My latest sword project

Discussion in 'Swords Forum' started by Kevin R. Cashen, Dec 29, 2016.

  1. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    The medieval sword found in the river Witham is one of the most recognizable treasures at the British museum:

    A few years ago I had the rare privilege of spending an afternoon measuring and studying it first hand, and I had a feeling then that it was something special. Recently a good customer got his turn at having me make something and asked if there was something I would like to do (as I said, he is a good customer). This was my opportunity to try my hand at the Witham and get paid for doing it, so when he said that he loved that sword the fun began! I always thought that the original’s gaudy inscriptions were a distraction from its phenomenal lines and proportions, and so when I suggested that we go with a cleaner and more weapon-like version, my customer was on board and even suggested a brazil nut pommel to keep with the theme. This was going to be fun since it would also test my skills at redesigning what was perhaps a perfect medieval weapon with a slightly different hilt and pommel while still keeping the same flawless dynamics of balance points and center of percussion etc…


    There was no decision to be made regarding blade material, it would, of course be my trade mark Crucible formula L6. But I found one of the biggest challenges of this blade immediately in the forging process- those narrow double fullers. I forged two blades to get the proportions of those grooves right and discovered a nasty twist that they gave to the process, and I say “twist” not just metaphorically! Those fullers acted like two “I” beams running down the blade causing any subtle strain imbalance to pull the blade in every crooked direction possible. It took longer to normalize the blade than it did to forge it, and the heating and cooling had to be exact.


    But once forged, grinding the blade was a pleasure, it always is when doing these exact recreations because you can feel the blade come alive in your hands as you shave off each thousandth of an inch closer to the original. I knew that the tapers and cross sections of this blade were something unique, but I was not prepared for the feel of it in the hand. I have worked with many really effective weapons that were the Hot Rod Fords or Chevy’s of their time, but the Witham is a Ferrari! Point tracking is so dead on that if a trained knight aimed it at you, your earthly affairs had better be in order, and yet this quick blade would cut like a laser.


    Polishing was not too bad either, since the planes of the blade were all broken down into convenient narrow sections that gave up their scratches in short order. And those fullers reflected the light in a way that created great lines and almost Art Deco sleekness to the blade; I was so glad we didn’t go with the inlayed inscriptions.

    For the cross and pommel we chose wrought iron, which completed the battlefield workhorse theme. The scabbard was tradition wood wrapped in a maroon goatskin bookbinding leather from a new supplier that I like. The chape took longer to make than the entire scabbard, since I hammered it out of sheet steel. Normally I would use non-ferrous, which raises and domes quite easily, the steel was much more ornery and required a bit more hot work, but in the end the hammered finish of the steel went well with the overall theme.

    Last edited: Dec 30, 2016
  2. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    Fantastic write-up! I learned quite a bit from the way you presented this, which leads me to ask your informed opinion on how exactly such an original came to be made given the science and tooling of the day. Was such a perfect sword the natural progression of improvements over many years, or do you believe that the swordsmith who made it understood the underlying geometry so well that this was made to satisfy a preconceived design? The latter case would make it an engineering marvel.

    I try not to underestimate the smiths of old, but I can't help but wonder how much they stumbled into over time through trial and error. Then again, it's one thing to reverse engineer a masterpiece but a wholly overwhelming task to have imagined it in the first place and then brought it to life. Designing something on paper is one thing and actually making that design a living reality is something else entirely beyond that.

    At any rate, your craftsmanship is astounding. I know you must be pleased with the result!
  3. Johan Nel

    Johan Nel Well-Known Member

    Beautiful! I do like this sword.
  4. KenH

    KenH Well-Known Member

    WOW! Your craftsmanship is a wonder to behold. Just great - that sword looks good just laying there. Congrats on a job well done.

    Ken H>
  5. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Hello John, I think the key component in making such exquisite tools was direct feedback from users who really used them in the most serious of ways. Today we have the luxury of making fantasy swords, or having it look “awesome” being enough, when these incredibly designed tools were made it was deadly serious business. Sort of like a modern professional athlete today working with equipment manufacturers to squeeze that last percentile point of performance, but only ten times more serious and intense because the athlete only loses a trophy or a medal, back then…well…

    I have examined clunky examples from the past, some things never change and there were no doubt low end knockoffs back then as well. But this sword was originally made for somebody important and so they obviously got one of the top guys to do it.
  6. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Thanks for the kind words guys.
  7. bladegrinder

    bladegrinder Well-Known Member

    Beautiful sward and great write up Kevin. do you know what year that original was made?
  8. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    The British Museum puts it at 1250-1330 A.D. but Oakshotte estimated a bit earlier.
  9. Dan Pierson

    Dan Pierson Well-Known Member

    Beautiful sword and very informative writing Kevin. Wish I could feel how it handles.
  10. jaxxas

    jaxxas Well-Known Member

    Great looking sword and awesome craftsmanship! Did they do any steel composition analysis on the original sword?
  11. CMS3900

    CMS3900 Well-Known Member

    Amazing work, great write up, and I got to see a few more pictures of your Bradley hanging out in the background! The Brazil Nut pommel and simple but elegant cross bring the whole thing together with a really clean, functional look. While I haven't attempted any amazing looking scabbards like that, I shall file away bookbinding leather in my head for if the time comes. I never would of thought to look to that industry.

  12. Shawn Hatcher

    Shawn Hatcher Well-Known Member

    Thank you for sharing, Kevin. That's a beautiful sword, even in "workhorse" configuration! I'm curious about the final weight and point of balance?
  13. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Here are the specs- blade32” of L6. Overall length 38”. Overall weight: 1135 Grams. Balance point: 5.78” in front of guard. Center of mass of "sweet spot" 20” in front of guard
  14. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Yes, my Bradley is like a second wife, almost as reliable as the first one, except I cannot go to the shop for some time away from the Bradley;).
  15. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Not that I know of, this sword is such a great piece that it would be a crime to take "samples" as they can with more degraded artifacts. The original does have a break and brazed repair, no doubt done a long time ago as modern conservation efforts would not allow such an action, that would have been the time to take any samples if they could have foreseen future analysis methods.
  16. J. Doyle

    J. Doyle Dealer - Purveyor

    Excellent thread Kevin. Your skills and knowledge are incredible and they served you well here. Making a 'simple' and 'battlefield' grade sword look so elegant and exquisite is certainly not easy but you pulled it off wonderfully!
  17. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    Thanks John, but I can only take some small credit for being able to mimic the true masters that did this work in the past. I just started on a new sword that I have been aching to recreate for some years now, I will keep folks updated on how the project progresses.
  18. wdtorque

    wdtorque Well-Known Member

    Really enjoyed the thread and the final product. Outstanding! Looking forward to the next project. Dozier. (not Bob)

    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
  19. Kevin R. Cashen

    Kevin R. Cashen Super Moderator

    This week I started on a new project that I have been chomping at the bit for some time. A beautiful mid 16th century piece in the vaults at the Victoria and Albert museum that is an intriguing blend of rapier and cut & thrust sword from Saxony. I will keep folks updated.
  20. alopolo

    alopolo Member

    Sword looks amazing!

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