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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > lightweight cutters? Reply to topic
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Adam Simmonds




Location: Henley-on-Thames
Joined: 10 Jun 2006

Posts: 137

PostPosted: Sun 19 Nov, 2006 12:45 am    Post subject: lightweight cutters?         Reply with quote

hi there,

i have recently been wondering about how light a sword could be while still remaining an effective cutter. I have a sword weighing 730 grams or about 1 pound 8 ounces which cuts well against unarmoured targets. as i have not practised with heavier swords of similar dimensions i am not sure whether there is an increase in cutting performance with increased blade mass (weight).

how light do people out there think or have experienced swords to be while still remaining effective cutters? it seems logical to believe that there must some kind of limits to the weight of swords - on the one hand they must not be so light as to be insubstantial, while remaining not too heavy to be used quickly and continuously.

personally, i like light swords as i find them agile and fast - i just wonder, how light can swords get while still remaining effective cutters and substantial enough to parry etc?

I have seen pictures of cutlasses from the 1700's which, though i was not able to handle them, appeared to be very light, having short and thin blades designed for vigrous close combat slashing, hacking and stabbing.

if anyone could provide any weight specifications for light cut and thrust swords i'd be very interested.


cheers, adam
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Nick Trueman





Joined: 27 Mar 2006

Posts: 246

PostPosted: Sun 19 Nov, 2006 1:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi

Some of the early Khazar/Magyar Alanic sabres were around 800g. The Magyars experimented with pistol grip 2edge European swords ( Maybe the blades were won in battle or tradded?). They simply bent the tangs and fitted sabre fittings to them. This may suggest there sabres werent effective against european maille? The idea was soon abandoned, as the blades were poorly balanced.

Also many early sabres from this period have sharpened back edges wich has been suggested was done for thrusting.

I have done some fast sabre fighting (blunt) in armour, the light sabres can still parry, but I would think they would be useless against maiile and helmet. Though a good thrust would prob work against maille? I would think these horseman like all other warriors would find weak points to cut against eg like the face.

well theres my 2 cents, hope it helps.

Nick
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Vincent Le Chevalier




Location: Paris, France
Joined: 07 Dec 2005
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PostPosted: Sun 19 Nov, 2006 2:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello!

In fact a sword can be a good cutter even if light because cutting is not really a matter of mass but one of energy.

Cutting is like a completely inelastic impact. At least, it is so as long as the sword has not exited the cutting medium. In the end, if the sword has not got out, the sword and the target travel at the same speed at the impact point. The energy used for cutting can then be computed (assuming that the target was not moving at the beginning) as:

cutting energy = kinetic energy of the sword before the cut - kinetic energy of the sword after the cut - kinetic energy of the target after the cut.

What you give to a weapon when trying to cut is not really speed, but energy. The perceived efficiency of the cut depends of the ratio between the energy you have put in the sword, and the energy that was used for the cut.

If the target is fixed and cannot move, this ratio does not depend on the mass of the sword, but only on the location of the impact. If the target is allowed to move according to its mass, the key thing is that a light sword will be more efficient against a light target (and also that as the target's mass diminishes, the point of the blade where you have most efficiency moves to the tip). Thus indeed, light swords can be good cutters.

This is however limited by biomechanics. The lighter the sword, the faster it should move to acquire the same energy. But your arms can only give a limited speed, so that really light sword can be less efficient because you cannot transfer the same energy into them.

Note that the exact same could be said about heavy swords. If you are just concerned about cutting, as long as you provide the same energy (all other things like center of gravity, holding point, blade profile, and inertia being the same of course), you will have the same efficiency of cut. If the sword is so heavy that you cannot transfer energy in a realistic motion, it becomes less efficient, but I believe there is much room between the extremes...

Of course the story would be different against armoured target, because you could have elastic impacts then.

A sword mass has other effects. For example, a heavy sword is more difficult to set aside. On the other hand, a light sword is quicker to manipulate. In the end, as usual, it's all a matter of compromises...

Regards

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Jean Henri Chandler




Location: New Orleans
Joined: 20 Nov 2006

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PostPosted: Mon 20 Nov, 2006 8:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
Hello!

In fact a sword can be a good cutter even if light because cutting is not really a matter of mass but one of energy.


Don't forget as well that swords cut in different ways. When you are speaking about a cavalry saber, or a katana for example (or almost any curved-bladed sword), they are actually specialized for draw-cutting. This could be loosely defined as touching the target and drawing the blade back or forward for a slicing or slashing motion, as opposed to chopping like an axe or a meat cleaver (though when it is done quickly it can be hard to see the difference). Western fencing differentiates at least these two types of cutting.

Very generally, I think it can be said that a draw - cut can be more effective against soft targets, while a 'chop' may be more effective against harder targets. This seems to be borne out by my own limited test cutting experiences.

