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Michael Beeching

Joined: 22 Jan 2014
Reading list: 2 books

Posts: 271

PostPosted: Thu 03 Oct, 2019 11:45 pm    Post subject: Door County Forgeworks September 2019 Class Sword         Reply with quote

This is the sword which Ric Furrer and I made during his September 2019 European Sword class. It is a Type XIV with a reinforced point (some may argue that this makes it a Type XVI), coming in at just under 36" overall. The sword, as you can see in the following images, is not yet complete. Work and other obligations have caught up with me and have slowed the finishing process down, but all will be done eventually. A preliminary polish on the pommel and blade has yielded the following results:

In terms of raw mechanics, the last recorded weight on the sword came in at just under 3lb. Point of balance was measured at 4.85" from the front of the guard. However, handling is not at all poor due to the fact that the forward pivot point is actually rather close to the center of the blade. This makes point control rather simple, though executing a full strike involves moving the whole mass of the sword. Full evaluation of the sword cannot yet be offered in detail, as the sword grip still needs to be wrapped (it's a bit fragile with epoxy alone). However, I can offer my feelings about this sword in relation to the other arming sword I own: while the latter is most definitely a military weapon which will deliver a very effective cut, the one Ric and I produced leaves one with the feeling that it could cut a man in half! Alternately, one could say that it inspires confidence...

The initial design was delivered later than I wanted, about a week prior to the start of the class. Development of the design was assisted through the use of the DKM's excellent Sword: Form and Thought publication. The submitted design and its associated constructions are shown below:

The ratio of blade to hilt was selected at 5:1. Though various fractions of "bounding circles" are used in the majority of the constructions featured in the DKM book, I ended up going the simple route, starting with six basic circles end-to-end on the final constructions, only adding a circle in between when necessary.

I also needed to devise a means of designing the blade. The constructions in the DKM book offer only rudimentary insight into this process, so I devised my own. The first added circle, placed between the 5 circles of the blade and the single circle of the hilt, forms a pair of vesica from which a hexagram can be drawn. The inscribed circle (which is exactly half the diameter of the principle bounding circles) defines the flare at the base of the blade. An additional vesica, or the equivalent thereof, is drawn between the first and second bounding circles on the blade. Lines are drawn between these points and the vesica points formed on the hilt side. Where the lines cross the boundary of the blade and hilt circles defines the principal width of the blade...

...This width was then transferred to the center blade circle. Construction lines were then drawn from the flare width to the principal width at the center of the blade, carrying on to the end of the blade bounding circles. An additional pair of lines were then drawn from the ends of the lines cited above to a point at the opposite end of the sword construction...

...Because the sword is constructed from six circles, the sword may be divided into three partitions. The blade end of one of those partitions has a construction formed within a principal blade width circle - this construction is used to determine the general taper of the blade. Tapering at the tip was done purely by artistic sense.

I realize that was a bit lengthy to cover, but I've not seen geometric constructions used to design sword blades in detail before - I figure someone else might like to know what I did and why.

Perhaps more interesting to some is the hilt construction, which terminates in a striking Type O pommel. The flare of the blade was used to define its general shape, while smaller details are local constructions only. I will let that be the end of planned construction details for now.

Of course, that was the submitted design. One of the many lessons of the class is that things often do not pan out as one may hold ideal. Perfection is for the masters, but a student's work will be done within the span of a week. Here is the as-built of the sword:

...Changes in hilt detail are most obvious. One of the subtle changes was the blade itself - it actually became LARGER than the plan drawing, being wider though not in fact longer. The unmounted blade was a formidable 3 1/4" at the flare, though this width shrank down to the target size once the guard was mounted. Effective length of the blade shrank by almost an inch!

