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J. Nicolaysen




Location: Wyoming
Joined: 03 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 12:25 pm    Post subject: How much research for a custom order?         Reply with quote

Hi,

Here is a question for those lucky people who are fortunate enough to commission a custom order based on an existing historical piece, or perhaps drawing from a few pieces related by type or time. It might also be interesting to hear from custom makers for their side of things.

Basically, if you have identified a piece you want commissioned, how much research do you do yourself before or during the process? Do you just send a picture, or do you try to exhaust every avenue of research to provide to the maker? This is more like research and measurements and photographs of the actual piece, rather than general research about the time period.

It's interesting to me because here I am with an idea for a custom piece based on the remnants of a sword fittings before 1000AD and I haven't contacted the maker I have in mind because I would like to be able to present enough information for him to work with. Then again, he probably has more resources and more expertise than what I have anyhow. Research is a fine thing especially in a time period with little information, but without access to museums or libraries that might hold the relevant information, I'm stuck with whatever I can find from the Web or Amazon, or myArmoury of course.

The research is a good thing to do also while I'm trying to save up money for the project, but I guess I feel like I've exhausted what I am capable of doing. How much research is enough for you?

Thanks,
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Jason Elrod




Location: Winchester, VA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 1:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The most important thing when ordering a custom sword is understanding what you want to get out of the project. Having a good understanding of what you want and expect in the finished project will determine how much research you should do and how much information you will need to send the smith.

Do you want a sword that just looks like the original or do you want something that handles like the original? Both? Do you want it to match the original's dimensions? Do you want the cross sections to match? Or any other question you can think of.

If you want something as accurate as possible, the more research you do the better. Some people send drawings, dimensions, weights, POB. Distal tapers etc.

The second most important thing is to realize that no matter how much research you do, the final product will be hand made and will not exactly match the original. Determining what is an acceptable level of deviation to the original is important to your enjoyment of the final product.

I'll actually add a third very important thing about commissioning a custom sword and that is researching the person/company that you want to work on your sword. Are they right for your project? Do they have the experience you need. Are you willing to take a chance on someone new? In the end no matter how many notes, drawings or pictures that you send, a person is going to interpret that information and create your sword. You need to be able to trust that they can do that and understand that no one is perfect. Which leads me back to point #2.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer to your question, but I would say that keeping the above 3 points in mind will give you a better chance at having a good experience with ordering a custom sword.
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Patrick Kelly




Location: Wichita, Kansas
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 2:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My experience has been this: the more detailed your specifications are the greater likelihood you'll be disappointed. If you're using a maker worth his salt, he'll know more about the process and how to achieve your goal than you will. Remember, there's a reason why you're approaching him instead of making it yourself. If you wish to have an historical piece replicated then choose a maker who's actually done a hands-on examination of that piece. Otherwise, you're better off giving the maker a broad idea of what you're looking for and let him run with it. The maker will get more satisfaction out of the project and you'll get a better sword.
"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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J. Nicolaysen




Location: Wyoming
Joined: 03 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 3:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you both for your replies. Exactly the thoughtful consideration and perspectives I was hoping for!

It's one thing for me to see a very cool weapon in one of Oakeshott's books for example, and send that picture to a smith, and another for a lucky person to go to the museum where it is held and get further detailed information, which I think fewer collectors can actually do. Then there are the archaeology reports out there too--if one can even find them or read whatever language they might be in. Meanwhile I have spent certainly a few hundred dollars on books trying to learn more about the time and weapons. Money not wasted in the long run, but maybe it could have just gone in the bank towards the actual project. What do you think? There are probably other productive avenues of research I haven't even though of.
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Patrick Kelly




Location: Wichita, Kansas
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 3:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Books and knowledge are never a waste. Regarding educating yourself before you make a commission, it seems to me you're on the verge of over thinking the process. Educate yourself for your own improvement. When it comes to commissioning a sword, pick a maker who knows his craft and leave the rest to him.
"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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Matthew Amt




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

Posts: 1,278

PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 6:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My inclination would be to go with a craftsman whose work shows that he already knows the sort of piece you want. If he has already done the research, then you only need to know enough to communicate intelligibly with him. If you can point him to his own website and say, "I want number A-12, but without the blade inlay", job done. Finding the right swordsmith will probably be a lot faster and less frustrating than finding out all there is to know about the right sword. Plus, you're all too likely to find out that JUST the sword you want has never actually had a tape measure put to it, much less a micrometer. Unless you have the credentials to convince a museum curator to take it out of the case for some serious analysis ($$$!!), you might be stuck with blurry photos from someone's Pinterest page...

Mind you, the only sword commission I ever had done was a gladius hispaniensis blade from Mark Morrow. We were all pretty much learning about that type together! So I sent full-size drawings of the blade I wanted, along with whatever I knew about it (darn little!), and let him do his thing. I am still VERY happy with the result!

Good luck!

Matthew
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Tim Lison




Location: Chicago, Illinois
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PostPosted: Fri 05 Jun, 2015 10:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lots of great points on here. When it comes to commissioning a sword I've gotten the best product when I've shown a picture and said to the smith "make this". I leave the details and process to the maker, including pob, final measurements, weight, etc. The smith who is making it will have a better idea of how to make something that will work than I will. I also remember that it's a process that the smith SHOULD be involved with. I've had smiths say to me "can we add this, or change this, or tweak it like this..?" I've gotten the best results when I've been open to that. Getting too attached to a final vision before the project is started is a recipe for disaster....
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T. Kew




Location: Cambridge, UK
Joined: 21 Apr 2012

Posts: 169

PostPosted: Sat 06 Jun, 2015 2:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the subject of over specifying details, I'm reminded of a recent post on Facebook by Marco Danelli (of Danelli Armouries):

Quote:
So this has happened:
I got asked to make some swords. The customer specified everything, hilt dimensions, each hilt branch diameter, blade flex, grips by the mm, even how the blade has to taper.
The sword were on the heavy side in the end and now they tried, after three months, to send them back.

