What to Look for in a Functional Sword – Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum! http://www.sword-site.com

Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum!


10 or so years ago when I was starting to make swords and buy them I really had no idea what to look for in a sword. Thinking about this recently made me decide it would be a good idea to explain some of the basics to make it simple for beginners who are looking to buy a sword. I will discuss here the basics right through to some of the finer points as I understand them.


Stainless steel is great for knives. For swords though it is not so great, unless they are intended for decoration only. Actually it can be dangerous. Once a length of stainless steel gets to about a foot long, or if ground too thin, it becomes weak enough that the amount of force a human can exert upon it will make it prone to breaking. This is because while stainless steel is hard, the hardness comes at the cost of being more brittle.

You’ll notice that on alot of knives made of stainless very sturdy ‘grinds’ are used. In other words the steel is left thick in a decent portion of the blade. For instance bowie knives tend to have a long flat surface which is as thick as the stock the knife was ground from, this is to counteract stainless steel’s being prone to breaking if it is too thin. On a sturdy knife stainless steel is perfectly safe, and an excellent choice of material because it is extremely resistant to corrosion.

So while a stainless steel sword is great for a display piece, it is unwise to use one to spar with one, and also using them to cut water bottles and tatami mats can result in them breaking. The piece or pieces that come off during the breaking of the sword are very dangerous and have resulted in serious injuries. They are as likely to hit the person wielding them or bystanders.


It’s a tautologous term in some ways because steel by definition is a combination of iron and carbon. When the term ‘carbon steel’ is used in regards to a sword though it generally refers to high carbon steel.

Mild steel contains 0.3 – 0.6% carbon and is generally not considered an optimal material for knives and swords. This is because it does not harden as well as steels with higher carbon and alloy content, so it is more prone to bending and does not hold an edge as well as high carbon steels.

High Carbon steel contains 0.6–0.99% carbon and so will harden better and hold an edge better. In the context of a sword a high carbon sword will flex like a spring when properly heat treated and ground / forged into an appropriate shape. Importantly high carbon steels used for swords also contain a number of other elements that impart a number of qualities to the steel. High Carbon steels for use in swords are often referred to by their American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) designations, for instance 1060 contains 0.6% carbon – 1095 contains 0.95%. Outside of the sword world these steels are frequently used for things like Industrial Guillotines.

Two other elements worth mentioning (though there are also many others but time and space does not permit a full discussion of all of them here)are Maganese and Silicon. Maganese increases hardenability, as does copper – copper also imparts a modest amount of corrosion resistance (minor compared to stainless steel however). These elements will both be found in High Carbon Steels. Silicon, found in many spring steels imparts springiness. Spring Steels are high carbon steels but have an extra set of qualities. Some people prefer them. The afforementioned 10 series steels are technically spring steels, but have a lower silicon content than steels from the 5, 6 and 9 series (for instance 5160). Some makers prefer the latter, others the former. All of them are great, it comes down to a matter of taste, suitability for the type of sword and so on. In the world of industry these spring steels are often used in automotive springs.

Tool Steel generally places accent on Vanadium content. Vanadium imparts steel with shock resistant qualities, so the steel may be in some ways ‘softer’ though this would hardly be noticeable except in laboratory conditions, but can withstand more shock without developing stress fractures. Tool steel is frequently used in, you guessed it, tools! Tool steels have names like O1, L2, L6 and so on.

All of the above specialities steels with the exception of mild are perfectly suitable for a sword, and none of them are superior to each other, they just have different uses, and slightly different qualities.

If you are interested in learning more about steels, Wikipedia represents an excellent and free starting point. I’ve made a summary above in my own words, but if you are serious about acquiring a deep technical understanding of steel sources like Wikipedia, and technical manuals will always be superior to abbreviated summaries.



I could write alot about distal taper, and alot has been written. Rather than slow the narrative down though I will explain the basics and let you do your own thinking about it, because you will find with regards to distal taper that everyone has an opinion, but that no one has all the answers.

