Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Organic hilt materials - which is best? Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
Stephen Curtin




Location: Cork, Ireland
Joined: 17 Nov 2007
Likes: 110 pages
Reading list: 18 books

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,158

PostPosted: Fri 03 Feb, 2012 8:16 am    Post subject: Organic hilt materials - which is best?         Reply with quote

During the Iron Age (and other times, but especially the Iron Age) a wide variety of organic materials were used for sword hilts e.g. bone, horn, antler, ivory, and various types of wood. My question is what are the advantages of each material, or was there a purpose to which each of them was best suited? For instance which is the most durable?
Éirinn go Brách
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Gene W




Location: The South Of England
Joined: 01 Dec 2010

Posts: 116

PostPosted: Fri 03 Feb, 2012 11:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bone can be a little brittle, it can crack, chip and split.
Buffalo horn will dry out over time. Old hilts made from Buffalo horn are often charcterized by splits and surface delamination. But Buffalo horn is good for many years before problems arise.
Elephant Ivory also can be a little brittle and can chip and crack.
Stag horn is tremendously hard and durable. I've worked on sections from a pair that were well over a century old. Still just as hard and usable despite being neglected and abused for many decades.

Some types of horn, like wood are suseptible to worm attack and can have large chucks chewed out of them.
View user's profile Send private message
Christopher Treichel




Location: Metro D.C.
Joined: 14 Jan 2010

Posts: 268

PostPosted: Fri 03 Feb, 2012 2:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another advantage of using deer antler is that once you cut it latterally all you have to do is boil it until the center gets soft and then insert your blade... once cool that blade is set with no need for glue.
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 03 Feb, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wasn't ivory used for revolver grips because it wouldn't swell and shrink with humidity? The more stable nature meant a more consistent grouping?
"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
View user's profile Send private message
Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Fri 03 Feb, 2012 7:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't say anything about the strength of these materials in use. It seems as though a well-aimed blow against bone, wood or horn would probably shatter the piece whatever its material was. But, as far as how long the stuff lasts, obviously bone or horn seem to be the best contenders. There have been various bronze age weapons recovered with partial or full bone hilts and handles in relatively intact states, attesting to its immense longevity. This holds particularly true when we can assume that wood was the most prevalent form of handle material, but is seldom found except in perfect states of preservation.

On the other hand, wood was presumably more popular because it was less expensive and easier to whittle into shape. Also, nearly any decent sized chunk of wood could work for ancient sword hilts, pommels or handles, while bones had to be of a rather large size to be useful in such applications. This is another reason why it would probably be more expensive and prestigious to use bone. Horn would even be more extreme in such cases.

-Gregory
View user's profile Send private message
Johan Gemvik




Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Joined: 10 Nov 2009

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 793

PostPosted: Sat 04 Feb, 2012 3:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Curly Birch is my personal favorite for organic handle material. The grain grows in curls so it's both beautiful to look at and resistive to cracking sicne it's strong in all directions.
For an extra strong handle, metal wire wrap it. Plenty of partial and full wire wrapped handles seen in finds from viking age and all up to modern day. If you wnat the strength but still be able to see the organic material wrap an inch or so near the blade intersection only, there are lots of handles like that in finds from viking age Sweden.

Christopher Treichel wrote:
Another advantage of using deer antler is that once you cut it latterally all you have to do is boil it until the center gets soft and then insert your blade... once cool that blade is set with no need for glue.


Thanks! I just have to try this.
I've only done hot tang insertions in wood handles and thought it was the same you did with the stag horn too. Next knife I make after the one I'm finishing up right now gets boiled stag horn for sure.

"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
Christopher Treichel




Location: Metro D.C.
Joined: 14 Jan 2010

Posts: 268

PostPosted: Sat 04 Feb, 2012 4:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you want to try the "insert knife tang into antler" method... be advised... don't do this indoors... First off when I said boil, I meant boild for a long time as in many hours... how long, well that depends on what stage your antler is in. It needs to be one that still has the softer stuff inside (not sure what its called) dropped antlers won't work. Also boiling antler gives off a wonderfull aroma that will make no one want to enter your house for a long period of time.
View user's profile Send private message
Stephen Curtin




Location: Cork, Ireland
Joined: 17 Nov 2007
Likes: 110 pages
Reading list: 18 books