The moral here is:
If you don't let me do my job you cannot hold me responsible for the bad results.


Specify the details which are crucial to you (say, the length), and explain the preferences you have for other factors (e.g. style of pommel), but in general, the reason to pay a smith is because they're more experienced than you are. So pick one you trust and let their judgement apply.
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
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PostPosted: Sat 06 Jun, 2015 11:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I guess everyone has their own formula.

Personally, I enjoy researching the original historical piece as much as seeing it come to life or eventually possessing it. Once I've found everything I can, I hand it over to the smith and ask him to make it work. The ones with an interest in historical accuracy will have their own thoughts and may add some more research, so there will likely be some back and forth at that point.

Other random thoughts:

-I think it's OK to specify preferences, as long as you take responsibility for them (as it should have been in the example above).
-there is no substitute for direct measurements, which few of us can do. Unfortunately books and even museum websites can be wrong (I trust academic articles a bit more).
- Like Tim said, it should be an interactive process: the smith will tell you if things will work / are working.
- Finally, don't have a bird if it's not precisely what you expected. They never are.

-JD
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Luka Borscak




Location: Croatia
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PostPosted: Sun 07 Jun, 2015 4:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even if research is not needed if your smith is knowledgeable enough already, it is still great fun to do... Happy And there is always a possibility that you will find some details the smith might not have found... My only completely custom pieces are twohanded dane axe and Swiss twohanded sword made by Alojz Krišto who is very knowledgeable about knives, firearms and some of our national sabers, but not really about medieval or foreign weaponry, so I had to do complete research about construction, form and dimensions (Alojz doesn't know English). It was great fun and I learned a lot.
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Scott Kowalski




Location: Oak Lawn, IL USA
Joined: 24 Nov 2006

Posts: 740

PostPosted: Sun 07 Jun, 2015 6:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a few custom pieces of various types in my collection. I agree with what everyone else has posted. It is great to learn about how the swords are now. We have to remember with some exception that most blades have seen hard use and more than likely are not as they originally were. Add to that the fact that how many people get to actually handle them to see how they handle today in their current state.

Having said that what I find has worked best for me is to give the smith some basic ideas of what I am looking for as well as some form of picture of what I am looking for. After that it is discussion with the smith about what they say will work and what they think will not. In the end you have to trust who you are going to have make the item for you. They are the people who know what they are doing. I have had 4 custom items made by 3 different smiths at this point and I am extremely happy with all of them. I just got onto the list for a fifth by a fourth smith just last week.

Chris Landwehr 10/10/49-1/1/09 My Mom
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J. Nicolaysen




Location: Wyoming
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PostPosted: Sun 07 Jun, 2015 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well thank you everyone for responding. It is nice to be able to sit back and read these great replies, and most of you have posted a lot of incredible works you've had commissioned that are an inspiration as well as the original pieces. I'm sure there are other points out there too.

Lots to think about but really it is probably time to stop chasing the research rabbit down the hole to Wonderland and just contact one or two smiths that have been recommended here and see what they say.
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Harry Marinakis




Location: Kingdom of Ćthelmearc
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PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 4:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would not depend on the craftsman to do the research for you, or to "get it right" without specific directions from you. My few disappointments have occurred when I let the craftsman "run with it" and I received something completely unexpected or not "period." Do as much research as you can and provide as much detail and direction as possible.

That being said, I also choose someone who has demonstrated the skills necessary for the project.

I also tell the craftsman whether I want an exact match to my specifications or whether I am providing guidance and allowing for artistic creativity in whole or in part.

Part of the work of commissioning a project is a careful assessment of your own expectations and making sure that you communicate enough information to the craftsman so that you don't disappoint yourself. If a commission doesn't turn out as expected, it may not be the fault of the craftsman.


Last edited by Harry Marinakis on Wed 10 Jun, 2015 8:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would second what Harry said about be very clear in communicating your expectations with the craftsman. I wouldn't get hung up on the exact length of the cross, the diameter of the pommel, and things of this nature because the craftsman will undoubtedly know better. Yet, with other details, you should not necessarily assume that showing the craftsman a photo and saying "reproduce this" will mean that you receive a replica that fits your expectations. The more you explain, in detail, what you're looking for the more likely it is that the craftsman will be able to fairly closely reproduce what you want. And again, be willing to listen to the craftsman's perspective on the piece, because they will be able to make judgments that you cannot make. If your suggestion isn't feasible or might adversely affect the sword's balance and handling in some way, you are probably better of trusting the smith's intuition and experience.
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J. Nicolaysen




Location: Wyoming
Joined: 03 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The real difficulty for this particular dream project is that it will have to be a composite of fittings, blade, pommel, not a single weapon, etc. and since I can't visit the museum where these things are held, it is hard for me to judge for myself, with my limited experience, how well the elements will go together. The worst is to have something that will look like a crappy hodge-podge, full of anachronisms, especially if I will be paying a few thousand dollars for it. So I am trying to take my time. It's another good argument to do a lot of research, but then really let the smith have his way on design and handling elements since I would not be able to contribute much there. That trust in the maker is definitely a solid theme in a lot of these comments above.

I should start a new thread on the project maybe after I contact the smith. I'm weirdly paranoid about jinxing the project beforehand by talking about it, especially since it will be several years out. Then again there are so many good people here who will probably have good advice or other research on it. And who doesn't love a great, envy-inducing, wonderful In- Progress thread!
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