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List of sword parts

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Parts of the sword:

  • Blade

Sword blades are generally made out of the toughest metal available. In antiquity, this was copper, then bronze. Once iron was discovered, that was used and finally steel. Prior to the invention of steel, several techniques were developed for reducing the brittleness of the iron. Perhaps the most well-known is Pattern welding. This was a very labour-intensive technique - and so such swords were very expensive.

Various techniques were also employed to make the blade harder. In particular, case hardening (also known as Differential hardening) was popular - the sword was heated up and plunged into water. The outer layer of metal was thus made very hard but brittle, inner layers hopefully retaining some toughness to counteract the brittleness.

Decoration was often applied to the blade - usually engraving and sometimes inlaying with gold. In the 19th centuary it became common to etch designs on the blade using acid and a wax template.

Swords may have either a straight blade or a curved one. A straight sword was primarily intended for stabbing, whilst a curved sword was intended for slashing.

Stab wounds were more lethal, and so straight swords were generally preferred, at least by infantry.

For a horseman, stabbing was not practical because it is hard to make a horse move swiftly backward should the thrust fail to strike the victim. The cavalryman would then be at the mercy of his erstwhile victim. This was not so important in massed cavalry charges, in any case in such attacks the cavalry would often be in closely packed formations in which slashing would not be possible. Consequently European heavy cavalry generally had straight swords.

Cavalry which engaged in single combat or in looser formations normally had curved swords. In order to cut, a sword had to be drawn across the victim's skin, and a curved sword was more suitable for this. The blade was only sharpened on the outer edge and the a radius of curvature was equal to the distance from the centre about which the blade was rotated - i.e. the distance from the blade to the shoulder.

In European swords, this was usually a full arm's length, but in the Middle East and Indian swords it as generally a much shorted distance - typically 50 cm or so. This gave Eastern cavalry a great advantage over their European counterparts because they were able to fight at a closer distance than the Europeans were used to and therefore get inside their sword arc.

  • Back

Single-edged swords have a back. This is the unsharpened edge. Early 19th century swords had a "pipe-backed" appearance, whereby they had a thickened ridge along the back to make the blade stronger.

  • Fuller

As the 19th century progressed and metallurgy improved, pipe backs were no longer necessary. They gave way to grooves cut in the side of the sword and these were known as "fullers". As well as making the sword lighter, they made it more flexible and less likely to snap.

  • Guard (or hilt)

The guard protects the user's hand from the opponent's sword. In early swords it was usually a straight bar perpendiculat to the blade. In 17th centuary Europe the style was to make the bars increasingly long and curved until almost the entire hand was covered. This is known as a basket hilt.

After the 17th century, the majority of western and Indian swords had a guard which included a metal bars or a plate that extended from the hilt in a loop to the pommel.

Steel or brass is usually used for the hilt, and it is often be cast or engraved with an elaborate pattern.

Guards are often described by the number of bars used - for example a three-bar hilt has three bars coming out of the hilt and extending to the pommel, although the bars generally join together before they get there.

  • Grip

The grip is the handle of the sword. It was usually of wood or metal, and often covered with leather or shark skin. Shark skin proved to be the most durable in temperate climates but deteriorated in hot climates. Whatever material covered the grip, it was usually either glued on or held on with wire.

  • Pommel

The pommel is a lump at the top of the guard. The name is derived from the latin for a "little apple". In early swords it was a counterweight to the heavy blade but as metallurgy improved the blade became lighter and the counterweight was no longer needed, so the pommel shrunk. It sometimes has a motif such as a lion's head. Indian swords normally had a large disk as a pommel.

  • Quillions

Some basket-hilted swords had two sets of bars at 90 degrees to eachother. These are called quillions.

  • Ricasso

The Ricasso is the short section of blade between the base of the guard and the hilt.

  • Scabbard

The scabbard is the case that the sword is kept in when not in use. This was usually of wood or leather. Wooden scabbards were usually covered in fabric or leather, and leather ones might be covered by metal for part of their length.

Entirely metal scabbards became popular in Europe in the 19th century. These had the grave disadvantage of blunting the blade but nevertheless remained popular until the end of the century, when wood covered in leather or metal replaced them. Naval and police swords invariably used leather scabbards.

  • Shoulder

This is the short section of blade between the hilt and the start of the sharpened portion of the blade. The maker's mark is normally to be found on the shoulder.

  • Tang

This is the part of the blade extending from the top of the blade through the hilt and the grip. The sword is often held together by a nut screwed onto the tang above the pomel.

  • Tassel or sword knot.

This is a lanyard - usually of leather - looped around the hand to prevent the sword being lost if it is dropped. Although it has a practical function, the sword knots were often very elaborate. For example, the British Army generally adopted a white leather strap with a large acorn knot made out of gold wire for infantry officers at the end of the 19th century. The sword knot was usually looped though a slot in the guard.

Indian swords usually had the tassel attached through an eye right at the end of the pommel.

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