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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
Joined: 25 Dec 2006

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PostPosted: Fri 17 Nov, 2017 4:47 pm    Post subject: Hands-on Review: Rob Miller 'Canute' Viking Sword         Reply with quote

Introduction

As many of you know, a beautiful and well preserved late Viking-age sword was excavated from a gravesite in the village of Langeid (Norway) in 2011, and is now on display at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. The 37” sword is of Petersen’s type AE, a somewhat uncommon type with curving, wide flaring ‘quillons’ and often a D-shaped pommel (the most famous example being the similar Suontaka sword from a woman’s gravesite in Finland). The beautifully preserved silver and gold decorations on the hilt and surrounding evidence of an enclosure suggest the owner was a high-status individual. Further evidence (an English coin at the site, a nearby commemorative stone) suggest that this individual may have accompanied King Knut (Canute) on his wars of conquest against King Æthelred II (the unready). It’s noteworthy that this site shows signs of both pagan and Christian influences, for example the burial style vs. the Christian motifs on the sword hilt, and the wording of the nearby stone. Overall, all signs point toward dating the sword toward the first half of the 11th century.

Rob Miller of Castle Keep, located on the Isle of Skye Scotland, has been a swordsmith for over 25 years. Mr. Miller employs traditional forging techniques and is known for a range of products including Viking, Medieval, and Renaissance Scottish weapons, both production and custom. Recently he decided to include an interpretation of the Langeid sword, as shown on his web-site. According to Mr. Miller, the version that has come into my possession is the original prototype for this sword. As a prototype, the version I own is slightly different from both the original sword, and Castle Keep’s current version, as I will explain below. The prototype, however, will be reviewed on its own merits.

Vital Statistics

Blade type: a wide fullered XII (or short fullered Xa with pronounced profile taper).
Hilt type: Petersen’s AE
Overall Length: 36 7/8”
Blade Length (from deepest point): 31 5/8”
Blade width at cross: 1 15/16”
Distal Taper: Non-linear – 4.5mm at cross, 4mm at end of fuller, narrowing rapidly to 1mm near tip.
Profile taper: Also non-linear, with a smoothly accelerating curve toward narrow tip.
Fuller Length: 21 ½”
Grip Length (at greatest extent): only 2 ¾” (!!!)
Centre of Gravity (from ‘ecusson’): 6.5”
Distal Harmonic Node (Optimal Striking Point): ~ 11.5” from tip.
Proximal Harmonic Node: at junction of blade and cross.
Distal Pivot Point: ~4.5” from tip.
Weight: 2 lb. 9.5 Oz.

Historical Accuracy

Rob Miller calls this an interpretation, not a reproduction or replica. Nevertheless, so far as I can tell, the hilt is very accurate with one exception. The shape of the cross and pommel, the braded silver wire and ‘Turk's head’ finials on the grip, and gold-over silver plating all look correct. The strangely short grip is historically accurate (I found the measurements in an on-line article that noted this is the shortest example so far of a type that is already usually quite short). The exception is that whereas Mr. Miller has reproduced one side of the decorative design very faithfully based on the picture he had at the time, he had to guess at the same design on the other side. In fact, the two sides of the original are slightly different ( see below). The other departure is in the blade. The original appears to be a typical Xa ‘chopper’ of the period, with longer fuller and spatulate tip, whereas this version has a shorter fuller and much more profile taper to a stabbing point. It appears to be borrowed from his version of the Suontaka sword, but with a narrower fuller. Otherwise, the overall dimensions appear to be similar.

Handling Characteristics (or, ‘How to hold a short-gripped AE Viking sword’)

Here’s where the fun begins. This sword, like the original, has a pretty average sized medieval blade, but a very short grip, even by Viking standards (see comparison with my Jeff Helmes ‘Korsoygaden’ sword below). It took some time to 'get a handle' on this odd beasty. I expected the ‘hammer’ grip would not work and that proved to be the case. This grip style makes a tight squeeze and causes the corner of the pommel to dig into the palm when the sword is in motion (see first of 3 grip positions pictured below). As expected, the ‘handshake’ grip was more comfortable, but this places the pommel in the palm (see second picture). This position gave terrific reach, but my wrist soon tired because one is basically swinging the sword by the pommel with very little support. That's when I got a bit concerned about my purchase.

