Donnerstag, 11. Mai 2017

On the bench: "Grosses Messer" hanger short sword

This is currently a project that takes up a lot of energy, not necessarily in forging, but in research and creativity. I did quite a lot of research on this type of short sword, which was in use from the high medieval ages (13th century) to early modern times and which was argueably the predecessor of European hunting swords and sabers alike. Especially the "Wehrnagel", a kind of horizontal additional crosspiece which served a double duty in fixing the crossguard (not yet made on this project) might be the feature that eventually evolved into a hilt basket. The blade is some 40 cm long and has a taper from 8-4 mm to date. When nearing the final grind (which I will do after tempering), the taper will be even more severe. This is found on some originals. Lacking a fuller, the blades in question relied on the taper to achieve a better balance. I am currently thinking hard about whether I should fit a kind of pommel to it. Originals often had a pommel to achieve the balance, but fact is, even now I have taken too many liberties for it to be anything other than a creative interpretation of the style of sword. It is a way for me to learn how to temper and achieve the correct physical dynamics of a sword.
A lot of people ask me these days why I need "another knife". So I want to tell you some more thoughts on my motivation. I am a bladesmith, and I would professionalize would there be any chance for me to even earn a modest living from it. The first documented ancestor of my father´s family lived in the 16th century and worked as a bladesmith and armourer, and from that time on I come from a family lineage of blade- and weaponsmiths from my father´s side. There´s also some nobility in it, especially from my mother´s side, dating back to early Prussian tribe nobility, back to the age of chivalry and even  earlier. I like to think that the "Gods with the amber crowns" still had a part in the life of the earliest ancestors of my family.
But the "symbol of our time no longer is the sword; it´s the tank and the whip" (Ernst Wiechert)... and the credit card, one might add. And the most people uttering doubts about my motivation forgings knives and swords are Mammonists. They do not pray to any God but almighty Mammon-Baal. And they are very afraid that they might lose their hoard, so much in fact, that they distrust everyone. It is in our culture. Moral integrity is scarce in most people´s background. Law is the one thing keeping them from running wild in greed and lust and hate, and they cannot accept that someone lives according to a moral codex that is far more strict than their judicial system can ever be. I am not of nobility, of course not. But I have a moral codex I try to live up to that is strict and unforgiving. A sword not only is a weapon for lunatics running amok with it. In fact, this is the abuse of a symbol that carries far more meaning than just the killing properties of the edge. Owning a sword, even just holding it in hand, can be enlightening in that. It is useless to tell what you might or might not feel when holding a sword of the correct physical layout, but in any case there is a huge responsibility involved. It might be obvious that you´d better not use it, but there is more. If you ever get the chance to hold a real sword, not a wall hanger,  I strongly suggest you seize it. Then you might be able to actually feel why anyone owning a sword WILL live to a strict moral codex, provided she or he is not a lunatic. It is not that anyone asks you to. It just happens. If you carry your sword around or not does not even matter. If you own a sword and know how to use it (which means you had a professional and experienced adviser, a master even), it will happen, if you want it or not. Your mind will change.
We need less tanks and credit cards.
Ever since I made my first attempt at making swords, I realized it did something to me. It had nothing to do with the actual weapon. And it did nothing to change my mind on being a pacifist. In fact, ever since I handled my first sword, I became even more of a pacifist. It is the sword that taught me that there is no option once violence has started, and to use my brain more than my fists. If you whack someone in the face, might be you break his nose. If you smite someone with a sword, you WILL lop off limbs. Anyone who´s not insane that way will not want that. So you have a sword and live along the warrior´s way of doing things, and you are not insane. So you have to develop a steely resolve to constantly question your actions and your self-control. You realize that every action is the seed of consequences, some of them very grave. It simply will not do to put a taboo on violence. You have to realize it is in every one of us, including me, including you. And then, out of your rational evaluation, obstain from it. Not the other way round.
A sword was the weapon of chivalry. It was to protect the weak against the enemies of God and the forces of evil. I pre-Christian Greek culture there was a name for a special type of sword, xiphos, meaning, piercing light, which metaphorically also stood for analytical evaluation and intellectual capabilities. The Chinese Gim was a poet´s sword or rapier, and bore a strong symbolic connection to the poet´s calligraphical  brush.
Anthropomorphical Celtic sword finds are presumed to come from a Druidic background, maybe serving a mythological or sacrificial purpose. All of these examples hint of a strong sociological function. Now, you ask, is that not a sign of a very violent layout of society in these times? Now. I ask, is not putting a taboo on cutting edge weapons for most of the populace while on the same scale developing weapons of mass destruction like nuclear missiles (and, by the way, acting so carelessly around them that whole islands were bombed to oblivion just in order to see what happened), far more violent? Also, one can postulate that in ancient times, everyone who owned a sword was trained in its use. Imagine starting a pub riot on a martial arts convention to get the idea. Fancy the idea? No? So you better be polite, which, by the way, is the reason politeness and respect are an integral part of any martial arts training even nowadays.
Making a sword, is even more of a difficult matter. It is a matter of respect, and I am not talking about wall hangers. Of course, swordsmiths tend to have a very special kind of humour. But I have yet to meet one of them (accomplished or at least dedicated one, that is), that is not polite and respectful to anyone but the most moron customers. To make a real sword puts you in line with the masters of old. Even if it most certainly will spend its entire life sitting in a box, it should be made as if the future owner´s life would depend upon it, and with the very personality of the owner flowing into the process, for it should not only be an elongation of his or her arm, but an elongation of her or his soul, nothing less.
This Grosse Messer is for me. It is a mere practice piece, but I am taking my time. I like this style of sword, because it was a tool at first, and most certainly served a double purpose. The Kriegsmesser was a weapon of warfare, but the shorter "Bauernwehr" or "Grosse Messer" originally was a farmer´s tool and weapon.
I forged it from repurposed train wagon leaf spring steel, which was leftover from the forging of a claymore that I forged with a clan of drunken Scotsmen ;-). 
The crosspiece is made from a lump of rotten wrought iron I found submerged in the surface of a local trail. Holes are all hot - punched and chiselled. I think, I will drill the hole for the Wehrnagel, though, for the wrought iron did not take too well to the punishment.
I had to weld it back on several times to even get it that far. But as is, the cracks will not hinder the performance much, and are not going that deep, so I guess I will leave it that way.

Anyway, the project is something that keeps my mind racing these days. No, I do not need to make another sword. But I NEED to make another sword. You might be able to make out the tiny difference.

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