Sunday, April 23, 2017

Making an all-metal akinakes, part I

One thing I've long been unsatisfied with is the fact that all my attempts at making akinakai have had to have wood hilts.  Archaeologists have found a few blades with hidden-type tangs that might have comprised organic-hilted akinakai, but most of the finds I've read about from confirmed Achaemenid sites (Persepolis and Deve Hüyük, mostly) have solid iron hilts.  This is in keeping with the fact that the akinakes seems to have developed since the late Bronze Age as a one-piece casting with perhaps only a cord or leather thong wound about the grip. In the Iron Age, akinakes hilts would have most probably have been likewise forged in one piece.  One or two finds from Persepolis are grooved in such a way as to suggest that the hilts were folded around the tangs from a thin bar, while another is an iron knife with what appears to be the bottom half of an akinakes hilt made of bronze, with a groove completely bisecting the guard.  Metal has the advantage of being less delicate than wood and so the hilt can be less bulky.

Now, hot-forging anything more complex than a tanged leaf arrowhead is well beyond my skill.  However, as last year's Elamite dagger project shows, shaping with a cheap angle grinder requires very little skill, and I happen to have access to a drill press at the moment.  With care, it may be possible to fabricate a slab-tanged akinakes that looks passably like a proper one.  Since the grip will be wrapped with leather, the use of a slab tang should be less obvious.

Right.  As before, the blade and hilt are sketched onto normal paper, folded and cut, then glued onto cardstock and cut again.  I did these while still planning another wood hilt, so they are not quite as according to the current plan.  I cut off the pommel section of the hilt tracing, then traced the rest onto a scrap piece of 1/8-inch steel, and added a straight line so as to first bisect the piece so each scale can be cut out and shaped without damaging the other.  The pommel will be made from 1/2-inch bar stock.  The blade will be from the leftover 1/4x1-1/2-inch bar from last year's Elamite dagger.

Next I glued the hilt pattern to the blade, using the folding lines and the bar itself to ensure proper alignment (as you may have noticed, the hidden tang on the original blade pattern was crooked).

It would be ideal to use a large plate so that the guard can have a corresponding full profile on the blade, but this is what I have to work with, so the sides will have to be filled with extra steel bits traced from the severed wings.  A slight gap will probably remain since this bar stock thins down a bit toward the edges.  Perhaps adding lots of solder will help.

The tang will be much narrower where it passes through the pommel.  This same method was used on the Naue type II of LBA Southern Europe and while it's not accurate here, it should mean the pommel has to be filed out a lot less.

This next step ought to have been done earlier but it's not a loss yet.  I punched a couple holes in the pattern with a hobby awl to mark the rivet holes and widened them with a thin file.

That's all the work I'm doing for today.  The holes need not line up precisely, since they'll be filed wider to fit the pins - as long as a thin round file can pass through, that should be sufficient.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Making an Elamite dagger, part V

Since one grip scale bowed outward a little (probably due to unevenness of the tang rather than the scale itself) I pressed it into place with epoxy and weights, using one pin to ensure it was sitting in the correct position.

I cut up the pins with the angle grinder and gently rounded off the ends to prevent raggedness when peened.  They should protrude above the scales just a few millimeters on both ends.  If you cut them too long, you can grind them down a bit; obviously, if they're even a little too short, you have to start over.

Any old block of metal can serve as an anvil for setting the pins.  Hammer them down until they're flush with the scales.  The hammer does unfortunately leave discolored marks on the wood which need to be sanded off and a final coat of linseed oil applied.

Here you can see that the scales were a bit too short to cover the triangular ricasso.

