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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Whalebone questions? Reply to topic
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Steven H




Location: Boston
Joined: 10 May 2006

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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 10:27 am    Post subject: Whalebone questions?         Reply with quote

Hello,

The more I read about Medieval tournaments the more I read about whalebone (now known as baleen). But I don't really know what the material is like. From the encyclopedia entry on it I suspect that it is either like (hard) leather or like horn.

Anyone here handled it? Familiar with it's properties?

Also anymore info on it's use in the Medieval period would be appreciated.

Thanks.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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George Hill




Location: Atlanta Ga
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 10:31 am    Post subject: Re: Whalebone questions?         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
Hello,

The more I read about Medieval tournaments the more I read about whalebone (now known as baleen). But I don't really know what the material is like. From the encyclopedia entry on it I suspect that it is either like (hard) leather or like horn.

Anyone here handled it? Familiar with it's properties?
.


It's suppose to be stiff yet springy and flexable.

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




Location: NCF, Sarasota, FL
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 12:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wait...Isn't whalebone completely different than baleen? AFAIK, that's like a jawbone and a set of teeth. I've handled both whale bones AND baleen (parents are marine biologists) but are these "whalebone" swords made from baleen? If so, then it isn't whalebone Razz . Anyway baleen is very very very rough and fibrous. It's darkish brown in color. The closest thing I can say it feels like is a cross between a hairy coconut and a broom. I'm not sure how they could be made into swords unless each fiber was individually attatched together artifically, mind you as they don't "really" grow like that...



edit: I probably should explain how baleen is used, too:

Basically imagine it as a giant filter - the whale takes in a mouthful of water filters the water out rhough the baleen. THe krill in the water (tiny shrimp that it eats) can't get through the coarse fibers and are trapped there. Then the whale eats it's yummy catch Happy
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Felix Wang




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alas, "whalebone" has been used to refer to baleen, which is not related to whale's bone. The jaw, of course, is bone.

As I understand it, it was the "broom"-handle part of the baleen which was used to make the substitute swords for tournaments. Nowadays, the SCA uses rattan for the same purpose. I would guess that the hairy fringe was shaved off the baleen shaft, but I've never worked with baleen.
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 2:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, the sources I've checked are clear that the what Rene of Anjou and others called 'whalebone' is in fact baleen. Given a poor physiological understanding of animal bodies and no penchant for accurate names and categorization . . .

The photos I've seen show baleen up to 10-14' long. In skinny, long triangle shapes.
But I'm not sure about how thick it is. Question

Grayson-
Are you saying that a baleen sword would handle like a broom handle? I suspect/hope that it'd be springier since they also used wooden 'batons' and baleen must have been more expensive.

As I'm interested in how baleen arms and armour worked does anyone have any comparisons to things like wasters, nylon wasters, shinai etc.

Thanks all.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Grayson C.




Location: NCF, Sarasota, FL
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 2:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
Grayson-
Are you saying that a baleen sword would handle like a broom handle? I suspect/hope that it'd be springier since they also used wooden 'batons' and baleen must have been more expensive.

As I'm interested in how baleen arms and armour worked does anyone have any comparisons to things like wasters, nylon wasters, shinai etc.

Thanks all.



I'm being seriously misunderstood here Eek!

Probably my fault for not making myself clear - By referencing a broom, I meant the feel of the bristles, not the handling quality Razz
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James C.




Location: Minnesota
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 10:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Greetings.
I have seen a piece of whalebone/ baleen. This particular piece was about 3 feet long and dark grey (close to black). It was much longer than it was wide. One of the long edges ended in a hairy fringe, the other long edge was smooth. It was not very thick. It was durable and springy in a way that resembles some plastics, and it does bear some resemblance to horn. These properties made it appropriate for its most commonly mentioned use as corset stays. I haven't thought of the defensive properties of baleen before, but it should offer some protection against cuts and slices, as it is a rather tough material.

According to _Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises_, a Smithsonian Handbook by Mark Carwardine has illustrations of baleen of the various baleen whales. The shape of the baleen plates varies by species. It can range in color from white to yellowish to brown to black, depending on species. The shape of the plates also varies by species, but in each case they typical plates are longer than they are wide at the top where they attach to the upper jaw.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 19 Jun, 2007 10:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Out of curiousity, when was whalebone used? I would imagine that it was a late medieval development, rather than one from earlier times.
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Fabrice Cognot
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 4:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steven H wrote:
Yes, the sources I've checked are clear that the what Rene of Anjou and others called 'whalebone' is in fact baleen. Given a poor physiological understanding of animal bodies and no penchant for accurate names and categorization . . .


Or perhaps, more simply, poor translation.

