Category Archives: Arms

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The harness post.

The other set of photos we got on the weekend at Lesne Abbey Woods was of the new harness from Martin Bevan and some with the poll axe from Josef Dawes. It was also a brief opportunity to move around a little more vigorously in the harness and make sure there was nothing amiss.

By chance as we were getting these shots, there was a professional model and couple of photographers getting shots beside us, so I’m hoping to get some even better photos at some point from them. Meanwhile, we took photos as the arming progressed, and a few of me waving a sword or the axe about. Bo the dog was initially alarmed by this, but concluded that it was some sort of game, and happily ran around while I rattled after him – he was not entirely sure about the noise of the harness, but seemed to enjoy the game.

This was also an opportunity for Body Servant Bob to practice getting the harness on, which involved quite a lot of cursing and muttering, even though she they did a great job with poor direction. Some day I will manage to stand still and let her them do it, rather than trying to help, which I know from experience does not work.

IMG_2806Working from the bottom up, for the time being I will use the Historic Enterprises hose and the linen petti-coat that I made, underneath the harness. The hose I will eventually replace with something better fitted and of lighter cloth, but they will do for the time being – I would prefer to have a dedicated pair of hose for this as I can leave them pointed to the petti-cote rather than mucking about switching the better hose from a doublet when I need to harness up. Generally during WOTR Fed events we are stressed enough for time that is one thing I do not want to burn time doing. The only real problem with the hose is that they are fairly loose fitting, which leaves a lot of fabric to try to squeeze into the greaves. As I discussed in the previous post, I also might make some more shirts, with collars, as I found that the mail standard was rubbing my neck unpleasantly.

IMG_2820The arming doublet was from Martin as well, and needed adjustment to tighten it. This was the thing I was most nervous about with the fit, as the doublet is instrumental in making the rest of the harness work. It’s not completely clear in this photo, but the lower part of the doublet is fitting very snugly around my hips and gut, effectively forming a broad corset from which to suspend the leg harness. It possibly could have had a little bit more taken out of the small of my back, but as it stands the armour sat solidly and did not slip around, meaning the doublet is working exactly as it should. The doublet is linen throughout, and largely hand sewn.

IMG_2844One thing I very much like about the harness is these enormous Italianate shoulders. They make me look like I have a broad back and muscles. Body Servant Bob was concerned that the harness looked like it was twisted or sitting crooked at times, but it is actually me that is crooked – looking at the photos we got emphasised that because my right knee is a bit weak, I often put my weight over my left leg and let the hip cock, even when standing still. It’s a bad habit I need to break, as if I do that for any length of time in harness my back will kill me.

IMG_2847The coif looks terrible in this shot, but it’s truly not that bad. I knocked up a padded coif by essentially sewing about 12 layers of coarse heavy linen inside one linen coif, then sewing another linen coif inside it to make a thick linen sandwich. Because I’ve not worn it in anger, it still looks lumpy and misshapen, but it will smooth out after a couple of wears. I might not leave the ties on the coif – or simplify them – as they stick out from under the helmet like a bow tie, which defeats the dignity.

And finally the full ensemble. The harness is somewhat old-fashioned for late 15th C England, and is more or less an Italian export. I know that Martin took the harness from an original source when he made it for himself, so I need to dig up where it came from. Despite it being old-fashioned, it’s the sort of thing an older gentleman would hold onto, so I’m comfortable with it being reasonably feasible for the late 15th as much as mid 15th. Who needs to be fashionable?

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The articulation and mobility is excellent, although you wont see me doing cartwheels or pushups in it. For one, it’s 37.5 kg in total excluding the weight of my clothes, and for second, I don’t do cartwheels or pushups at any time. While I won’t have the absolute flexibility I have during blossfechten, I will definitely be able to use a longsword with this kit, as long as I remember the things which will be slightly clumsier. As an example while it was pretty easy for me to get my thumb onto the blade to do a zwerchhaw, the hilt sometimes got a bit tangled with the metal of my gauntlet. This will probably become easier when and if I wear gloves instead of bare hands, and short term I will continue to just wear the leather riggers gloves. As a point of interest, the only thing I was not able to do comfortably was wind up to ochs on my right side with both hands, although I could drop the left hand off and get it up there.