Looking at swords historically, broad blades do seem to have an impact, as well as mass and edge geometry, especially at the 'sweet spot'; look at your falchions, khandars, etc. An inward bend to the blade as on your falcatas, macherias, yaghatans, kopis etc. etc. seems to contribute to phenomenal cutting performance, at leas anecdotally.

But this can be misleading. I own an Albion Constable which is an Oakeshott XVa, nominally a light thrusting sword, with a stiff sharply tapeirng blade, flattened diamond cross section etc., yet it cuts amazingly well, both soft and hard targets in testing I've done personally. At an event last year when we tested about 20 sword replicas of different blade geometries and at least two differnt manufacturers (arms and armor and albion) the two best cutters were the albion Brescia Spadona and the dainty Constable, both relativley light, pointy thrusting type bastard swords. So go figure Happy

Jean

System D'Armes Historical European fencing in New Orleans

Essays on Hroarr

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Douglas S





Joined: 18 Feb 2004

Posts: 177

PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 4:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
Hello!

In fact a sword can be a good cutter even if light because cutting is not really a matter of mass but one of energy.

Western fencing differentiates at least these two types of cutting.

-as does the Japanese tradition, I believe.

You can move a sword very fast - faster than you can in a normal cut - if you intend to throw it and don't care to hold on to it. Thus, part of the equation - to my mind - is the limiting factor of the ability of the hand and arm to control the sword's direction and speed after the cut. In this regard, a lighter sword is superior.

Perhaps a heavier sword excels in the defense, depending on style and technique.
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Greg Coffman




Location: Lubbock, TX
Joined: 24 Aug 2006
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Nov, 2006 7:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An acceptable weight range for a sword depends on what kind of sword it is, which is furthermore dependant on a number of other factors such as use, time period, etc. Also, pictures can be very misleading. I don't think of cutlasses as having thin blades or as being light but rather having a thick back spine and "a good heft." Another thing, just because a sword is heavy on paper or at rest does not mean it is slow in the swing.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Vincent Le Chevalier




Location: Paris, France
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PostPosted: Wed 22 Nov, 2006 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:

In fact a sword can be a good cutter even if light because cutting is not really a matter of mass but one of energy.

Don't forget as well that swords cut in different ways. When you are speaking about a cavalry saber, or a katana for example (or almost any curved-bladed sword), they are actually specialized for draw-cutting.


True, but does mass have an influence on draw-cutting performance ? I tend to believe that during a draw cut the sharpness of the sword and the leverage you can use to press are the determining factors. Well, there is also the speed at which you are able to draw the blade, but it would take a really heavy weapon to slow you that much.

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:

But this can be misleading. I own an Albion Constable which is an Oakeshott XVa, nominally a light thrusting sword, with a stiff sharply tapeirng blade, flattened diamond cross section etc., yet it cuts amazingly well, both soft and hard targets in testing I've done personally. At an event last year when we tested about 20 sword replicas of different blade geometries and at least two differnt manufacturers (arms and armor and albion) the two best cutters were the albion Brescia Spadona and the dainty Constable, both relativley light, pointy thrusting type bastard swords. So go figure Happy


Yes, I believe a sword performance in cuts is more a matter of how the mass distribution allows you to use the sword's energy for cutting, rather than a question of weight. But of course it's also a question of how the mass distribution naturally fits your personal style... Blade geometry allows you to convert the energy into deep cuts, but the energy has to be here in the first place.

Douglas S wrote:

You can move a sword very fast - faster than you can in a normal cut - if you intend to throw it and don't care to hold on to it. Thus, part of the equation - to my mind - is the limiting factor of the ability of the hand and arm to control the sword's direction and speed after the cut. In this regard, a lighter sword is superior.


In my opinion it also depends on the style you want to use. If your style relies on fast recovery, quick switches in direction and speed, a lighter sword can be more useful. On the other hand axes were used extensively on the battlefield, and they were probably slower in recovery than most swords (I don't really know, I have no experience in fighting with axes, so if I'm wrong please correct). A heavy weapon is a more solid defence, but it also has some advantages in attacks: it's less easy to set aside, and even if doesn't cut (because of armor for example) it can still throw your opponent off balance.

In fact I wonder if the swordsmiths in the past were striving at making the lightest weapon (while retaining solidity, of course), or if they sometimes kept some mass on purpose because it was deemed necessary for the fight. Perhaps one of the sword makers here could chime in and give us some insight?

Regards

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Scott Hanson




Location: La Crosse, WI
Joined: 19 Jul 2006
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Posts: 154

PostPosted: Wed 22 Nov, 2006 6:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the physical characteristics of the wielder are an important consideration here, as well. As you said earlier Vincent, this is limited by biomechanics. A very strong person and an average person can both only swing their arms at roughly the same speed. If both people had as heavy a weapon as possible that doesn't slow their swing, the energy in the strong person's swing would of course be much higher with a heavier blade. I think the reason for choosing a lighter blade may have more to do with speed of recovery and thrusting, both of which are more hampered by mass than a swing.
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