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David Sanford





Joined: 09 Sep 2006

Posts: 13

PostPosted: Sun 29 Oct, 2006 11:57 pm    Post subject: average soldiers blade quality         Reply with quote

I know that the subject of comparing differnt manufacturers blades has been beaten to death on this forum. What i was wondering is what would level of quality would one expect the average foot soldiers sword to have been. I mean a suit of armor and a sword at the time was like owning a corporate jet and a sports car. If you were a lord outfitting an army of lets say 50 men with swords you might have a couple of smiths working for you on this job. Now are they going to make 50 differnt swords for your men? No theyd pick a simple design that was easy to produce. Not unlike what maufacturers do today. So is it always fare to compare an albion to a windlass in terms of quality? I mean from my limited reading i have come across stories in the viking sagas of men having to straighten their swords in battle or of them breaking. Now at this time they were most likely pattern welded iron or early attempts at steel . isnt our modern steel superior to that earlier metal? I mean hilt construction aside wouldnt a windless or a paul chen blade be of the same strength if not better then what your average viking or early medieval soldier took into battle. Have we got caught up in comparing swords based on the quality of the origional or what modern makers are capable now of producing? Its just my two cents but something that was keeping me up in bed thinking about.
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George Hill




Location: Atlanta Ga
Joined: 16 May 2005

Posts: 614

PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 12:24 am    Post subject: Re: average soldiers blade quality         Reply with quote

Hello David. Actually I suspect you are overestimating the value of these things, even though they were expencive. First, yes, these things were made in what we would consider a factory setup, (Though they did not have the idea of interchangable parts...) But the cost of a suit of armor was likely closer to that of a very nice car. High, but not unreachable for the middleclass.

Second, the quaility of the swords produced for a unit would have been realitive to what the man equiping the unit was prepared to pay. As to adverage quaility, I think it very likely would have been higher then what Windlass produces. Windlass tends to be low end, (though they do produce some good models.) Compare this to firearms. The Raven and the Loricin are very cheap, but infamous for jamming, whereas you can get a decent revolver for a bit more, or a very nice stock Glock for a bit more then that, or you can pay through the nose for a custom tuned 1911. The weapons issued to cops and soldiers tend to be well made 'stock' weapons, which can stand up to abuse.

But yes, they would all have about the same equipment, but without interchangable parts.

As to comparing a Windlass or a Paul Chen to an antique, the Antique, (when new) would be overwhelmingly better in every measureable way. (Possible exception for eastern blades where Paul Chen's people have more direct experince with the originals) This is because the whole thing is made by a master craftsman, who is interisted in not having a hardened soldier show up on his doorstep to kill him if the weapon fails, (And the shield doesn't.) This master also far better understands what he is trying to achieve then either Paul Chen (in the case of western blades) or Windlass. Albion has proven the tremendous importance of distal taper, which Paul Chen has yet to understand in the least. Samurai swords have no Distal taper, but it's tremendously important on western blades.

As to our steel being better, it can be, but are still re-learning what a sword ought to be, and aren't experimenting to find the idea alloy to create a sword. (Although some swords made by the best swordsmiths today may outperform the originals in some respects.) Tinker Peirce has produced swords which cut very well, and can flex like mad. I confess the idea of so much flex makes me think the wouldn't be stiff enough to fight with! (No offence to Tinker, I am most impressed with his ability as a bladesmith to produce exactly what he's trying to produce. I only mean to say that something that flexes so much is disconcerting to a poor laymen such as myself.)

If we had all the information, we could do this. There was a company planning to make a sword out of a new alloy devoloped for something like helocopter rotor gears, which they planned to call Dragon Slayer and to cut Katanas with it, but the progect never went forward. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.02/dragonslayer.html

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania


Last edited by George Hill on Mon 30 Oct, 2006 12:29 am; edited 1 time in total
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 6:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David,
I'm no expert, but, in terms of raw materials alone, I think it's fair to say that what we have now is superior to what they had then. The carbon content in modern sword-making steels is higher and more uniform, and they are heat-treatable to better degree.

However, that's far from enough to say that modern implements are as good as, or superior to antiques simply because raw materials are more consistent and readily available. You said "hilt construction aside." We can't leave hilt construction aside, nor can we leave the many other elements of design that take raw materials and produce a workable weapon. Windlass, for example, may use a better blade steel than a smithy of 1400, but the smithy had a better understanding of how to produce workable weapons. Their livelihood and the lives of their customers depended on it. Windlass misses so many of the subtle, important details that go into making a quality sword. Raw materials alone don't make a good weapon.

There are historical reports of swords bending or breaking, just as there are modern reports. I'd guess that many of the historical reports are due to limitations in the materials and hard use when lives depended on it, where many modern reports of failure are a result of poor design and craftsmanship, not materials, or misuse.

Is it fair to compare Windlass to Albion, etc.? Of course, to a degree. We must keep in mind that they are built for different subsets of the market, with wildly different goals and R&D processes, as well as wildly different price points in manufacture and sale. But you can make valid comparisons when you note that they are intended for different markets and made to different standards.

