Scabbard, Part One

One task that is long overdue is making a scabbard for Bodyservant Bob’s messer. Before getting into that, I want to deal with the whole messer question.

There’s some folk who argue that nobody in the WOTR federation should be wearing a messer, because they are to some extent a distinctively German knife-thing. While I would agree that there are too many people in full or partial harness carrying messers, and using them as a primary weapon in battles, the same holds true of falchions and ‘hangers’. Every Western European region had, at some point through the high and late medieval period some kind of big knife-thing that functionally is just a machete or cane knife. England and France in the 14th century tended toward the broad-bladed slashy knives we call Falchions, and appeared in the late 15th century to trend toward a more sword-like blade whose handle tended to have a rudimentary knuckle bow. Germany tended to have a big hunting knife, the Swiss and Northern Italians had baselards, and in the south cinquedeas. All of which is based on surviving finds that tend to be clustered geographically.

And yet if you look at the paintings by Dutch and Italian masters of the period, you will see all four forms well represented, and you’ll see similar in texts on hunting by Gaston Phoebus and others. The key point being that we largely see these big knife-things presented as a tool commonly in use in a civilian and non-military context. Their presence in Talhoffer and Lecküchner supports this – they are presented as a weapon that is likely to be confronted in a non-military context.

It is entirely reasonable to posit that these civilian tools would have been carried on campaign and into battle as a secondary weapon for the common soldier – it’s more likely that these tools would have been at hand when called up than a good sword, but it’s not reasonable to posit someone choosing one as a primary weapon in battle, even if their NCO’s would let them do something so daft.

It’s also reasonable to posit that an Englishman would take his hanger to France or Burgundy, or that a Burgundian would bring his messer or baselard to England. We know that soldiers and military trailers travelled, and we know that troops of soldiers were employed across borders – the personal bodyguard of Charles The Bold, made up of (mainly) English archers is a good example, as are the small numbers of Burgundian crossbowmen that he dispatched to Bosworth in support of Richard.

I could rant endlessly about this, but come back to the core of the justification: Bob and I are explicitly presenting a travelling martial specialist from the continent, and there’s no reason she they would not be carrying the messer they bought from home. On top of that, she’s very (very) good with it, and it’s an ideal tool for demonstrating a variety of documented martial techniques to the public in a way that emphasises how nasty these big knives are.

Anyway, enough of the rant.


The scabbard I’m making is based on current best-guess consensus around late medieval scabbards. It is inarguable that small to medium knives had scabbards solely of leather, the surviving scabbards for larger blades have wooden cores. The overall consensus is a wooden core shaped from two pieces of a soft wood like poplar, wrapped in glued linen, and with a leather cover stitched over. That is the approach I’m taking. I’ve been able to obtain some nice poplar (and have enough of it to finish all the other overdue scabbards), which I’ve been shaping throughout last night and today.


I had not worked with poplar before, and was delighted by how easy it was to work. If I’m making more scabbards in this way, I will need to get some more carving tools to make it quicker, but overall it was reasonably quick. To begin with, I verified that I would get both halves out of one length of the milled poplar, cross cut it to length and then ripped it down the middle. I drew around the messer on both pieces, then used a V tool to dig a trench along that line – this gave me both a depth to aim for while gouging out the bulk of material, and helped to keep the edge well defined.


I’ve ground to a halt on the project though, as I’m going to use rabbit-skin glue to glue the two halves together, and to size and glue the linen, but forgot to make up the glue last night. I’ve mixed the glue according to the general recommendations – about 12 parts water to one point glue, and popped it in a glass jar inside a saucepan of hot but not boiling water to dissolve it. After about 15 minutes stirring, I wound up with something resembling rabbit soup. Which I guess is the point.


Tomorrow’s effort will involve heading down at the crack of dawn to glue up the scabbard, then leaving it sit for a few hours while the glue sets so that I can finish shaping the wood, and glue on the linen. Then, a pint.