Which bronze for sword hilt ca. 7th century
I'm wondering what would be the best bronze alloy to use for an Anglo Saxon sword hilt project. I'm leaning towards the sandwich style, so it would brace a plate of horn or antler or wood.

I'm thinking a tin bronze would be the first option for historical accuracy, but I have heard suggestions elsewhere to use a phosphor (tin-ish) bronze such as C510.

What is the consensus here?
Copper alloy, not bronze; bronze IS an alloy (why some manufacturers refer to 'bronze alloys' is a bit of a mystery to me).
Are you interested in which one to use based on the compositon of the copper alloys of the time?

If so, then take your pick as a variety of studies made of Anglo Saxon objects (I can cite you the references if you're really interested) all point towards a steady reduction in the purity of alloy content of cast copper alloys from the 5th to 8th century and that no great care seems to have been taken in mixing up scrap copper alloys from different sources when recasting. The composition of these alloys can be so diverse that archaeologists stopped referring to them as bronze and stick to the safer term 'copper alloy'. In many cases, zinc is present in higher concentrations than tin, making it closer to brass than bronze.
So, from a historical point of view, either brass or a 'proper' bronze rather than phosphor bronze would suit. As most surviving examples of these fittings that are cast copper alloy are either tinned or plated with precious metal, the overall appearence of the copper alloy used would probably have been deemed unimportant. There certainly doesn't seem to be any discimination made in the surviving objects that have been submitted to XRF analysis.

However, if this is for a reenactment weapon where strikes to the guard plates are a possibility then the durability of phospher bronze might be preffered, as these guard plates tended to be very thin (c. 2mm on the thickest plates on the blade side of the lower guard and less than that on the hilt side of the lower guard).
They sometimes appear to be thicker when surviving examples are seen in photos but that's because they often have a raised edge, so that the organic guards sit inside them rather than sitting flat (as you can see in the two pictures below of a classic example from Buckland, which shows this feature and the thinness of the upper plates very clearly).

Hope this helps.

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Last edited by Matthew Bunker on Thu 19 Jul, 2012 2:19 am; edited 1 time in total
A link to Catherine Mortimer's excellent paper on the subject of copper alloy composition in Anglo Saxon non-ferrous metalwork.


Sorry if this taking you into areas of research that you're not really interested in.
Spectacular information, guys. Thanks a bunch.

Strange how it's never been brought to my attention that the plats have lips and aren't just a thick plate. Good to know.
Which bronze for sword hilt ca. 7th century
If I may add to what Matt has said,

IF, this intended for re enactment, particularly combat, then I would plum for solid lower crossguard plates, like on the example pic I've attached. This one is made from brass, which is from new stock, (So we know its brass)
However, using the logic that Matt has suggested, most of my stuff, and indeed that of other members of my group, is either made from modern brass or some type of bronze. Which all fall into the category, Copper Alloy as mentioned by Matt.
Some of the stock I use for making stuff is from scrap and it is often relatively easy to make an educated guess at the type of metal, given its original use and in most cases the colour and general feel. However, this isn't always the case. But it all depends on the levels you wish to go to, to achieve authenticity nirvana,
Working by Torch light, eating grit laden food and sleeping with your pigs, might be stretching it too far.

(and no Matt, I'm not speaking from personal experience, (thought I'd head that one off at the pass!)).


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