The blade is the best part of this sword, as we dedicated the most time to it. In fact, the several of the visitors to the shop during my time there offered compliments to it! I spent a lot of time working on the fullers, and they turned out pretty well for my first try. Ric needed to take over with the outer blade geometry in order to make up time: "days do in hours what decades do in minutes." A close-up of the initial polish on the blade:

I'm also very pleased with the hilt furniture, though it is certainly not as dramatic as the rest of the weapon. The O-Type pommel morphed into an N-Type, and the guard became wider at its center section than it should have. There are reasons for all of these changes, which I will cover in detail. Particularly interesting, however, is the fact that any disagreeable proportions in the furniture with relation to the rest of the blade seem to disappear when the sword is held in hand.

First, the guard. Both the guard and the pommel were produced from bar stock with a hot chisel being used to drift open a path for the sword's tang. Production of the guard was more involved, however. A jig/die was produced to form the radius of the guard, which Ric produced while I was still working on the fullers. A single-use drift, a facsimile of the base of the blade, was also cut and ground in order to properly seat the guard on the blade. After these tools were used to produce those initial operations on the guard blank, the tips of the blank were worked in the press to produce the flare at the guard's terminals as well as to increase the piece's width. Finish grinding would now be required to bring everything to final size and weight.

In relation to the original construction, something just didn't look right when the guard was laid out at full scale on the shop table, and this is where that part began to deviate from the original plan. In hindsight, I should have put a different radius on the ends of the original construction's guard, but I just did not perceive that detail when I first drew it. The forged piece had that better-oriented radius, however, and I ran with it. I will return to the guard shortly...

Moving on to the pommel: in a perfect world, it would have been 1/8" longer to make it 1 1/2" in length. If we would have perceived that it should have been just a bit longer, we could have lengthened the tips of the piece in the press. However, time was short, and we made everything as best we could in the time available. To account for the reduced length, the grind at the rear of the part was made shallower, which is why it became a Type-N pommel as opposed to an O. The final weight taken on the pommel was around 230 grams, which felt just about right.

The guard now needed to be test-fit on the blade. Ric used a die grinder to remove any last high points inside of the piece; after this was done, a weight on the blade and its furniture was taken at a hefty 3.44lb. That's... substantial. The principal source of dead weight in this equation was the guard, and back to the grinder it went!

The majority of the guard's weight was in its sides, so a sweeping hollow grind was applied on either side of the guard up to its centerline. The terminals of the guard were ground down to 1/8" on each side in this process. All the while, it was apparent that the center of the guard was a bit too long, but at the time what and where to grind was not apparent. Therefore, it is a bit understandable that the center length of the guard ended up at about 0.8" rather than 0.6". Nevertheless, I am very proud of the work on this part, as the final weight of the sword with the assembled hilt weighed in at just under 3lb.

Above is the completed hilt assembly. I wanted a flush peen on the pommel, but fusing everything together with a TIG weld seemed very agreeable as well. Any undercut on the sides of the pommel were filed away the week after class when I added an extra bevel for detail; undercut on the bottom will be handled at a later date.

I actually prototyped the grip of the sword before I even designed the sword itself! - ergonomics and the human interface are half of the weapon, after all. The prototype was made from sassafras, which is very common in my area. The grip on the sword is made from ash. The grip prototype also doubled as a very handy mallet for the sword fittings before they were permanently attached.

One thing not seen in the images here is the front of the guard, or indeed much or any of the pigmented epoxy used to secure element of the grip furniture. The pigment helped to simulate the appearance of cutler's pitch, which is a natural glue. On the front of the guard, the epoxy seals the opening where the slot was cut for the blade, keeping out unwanted dirt and moisture while also giving a very clean look. In fact, it seems like such a good and novel process to do to a sword, that I wonder why this is not a feature commonly seen in production swords?

One last look at the hilt of the weapon should tell something about the ergonomics and handling overall. The short, contoured grip (about 3 5/8" long) gives very good control, as the hand does not have excessive room to move forward or aft. Next, the flat profile of the hilt furniture allows the hand and the point to extend fully forward with no apparent obstructions. Simultaneously, the wide pommel will not allow the sword to escape from the user in a swing. When all of these factors are considered, one can imagine the serious cutting potential of the weapon combined with good agility, the latter only being hampered by a little more weight than the average arming sword.

