Training Swords: Mk5 and Mk6

In my search for a method of making training swords that have the right feel, I’ve tried a bunch of things. Laminating wood together, drilling out for rods, and a few different woods (oak, ash, hard maple). I have, perhaps, finally found a method that hits the right notes.

This is a second crafting-and-weapons related post for the day. Figured I’d get ’em out of my system.

The first cool thing was making weapons out of purely hard maple. This is a remarkable wood, with a hardness of 1450 on the Janka scale – nearly twice as hard as its softer relatives. It’s 10-30% more dense, depending on what particular variety of maple you’re dealing with, as well, as the soft maple. Relative to common red oak, it’s the same density (44 lbs per cubic foot) and 20% harder. Relative to (white) ash, used in baseball bats: white ash is 42 lbs per cubic foot, and 1320 on the Janka scale. Hickory? Yeah, while there are a bunch of woods mixed together and sold as generic “hickory,” the true hickory woods like shagbark hickory are 50 lbs per cubic foot and 1,880 Janka.

As a by-the-way, the Janka rating is how many pounds of force it takes to drive a spherical ball .444″ in diameter into wood to half it’s depth (full diameter, then). Why .444″? No idea.

Anyway, that’s why hickory is king of the axe handles.

But two weapons are in discussion now. The first is my Training Sword Mk 5.

That one’s simply cut out of hard maple as a blank, rounded with a 3/8″ roundover bit, and sanded. The trick here was to see if I could carve a curved crossguard, for embellishment. Turns out I can. This sword masses about 550g, and has a 3.25″ grip for the pinch. I also cut the blade down from the model from about 30.5 inches down to 29″, which made it work better for my height. This one is now my personal training sword, mostly because of aesthetics.

The second was Training Sword Mk 6. This one was another laminate construction: 1/2″ ash core, with 1/8″ ash top and bottom pieces. I also embedded a 1/2 x 1 x 4″ piece of C360 brass near the base of the blade. That moved the center of balance about halfway between pure wood and an actual steel sword. The weight of the complete weapon is pushing 725g at the moment, and will increase a bit when I add a simple square cross-guard. The pommel could use more rounding; it cuts into the hand a bit. This particular sword is too big for me; it’s really designed for folks who are 6’2″ to 6’6″ in height. But the balance and pivot points are much closer to steel, while being roughly 75% the mass of an actual steel blade of the same dimensions.

Of course, I tried to get clever and carve a fuller into the second blade using a cove bit on my router. That . . . did not go well. I have an up-cut bit that went better (opposite side) and I know what I’ll do if I feel the need to embellish in that way in the future. In the meantime, it lets me show off the embedded brass.

This makes it an excellent training tool to build grip strength and correct motion dynamics without having to worry about $1,000 custom swords. There are many Viking-style, or rather, Frankish-style swords; most are not built to historical weight and dimension, as their grips are too long and the weight is too high, or the balance isn’t quite right. My instructor is an expert weaponsmith, and makes his own; I’m sure there are some out there that are right . . . but their creators rightfully know that they are and charge accordingly.

Thus for both reasons of economy and safety, I want to make wooden swords of various sizes.

I have a couple ideas for Mk 7 and maybe Mk 8, but that’s going to involve a spreadsheet. In particular, I want to break a hypothetical sword down into “weight from balance point to blade tip,” which will also account for the size of the blade, and give a “weight per inch” in that region. Then the same for the blade from balance point to crossguard, then the crossguard and pommel, which are typically solid chunks of steel, and a bit for the handle (which will be done by subtraction, as the composition is tang+wood handle).

That will let me scale the weight down by 25%, figure out how much metal I need to add in each segment, and balance accordingly. This will allow me to custom-craft swords of different sizes, from a short blade that might be a child’s weapon, to the beefy blades I make above. I might also see if I can find a nice model for a long seax that might be fun.

This is more than just aesthetics. A properly balanced blade proxy will teach the right motions and muscle memory for casting blows and casting thrusts. It will have enough mass to build strength while not allowing motions that you can do with a 200-250g “magic wand” that is too thin and too light and can be used inappropriately during training.

So, once I get past GenCon, I will sit down and create my crafting spreadsheet, and having found a good method for building these things, I will start the process of making enough for the instructor cadre to work the hell out of. Once we all find them worthy . . . I’ll probably set about replacing the rest of the training wands with something that looks like a real sword. It’s both more useful and more satisfying to train with a weapon that looks like a weapon.

3 thoughts on “Training Swords: Mk5 and Mk6

  1. Any particular reason you decided against using the ones from, say, PurpleHeart (Rawlings, Pentti)? Wood has entered obsolescence in HEMA circles (for good reason, too), with the standard non-steel being nylon these days. The point of balance on these are typically on the low end of normal (normal being between 3″ and 9″ from guard, varying widely, and most Purpleheart-sold ones being 4″-6″.) Weights on them are also more realistic than you are going to be getting with wood.

    Who is your instructor, by the way? I know you had a meeting with Roland, but unless you’ve moved to Germany (or he’s moved to the US) I can’t imagine you’re meeting him very often!

    1. My instructor is Arthur Von Eschen. And the wood-and-brass that I’m using can be used to get weights within a few grams of the actual swords. Mostly I do it for the woodworking challenge of it, for personal satisfaction. I’ll look up the alternates, but if the dimensions of grip and pommel are wrong, the balance won’t matter. A lot of repro viking swords seem to be built to LARP or SCA standards, rather than historical, so one has to be careful what one gets. I will look, though, and see what PurpleHeart (etc) has to offer.

      Edit: a quick look suggests that the handles are far too long. The really, really beefy sword that I modeled my “big boy” off of has a 3.5″ handle and a 1.5″ (or so) pommel grip. The historically accurate steel sword Arthur made has a 27.5″ blade, and only a 3″ handle with a 1.5″ pommel grip, and it fits me very well. So we can’t really use those; they’re not going to handle right regardless of weight. Also, Arthur gave me some good feedback about the important of pivot point rather than balance point, so there’s more to it than just having the right balance, and having the right mass distribution is part of it. We’ll see!

      1. I am not familiar with Arthur at all, unfortunately.

        I can understand you on the personal challenge aspect, though – have done (and trying to return to doing) similar things myself.

        When looking at modern training weapons, keep in mind gloves – most grips may well be somewhat outsized for them. While the glove issue still goes on, most quality gloves are fairly large, and period hilts may be totally unsuitable for them. With any training weapon you will have a trade off – my foils aren’t as stiff as my smallsword, but you can take far more hits per session as a result.

        It is good that he has clued you in on rotational nodes, as well; you are basically embarking on the quest all of the better makers find themselves on.

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