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Anglo Saxon sword


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I'm currently three quarters of the way through a project which has morphed from making a simple toy sword for my son into a more involved carving - still a toy though of course!

My Son was studying castles at school, part of which involved making a helmet and shield - no weapons allowed! on visiting Corfe Castle in Dorset, he liked the look of some great wooden toy swords produced by Tyme Again - a great change from the usual plastic. Of course, I offered to make him one myself, as I immediately saw a fun project we could do. My initial idea was to make one from old pallet wood, but I read that the chemicals used to treat them wouldn't make the wood good for a toy. So, while looking on the web for local timber merchants, I found a guy who lives in his own woodland local to me, who also has a mobile saw mill. When I spoke to him, I was taken by his attitude to the use of wood and his desire for local wood to be used in a traditional way.

I live in the Chiltern Hills, in Buckinghamshire, England. It is an area of fine beech and oak woods, the beech especially being used for many years in furniture manufacture. Right up until the 1960's, Bodgers could be found living in the woods, turning beech for chair leg/back blanks which were then sold to the numerous chair factories in High Wycombe and other local manufacturers. Well, Steve at 'Straight from the woods' wants to recapture some of the old ways of using especially beech. He manages his wood in a sustainable way and supplies wood and works on historic building restoration projects among other things. He was keen to help with my sword project, supplying me with two lovely planks of beech.

Well, with such beautiful wood to work with, I resolved to try my best to do it justice and make a toy sword that my Son would love, but would be more of a scale replica than just a throw away thing.

We had been reading the story Beowulf and I showed my Son what a Saxon sword would have looked like and Beowulf would have used. My Son decided he would like a Saxon sword, so this is where my research started. In the British Museum, they have a sword found in Sutton Hoo, a ship burial. As the blade was rusted into the scabbard, a replica was commissioned by the museum and other interpretations of the sword have been constructed since. One of which I used as a base for my wooden version.

The below replica was made by Patrick Borta and the original, corroded sword.




My next step was to make a template to cut my beech to. I made the sword about two thirds of the size of the Sutton Hoo original, so that it it could hang from my Son's belt in a scabbard without scraping the ground. The overall length being 635mm. I drew this up and cleaned it up on my computer, then printed off the template - one for the top profile and one for the side. The grip would be rounded, with finger grip cutouts and an oval shape to fit the hand comfortably. The gold work and detail I decided would be simplified, as I am fairly new to fine carving.



The coloured bars on the template are to help me assemble the sheets of A3 paper I printed the template out on. Once printed, I carefully cut the templates out, so that I could draw around them accurately onto my wood.

Steve had milled the beech flat, so I had a very good head start and an accurate base to draw on. I first drew a centreline with ruler and square, so that I could line up my templates on all sides.

Using a backless Japanese saw, I cut out the shape, leaving a little extra all round to clean up. I used a rasp to take the wood back to my guidelines. Next, i used the same saw with a Veritas saw guide to slim the thickness of the blade. I next turned my attention to the grip. With my spokeshave, chamfered the handle until I had a hexagon, then using the 'shoeshine' technique with sandpaper, rounded the grip off. After remarking the finger grips onto this, I worked them into the grip shape with a halfround file. From now on, I carved and cleaned up the detail with my Mora carving knife. For the hand guard, I wanted to separate them into three bands, which I did using a fine needle file to create the guide lines, then the Mora knife to round the parts that would originally have been horn on the real sword.

So, the blade was flat, the handle shaped. I now needed to carve the blade into shape. Anglo Saxon swords had a groove the length of the blade called a Fuller. This was to reduce the weight of the sword and had the added appeal of showing off the pattern of the metal on a pattern welded blade. To carve this groove, I made a guide by gluing two strips of wood the depth of the blade either side of the sword. I then panel pinned two thin strips of wood either side of the guides I had drawn on the blade to show where the groove should be. Using this guide, I used a goose-neck cabinet scraper to carefully hollow out the groove. I then removed the sword from the guide, turned it over and repeated the process on the other side. By pure coincidence, the grain of the wood perfectly followed the Fuller and gives a lovely pattern, almost like the pattern welds of old!

Once this was done, I tapered the edges of the blade with my spokeshave, leaving slightly squared edges that I would round off later. It is after all not meant to be sharp. The area closest to the hand guard, where the spokeshave could not reach, was tapered and cleaned with a square cabinet scraper.

So, below is where I am now.



I am quite happy with the direction the sword is going, but there is a lot of cleaning up to do. I will carefully use grades of fine paper and micromesh to polish the blade, taking care to retain the sharp definition of the Fuller. I will treat the finger grip the same way, but will scrape the finer detail, so as not to lose detail, but to enhance the crispness. I will post the results when done. After this, I will tackle the scabbard, but that will be more of a construction job than a carving exercise.

I'm enjoying this a great deal and hope the final result comes out well. I will keep you posted when I have something to show!

Best wishes,  Steve.

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Thanks Janel, very kind. Beech grain seems to be of quite even hardness, but under heaver hand sanding, it will produce 'waves'. That's not occurring on my project as I've tried to treat it quite lightly. It does seem to be a problem only when sanding or some instances of scraping. I found this when experimenting smoothing on an offcut, it noticed when running a finger over the smooth surface after working.

We have a few pieces of beech furniture produced locally to us by Ercol, one of which is a lovely coffee table that we bought second hand from a hotel during a refit. It is a 1960's one and although it is in perfect condition, you can get an idea of the wear quality of beech from this. It has noticeable hollows where the grain is darkest, purely through years of wear and cleaning. It gives a good indication of what happens with heavy working by hand.

I did intend to use Oak originally, for its' durability, but beech has such a local presence that it seemed a nice choice. I'm excited to see how smooth it will be when done!

Best wishes,  Steve.


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