George,
It's a fallacy to assume that each medieval sword was made by "a master craftsman." That implies a single smith made the weapon start-to-finish. That did happen sometimes. In many cases, though, blades were made in one of the centers of large production in Europe, then hilted by someone locally, and outfitted with grip and scabbard possibly by a third person. There was a fair amount of mass-production, as much as technology allowed. I will agree that the maker/cutler/finisher has no desire to see their customers die from using shoddy products.


In general, I'd think antique weapons were more functional than many low-end modern swords, because they had to be. We modern folks get to sit back philosophize about these things, while our medieval counterparts used them and relied on them for their lives and livelihoods. Antique sword-makers had practical experience from themselves and their customers. Modern makers like Albion, A&A, and Atrim study originals and talk to practitioners to get an approximation of the feedback and hands-on experience their medieval counterparts had. Most low-end modern swords aren't made for hard use and aren't designed with a great deal of care for functionality. Those makers also tend to spend less time studying antiques and less time getting real-world feedback from practitioners. That's the difference.

Happy

ChadA

http://chadarnow.com/
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George Hill




Location: Atlanta Ga
Joined: 16 May 2005

Posts: 614

PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 6:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:

George,
It's a fallacy to assume that each medieval sword was made by "a master craftsman." That implies a single smith made the weapon start-to-finish. .


Oh, I do not wish to imply a single craftsman, but I'm certain we can agree that each part would be crafted and assembled by a trade master, who might have any number of skilled laborers he would closely oversee. Rather I'm intending to communicate the skill involved on the part of the master (or masters) of an armory, specialists in the trade of functional swordcrafting, rather then an economic venture by a company with steel working equipment and far less understanding of the end product.

I do however see I said "whole thing" which of course is misleading. I apologize for the misunderstanding.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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James Barker




Location: Ashburn VA
Joined: 20 Apr 2005

Posts: 365

PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 6:57 am    Post subject: Re: average soldiers blade quality         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:
Hello David. Actually I suspect you are overestimating the value of these things, even though they were expencive. First, yes, these things were made in what we would consider a factory setup, (Though they did not have the idea of interchangable parts...) But the cost of a suit of armor was likely closer to that of a very nice car. High, but not unreachable for the middleclass.


Armor was not like owning a car it was like owning a hand made Italian sports car. In the 15th c 1£ (pound) = 20s (shilling) = 240d (pence). Income for the Yeoman’s Estate (middle to upper middle class) was £5-<£10 and a basic archer or soldier made 6d a day when on campaign. According to a 15th century account of a man made a knight he paid 1£ each for a sword, dagger, or lance. A helmet ran 3£ to 4£. A jack (layered linen body armor) cost 3£ to 6£. A brigandine cost 11£ to 14£. A full suit of armor ran 40£ and a good war horse 100£ and a normal riding horse 50£ (these are trained high end horses not farming animals).
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Bruno Giordan





Joined: 28 Sep 2005

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PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 8:57 am    Post subject: Re: average soldiers blade quality         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:
Hello David. Actually I suspect you are overestimating the value of these things, even though they were expencive. First, yes, these things were made in what we would consider a factory setup, (Though they did not have the idea of interchangable parts...) But the cost of a suit of armor was likely closer to that of a very nice car. High, but not unreachable for the middleclass.

Second, the quaility of the swords produced for a unit would have been realitive to what the man equiping the unit was prepared to pay. As to adverage quaility, I think it very likely would have been higher then what Windlass produces. Windlass tends to be low end, (though they do produce some good models.) Compare this to firearms. The Raven and the Loricin are very cheap, but infamous for jamming, whereas you can get a decent revolver for a bit more, or a very nice stock Glock for a bit more then that, or you can pay through the nose for a custom tuned 1911. The weapons issued to cops and soldiers tend to be well made \'stock\' weapons, which can stand up to abuse.

But yes, they would all have about the same equipment, but without interchangable parts.

As to comparing a Windlass or a Paul Chen to an antique, the Antique, (when new) would be overwhelmingly better in every measureable way. (Possible exception for eastern blades where Paul Chen\'s people have more direct experince with the originals) This is because the whole thing is made by a master craftsman, who is interisted in not having a hardened soldier show up on his doorstep to kill him if the weapon fails, (And the shield doesn\'t.) This master also far better understands what he is trying to achieve then either Paul Chen (in the case of western blades) or Windlass. Albion has proven the tremendous importance of distal taper, which Paul Chen has yet to understand in the least. Samurai swords have no Distal taper, but it\'s tremendously important on western blades.

As to our steel being better, it can be, but are still re-learning what a sword ought to be, and aren\'t experimenting to find the idea alloy to create a sword. (Although some swords made by the best swordsmiths today may outperform the originals in some respects.) Tinker Peirce has produced swords which cut very well, and can flex like mad. I confess the idea of so much flex makes me think the wouldn\'t be stiff enough to fight with! (No offence to Tinker, I am most impressed with his ability as a bladesmith to produce exactly what he\'s trying to produce. I only mean to say that something that flexes so much is disconcerting to a poor laymen such as myself.)

