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Sam Arwas




Location: Australia
Joined: 02 Dec 2015

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PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 6:22 am    Post subject: Blade and hilt combinations I don't understand         Reply with quote

Two things I've been seeing fairly often and don't understand: symmetrical blades with asymmetrical hilts and asymmetrical blades with symmetrical hilts.

The only reason I can see for a full flase edge is that it can potentially act as a spare front edge. An asymmetrical hilt will usually void this.

An asymmetrical blade doesn't necessarily lose anything from having a symmetrical hilt however it will generally only have one edge that can act as the front edge so it might as well have a guard that encloses the hand to some extent, something that cannot be achieved with a symmetrical hilt.

Am I missing something? These blade and hilt combinations really seem like a mismatch to me.
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Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
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PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 9:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A full-length false edge has some potential advantages:

(1) It's harder for an opponent to grab or trap the blade.
(2) Easier to cut with the false edge in grappling.
(3) If you take a big chip out of the blade, remove hilt, and mount the other way around. Not as easy as just turning a whole symmetric-hilt sword around, but still potentially a field repair.

Does it have disadvantages?

(a) Less acute edge angles, so can be less effective for cutting soft targets.
(b) Techniques where you support the blade by the spine don't work very well.
(c) Can be harder to make.

It's pretty common to have an asymmetric hilt and symmetric double-edged blade, from Crusades-period Islamic swords through to c. 1900 naval dirks. On many, the asymmetry of the hilt is small enough so that you can turn the sword around and use it the wrong way around.

There are many swords (probably more than one might think) where what one would assume at first is a symmetric hilt isn't. Which brings me to your other class of "mismatch". Some of those "symmetric" hilts aren't symmetric.

As you say, keeping the hilt symmetric or close to symmetric stops you from having a basket or knucklebow. But those have disadvantages, too. They add weight, they add bulk making daily carry less convenient (which matters for a sword you expect to use very rarely), and they offer handholds to an opponent in grappling. There are plenty of swords that don't have any kind of guard, let alone baskets or knucklebows.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Matthew Hajicek




Location: Nordskogen
Joined: 10 Mar 2016

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PostPosted: Thu 10 Mar, 2016 1:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A sharp back edge allows wrap shots, thumb leaders, and back-edge draw cuts.
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Houston P.




Location: United States
Joined: 20 Apr 2015

Posts: 65

PostPosted: Thu 10 Mar, 2016 6:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I personally use the false edge almost as much as the true edge in sparring. As Matthew said, you can use wrapping cuts very effectively, you can whirl the sword around while you close in immediately after a true edge cut to do what I think is called Duplieren in German sources, and in general you can feint a true edge cut and then snap a cut with the false. Messer fighting shows quite a lot of false edge attacks, for example. It gives a lot of options that are useful even if the hand is fully enclosed, such as with a basket hilt. Even then you can use the false edge effectively, although it is somewhat limited. Hope that helps.
...and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (‭Luke‬ ‭22‬:‭36‬) To be without silver is better than to be without honor. -Norse proverb
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Andrew Gill





Joined: 19 Feb 2015

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PostPosted: Fri 11 Mar, 2016 2:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Technically the wounding blow in the basic Duplieren is actually a long-edge attack following a short-edge winding against the opponents blade. However, the general point is valid: short-edge cuts are a big part of many European late medieval/renaissance-era fencing systems. In the German system you have the Zwerchau, the Schielhau and the follow-up to the krumphau, plus a lot of other follow-on techniques using short-edge cuts. Most of the italian master Fiore's rising cuts from Porte de Ferro are short-edge, as are his horizontal cuts from the left (assuming a right-handed swordsman). I can't speak about the early English system, not having studied it.

The thing is, as long as the sword hilt protects the hand reasonably and doesn't get in the way of the techniques (and no self-respecting sword-cutler/sword-slipper would have made such a hilt for a functional weapon), and the degree of asymmetry of blade or hilt is not so great as to drastically alter the way the weapon is handled or used, I don't believe that it greatly matters practically what combination of symmetrical or asymmetrical components are used - a competent swordsman should be able to do what he needs to do with it (although each may have his or her own preferences on these details, of course). Within the loose limits of practicality, personal aesthetic taste and what was fashionable at the time (and later the requirements of the current regulation military design) were probably the biggest factors in hilt design.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Mar, 2016 3:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Houston P. wrote:
Messer fighting shows quite a lot of false edge attacks, for example.