Distal taper is taper of the sword’s thickness. In general this will result in a sword that is thinner at the point and thicker at the base. What this does is help the sword’s balance in the hand, and affects the way the sword will flex. Some swords have lots, others have none. A sword without any can work just fine, in fact some swords suit having none.

It is really up to you how important distal taper is to you on a particular sword, so don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you they have the be all and end all answers on distal taper, often it is a matter of taste and suitability.


Heat treatment is how steel has been ‘cooked’. Steel will come from the steel factory in an unhardened state, and then can be hardened according to needs by the end user. What this entails in the context of a sword is heating the sword until it is so hot is no longer magnetic (about 1200 c) – it will be about a red colour. It is then ‘quenched’ which means it is rapidly cooled by immersion in liquid. For swords the quenching medium is usually oil.

This hardens the steel. The steel is reheated to about 400 c and then either quenched again or allowed to cool in the air. This makes the steel springy. The end result is steel that is hard and springy, not brittle.

There are other technical aspects of heat treatment and finer aspects, but the above represents the basics. If you want to know more the Wikipedia article linked below presents excellent in depth information and links to further relevant material:



This is a term that refers to the shape of the cutting edge of a sword. Most modern knives have a bevel and then a secondary bevel which is the part that does the cutting. Alot of historical swords had the same type of edge geometry. Others had a smoother transition and this is often called ‘appleseed’ geometry. It is a bit like a parabolic curve.

Neither is superior. Both will cut fine. It is a matter of choice and taste which you prefer.


Alot of historic swords had hilts which were ultimately held in place by burnishing the end of the steel that came through the centre of the handle and through the pommel (the piece of metal at the very end of the hilt). Peening is still used today.

Other methods of holding a hilt together include riveting the grip to the tang (the tang is the metal underneath the handle / grip which is connected to the rest of the sword). This was also done historically.

Yet another way of holding a hilt together is with a nut at the end of the tang, which allows for the sword to be relatively easily disassembled. This method came into use around the 16th century and so is also a historically represented technique.

All three of the above methods will hold a sword together just fine, and again it is a matter of taste which you prefer.

Another method which is found occasionally is where the pommel is screwed on to the tang. This method can hold a sword together tightly but is not as popular as the above method, because unless the pommel is also affixed with epoxy resin, this method can be prone to rattling and coming loose unintentionally. If done properly though it can be a perfectly acceptable way to secure a hilt.


This one comes up quite a bit. In short it is a matter or taste. In the past it was necessary that all swords were forged – steel had to be refined in this way to make it suitable for use as a sword. Nowdays the steel comes out of the Steel Mill so pure that forging is optional, and results seem to indicate that it does not produce superior swords but rather ones of equal quality.

Often you will find that sword makers tend to forge a sword either to create an interesting effect in the metal like pattern welding (where two or more types of steel are forged together then etched, the different reactions the two steels make to the acid producing a pattern); or the steel is forged so that a shape that is not otherwise practicably achievable – like the curve in a scimitar.


This is an area that is very controversial in swords. Ultimately the controversy is due to huge variances in personal taste.

For this reason I believe it is preferable for people to make their own minds up, try different types, and see what they prefer.

You will find issues discussed like nodes (where a sword vibrates when the blade is struck), point of balance (where the sword balances when held on one finger like a see saw), pivot points (the axis around where a sword pivots when swung) and many others.

It is up to you what is important – if they interest you learn about them, if not do not worry.

Myself personally, while I have spent a long time learning about them, I prefer to judge a sword by how it feels overall and whether it suits my tastes. You may find that you like analysing statistics and data before making a choice. There is no perfect answer, it really is up to you.


Below is a chart provided by Wikipedia that names the various parts of a cruciform European Sword. This diagram represents all the basic elements of sword, and if you know the names of the parts listed in this diagram you will likely not need to know or master many other names:


+ + + + +

I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the world of swords! Rather than drawing acute conclusion I have attempted to present the basics in an open way. Do not let anyone close your mind about swords, or try to convince you that they have all the answers. You will find the people who attempt to do that never know as much as they claim to, and either have a financial or ego driven stake in trying to convince you that they know everything.