However, after a while I tried something new to me: only putting the little, ring, and middle finger on the grip, which forces the thumb and forefinger up against the broad, flat cross, something like holding a rifle (see third picture). The first thing I noticed with this odd grip was that gripping the cross like this gave tremendous ‘indexing’ control of the edge and tip, while also allowing the pommel to leverage against the hand in a comfortable way. Once I stopped this analyzing, and just started swinging the sword around with a relaxed grip, I found myself settling comfortably into the third position, being able to transition between 3-fingered versions of the hammer and handshake grip as required, while maintaining a precision grip hold on the cross. In this position the forefinger looks and feels a bit exposed, but aligns with the cross shape and still has more protection than looping the finger over the cross as often seen in medieval art. Was this the way the original sword was intended to be used? Who knows, but it feels right.

Once I adopted this style, the sword handled as well as one can expect from a sword of this era, although I’d still prefer a slightly bigger handle (my wife wondered if this grip was designed for a woman, like the Suontaka sword). By the way, I don’t like the feel of a wire grip, especially the finials on this one, so I used a glove to handle this sword. Two other things of note: as the above stats might suggest, this sword is better at thrusting than one usually expects from a Viking sword, but for some reason it’s hard to swing from right to left (using the right hand) in the usual knuckles-down manner. This is remedied by keeping the knuckles up and using the weak edge in that direction. With these adjustments, the sword was reasonably comfortable, moved quickly through cuts, and transitioned into and out of guard positions as well as one can expect from a Viking sword. Finally, the sword is sharp, although not razor sharp. A tiny secondary bevel is just visible, similar to what A&A usually uses. I would expect it to cut as well as the average medieval arming sword.

Fit and Finish

This is a pretty sword. Even my wife said so. And by ‘pretty’ I don’t mean anything demeaning, but in the best way possible: the entire design of the blade flows with the shape of the cross and pommel, and is highlighted by the intricate and tasteful décor on their surface. Also, the width and proportions of the cross and blade –very important for this type to look good – are just right. The blade demonstrates the expertise of a mature, master craftsman. The profile is as perfectly executed as a CNC-milled blade, and the fuller nearly so. The tip portion has a perfect lenticular cross-section, and the surface has a nice satin sheen. My piece was made fairly recently but has already passed through a few hands (I bought it through myArmoury Marketplace, and traced it back to another sale on SBG), so this may account for a few superficial scuff marks. Otherwise it’s in great condition.

There are some imperfections in the hilt fittings that could relate to this being the prototype. It’s all tight and solid and the peen is clean, but the cross is slightly rotated in the plane of the blade and the pommel is a bit tilted in the perpendicular plane. These deviations are within the limits of hand-made weapons that I have owned in the past. This though is overshadowed by the beauty of the décor (which I guess is probably done using silver and gold plating over cast bronze) and evenly woven wire grip. Thanks to the original cutler and Mr. Miller’s excellent modern execution, this is one cool design. There are a few pock-marks on the surface, but considering that even Albion sometimes has casting pits on its pommels, I won’t take away any points.

Updated Version

Based on inspection of the Castle Keep web-site and a brief e-mail exchange with Rob Miller, it appears that the current version of this sword has changed in a few ways from the prototype, some ways historical and some purely esthetic. It now has both side of the hilt decoration done correctly. The Turks-head finials are replaced by what looks like silver collars that are less historical, but look better and are probably more comfortable. There is now some cool gold inlay on the upper blade in the style of the hilt, although I’m not aware that has been shown on the original sword. Finally, the fuller seems wider, which would likely lighten the sword but take it in a direction further away from the original. Not having handled the current version myself, I cannot say if the dimensions are otherwise the same or if it feels any different.

Conclusion

This sword demonstrates an impressive amount of skill and workmanship in both the fundamentals of bladesmithing and in the additional artistry of the hilt. A new model is pricey, but if Mr. Miller has managed to work out some of the minor bugs mentioned above, I would say it’s well worth the money.

On a more personal note, I’m generally a guy that likes simple, austere medieval swords. This is the first time I have invested in a higher-end production/custom sword with so much decoration on the hilt. There was just something ‘right’ about this one that attracted me and got me more excited than I have been for a while to acquire a sword. Handling was initially a bit of a struggle, but seems to have worked out. Time will tell if this one grows on me even more and starts a new direction in my collecting.

