Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > about the pommel of medieval swords Reply to topic
This is a standard topic Go to page 1, 2  Next 
Author Message
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 7:44 pm    Post subject: about the pommel of medieval swords         Reply with quote

Normally the medieval sword(longsword,arming sword,falchion etc)have a globular pommel at the end of grip.I have seem some people start to call it “counterweight ball”.Their opinion is because the blade made the balance point too forward so they need that pommel to put the balance point(they also said it is not a good design because that make the grip too heavy )That sounds like “it is a remedy for a mistake”.Is that real?I mean first there are a lot of way to change the balance point of a sword,like make a fuller or tapper. On the other hand,some axe-blade falchion have a pommel,too.So I think that when swordsmith made sword,they have already knew what side of pommel should be in the top of grip and base on that,designed the blade to keep the balance point in where they want.
Which one is right?I wish I can get a relative sure answer. Worried
View user's profile Send private message
Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 1 book

Posts: 1,494

PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 8:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Note that counter-weight pommels are often combined with fullers and taper. Usually combined with at least taper.

The are plenty of swords where the pommel aids holding the sword rather than acting as a significant counterweight. Light-hilted swords like those often balance at 7-8" (17-20cm) past the guard. Overall, they tend to be lighter than swords with heavy pommels/hilts. These tend to be cutting swords (slashing, rather than chopping).

Where the pommel is very useful for adjusting the balance is for getting the forward pivot point where you want it. Note that the forward pivot point is called the "centre of percussion" in engineering, physics, sports science, etc., but sword people usually (mis-)use "centre of percussion" to mean nodes of vibration. Where the pivot point is matters a lot for the handling of cut-and-thrust swords. It isn't just a matter of putting on the heaviest pommel you can tolerate to bring the centre of mass as far back as possible.

Also note that a lot of large pommels are hollow, and weigh much less than they appear to. They work as finger holds, levers, etc. as much, or more than, they work as counter-weights.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sat 27 Feb, 2016 10:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Note that counter-weight pommels are often combined with fullers and taper. Usually combined with at least taper.

The are plenty of swords where the pommel aids holding the sword rather than acting as a significant counterweight. Light-hilted swords like those often balance at 7-8" (17-20cm) past the guard. Overall, they tend to be lighter than swords with heavy pommels/hilts. These tend to be cutting swords (slashing, rather than chopping).

Where the pommel is very useful for adjusting the balance is for getting the forward pivot point where you want it. Note that the forward pivot point is called the "centre of percussion" in engineering, physics, sports science, etc., but sword people usually (mis-)use "centre of percussion" to mean nodes of vibration. Where the pivot point is matters a lot for the handling of cut-and-thrust swords. It isn't just a matter of putting on the heaviest pommel you can tolerate to bring the centre of mass as far back as possible.

Also note that a lot of large pommels are hollow, and weigh much less than they appear to. They work as finger holds, levers, etc. as much, or more than, they work as counter-weights.

I mean it is not neccessary to add a heavy pommel if you want the balance point in where you want.So the pommel of European sword is some kind of style.(I know it works with fuller and taper.) Happy
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Location: Finland
Joined: 16 Nov 2004
Reading list: 13 books

Posts: 981

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 12:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Every part of the sword is part of its mass distribution - blade, pommel, guard, even the grip. How heavy a pommel you need depends on what you want the blade to be like, how you want it to behave and how the rest of the furniture affects all this - a longer hilt, for example, effectively makes a pommel heavier because it gives additional leverage and momentum to however much mass it has.

So no, it's not at all accurate to call pommels a fix for too heavy blades. The blade, guard, pommel and grip are all designed as one unified whole, each affecting each other in various ways, and they have to work in harmony from the ground up. You can't just slap on a heavier pommel to fix an error in the blade's mass distribution because it would also affect everything else about the sword's handling and structure.

Any claim that assigns a single purpose to any component of a sword is, as a rule, incorrect. The guard is not there only to protect your hand from attacks or to stop it from slipping onto the blade, it does both and several other things besides; a pommel is not there only as a counterweight or to stop your hand from slipping off the grip, it also does both and several other things besides.

