Monday, October 6, 2014

Making a sword thrusting tip, the Uncle Olaf way

OK, so you’ve bought your stick of rattan, and are ready to make a “sword” for SCA combat. Yes, I know it’s not a real sword. Duh. However, for our purpose, it’s a sword simulator… and you will want it to last as long as possible.
First, the bad news… swords are a consumable in our game. Actual lifespan will vary. Mine last me, on average, about a month. This is the method I have come up with (borrowing from several other ways of doing it) that works best for me.
  • rattan stave
  • hilt or basket
  • foam for thrusting tip
  • nylon webbing
  • strapping tape
  • duct tape
  • cutting implement (scissor or knife)
  • (optional) vice

First… cut the stick to length and shape it to your guard. Might be a basket hilt… in which case, pretty much all you’ll have to do is shape the handle the way you like it. I use By My Hand creations “Big Boy” hilt. This is a one piece hilt.handle/pommel that sockets your stick down into it. The “Big Boys” are the version with a slightly larger opening, so you don’t have to taper your stick down at quite so extreme an angle. I actually shim mine with a bit of rattan so the socket doesn’t provide direct pressure on the blade portion.

I start the blade taping with the thrusting tip. You will need the tip itself… either a pre-cut, from someone like Baron Erik, or make your own with whatever foam you prefer. In my Kingdom, we require ¾” of foam with ⅜” of give across the face of the tip. I use two layers of ½” foam that when taped are just a hair under an inch. I cut two circles the same diameter as my stick and tape them together with strapping tape.

Take your first length of nylon webbing and cut it so that it will go 8-10” down both sides of your sword over the thrusting tip. Now cut another identical piece. The purpose of these strips (and all the strapping tape we will be using) is threefold… one, it keeps the weapon “wrapped in a manner that allows no rattan splinters to protrude” (straight from the Rules of the List) and two, it helps keep the rattan from brooming out, and three, it keeps your thrusting tip in place.
Over time, with the repeated impact from smiting your foe in a righteous manner, the structure of the rattan breaks down. With the linear, fibrous nature of rattan, this results in “brooming”.... the rattan splintering apart at the tip, but remaining together further down… like a broom. A sword that has done this will not hit as solidly as when it was undamaged, obviously. The webbing helps keep the rattan undamaged longer, and holds it together when it is beginning to break down.

I put two strips on… one goes side to side, the other straight over the edge portion of the sword. I only go down 8-10”, covering the foible, or weak portion of the sword. This is where you will (or should) be landing most of your blows, so it will be the part of the sword that breaks down fastest. I put the side strip on, and fasten it in place with strapping tape. I then pot the edge portion on. This order provides the most support to your thrusting tip. The way this is done... it is next to impossible to lose a tip.
After both are tacked in place with the strapping tape, use of said tape begins in earnest. As I discussed in my making an axe blog, judicious use of high quality strapping tape is important. The tape gives added protection to your blade, and added strength. I wrap a spiral of strapping tape up the full distance of the section I covered in nylon webbing. Wrap it as tight as you can, and try to keep it as smooth as possible. Continue all the way up to the very end of the tip, tight around the thrusting tip but not crushing it. It has to stay the same diameter as your weapon. 

Now use strips of strapping tape and tape your sword lengthwise along the blade. Cover the whole blade… if you are using narrow tape, this may require several strips, if wider, two may do it. Once again… make it as smooth as possible. Every wrinkle is going to show through your final tape.

Next, duct tape. Once again, tape lengthwise along the blade as smoothly as possible. I tape along each side first, then a narrow piece on each “edge” if needed.
Lastly, add your edge tape and tip marking. I use either a narrow strip of duct tape, or, if I have it, black athletic tape. I then add red tape to the tip, because Ealdormere (where I sometimes play) requires a third color for thrusting tips.

 Lastly… bask in the glory of your finished sword, and tip back a nice stout (or porter).
 Lastly… bask in the glory of your finished sword, and tip back a nice stout (or porter).

Remember to add a lanyard or trigger, as required by the rules.
My swords weigh in about the same (a few ounces heavier, actually) as the real steel swords they are based on. They balance 4-5” out from the hilt. They ain’t steel swords… but they are about as good as I am going to get within the constraints of our game.

-All photos by David Monahan