Keep your mind open. I have learnt a great deal about steel from professional metal workers like welders and fabricators. I wouldn’t have been able to learn the incredible things they have taught me if I strutted around as a sword maker pretending I knew everything.

Welcome to the world of swords and enjoy the ride!


Read more: http://sword-site.com


Assymetries on Historic & Modern Swords – Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum! http://www.sword-site.com

Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum! http://www.sword-site.com

*This is the article that got me kicked off SBG! Yes, I am very proud of myself! XD

Example of a beautiful historic sword clearly demonstrating assymetries: The sword has undergone a transformation from tool to art, but it is not quite sitting in art as it should, by this I mean I have never heard an art critic berrate Da Vinci or Rembrandt for visible brush strokes. There are modern examples, like Peter Lyon who I consider to be a true master. Even his work has assymetries in it, but is by no means the result of sloppy work: And that’s the product of a guy at the top of his game, with other craftsman assisting him on his swords. Then there are historical examples like the Sword of Saint Maurice, which clearly was not Roman in origin as the contemporary Germans may have insisted, and was likely commissioned by the top strata of society, therefore produced by the best available craftsmen: But I don’t believe any of this makes them less beautiful, quite the opposite and I do not think the above examples show anything but excellent skill in manufacture. I think to a certain extent we have fallen victim to photoshopped images depicting perfection, which invariably are false. For example this picture of one of Peter Lyon’s swords once the photographers, lighting technicians and photoshop tweekers have gotten hold of it: In my view a process similar to what has happened to women’s body image via photoshopped magazine images has taken place. It has left us wanting something that doesn’t exist, isn’t attainable and made us dissatisfied with everything. As an example: The one of the left is still a beautiful albeit plastic surgery enhanced face, but the one on the right more like a computer generated image than a photo. * * * * * The Importance of Assymetries & the Physical Function they Impart I believe there is a link between the asymmetrical properties of handmade swords as compared to automatically machined swords which makes them inherently better. Going through the motions with a CNC milled sword one day it struck me how lifeless the sword felt. I then repeated the same motions with a hand made sword, which had asymmetries and other humanistic attributes. The sword felt so much more alive. After much thought on the subject I think I know why. I believe the quality of a sword being alive is intrinsically linked to variations in the distribution of mass. CNC milled swords do not features these qualities, and although balance may technically be more precise, the numbers do no tell the whole story. A sword with edges that are not uniformly thick, whose pommel may be slightly thicker in one direction, whose blade features more mass on one side than another though it may seem at a disadvantage, I believe the hand made piece has an unforeseen advantage. This I believe is what makes hand crafted swords better than CNC milled swords. It’s ironic, because some people go OCD over variances and asymmetries in their swords. Although distal taper, balance, percussion, harmonics and all the rest are still critical elements, I think that a mathematically symmetrical sword will never provide the performance of a well hand crafted sword and it is the idiosyncrasies of a particular excellent sword that set it apart. The CNC milling process is a cost cutting measure, but I believe it will never replace the work of a skilled craftsman. An analogy can be seen in music – real instruments and human performers as opposed to electronica. My proposition in no way diminishes the importance of excellent workmanship. One must learn the rules to break them. I’ve been at swords for ten years, and I’ve put my work out for public scrutiny. Some people like my work, others don’t, and that’s ok with me. But I am not some critic with no work of his own for others examine, firing off shots at other people who are out there having a go. I’ve done the hard yards, filing, hand finishing, using stones, forging and grinding, and while I always feel I have room for improvement, I do feel like I have a decent handle on the basics and produce good work. My moment of revelation came as I was pondering the virtues of swords. I had always felt that there was something superior about good hand made swords, but I could never put my finger on it. It is quite distracting to see so many posts on other forums where people get OCD about minor variances on a hand made blade, and I believe this had distracted me from realizing what makes a handmade sword better earlier. In an age where technical perfection is now more achievable than ever, it is ironic that the human hand is what produces the best swords. Swords are not machine parts, treating them like they should be is a step in the wrong direction. Rather the sword is and will always be defined by the individuality of its personality, the idiosyncrasies of its design, the love imbued into its form while crafting it, and the humanistic qualities of its manufacture. Below are more examples of high end historic swords showing that the modern obsession of reviewers for things like milled guards that fit a sword to within microns are in fact just that, modern obsessions that bear no historical counterpart: The beautiful ‘Charlemagne Sword’ – can you imagine how a typical modern review might deal with the tang slot on this sword of Kings? Bill Blake – Alae Swords http://www.alaeswords.com Read more: http://sword-site.com