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 1:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko Kuusirati wrote:
Every part of the sword is part of its mass distribution - blade, pommel, guard, even the grip. How heavy a pommel you need depends on what you want the blade to be like, how you want it to behave and how the rest of the furniture affects all this - a longer hilt, for example, effectively makes a pommel heavier because it gives additional leverage and momentum to however much mass it has.

So no, it's not at all accurate to call pommels a fix for too heavy blades. The blade, guard, pommel and grip are all designed as one unified whole, each affecting each other in various ways, and they have to work in harmony from the ground up. You can't just slap on a heavier pommel to fix an error in the blade's mass distribution because it would also affect everything else about the sword's handling and structure.

Any claim that assigns a single purpose to any component of a sword is, as a rule, incorrect. The guard is not there only to protect your hand from attacks or to stop it from slipping onto the blade, it does both and several other things besides; a pommel is not there only as a counterweight or to stop your hand from slipping off the grip, it also does both and several other things besides.

That's what I believe,Thank you very much!
View user's profile Send private message
Bram Verbeek





Joined: 27 Mar 2007

Posts: 217

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 2:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Taper and fullers are a way of lightening the blade progressively further from the grip, but if a center of mass closer to the grip is desired, the lightest way to do that, is to put weight as far behind the grip as possible.
Someone who argues that a pommel makes the grip heavier than another method is not making sense.

It certainly is not just a counterweight, a disc pommel feels very good in the second hand, and can pivot easily, without losing control. All pommels make a grip a lot more secure, protect the hand when slamming into shields and some other harm that may befall it, as well as providing an area on which status and bonds can be displayed.
View user's profile Send private message
Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 1 book

Posts: 1,494

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 3:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zhenyu Li wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
Note that counter-weight pommels are often combined with fullers and taper. Usually combined with at least taper.
[...]

I mean it is not neccessary to add a heavy pommel if you want the balance point in where you want.So the pommel of European sword is some kind of style.(I know it works with fuller and taper.) :)


There are limits to what you can do with fullers and taper while keeping the blade stiff enough (through thickness), and wide enough. That is, there are practical limits to how much weight you can take off the end of the blade while retaing desired function. If you have done what you can by removing weight from the far end of the blade, and you want to bring the point of balance closer to the hilt, you need to add weight at the hilt end. A counter-weight pommel is the most efficient (in terms of how much weight you need to add) to do this. The least efficient is to make the base of the blade heavier, and in between that and a pommel in efficiency, you have a heavier tang, a heavier guard, a heavier grip. All of these methods are used. So, strictly speaking, you never need a pommel as a counterweight - you could, for example, just make the tang heavier (longer, thicker, wider).

But as Bram wrote above, a pommel is an efficient counterweight.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
Joined: 25 Dec 2006

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,616

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with the notion that one can't ascribe a single purpose to the pommel. Functions of the pommel have included:

- drawing balance point toward hand
- achieving harmonic balance (placement of the vibrational nodes of blade at optimal positions)
- ensuring the grip stays fixed to the tang
- preventing hands from slipping off the grip
- in older models like Brazil nut, points of leverage for hand against the blade weight
- a blunt force instrument against an opponent
- fashion and personal taste
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Mike Ruhala




Location: Stuart, Florida
Joined: 24 Jul 2011

Posts: 328

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 10:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In addition to some of the other functions listed above the pommel adds a little more momentum to the blade when used with traditional western cutting technique as its inertia wants to go "up" while the blade wants to go "down."
View user's profile Send private message
Greg Ballantyne




Location: Maryland USA
Joined: 14 Feb 2011
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 233

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 12:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's also worth noting that the blade forgers at that time were not usually the furniture makers, finishers, and customer inface. The furniture and finishing determined the final overall balance & handling characteristics, which were started by the blade forging.
View user's profile Send private message
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 1:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Ballantyne wrote:
It's also worth noting that the blade forgers at that time were not usually the furniture makers, finishers, and customer inface. The furniture and finishing determined the final overall balance & handling characteristics, which were started by the blade forging.

