to be full-force. So even if it was blocked, the tang wasn't likely to suffer.

Bottom line, those tangs must have worked well enough, or the ancients would not have kept making them that way!

Matthew
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Johan Gemvik




Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Joined: 10 Nov 2009

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 793

PostPosted: Fri 28 Oct, 2011 7:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some tangs were very wide, others very thick. Some larger seaxes had the same full width tangs seen on japanese swords and Tantos, like the Battersea Seax. Others were thin, at times surprisingly so.

The albion line is known for its durability, these blades can cut up the rims of steel oil drums and stand up to rather extreme "cruel and unusual" punishment as seen in their testing videos. Seems to me these tangs are wide enough, at least as long the grip assembly is made the right way.

The weak point of a tang is the intersection between it and the blade. It really only needs to be wide there, or alternatively intersect with a rouning instead of a sharp corner as that is really what makes it liable to break. Another solution is to fatten it at that spot like you see in the Gladius blades in the link.
The rest of it need to be made softer than the blade temper but can be fairly thin as long as there's enough cross section for a strong peen to be made.

Aleksei makes a good point also, some swords were just crap.
Others were made as durable as possible within the knowlege and skillset the smith possessed, sometimes a customer may have requested a heavier than needed tang, if his/her sword broke there in the last battle and they never want to experience that again.
My theory about viking age seaxes that have full width tangs is that they were intended to work double as an axe or, especially considering some huge and/or more massive than regular sword seaxes, made to bash heavily armoured opponets senseless with brute force and built to that purpose. Just a theory though of course.
Another theory would be that just like japanese swords, the iron used for seax-making was of poorer quality than that of "real" swords. So the tang had to be made thicker than usual to compensate. Unless you were using sword grade metal. That would explain why some seaxes have thin tangs while most have thick tangs. A combination of both reasons is certainly also possible.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
View user's profile Send private message
D. S. Smith




Location: Central CA
Joined: 02 Oct 2011

Posts: 221

PostPosted: Fri 28 Oct, 2011 8:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the responses all! The differing qualities of metal and treating process was something I hadn't considered. I knew the messers had full tangs, but it didn't make sense to me that the more typical sword designs did not. It still seems to me that if you could avoid any possible breaking or bending by simply adding a very small amount of weight, why wouldn't you? But as you said, if it didn't work, they wouldn't have done it for centuries I suppose.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them,
In the halls of Valhalla!
Where the brave may live forever!
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew P. Adams




Location: Cape Cod, MA
Joined: 08 Dec 2008
Likes: 8 pages

Posts: 456

PostPosted: Fri 28 Oct, 2011 1:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What about guilds?

From what I understand, (and I'm just a guy with a hobby, not a scholar ) If it had a wide tang and slab handle then it was a knife? And if you are in the knife makers guild then you couldn't sell swords? Maybe?

Or dynamics?

Having a narrower tang with a pommel peened to it means you can use the weight of the pommel to adjust the harmonics of the sword? Different weighted pommels would allow a smith to fine tune the dynamic properties of the sword?

Ay's or Nay's?
View user's profile Send private message
Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
Joined: 15 Mar 2004
Likes: 50 pages
Reading list: 1 book

Spotlight topics: 5
Posts: 8,178

PostPosted: Sat 29 Oct, 2011 3:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is this Spotlight Topic that also had a discussion about tang size that has a few interesting posts to read:
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=5255

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
View user's profile Send private message
Colt Reeves





Joined: 09 Mar 2009

Posts: 466

PostPosted: Sat 29 Oct, 2011 4:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew P. Adams wrote:
What about guilds?

From what I understand, (and I'm just a guy with a hobby, not a scholar ) If it had a wide tang and slab handle then it was a knife? And if you are in the knife makers guild then you couldn't sell swords? Maybe?

Or dynamics?

Having a narrower tang with a pommel peened to it means you can use the weight of the pommel to adjust the harmonics of the sword? Different weighted pommels would allow a smith to fine tune the dynamic properties of the sword?

Ay's or Nay's?


Though I have not read any of the literature on guilds and whathaveyou, the knives versus swords thing doesn't seem at all likely to me. Occam's Razor: Since these "small" tangs worked just fine, why bother with the larger? You're more likely to have to retire the sword due to blade damage than snap the tang.

A point not already mentioned: A lot of cheap modern swords have overly thick grips, but historically the grips tended to be narrower. With that in mind, some of those you see in Albion's line-up can't be made much bigger without interfering with grip size. Yes, you could squeeze out a little more by going with slab design, but still: Why bother?

To relate this to the guilds though, perhaps sword tangs were made on the "small" side so that later a cutler would have free rein to make the grip as small as the customer wanted. Admittedly that only works to a certain point (nobody would insist on something too small for use), but it makes more sense to me than a segregation of knives and swords by hilt design.

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown.
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small.
For Iron, Cold Iron, must be master of men all..."
-Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling
View user's profile Send private message
Jim Mearkle




Location: Colonie, NY
Joined: 20 Mar 2004
Reading list: 3 books

Posts: 113

PostPosted: Sat 29 Oct, 2011 8:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm surprised no one has mentioned economics. Steel was much more expensive before Mr. Bessemer patented his furnace in 1855. In general, no more steel or iron would be used than necessary for the purpose at hand.
Jim
View user's profile Send private message
Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

Posts: 1,307

PostPosted: Sun 30 Oct, 2011 7:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jim Mearkle wrote:
I'm surprised no one has mentioned economics. Steel was much more expensive before Mr. Bessemer patented his furnace in 1855. In general, no more steel or iron would be used than necessary for the purpose at hand.


That does not explain why sword tangs could be narrower than knife tangs. No, the amount of steel needed to widen or thicken a sword tang was completely insignificant compared to the cost (materials and highly skilled labor) of the rest of the blade.

One thing about scale tangs is that the edges of the tang are in direct contact with the hand. Could this be a factor for swords? The shock of impact would be transmitted to the hand, whereas with a grip that completely encloses the tang there would be some cushioning. I don't know enough about sword physics to know if this was ever an actual consideration, just curious. And I realize that some types of swords, especially later, were made with scale tangs, so it's not a theory that's likely to hold water!

Matthew

Edit: Check out this old thread, already referred to above:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=5255

The bit about welded tangs on originals is particularly scary! But I still don't see that as an *economic* choice.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Jonathan Hopkins




PostPosted: Sun 30 Oct, 2011 8:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
And I realize that some types of swords, especially later, were made with scale tangs, so it's not a theory that's likely to hold water!


Indeed--All British cavalry troopers' swords from 1853-1908 were made in this fashion. At the time, this style of construction was patented in Britain by Charles Reeves and was know as a Patent Tang or Patent Solid Hilt.

Matthew Amt wrote:
Edit: Check out this old thread, already referred to above:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=5255

The bit about welded tangs on originals is particularly scary! But I still don't see that as an *economic* choice.


This method was still in use in Britain as late as the 1880s: British Blade Forging
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Tang size question
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum