Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Georgian naval dirk

This is actually a completely-refurnished dagger from a famous low-end Indian manufacturer (see if you can recognize it by the blade alone).  I still have all the original fittings, so it can pass for several time periods.

The Georgian period of British history lasted from 1714 until William IV's accession in 1830.  The concept of the naval dirk, issued to midshipmen as a badge of office (much like military dress swords of today), seems to have originated toward the end of the 18th century.  This dirk is an amalgam of several examples from the turn of the 19th century.

Many originals had grips of ivory.  In imitation of this, I started with a piece of light-colored wood, probably poplar, but the boiled linseed oil turned it orange, so that it looks, at best, like aged bone, and more like just...  well...  wood.  Still acceptable for the period!  It is quasi-turned by hand against the disc of a belt sander.

The grip turned out to be a little too short for the tang, so I made a quick pommel out of basswood.  This also adds a little better grip retention.

The pommel cap was a zinc-plated washer I'd originally assumed to be steel, until engraving it showed brass underneath.  At the other end of the grip is a simple sheet brass ferrule.

The guard was a challenge to make:  not only did its design have to be carved out with a Dremel and files, but before doing that I had to double up layers of thin bar stock and silver solder them together.  I tried clamping them, but the solder refused to flow between and just beaded on the seam.  What I wound up doing was spreading both surfaces with fresh flux, laying the solidified droplets onto one layer and stacking the other on top of it, then torching from the side until the solder melted and the top layer settled down - I was very lucky it sank straight down and neatly aligned before the solder froze; otherwise the whole thing would've been ruined.

Further damage to the illusion of a true high-class officer's weapon is done when inspecting the back.  The originals' suspension rings were mounted on small rounded studs that emerged from the side.  I don't know how these parts were made or attached; I think they were cast, and from photos they look to have been poked through holes in the sheet brass of the throat, but attempts to do this resulted in studs that wouldn't solder into place easily nor allow the throats to be fitted to the scabbard. Instead, here I have attached the rings to thin strips of brass like on a Roman gladius.

I should also have probably double-whipstitched the leather cover over the wooden scabbard core, but I didn't know how to do this at the time.  That would've let the seam lie flat so the throats didn't have to be open at the back.

The chape ends in a solid brass bead pinned into place with an escutcheon pin and again soldered on.  I initially designed the scabbard with the plan of matching the dagger to an epee du soldat from earlier in the century; that's why it's red and the chape is a slightly different design than one would expect for this type of dirk.  I've saved the earlier throat with integral locket for another project entirely.

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