But they work together,right?
View user's profile Send private message
Greg Ballantyne




Location: Maryland USA
Joined: 14 Feb 2011
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 233

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 2:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zhenyu Li wrote:
Greg Ballantyne wrote:
It's also worth noting that the blade forgers at that time were not usually the furniture makers, finishers, and customer inface. The furniture and finishing determined the final overall balance & handling characteristics, which were started by the blade forging.

But they work together,right?

Blades were often forged in one place, sold and delivered to another place. Sometimes different countries. German blades were sold to fitters in the British Isles and Scandanavia, who fitted the blades out and sold the product to the eventual customer.Check into the Highland Scottish Claymore - local furniture of fairly unique design mounted on blades usually of German origin.
View user's profile Send private message
David Cooper




Location: UK
Joined: 27 Apr 2008
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 110

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Many interesting points made here. I think it is obvious that the pommel served many purposes and I don't think it was just to correct a poorly placed balance point - ''rectify a mistake''. If that were the case you would have to say every medieval blade was faulty. However having a separate pommel allowed for fine adjustment of the swords handling in an age of hand made blades. It is interesting that the separate pommel effectively disappears in mass produced military swords of the modern era, late 18th century onwards. The necessary weight is supplied by the guard itself.We still refer to the pommel of a 19th century sabre but it is usually just a term to mark the end on the handle. One exception to this is the massive cast iron pommel of the British 1908 cavalry sabre. Perhaps this was to rectify a design mistake?
Pictured are an 1895 cavalry sabre and a 1908 for comparison



 Attachment: 147.03 KB
p08s.jpg


 Attachment: 43.28 KB
85s.jpg


The journey not the destination
View user's profile Send private message
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 4:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Cooper wrote:
Many interesting points made here. I think it is obvious that the pommel served many purposes and I don't think it was just to correct a poorly placed balance point - ''rectify a mistake''. If that were the case you would have to say every medieval blade was faulty. However having a separate pommel allowed for fine adjustment of the swords handling in an age of hand made blades. It is interesting that the separate pommel effectively disappears in mass produced military swords of the modern era, late 18th century onwards. The necessary weight is supplied by the guard itself.We still refer to the pommel of a 19th century sabre but it is usually just a term to mark the end on the handle. One exception to this is the massive cast iron pommel of the British 1908 cavalry sabre. Perhaps this was to rectify a design mistake?
Pictured are an 1895 cavalry sabre and a 1908 for comparison

The points "it is bad to balance the blade by a big counterweight ball,European way for balance the blade is simple and crude” are actually from some Chinese people (I thought they may were trying to said something like"Chinese swords are better" but if that is what they mean,that is a big mistake because most of Chinese sword have a big copper pommel for put the balance point back.".I don't think they are right but I don't have much document to show them"that is wrong".The Chinese sword have that "counterweight pommel"is not enough because it is more like someone said you are bad,and you said they are worst.I want to found something about how the smith design the sword. Worried
View user's profile Send private message
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 4:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greg Ballantyne wrote:
Zhenyu Li wrote:
Greg Ballantyne wrote:
It's also worth noting that the blade forgers at that time were not usually the furniture makers, finishers, and customer inface. The furniture and finishing determined the final overall balance & handling characteristics, which were started by the blade forging.

But they work together,right?

Blades were often forged in one place, sold and delivered to another place. Sometimes different countries. German blades were sold to fitters in the British Isles and Scandanavia, who fitted the blades out and sold the product to the eventual customer.Check into the Highland Scottish Claymore - local furniture of fairly unique design mounted on blades usually of German origin.

Well I think that's why the antique swords' balance point could be anywhere(a little bit turgid but indeed there is no standard"I more wish to know something about making a well-designed sword. Confused
View user's profile Send private message
Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 1 book

Posts: 1,494

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zhenyu Li wrote:

The points "it is bad to balance the blade by a big counterweight ball,European way for balance the blade is simple and crude” are actually from some Chinese people (I thought they may were trying to said something like"Chinese swords are better" but if that is what they mean,that is a big mistake because most of Chinese sword have a big copper pommel for put the balance point back.


