Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Forging a sword (Type XIV)

After Owen's pattern-welding class came a brief hiatus during which I worked on another pattern-welding project, began to hone my grinding skill, and generally geared myself up for the major project of my stay: Owen's week-long "sword forging" class.  

He runs it about twice a year, check it out here: Owen Bush 7 Day Sword Course

The classroom.
The class itself meant a few things: it meant forging a single sword out of a single piece of steel, in what we generally think of as the "classic" or "basic" method of forging a sword.  In some ways, we have our generally non-analytical view of historical context to thank for this idea. Anyone who has delved into historical metallurgy knows that well into the "high middle ages", when we generally think of long, slim, shining monosteel (non-composite) swords, a huge amount of blades were still produced of non-homogenous, poorly refined steel and iron.

Owen began by forging a random variety of blanks for double-edged medieval European swords, according to the preferences of those taking the class.  Here they are, in 1080 steel, cooling from the initial forging.

It's true that more refined steels were used during that time, but the fact is that nothing truly as standard or predictable as modern Bessemer-process steels existed until the Industrial Revolution, and that all older steel, no matter how well it performed its use, was the product of pre-industrial craftsmanship and was, in many ways, unique.

The first exercise was to learn forging bevels on a double-edged knife, my first attempt at which is shown here.

But this was not an historical metallurgy class.  Anyone with that in mind should check out Owen's From Ore To Knife class (probably incredible).  This was a sword forging class, which was about process and product, technique, skill and style, and making something that was, in all identifiable respects, a modern sword.

We each chose a blank whose proportions matched the sword blade we had in mind.  I envisioned a 13th century English sword-and-buckler weapon, called by most today by its Oakeshott classification: Type XIV.

My tapered but un-beveled blank in a coal forge.

This was to be a short, broad cutting sword, with a long, tapering tip to allow for quite a lot of edge with lots of width to back it up: perfect for slashing, but with a long enough tip to pierce armor that had come more heavily into play during the 12th and 13th centuries, when this type of sword was popular.

Various scenes from the English I.33 manuscript, showing the use of a Type XIV with a buckler.

It represented the more conservative legacy of the Viking-type sword of earlier centuries: shorter and broader, squat of handle, broad and brutish, though still elegant in its way.  This is when swords branched off in the other direction, becoming longer and slenderer, starting with the Norman sword and eventually becoming the long, acutely pointed thrusting swords that characterized the High Medieval period. 

The use of this particular sword is most described in what is referred to as the I.33 manuscript.  It resides in the Tower of London, is German, and was written in Latin in about the year 1300.  It is the oldest surviving manual of Western martial arts, of which there are few compared to the highly traditional and well-documented and ritualized fighting system of Asia and India.

The sword blank after beveling the edges by using the hammer and the anvil face at specific angles to sculpt consistent planes.  There is much twisting and warpage that must be learned and counteracted, with also constant attention to keeping the steel both hot enough to work without cracking and not too hot so that the steel "burns" (carbon is burned out and the steel breaks down)

The general idea is the simultaneous use of a short, broad cutting sword and a small, brutal shield called a "buckler", which protects the sword hand from an enemy's blows and is also used as a bludgeoning weapon: essentially massive brass knuckles.  But steel.  

A photographic capture of "recalescence": thermodynamic change in steel's crystalline microstructure can be identified by regions of cooling and heating emanating from the metal. 

The fighting style itself contains a lot of grappling and trapping the enemy's blade.  There's twisting and trickery.  I believe it represents a sword of sub-knightly class of fighters, wealthy enough to afford a sword but not a horse: probably not professionals, but landowners with a stake in defending their property.  

The sword cooling vertically during normalization, a heat cycling operation to reduce stresses caused by heating and forging.  It's vertical so as not to warp it by lying it on a cold surface that would contract one side by faster cooling. 

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