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Swords And Their Historical Context

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Sword claimed to be used by the 15th/16th Century outlaw Piers Gerlofs Donia. 7' long and weighing close to 15lbs. According to legend, Piers was capable of beheading multiple men with a single blow with his sword.

 

Zwaard%20Grutte%20Pier.jpg

 

Whether this was an actual fighting sword or not, and whether it was Pier's, I have no idea. It doesn't seem obviously fake or from the wrong period, but I am no sword expert and it's not like I've seen it in person either.

What is interesting to me about it is comparing and contrasting it with the sword of ubiquitous "enormous fantasy sword" that pops up in fiction regularly. One can observe equally that this sword, being on the absolute extreme edge of swords used by real humans, is still much smaller than a lot of those fantasy weapons, yet some of the qualities those fantastic swords are reported to have also have been attributed to Piers and his big mamma jamma sword.

As for Piers himself, if he did wield that sword, he would have to be over 7' tall, and tertiary sources (Wikipedia lol) seem to agree. Since he supposedly died peacefully in his sleep at age 40 of no obvious illness, I am gonna guess he had a pituitary tumor or something.

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Sword claimed to be used by the 15th/16th Century outlaw Piers Gerlofs Donia. 7' long and weighing close to 15lbs. According to legend, Piers was capable of beheading multiple men with a single blow with his sword.

As for Piers himself, if he did wield that sword, he would have to be over 7' tall, and tertiary sources (Wikipedia lol) seem to agree. Since he supposedly died peacefully in his sleep at age 40 of no obvious illness, I am gonna guess he had a pituitary tumor or something.

 

 

Don't forget that people in the Early Modern were as small as they ever got. There were some tiny dudes running around. So it's even worse than in these days when a 6'5" dude would be 'merely' 95th percentile for young adult males (ask me about getting a decent chair for my back).

 

http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/medimen.htm

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These guys do not know how to smelt, it seems:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhdFygUJOek

 

Still, always nice to watch the process from start to finish.

 

Edit: I should emphasise again that I really like watching these sorts of things, and these dudes did a wonderful job given how often their builds involve simply sanding down a billet. I suspect that they enjoyed the process as well. I'm just niggling a bit here, because pedantry. 

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What's wrong with their process?

There's a bit of controversy about slag tapping, for starters. The second issue is that they didn't consolidate the bloom hot (they overdid it as well, but acknowledged that in the video). Apparently consolidation doesn't work as well if you let the bloom cool and then reheat.

 

Another issue is that they didn't do any quality control on the bloom constituents (that they showed, at least) to seperate out high and low-carbon products. They solved this a bit by hammering and folding, but there might be issues with hot shortness or cold shortness depending on the relative sulphur and phosphorous concentrations.

 

The result was probably that they obtained fairly inhomogenous wrought iron from the process, rather than high-carbon steel.

 

One of the interesting things about iron smelting is the sometimes large differences between regional techniques (optimised for different ores, charcoals, clays and so on) and the big gap between what archeological reconstruction can achieve and what guys who work with the process themselves can do. This dude might be one of the foremost practical experts on the subject, for instance:

 

http://www.leesauder.com/smelting_research.php

 

This guy also provides an overview, including some of the common issues:

 

http://www.tf.uni-kiel.de/matwis/amat/iss/index.html

 

Check the rest of that module for more.

 

This guy is also a joy to watch:

 

https://www.youtube.com/user/mintwart

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I wonder why they didn't use a crucible.

For the smelting?

In a bloomery process you don't use one. You could for a solid-state reduction process or something, but you'd get pig iron nuggets out the other end...

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 I'm not very familiar with the smelting process, I know many smiths but never really paid much attention to how they got their materials.  I know most of them use bog iron, since that was what most of northern and northeastern Europe used. Last time I was in at a Vikings and Slavs market in Europe, we spent a day gathering the nodules but I didn't stick around to see what they did with it.  



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 I'm not very familiar with the smelting process, I know many smiths but never really paid much attention to how they got their materials.  I know most of them use bog iron, since that was what most of northern and northeastern Europe used. Last time I was in at a Vikings and Slavs market in Europe, we spent a day gathering the nodules but I didn't stick around to see what they did with it.  

My understanding is that bog iron can be a pain in the ass due to the relatively high amount of phosphorous that can creep in. Generally they'd size and roast the ore thoroughly before the smelt to try and control that (and sulphur) a bit.

 

Apparently one of the weird things about high-phosphorous iron is that it work hardens well and forges beautifully - so smiths really like working with it. Just a pity that it goes brittle when the temperature gets under 20'C.

 

In your video; you can see the smelters consolidating the bloom (vigorously) while hot, and chopping it into pieces for further working. This would provide a more homogenous (structurally) product, while also allowing you to select higher-carbon parts of the bloom to make knives and swords out of. Recycling of slag, scale and break-aways from the bloom would probably also be done.

 

Edit: In the video I linked, you can see that the process is much the same. Here, however, the large bloom is cut but seemingly not consolidated, and the smithing process looks nothing like the western tradition in terms of equipment. It is noteworthy, however, that it always seems to be older dudes doing the lead smithing and younger dudes doing the pumping, carrying and sledgehammer work :)

 

Edit 2: So I went looking for more traditional African smithing videos, to see how knives and spears get made. Youtube is apparently happy to provide millions of katana forging documentaries and zulu dances, but nothing else :(

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Yet another bloomery video:

 

 

You can see that they used a setup similar to the Man at Arms folks. Notable here: they tried not to break down the furnace, they used silica sand to create more slag (although somehow they ended up with very little), used nice powdered hametite ore (common in US bloomery recreations) and didn't consolidate the bloom while hot.

 

There is something like a hesitancy about the whole thing (along with the care that was taken on the furnace) that makes me think that this was a first or second run at the thing rather than the work of people who have been doing it a while. But I might be wrong.

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Ever since I learned a little more about bronze swords and other weapons, I have wanted a bronze knife of some kind for daily carry. Probably would be inferior to stainless steel, but it would be insanely cool.

My brother made a brass knife once (ground from brass sheet, no cold working or annealing). We found that you could put a decent edge on it, with wear being about equivalent to a mild steel blade.

So go for it - just make sure it has a nice soft scabbard, with perhaps a small sharpening stone somewhere to hand.

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My father-in-law is a heckuva artist and once upon a time he made artwork in bronze.

It was a ridiculously expensive process given the cost of material and handiwork involved so I've been told.

But he was doing irregularly shaped artwork of seals swimming through waves and native kayak hunters and pieces that weighed 20 to 50 pounds.

Not sure what a knife or sword would run you.

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My father-in-law is a heckuva artist and once upon a time he made artwork in bronze.

It was a ridiculously expensive process given the cost of material and handiwork involved so I've been told.

But he was doing irregularly shaped artwork of seals swimming through waves and native kayak hunters and pieces that weighed 20 to 50 pounds.

Not sure what a knife or sword would run you.

The nice thing about brass/bronze is that you can always re-cast stuff to recycle it. So if you can lay your hands on some old brass/bronze fittings and some materials for a furnace (steel pipe works as a crucible here) you're good to go. If things really get dire you can even roll your own bronze using copper pipe and lead-free solder.

For sturg I think the most poetic would be to make a knife out of cartridge brass.

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