On a good Chinese jian, the pommel helps balance the sword. Mostly, to put the pivot point close to the tip (where the actual point of balance is doesn't matter much).

On a lot of Chinese dao, the pommel isn't there as a counterweight. Instead, it helps stop the wooden grip from splitting, and is something hard to peen the end of the tang against.

GIven how common dao were, I wouldn't say that most Chinese swords had pommels as counterweights.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Zhenyu Li





Joined: 26 Feb 2016
Likes: 2 pages

Posts: 37

PostPosted: Sun 28 Feb, 2016 9:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Zhenyu Li wrote:

The points "it is bad to balance the blade by a big counterweight ball,European way for balance the blade is simple and crude” are actually from some Chinese people (I thought they may were trying to said something like"Chinese swords are better" but if that is what they mean,that is a big mistake because most of Chinese sword have a big copper pommel for put the balance point back.


On a good Chinese jian, the pommel helps balance the sword. Mostly, to put the pivot point close to the tip (where the actual point of balance is doesn't matter much).

On a lot of Chinese dao, the pommel isn't there as a counterweight. Instead, it helps stop the wooden grip from splitting, and is something hard to peen the end of the tang against.

GIven how common dao were, I wouldn't say that most Chinese swords had pommels as counterweights.

About the pommel of Dao and Jian,normally the Chinese Dao (like Liu ye Dao,Niu wei dao)Have a brass pommel on the back http://attach2.scimg.cn/forum/201409/28/13492...4jq4eu.jpg ,and something like this http://attach2.scimg.cn/month_1303/31/2348c41...1_orig.jpg
http://attach2.scimg.cn/forum/201503/21/13063...08f4dq.jpg
They are not empty,and make by steel or brass.If you just want to stop the wooden grip from splitting,it should be like the pommel of Jian from Han dynasty like These~
http://imgsrc.baidu.com/forum/w%3D580/sign=43...109ded.jpg
(These photos are from some Chinese collection website)
View user's profile Send private message
Andrew Gill





Joined: 19 Feb 2015

Posts: 98

PostPosted: Mon 29 Feb, 2016 1:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zhenyu Li wrote:

Well I think that's why the antique swords' balance point could be anywhere(a little bit turgid but indeed there is no standard"I more wish to know something about making a well-designed sword.


Something which I don't think anyone has mentioned in detail yet are the dynamic effects of the pommel on a sword - that is, how the pommel effects the way the sword moves when swung for a cut. This is somewhat different from the static balance of a sword, so although the center of gravity/balance point of historical swords may differ quite a lot, apparently the dynamic properties of cut-and-thrust swords are usually much more similar (and also often apparently requires much less mass to correct/adjust for a well made blade). If you search for some of Vincent le Chevalier's old posts on this topic, you'll find he did a lot of work on mathematically modelling swords in motion, backed up with measurements from actual swords or accurate replicas of them. I think he is still active here - perhaps he will say something about this himself.

There are also various posts on this site by modern sword smiths who seek to replicate and understand the design of medieval European swords, and who have often developed considerable insight into this.

Finally, have a look at the articles on Oakeshott on this site (and get his books if you can find them).

Hopefully that will furnish some acceptable documented evidence to support your argument. Good luck!
View user's profile Send private message
Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 1 book

Posts: 1,494

PostPosted: Mon 29 Feb, 2016 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Zhenyu Li wrote:
Timo Nieminen wrote:
Zhenyu Li wrote:

The points "it is bad to balance the blade by a big counterweight ball,European way for balance the blade is simple and crude” are actually from some Chinese people (I thought they may were trying to said something like"Chinese swords are better" but if that is what they mean,that is a big mistake because most of Chinese sword have a big copper pommel for put the balance point back.


