A while back I talked about squires. One of their earliest tasks was to learn to use a sword and hone their fighting skills. Young boys, on their way to becoming squires and eventually knights, practiced first with wooden swords. Later they graduated to real metal swords that they would use in battle and tournaments.
Generally, thrusting (stabbing) swords were short and thick, while slashing or slicing swords were long and heavy. There were many types of swords in the middle ages, but the following were some of the most commonly used swords:
The broadsword was a two-edged blade, often about a meter long. The blade was two or three inched wide and tapered to a point.
- The claymore or greatsword was a two-handed sword (that probably originated in Scotland). They were sometimes as long as six feet with handles that were up to 20 inches that accommodated being gripped with both hands, one in front of the other.
- A falchion was similar to what we know as a scimitar. It was a short, but heavy, single-edged sword. This blade was popular for knights who fought in the Crusades.
- Cutting, or slashing swords were used by Vikings and then knights in early medieval years. As the name suggests, they were used to slash the user’s victims. These were similar in shape to the claymore, but with a shorter blade and shorter grip to accommodate only one hand.
In the early medieval years, the swords were made of iron (and maybe bronze), but they were easily broken and dulled. Later, sword smiths developed a way to incorporate small amounts of carbon (from charcoal) to harden the metal and enable the maker to give the sword a much sharper edge than an iron sword. The following steps were typical for making blades:
- Forge and shape through a process of heat, hammer, (sometimes fold) and repeat.
- Slowly cool the blade and then grind the edges and point.
- Heat the blade to a very high temperature and the cool it quickly to harden it.
- Temper the blade by heating it a lower temperatures than the “hardening” stage and cool it slowly. This process, which may be done several times, ensures the remains strong and hard.
- The blade is sharpened and polished.
- Add the hilt, which might have been a simple shape or it may have been elaborately finished with engraving, jewels, and and maybe silver or gold trimmings.
The hilt may have been metal or wood and was often wrapped in leather or cloth to afford better gripping.
Learning to use a sword was a life-long endeavor for an individual, but the technique for improving the metal and thus much improved weapons developed over centuries of experimenting and use.