... which brings me back to the OP. In messer fighting, there are lots of false edge attacks, and yet the false edge on a messer is much shorter than the true edge. It doesn't appear to be necessary to have a full-length false edge. As Sam asked in the OP, what's the point of having a full-length false edge mounted with a one-way grip?

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Andrew Gill





Joined: 19 Feb 2015

Posts: 95

PostPosted: Fri 11 Mar, 2016 5:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good point Timo; I didn't read that closely enough.

I think I've read that the crusader-era Muslim swords you mentioned were often re-hilted later in a more recent style (i.e the asymmetric hilts used on shamshirs, etc) - so the originals might have been more symmetrical (maybe like the sudanese cruciform swords?) I speak under correction here; please correct me if necessary.

A question: are the other, slightly asymmetrical sword hilts you mentioned so asymmetrical that it can't possibly be a manufacturing defect? We know that people in earlier times were seemingly less picky about exact symmetry and finish on their weapons.

Then, since you mentioned basket-hilted swords, lets consider scottish basket-hilts, as both single and double edged variants exist, and neither is massively more common than the other. The blades were usually made outside Scotland (often Germany, I think), and hilted in Scotland in the local fashion. So presumably, people chose single or double edged blades based on personal preference (which probably includes the factors which you listed earlier) and what was available at the time. Why the German blade manufacturers kept making double-edged blades I don't know (unless a lot of their customers wanted them, or there was some quirk of manufacturing or quality control that actually made them less troublesome to manufacture). Are there any other factors that I'm unaware of?
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 11 Mar, 2016 3:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Gill wrote:
I think I've read that the crusader-era Muslim swords you mentioned were often re-hilted later in a more recent style (i.e the asymmetric hilts used on shamshirs, etc) - so the originals might have been more symmetrical (maybe like the sudanese cruciform swords?) I speak under correction here; please correct me if necessary.


A guard like a Sudanese guard, or shamshir guard, but usually with the pommel curved forwards a bit (not a big curve like a shamshir hilt, but more like a Tatar sabre and some East European sabres).

Some pics in this thread:
http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=20797

The Near East examples (e.g., the Topkapi museum examples) might be more recent remounts. Yes, the Topkapi swords are controversial, but AFAIK it's the very early dating and attribution to famous historical figures from the early history of Islam, and these swords are still quite old. Earlier Arab swords look symmetric-hilted. Asymmetric-hilted symmetric-bladed swords turn up quite early in Central Asia/Iran, e.g., Sassanian swords. So one might expect to start seeing asymmetric hilts in the Near East with growing Turkish and Persian influence (after the Islamic conquest and conversion of Persian and Central Asia).

According to David Nicolle http://myArmoury.com/books/item.1853673692.html the curved-forward hilt appears in Near East artwork in the late 13th or early 14th century (and some examples in his book - artwork rather than the controversial Topkapi swords - appear to be on straight-bladed double-edged swords).

Andrew Gill wrote:
A question: are the other, slightly asymmetrical sword hilts you mentioned so asymmetrical that it can't possibly be a manufacturing defect? We know that people in earlier times were seemingly less picky about exact symmetry and finish on their weapons.


Some might be accidental (I can't tell if Viking examples are deliberate). But some are clearly deliberate. The disc pommel on tulwar hilts is often at an angle (10-20 degrees?) to the guard. Some Chinese examples in "Iron and Steel Swords of China" with workmanship that strongly suggests the asymmetry is deliberate. SE Asian straight "round" hilts are rarely circular in cross-section (unless modern turned hilts); these are often egg-shaped in cross-section, with the pointy end of the egg forwards (i.e., on the edge side of the blade). The asymmetry is enough to feel and is useful for edge alignment without looking.

Where this kind of almost-symmetric hilt is on a weapon with an asymmetric blade, it's almost always mounted the way that it's better to grip with the edge forwards.

Andrew Gill wrote:
Why the German blade manufacturers kept making double-edged blades I don't know (unless a lot of their customers wanted them, or there was some quirk of manufacturing or quality control that actually made them less troublesome to manufacture). Are there any other factors that I'm unaware of?


The only thing I can think of that might make them easier to make is less chance of sabering the blade during heat-treatment. (But OTOH, it matters more if it happens.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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