On a good Chinese jian, the pommel helps balance the sword. Mostly, to put the pivot point close to the tip (where the actual point of balance is doesn't matter much).

On a lot of Chinese dao, the pommel isn't there as a counterweight. Instead, it helps stop the wooden grip from splitting, and is something hard to peen the end of the tang against.

GIven how common dao were, I wouldn't say that most Chinese swords had pommels as counterweights.

About the pommel of Dao and Jian,normally the Chinese Dao (like Liu ye Dao,Niu wei dao)Have a brass pommel on the back http://attach2.scimg.cn/forum/201409/28/13492...4jq4eu.jpg ,and something like this http://attach2.scimg.cn/month_1303/31/2348c41...1_orig.jpg
http://attach2.scimg.cn/forum/201503/21/13063...08f4dq.jpg
They are not empty,and make by steel or brass.If you just want to stop the wooden grip from splitting,it should be like the pommel of Jian from Han dynasty like These~
http://imgsrc.baidu.com/forum/w%3D580/sign=43...109ded.jpg
(These photos are from some Chinese collection website)


Measuring the dao closest to hand (late Qing military traditional cavalry dao):
Overall length: 915mm (36")
Blade length: 750mm (29.5")
Point of balance: 230mm from guard (9")
Pivot point/centre of percussion: 330mm from tip (13")
Weight: 1335g

This is, in my experience, fairly typical. Point of balance is at 43% of the overall length from the end of the pommel, which is normal. Maybe a little heavy.

The pommel is a flattened ball, hollow. On this particular sword, I can measure the thickness of the pommel walls: just under 1mm. The pommel is 40mm from front to back. Modelling the pommel as a 1mm thick sphere, 20mm in radius, the estimated weight is 40g. This is an overestimate; the actual pommel will be lighter because there is a hole in the base for it to go over the wooden grip core.

We can calculate how much the pommel (if it was 40g) would move the point of balance. We have:
(pommel mass) x (distance from POB) = (mass of rest of sword) x (distance between POB without pommel and actual POB)
Putting in the numbers:
40g x 395mm = 1295g x (distance POB moved)
so the POB is moved 12mm (1/2"). This doesn't significantly change the handling of the sword.

More generally, handling and measuring various dao, the point of balance is, on average, at about 40% of the overall length. I don't see any effort put into placement of the pivot point/centre of percussion. This is unlike good jian, where the PP/COP is carefully placed. While the pommels on dao will add weight, they don't appear to be used as counterweights. Many are too light to have any significant effect. (But many do fit over the wooden grip core (like the ones you showed), and they do add strength to the grip by doing this.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Greg Ballantyne




Location: Maryland USA
Joined: 14 Feb 2011
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 233

PostPosted: Mon 29 Feb, 2016 5:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Andrew Gill wrote:
Zhenyu Li wrote:

Well I think that's why the antique swords' balance point could be anywhere(a little bit turgid but indeed there is no standard"I more wish to know something about making a well-designed sword.


Something which I don't think anyone has mentioned in detail yet are the dynamic effects of the pommel on a sword - that is, how the pommel effects the way the sword moves when swung for a cut. This is somewhat different from the static balance of a sword, so although the center of gravity/balance point of historical swords may differ quite a lot, apparently the dynamic properties of cut-and-thrust swords are usually much more similar (and also often apparently requires much less mass to correct/adjust for a well made blade). If you search for some of Vincent le Chevalier's old posts on this topic, you'll find he did a lot of work on mathematically modelling swords in motion, backed up with measurements from actual swords or accurate replicas of them. I think he is still active here - perhaps he will say something about this himself.

There are also various posts on this site by modern sword smiths who seek to replicate and understand the design of medieval European swords, and who have often developed considerable insight into this.

Finally, have a look at the articles on Oakeshott on this site (and get his books if you can find them).

Hopefully that will furnish some acceptable documented evidence to support your argument. Good luck!


Very good point in this discussion, Andrew.
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > about the pommel of medieval swords
Page 1 of 2 Reply to topic
Go to page 1, 2  Next 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