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Kel Rekuta




Location: Toronto, Canada
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Out of curiousity, when was whalebone used? I would imagine that it was a late medieval development, rather than one from earlier times.


No, people have been hunting whales and cutting them up for oil for a very, very long time. (at least in Northern Europe, see Icelandic sagas) In a discussion of early gorget / neck protection on the Arador forum, someone posted a reference to an eleventh century source describing an individual pushing aside the "two whalebones" on a captured knight's throat so as to slit his throat. Unfortunately, I've lost the reference too. Blush
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James C.




Location: Minnesota
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

According to the Webster's Dictionary etymology notes, whalebone is a very old English word (1175-1225), which did and does mean baleen. The ancients, both Eskimo and some coastal Europeans, evidently were familiar with both baleen and with whale skeletal parts, and both had their uses. It seems that the understandable confusion over the terms is largely ours, as baleen may be the more commonly used term today.

To add to my previous post's comments in re defensive uses of baleen:

I doubt I will get a chance to test a piece to destruction, but I'm sure that a slice (by which I mean German "schnitt") would be totally ineffective against baleen armor. I would not be confident of penetrating it with less forceful strikes either.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 11:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

sounds similar to the high pressure pvc we use for our sparring weapons.

Is it tubular or does it have a wedge like shape to it like a real sword? That would be interesting.

Wasn't there also some references to using baleen with some sort of papier mache or something on top of it at some tournament somewhere?

J

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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 12:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
sounds similar to the high pressure pvc we use for our sparring weapons.

That's kinda what I'm hoping. When I can spare the funds I'm gonna put leather 'blades' on a pvc pipe and see how good a sparring weapon we get.

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Is it tubular or does it have a wedge like shape to it like a real sword? That would be interesting.

It would be blade shaped I believe. Baleen pieces can certainly be big enough to carve a blade shape from it.

Jean Henri Chandler wrote:
Wasn't there also some references to using baleen with some sort of papier mache or something on top of it at some tournament somewhere?

J


Some tournaments did use rules where the fighters wore papier-mache crests on their helms. These were used with rebated steel where the crest was the only valid target.

* * *

Craig-
As suggested whalebone/baleen has been continuously used by humans for a variety of purposes for thousands of years.

But the earliest reference to whalebone swords, that I know of, is from 1278, and that is also for tournament use.

See this link on Chronique for a litte more info

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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 12:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wait are you actually trying to make a baleen sword?

AFAIK, the posession of whale parts is illegal much like sea turtles. Ballen is not excepted. Now, I may be completely incorrect as much of my marine biology experience is from my mom who works with sea turtles, but I'm almsot positive that public posession of whale parts (bone, sinew, etc.) is illegal. Probably mentioned somewhere is CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species).
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Jack Horner




Location: Palmer, Alaska
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 7:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I live in Alaska, where Baleen is fairly plentiful, and in some cases, legal.

It is only legal to own in the US, when it is harvested legally by Eskimo or Yupik hunters from villages with the traditional right do so, and fashioned BY THEM into a work of art or article of cultural significance. That said, up here at least large enough pieces to use are sold for a reasonable price.

When I did not understand the laws, I bought some legally and started to make it into a pair of late 13th c. scale gauntlets. Let me reiterate, this was illegal, and when I found, I stopped.

Baleen can be black, brown, gray, and occasionally dusky green. It is wedge shaped, slightly convex and can be up to 10 feet in length. It can be up to 8-10 inches at the base, and 1/4"- 3/8" thick. It is almost identical to horn, and cuts similarly. I hate to say it, but for a sword, flat PVC would be the best approximation.
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 7:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Grayson C. wrote:
Wait are you actually trying to make a baleen sword?


No. I'm trying to understand how the sword arts were practiced for scholarly purposes and for improving my own martial practice.

Again, I'd like to make something modern that operates similarly. Even if it were legal, and from what Mr. Horner said I doubt it would be, it'd be prohibitively expensive. (I'd kinda've assumed it was illegal)

* * *

Hmmm, only 1/2-3/8" thick, must be tough stuff to survive as sword blades.

Thanks for all the info.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jun, 2007 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah sorry to sound like such a jerk then, I just didn't want to see you get in trouble over ignorance of something like this. Better to be safe than sorry Happy
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Jack,

That's very useful information. Seems like another medieval "plastic". Good to know. Happy
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 5:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I want to see a picture of this stuff! It sounds very strange and no matter how you guys try to describe it I am still wondering what it looks like. I've always known what baleen is I never thought that it was employed to any purpose.

Jeremy
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jun, 2007 4:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The baleen is like a fairly tough grade of leather that can be softened with warm water and formed. Eskimo baskets woven from baleen are pretty common. http://www.simplybaskets.com/BaleenBaskets.html
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