Yours truly, JD Crawford



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Original Canute.jpg
Original Sword

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Original Canute Grip.jpg
Decorations on Both Sides

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review 2 full length.jpg
Full length view of modern sword

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review 3 cross view.jpg
Cross view of hilt

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Review 4 Pommel View.jpg
Pommel view of hilt

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review 5 cross comparison.jpg
Comparison to Korsoygaden

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Review 6 Three Grips 2.jpg
Three grip styles: hammer, handshake, 3-finger gun grip.

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review 7 blade view.jpg
Blade view

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review 8 cross detail.jpg
Cross detail

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Review 9 pommel details.jpg
Pommel detail


Last edited by J.D. Crawford on Fri 17 Nov, 2017 7:44 pm; edited 2 times in total
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
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PostPosted: Fri 17 Nov, 2017 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One more for the road...


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review 10 posed.jpg

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Brian M.




Location: Wisconsin
Joined: 17 Oct 2016

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PostPosted: Fri 17 Nov, 2017 7:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wonderful review. Context, detail, and fine photography.
Very cool how you discovered an unexpected but workable grip.
Thanks for sharing this sword with us JD.
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Luka Borscak




Location: Croatia
Joined: 11 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting grip problem/solution. I tried it with some of my swords, but I like classic handshake more. Visually, the sword is brutally beautiful.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 9:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

CORRECTION: Rob says the cross and pommel are polished cast steel with gold-plated highlights. He also says the current version on his web site is very similar to the prototype, other than the details I mentioned.

Brian: thanks for your kind words.

Luka: I don't see myself switching to the new grip either, except in special cases like this.
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Roger Hooper




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 11:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I admire the workmanship and artistry of the sword, somehow I just don't care for it. I'm curious why distal taper doesn't really come into play until 2/3 down the blade. Is that an accurate reflection of the original?
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Scott Kowalski




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

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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 11:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While not normally drawn to this level of decoration on a sword I remember seeing the last one that Rob made posted on Facebook and thinking that I would not mind having one like this. Having read the review, thank you J.D. for doing one, I am thinking of adding one to my never shrinking list of swords I would like to own.

Congratulations on acquiring a unique and beautiful sword!

Chris Landwehr 10/10/49-1/1/09 My Mom
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Chip F.





Joined: 05 Jan 2015

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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 11:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Beautiful sword - thank you for this thorough review. I have yet to handle a Viking sword (I know, for shame!) so I appreciate your insights on the various grips possible with this kind of weapon.

I also have enormous respect for Rob Miller’s work - his are some of the finest designed custom swords on the market IMHO. I have a longsword on order from him, due sometime in late summer 2018. In the words of the late, great Tom Petty, “the waiting is the hardest part” Laughing Out Loud
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 1:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Scott and Chip.

Roger, as my Dad used to say, 'different strokes for different folks'.

The rapid taper in both profile and thickness near the tip make it feel like a shorter sword, but for sure it would be more responsive if the taper was more aggressive earlier on. I doubt Rob had such accurate measurements, given the state of oxidation on the original blade. From the looks of it, he may have adapted the blade from his Suontaka sword.
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Robert Muse




Location: Washington
Joined: 28 Sep 2009

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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 2:24 pm    Post subject: Sword         Reply with quote

Great review Douglas, as you know I only had the sword for a very short time. In that time it mostly just hung on the wall. It was planned to be my last sword, but I think it has a better home with you. You really got to know it better than I did.

Robert
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sat 18 Nov, 2017 4:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Sword         Reply with quote

Robert Muse wrote:
Great review Douglas, as you know I only had the sword for a very short time. In that time it mostly just hung on the wall. It was planned to be my last sword, but I think it has a better home with you. You really got to know it better than I did.

Robert


I'm grateful that you were able to pass it on Robert. It will be appreciated and well cared for.
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Michael Granovsky




Location: Indiana
Joined: 09 Mar 2014

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PostPosted: Sun 19 Nov, 2017 4:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for sharing the Barons's steel with us and additional thanks for the handle thoughts. I wish more people would review Rob's many swords.
If you let it out NOW there'll be none left for battle!
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Nov, 2017 8:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Granovsky wrote:
Thanks for sharing the Barons's steel with us and additional thanks for the handle thoughts. I wish more people would review Rob's many swords.


Yes, he deserves more attention. Go Scotland!
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