...Needless to say, I think I've sold myself on N- and O-Type pommels...

General dimensions for design, both planned and as-built:

Plan Blade, tip-to-hilt: 30 1/2"
Plan Sword Overall: 36 1/32"
Plan Net Length/Blade Ratio: 1.181

As-Built Blade, tip-to-hilt: 29 5/8"
As-Built Sword Overall: 35 7/16"
As-Built Net Length/Blade Ratio: 1.196

Final notes on constructions in sword design:

Refer briefly back to the as-built drawing of the sword. To assist in the creation of that drawing, I drew scaled circles which represented a 6" diameter each. Fascinatingly, the sword seemed to line up almost perfectly within the bounds of the arbitrarily-sized scale circles of the construction despite dimensions and features changing. Granted, the sizes and features did not change by much, with the finished sword only 9/16" shorter than the proposed design in terms of practical numbers. However, what one should be able to draw from this observation is that finding a design pattern, or even an alternate design pattern which fits the lines of an observed form, is not at all impossible. In fact, it is something people naturally do, such as when an artist memorizes the proportions of a human body. I felt it necessary to illuminate this point for those with opinions on the matter...

In contrast, I will say without hesitation that I believe the geometric design process can and does produce a very aesthetically pleasing design. Furthermore, there is very often something to the axiom "if it looks right, it is right!" The question to myself becomes how to tie the physical form of the sword to its mechanical characteristics without the use of modern computing. I do in fact think geometric construction may be an in-road into doing this. Natural constructions, such as circles and arcs and their associated equations, form in common engineering problems. The wonderful thing about circles and arcs is that their analog representations, created with hand tools, are often more than accurate enough to handle most problems. Therefore, the possibility of "analog computing and design" in geometric construction is certainly there. For reference, Ric and I briefly discussed a common item to many engineering students: Mohr's Circle, which is a representation of stress and strain which uses a circular construction. Secondly, the physical durability of a form is often gauged through assessing its second moment of area, which is generally determined by an object's cross section. Etc., etc...

...Needless to say, I'm rather sold on geometric constructions. However, I have not seen in my less-than-extensive studies a method which marries the physical and the mechanical. That is something for the masters, of which I am not one. My design was a good first attempt that looked right, and I think it feels pretty good as of now. Who are the masters which have tied both the physical and mechanical properties of a sword together in a mere drawing or a set thereof? I do not know if they currently exist, to be honest. But I think they will come.

A Brief note on Ric Furrer's European Sword Class:

This section demands more material, but I've gone on long enough. Ric is an absolutely brilliant fellow, to say the least. And, if you want to learn something, such as the various processes by which a sword is or can be made, you will not find a better quality education for a better price. In fact, the price might not be high enough! So, if you can manage to travel to Door County, you really ought to see about taking a class.

As a further note, you should endeavor to take a class if the prospects of work or minor injury (burns and blisters happen) do not dissuade you from taking time off. Moreover, if you expect your student work to be perfect (even though Ric will actually split a sizeable portion of that work with you), you may be disappointed. BUT, if your intent is to learn something, then you will not be disappointed at all. With regard to the Sword class in particular, note that my sword was created in the equivalent span of about 6 1/2 working days. A commissioned sword can take many months to complete in comparison.

To conclude, thank you, Ric, for a wonderful class. Moreover, thank you for an excellent education! It was an honor and a privilege being a guest in your shop and in your home. Perhaps we will meet again in the future.
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Chris Dayton

Location: Austin, TX
Joined: 29 Oct 2017

Posts: 66

PostPosted: Fri 04 Oct, 2019 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fantastic writeup! Thanks for sharing.
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