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,158

PostPosted: Sat 04 Feb, 2012 6:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks gents for all of the informative replies. If we assume that ivory, antler, and horn were used for there rarity, expense, and appearance, and that bone and wood were of roughly the same availability and price (maybe bone was a little more expensive, I'm not sure). Then why would one select bone instead of wood as a material for sword grips, as the Romans did for their gladii? Was it for durability? Did it warrant the extra effort that it took to find the right bone, and to carve it?
Éirinn go Brách
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Matthew Bunker




Location: Somerset UK
Joined: 02 Apr 2009

Posts: 483

PostPosted: Sat 04 Feb, 2012 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christopher Treichel wrote:
dropped antlers won't work. Also boiling antler gives off a wonderfull aroma that will make no one want to enter your house for a long period of time.


Dropped antlers do work, and you don't need to boil them. I just cut them roughly to length and then leave them (regardless of how long I've had them) to soak in water for a week and that softens up the core enough to drive the tang in.

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
View user's profile Send private message
Christopher Treichel




Location: Metro D.C.
Joined: 14 Jan 2010

Posts: 268

PostPosted: Sat 04 Feb, 2012 7:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

soak in water for a week... must try that next time... antler also becomes maleable as a whole to some point once you boil the living XXXXXXXXX out of it. that is how those inlays on crossbows and firearms were/are done

As to using bone... one interesting thing I happened to notice is that bone is kind of like tempered glass... if you hit it from the side its pretty tough. but if you protect the ends with something a bit resistant say like wood its pretty tough. Second, bone also has a tendency to not be slipery when whet. Still in the working process of finishing a gladius and bone is not so bad.
View user's profile Send private message
Johan Gemvik




Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Joined: 10 Nov 2009

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 793

PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2012 5:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Slippage factor is actually worth considering about hilt materials. It may even be of higher priority that how tough a material is. If you drop your weapon it's not a good day at the battlefield. Could actually be the last day there. Wink

I too find that bone gives a good non slip surface, at least if it isn't mirror polished.

Wood that's high polished like what we love to see on finely crafted knives today is actually pretty slippery when wet, which isn't a good idea. I've experimented with beeswax coating, which is sticky and helps a bit, but the best way to get a good grip with wood materials is to keep it somewhat coarse. But that doesn't look as good. Oiling it with some oils (i.e linseed oil) will give some coarseness back after it's given time to absorb though, that's one way around it but it still changes the finish from knife display mirror shine to something lesser.

Antler kept raw (brown mottled outer surface) will give a good grip due to the rough surface, but migth be uncomfortable for extended periods of working with a knife or sword. I am a softie for the wilderness look though, what you see with old Bowies and also some scottish baskethilts that have some or all of the natural antler coarseness intact used as a handle.

As I said earlier I prefer wire wrapping, this really works. You'd think it would slip since it's a metal surface, but the ribbing of it makes for a secure grip. Especially so if you're wearing a thin leather glove. Even sticks in your hand when wet or coated with blood. I happened to cut my hand during tatami cutting practice this one time, I didn't notice it until afterwards when the handle was all smered up but it showed the wire wrap does work as good as the old sagas say.

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge


Last edited by Johan Gemvik on Sun 05 Feb, 2012 2:53 pm; edited 3 times in total
View user's profile Send private message
Ken Speed





Joined: 09 Oct 2006

Posts: 656

PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2012 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not to hijack the thread but what is used now as a replacement for ivory and where does one buy it ( In North America?)
View user's profile Send private message
Jared Smith




Location: Tennessee
Joined: 10 Feb 2005
Likes: 1 page

Spotlight topics: 3
Posts: 1,532

PostPosted: Sun 05 Feb, 2012 9:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Not to hijack the thread but what is used now as a replacement for ivory and where does one buy it ( In North America?)


There are some grades of white Micarta or linen phenolic that look pretty nice as a substitute for ivory or bone. This is used for knife scales and gun grips. It can be hard to find in a large block suitable for a one piece dagger or sword grip, but there are similar materials at knife maker suppliers on the internet. I have previously seen larger sized pieces of ivory substitute material for custom making of pool sticks.. which sometimes use an ivory section of the pole.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Organic hilt materials - which is best?
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