How to Care for my Sword? Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum! http://www.sword-site.com

Sword-Site.Com: The World’s Largest Free Online Sword Museum!


A fine sabre from Alae Swords cleaned and oiled to perfection.

A fine sabre from Alae Swords cleaned and oiled to perfection.

How to Care for Your Sword

Demystifying sword care is a difficult thing on the internet, but sword blade care it is a basic and straight forward task if you know how.

* * * * *

Firstly carbon steel swords are subject to corrosion. This can happen because of finger oils on the blade, humidity in the air and time, but with a little effort you can forestall this corrosion (rusting) with ease.

This is a simple task so I will make this article brief. There is no magic formula.

A Few Basics:

Don’t touch the blade, or if you do remove your fingerprints with denatured alcohol (methylated spirits) and then apply a thin even coating of mineral oil (baby oil).

Use mineral oil, not organically derived oils (olive oil, canola etc.) There is good reason for this, organic oils tend to be acidic (acid eats at reactive substances like carbon steel) and organic oils attract microbial life. See this article for more information on mineral oil: Mineral Oil for Sword Scabbards & Organic Elements

Methylated spirits / denatured alcohol will strip away any residual oils or substances and leave the blade ready to be oiled. Don’t get alcohol on any paint work or dyed wood because it may affect the colour. It is fine to get on brass and works as a good cleaner. Use a clean cotton rag or tissue to do this process, and a separate one for the oil (if you put them both on using the same applicator the oil will separate and not coat evenly).

Provided your scabbard is well oiled using mineral oil, and does not have moisture in it, your blade can be stored in the scabbard almost indefinitely. Ewart Oakeshott frequently attests to this phenomena in his Records of the Medieval Sword. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you not to store your sword in its scabbard as they are wrong.

Oil the interior of your scabbard by pouring a liberal amount of mineral into it and then inverting, using a finger or your palm to seal the mouth / throat of the scabbard closed. Invert and repeat until you are sure the mineral oil has evenly coated the scabbard.

That’s all there is to it! Follow these procedures and your sword will be trouble free! For the sake of thoroughness oil and or clean it as necessary, or every six months. The idea of a scabbard is to keep air off your sword and protect the edges from causing injury when sheathed. I have been caring for a sword and only oiled it every eighteen months and it has been completely corrosion free – the scabbard has been doing its job and I have been thorough in cleaning and oiling it. Ensure for long term storage that you do saturate the lining of your scabbard with mineral oil.

Being Careful

Be careful with the sharp edges when you are oiling or cleaning. It only takes a small miscalculation to end up with a cut finger. As a rule lay you fingers flat when cleaning so as the completely avoid the sharp edge, and press very softly on the edges when necessary. A cotton rag will provide more protection to your fingers than a tissue, but both are fine if you go slowly and carefully.

Remember with swords – safety always first. A sword can kill quickly and even accidentally. Never unsheath a sword near anyone. Never swing a sword anywhere near any one at all, even if you think a person is a safe distance they can still end up in the morgue if a sword comes loose from your hand when swinging. An accidental stroke can kill someone you didn’t know was behind you. BE CAREFUL.


Read more: http://sword-site.com