If we had all the information, we could do this. There was a company planning to make a sword out of a new alloy devoloped for something like helocopter rotor gears, which they planned to call Dragon Slayer and to cut Katanas with it, but the progect never went forward. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.02/dragonslayer.html


Yes, armor of quality could be bought by professional soldiers as well as by town bourgeois who were the core of the northern italian town militias.

Merchants in such corps could buy knightly armor and act as knights since they could afford horses.

St. Francis before becoming a monk was a gaudy young man, the son of a rich merchant.

As such he took part to a battle and he got the best armor from his father\'s shop.

So most of the knights in such militias were non noblemen.

If you look at period imagery you see foot soldiers that were well armed: they were not surely from the rich nobility.

In towns bourgeoisie could afford a very rich lifestyle, so that many were able to buy nobility titles: this was the case of the Medicis, that were originally bankers of non-noble origin who bought titles with their riches.

It is true that from the reaissance onward many people of common origin could make a passage in the nobility class by buyng titles: in the eighteenth century the commerce of titles was flourishing, many impoverished noblemen were known to be selling their titles to noveau riches.

The famous comedy writer Goldoni portrayed them ironically in one of his famous works, as it did Moliere.
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David Sanford





Joined: 09 Sep 2006

Posts: 13

PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad you make some very good points. I guess i got a little off topic in my initial post i have a tendency to do that i have the kind of mind that could meet itself in a maze im afraid. hehehee. I guess i was mostly inquiring about the metelurgical properties of our modern carbon steel vs dark age materials. Wouldnt it be a fair assessment thou to say i could take a cheap windlass sword blade that was tempered well with a decent sized tang and myself rework it to make a weapon that would be as durable if not with the same handling properties as one of ancient construction? Also as to what bruno mentions. Yes i am well aware of what wealthy merchants could afford but i think you are discussing something in a later time then what i had in mind. i was thinking post roman occupation of brittan to early medieval . I am well aware of what was being done in norther italy in later times having seena great deal of it in my travels throu that country as a young man. Truly there were some very wealthy and skilled peopel operating there in the later middle ages onward.
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Daniel J. Willis




Location: Hampshire, England
Joined: 23 Oct 2006

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PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 3:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Sanford wrote:
I guess i was mostly inquiring about the metelurgical properties of our modern carbon steel vs dark age materials. ... ithink you are discussing something in a later time then what i had in mind. i was thinking post roman occupation of brittan to early medieval .


I wouldn't have a clue as far as the properties of the metal go, so i can't really answer your question. However, the specific time-period and country in question would have a dramatic influence on exactly who the "average soldier" was, which might have some bearing on the answer to your question.

Don't forget your talking about a time when the population of the British Isles was well below 2 million people, only a small portion of whom were "soldiers."

Post-Roman Britain with its array of regional rulers, warlords, and "Kings" possibly only commanding 50-100 fighting men in total, was vastly different to post-Alfred Britain with England under the control of one king, and a military force primarily made-up of a levy of lesser-nobles, which in turn was vastly different to later post-Norman conquest Britain when feudalism introduced things like knights, and later-on the first true, permanent standing armies.

Over the 500 or so years you've specified, not only may metal working practices and quality have changed, but the quantity of weapons required, who they were bought by-and who they were bought for-would also have affected the quality of the "average" sword in circulation.

As others have pointed out, swords during this period were bought as serious tools, so its probably more useful to think of them in terms of a farmer buying a plough or (in more modern terms) a combine harvester, an extremely significant purchase with dramatic consequences for their livelihood, rather than a car (which is a luxury more than a tool). Modern replicas may range vastly in quality, with an "average" somewhere in the middle, (just like cars), but swords of the time would surely have been much more of a consistent quality.

If you're talking about whether a smith from the appropriate period could take the metal from a cheap reproduction sword, and craft that into a completely accurate weapon of a certain historic period, and whether or not that would be better (however you interpret that) than the exact same sword made using the metal of the period, then that would depend entirely on how cheap the metal in the cheap sword is, and on how skilled the "average" craftsmen of the period were at doing processes that (over a thousand years later) can be done using machines and 21st century understandings of chemistry and physics. I'd guess that cheap modern metal wouldn't make a better weapon than period metal specifically produced for the purpose of making a sword. Possibly high-quality modern metal might a difference, though you wouldn't be talking AK47 vs. Brown Bess Musket kind of a difference!
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David Sanford





Joined: 09 Sep 2006

Posts: 13

PostPosted: Mon 30 Oct, 2006 4:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yeah i understand the points you guys are making i guess id have to almost compare a specific example from history to a modern made one for it to be a fair comparison. Also i guess youd have to take into account the person using such a weapon . What might seem clumsy to you might be just right for me and so on. Truth be told if i was to go back in time id most likely be using some medium sized battle axe any way. One of those in my hands seems much easier to wield then any sword i have ever handled be it a cheap wall hanger to a 1000 + . But my post did give people the chance to post some good ideas and knowledge which was the main reason i did it anyway. thanks for all the feed back guys
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