With handling, the slick appearance and stickiness imparted by the linseed oil will dry up.  The dagger is far more comfortable to hold with the scales in place.  The leaf shape gives it plenty of blade presence; it feels like a chopping blade despite being little more than a foot overall.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making an Elamite dagger, part IV

I rough-cut the grip scales on a band saw months ago out of a 1/4-inch maple plank from Lowe's.  A more historical material would probably be Eurasian walnut (Juglans regia, aka Persian, English, European, Circassian or common walnut).  Unfortunately the American black walnut planks I had on hand no more closely resemble Eurasian walnut than maple does.  The maple was the remnant from the same plank I cut the scales for my letter opener from back in 2015.  I sorted through the selection at Lowe's to get one with the most visible curl.

After much dawdling and working on other projects, today I finally sanded them down to the correct shape.  The most tedious part of the process is channeling out the undersides of the scales to fit into the flanges, and I failed to get a perfect fit.

To the right are some common nails annealed by gas torch, which, when cut up, will serve as substitutes for the iron pins on the original.  I think I'll be able to get two pins out of one nail, but we'll see.

While a light brown stain might have popped the grain more and given it a slightly closer resemblance to walnut, I am awfully fond of the look of pale wood on dark grey steel (similar to the bone scales that were prevalent on similar swords in the late Bronze and early Iron ages), so instead I'm going straight to the linseed oil finish.  Sufficient coats of linseed will turn pale wood golden yellow, a color similar to antique bone.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

See you at Schinias Beach?

Discussions are up at Amphictyonia's Facebook page on the topic of the next major reenactment in Greece.  If you want to keep up with the discussions as they happen - and I highly recommend it, as it's difficult to summarize an ongoing conversation - contact Christian Cameron or Giannis Kadoglou and ask to be added to the group.  As of now, ideas are on the table for events at both Marathon and Plataea, with several people leaning toward a Marathon 2018 event and Giannis Kadoglou proposing an immersive event for Plataea, with less public time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

If you're on Facebook, The Eastern Trader has an album of original Scythian armor.  It includes both T&Y-influenced scale as well as "tank top"-style corslets, Kuban, scale and Chalcidian-type helmets, and iron and bronze akinakai, among other objects. Thanks to Jeroen Zuiderwijk for the link.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Potential problems with wooden scabbard construction

Since I usually recommend making scabbards from wood if you have the skill and tools to do so, I feel compelled to share some information from a recent conversation I had over at SFI.

I brought up a personal project of mine where a wooden scabbard seemed to be causing rust on a sword blade.  Jeff Ellis identified a likely cause being that I may have used Titebond II or III wood glues, which have a reputation for making steel rust.  He recommended Titebond Original as well as Elmer's wood glue and, in fact, Elmer's white (all-purpose).

Another possibility we discussed was the use of linseed oil to seal the bare wood.  Thinking back, it makes sense that gluing a wooden scabbard together and then giving it a moisture-resistant finish (including such things as drying oil, paint and paste wax) could easily result in moisture being trapped inside if it isn't allowed to dry for a good long time.

As a final note, it's well-known that the tannic acid in oak can corrode steel, so it should be avoided in scabbards and hilts.  (I have not made this mistake myself, but it is worth mentioning.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

German buckskin sale

Crazy Crow Trading Post (U.S.) currently has factory-second German buckskins on sale through the end of October.  According to the ad copy, "5-10% of some hides have uneven color or are thicker in the neck, and a few hides have 1-2 small holes."  It's still a pretty good deal:  A 14- to 16-square-foot hide is now 75.65USD, compared to $112 for the same size in first-quality.  This is the type of leather I recommend for clothing, shoe uppers, bags and gorytoi.

German tanning is a type of fat-curing, so these are among the most accurate materials for our purposes short of handmade braintan, as well as being the cheapest fat-cured hides of their size and weight commercially available today.  The difference between German tanning and other fat-curing methods is that the cod liver oil produces its own aldehydes, so the finished product doesn't need to be smoked to allow re-softening if it gets wet and dries stiff.  Some German buckskins are smoked to be a better substitute for braintan in Native American crafts, but the ones currently on sale are not.  This means they'll initially smell like just fish instead of like smoked fish, though I think the smell will fade with time.