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The action shots with the axe did not work out so well, so I’ll have to get some later. Meanwhile this final shot illustrates the size of the axe against me, and the appearance with the visor closed. Despite appearances vision with the visor down is not too bad – about the same and possibly better than when I’m wearing my sallet, but I will need to re-learn how to see out the breaths in the visor to avoid walking over small children. As with the sword, it was evident that it will be more comfortable moving the axe when I am wearing gloves, but otherwise it was fluid and easy to use.

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There are a few things to note in this image that need addressing sooner or later. First you can see there’s a fair amount open under the arm and inside the arm, for which the obvious solution is the period one: mail voiders under the arm and possibly inside the arm. This is not top priority, and I will probably leave that until 2017 to address. With the axe in play, the arms are not particularly vulnerable, and I’m not concerned for safety. One thing I will address though as soon as possible is the mail skirt that should be with this – I’d forgotten that I need to put a belt on it, and so cannot wear it yet. Once done that will the gap to protect my inner thigh and other sensitive bits.

As mentioned above, I will tinker with the coif laces to get rid of the unfortunate bow-tie look. I may discard them altogether, as I found once the helmet went on the combination of helmet and coif did not shift on my head at all, making the laces somewhat redundant. Another side effect of the laces having a fairly bulky bow is that they pushed the top of the mail standard down a little, potentially leaving a very thin gap between the mail and the helmet, which is a bad thing. I do need to tinker with the standard as well – and possibly try the other slightly longer standard I picked up during 2015 – as I found that it rubbed the side of my neck a lot, and for extended wear would probably tear the skin. Partially this should be addressable by having a shirt with a collar, but I will experiment with a scarf, or else put a lining in the standard. Or both.

Thus, I wind up with more to go on the to-do list:

  • finish mail skirt
  • tinker with coif
  • tinker with standard
  • get better gloves
  • add mail voiders

Wallace Collection A926 Poll Axe

Wallace Collection A926

Much to my delight, the poll axe made by Josef Dawes of White Well Arms arrived today. This is an interpretation of the Wallace Collection poll axe catalogued as A926 (you can find it via Wallace Live and searching for that catalogue number).  He has done a superb job of reproducing the key features of the original, and adding his own stylistic touches. There are of course some key differences – he made the axe sharp initially, then blunted it for safety, which I believe has made for a better presentation of the thickness of both the blade and the spike. One thing that seems to happen with a lot of reproductions is that they make the overall blade width thicker in order to blunt the edge, rather than making the real thing and taking the edge back off.

At my request he omitted the engraved brass strip that runs up the back of the hammer head, as I felt it would probably get too dinged up in use, and the hand-guard was not added. Having had a good look at the original on several occasions, I do agree with the consensus that the hand guard was added at a much later date.

The overall weight is a little heavier than the original – 3.4 kg compared to 2.495 kg, and marginally shorter (176 cm vs 188.5 cm), however the weight remains within the range of other surviving examples, and I agree with Josef’s judgement that the weight difference is due to differences in the timber of the haft.

Certainly I could have sought to have an axe that was more explicitly identifiable as “English” rather than something known to be French, but the Wallace Collection is very nearby, and I wanted to have something that I could refer directly to the original for.

I have yet to have a play with it, and do want to give it a coat of Renaissance Wax before I do so, so I hope to be able to follow up with some action photos and some comments on how it handles. My initial cautious wave around in the living room suggests that the balance is excellent, and it will be fairly straight forward to control.

(all photos by Josef Dawes)

Wallace Collection A926

Wallace Collection A926