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Elnathan Barnett

Location: The vicinity of Asheville, NC
Joined: 21 Jan 2004
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Posts: 42

PostPosted: Sun 15 Mar, 2020 10:42 am    Post subject: DIY project - 18th century American Frontier Dagger         Reply with quote

Howdy! Been quite some time since I posted here...I finished this dagger about a year and a half ago, but just finished the sheath for it recently and it occurred to me that you all might find the project interesting.

While not all that common, daggers seem to have been among the weapons available in Colonial America and the early days of the United States. I made this one as something of a response to the big, cross- hilted "rifleman's knives" of dubious authenticity favored by certain segments of the reenacting community, as well as those who have gone so far in the opposite direction as to practically deny that anyone in the Americas ever made a knife prior to Jim Bowie.

It based primarily on the example in Gordon Minnis' American Primitive Knives, plate 27 (page 49), also illustrated on page 156 of Johnstone's Accouterments III, with some influence from 18.K in Neumann's Swords and Blades and BK.1 in Madison Grant's The Knife in Homespun America (which I think is actually 19th century). The vision in my head was for this to represent a dagger made sometime around 1775-1785 in SW Virginia or Tennessee and reflecting the taste for iron mounts and walnut stocks for rifles that was just getting started around that time and place - it was kind of intended as a companion piece for an as-of-yet unbuilt proto-mountain rifle. Unlike a lot of later examples made during the Bowie knife craze during the 19th century, 18th century daggers tend to be fairly well made, not crude, and the first wave of settlers were not poverty stricken the way some of the later ones would be, so this is intended to be workmanlike, with a bit of attention to making a nice piece. I shaped it by eye and some basic measuring tools, though, and while I did my best to keep it straight and symmetrical I didn't worry unduly about little irregularities. Whether that was the right approach I'll have to leave for y'all to decide - I like the fact that it doesn't look too crisp (a lot of modern made "primitive" knifes are over-finished, IMHO), but there are areas that I wish I had gotten a bit better.

The blade is just exactly 7 inches long and 1 inch wide, 12" long overall, and balances right at the junction between guard and grip, I think. Blade is made of 1084, the grip of walnut, and the fittings of whatever bits of mild steel I had laying around.

While the dagger itself is - I think - a fairly good representation of what an 18th century dagger should look like, the sheath is a bit of a fantasy piece. While there is at least one trade knife extant with an associated wooden sheath, the construction is somewhat different and there is no dagger sheath of wood. My decision to use wood was in large part one of necessity, because when I started it I had just uncovered a major mold problem in the leather stored in my damp little apartment, and had been forced to throw away almost everything made of leather. I didn't have money to buy more leather and I didn't want to bring more leather into the home if it was just going to be destroyed and keep the problem going. Hence, wood. Initially I was planning on carving a "folk art" bear and possibly more figures, as well as staining it darker, but I didn't like the results on test pieces and after a year-plus I finally decided to just do a little carving to mimic metal fittings and finish it without stain.

This was my first double-edge blade, my first knife with a hilt, my first attempt at making a ferrule, and my first knife with a through tang peened at the end. Quite a step up in complexity from the sheath knives I previous made! I'm still a bit ambivalent about the sheath, but pretty pleased with the knife itself, although there is a lot of room for improvement.

Therfor he seide to hem, But now he that hath a sachel, take also and a scrippe; and he that
hath noon, selle his coote, and bigge a swerd.
- Luke 22:36, John Wycliffe's translation AD 1384
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