Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm calling it a letter opener

This blade from Atlanta Cutlery resembles a miniature Luristan bronze, or others used in West Asia in the late Bronze and early Iron ages, so I went for a vaguely ancient Near Eastern look in furnishing it.  It could also pass for a Conan-esque fantasy weapon if it weren't so tiny.

In reality, I have no idea what they were going for with this design.  It most closely resembles a Sürmene knife, but the slop of the shoulders, undifferentiated pommel area and rounded butt end go against that.  In any case, I preferred something older.

The scales are maple; I sorted through the 1/4-inch planks at Lowe's to find the curliest piece available, although the rounded shape rendered the grain less visible.  With a light stain and linseed oil finish, it bears some resemblance to curly walnut.  I filed a small inset section into the scales and tang to hold the twisted copper wire, which begins and ends inserted into small channels in the undersides of the scales.

The pins are all 1/8-inch copper wire.  In most photos of the bare blade I've seen, the two holes at the shoulders look much smaller than the ones running down the middle of the tang - I bought some 1/16-inch wire in anticipation of that - but in fact they're the same size.

I could find little or no information about ancient scabbard construction, so I used a wood core covered with leftover scraps of light brown suede and painted on a generic winged beast motif.  I don't much like this bulging cross stitch and probably won't use it again; a flat cross stitch is much nicer-looking even if it does put more strain on the leather (at least the way I do it).

When worn, the thongs are passed over and behind the belt, down and out, then tied again in front of the scabbard below the first knot.  Alternately, the thong may be done away with and the scabbard simply tucked behind the belt, but I find this method uncomfortable, and didn't include a throat to prevent it sliding out of the belt (a la the "Elamite dagger").

The conceit in including a second sheath is that the blade was refurnished in modern times.  It's your basic veg-tan finished with brown shoe polish and acrylic varnish.  A snap is stitched to the belt tab and covered on the outside with a homemade brass spot before the tab is riveted to the sheath's back face.  Because the faces are stitched outside the welt for a tight side closure, the sheath looks much wider than one might assume necessary.  A back-seamed sheath would produce a narrower profile, but side-seamed ones appear to be more popular in America.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Iron Age Irish dagger

Pray, tell me the story of young Cú Chulainn,
How his eyes were dark, his expression sullen,
And how he'd fight, and always won,
And how they cried when he was fallen...
- Thin Lizzy

This is another set of fittings for my Atlanta Cutlery Arkansas toothpick blade, a wide but thin and handy blade that would be equally suited for a plug bayonet, a Medieval quillon dagger, or even a transitional antennae or anthropomorphic dagger from the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.

In fact, the Irish short swords on which my interpretation is based were usually longer and less tapered (sometimes even flared toward the point), comparable to gladii in size and shape, and were basically short variations on the late La Tène long sword.  What inspired me to go this route is that the shape and proportions of the toothpick blade make it look like a miniature of one made by Shane Allee some years ago.  As a set of fittings made to be removable, this one features threaded construction secured with a ground-down steel hex nut.  (I'd have preferred brass, but as the set of dies I bought was defective, with a pair of 1/4-28s and no 1/4-20, I had to settle for whatever 1/4-28 nut was available.)

The pommel is pine and the guard is probably poplar.  The scabbard is two boards of basswood - soft and requiring little effort to cut, but splintery and loose-grained; I really wouldn't recommend it for fine carving like this.  The carvings are based, with some simplification, on a metal scabbard from Lisnacrogher.  The grip, somewhat shortened, is actually a leftover from an MRL rondel dagger currently hilted as my sharp akinakes for Persian reenactment.  I have no idea what wood it's made of, only that it seems like a good, dense hardwood, and it smells horrible when cut.  Aside from it, all the wood parts are stained with Minwax mahogany and finished with boiled linseed oil.

The throat is 0.015-inch brass sheet, held down with arrow glue and brass-headed tacks stuck through finishing washers.  The tacks are cut short so they don't protrude into the scabbard and scratch the blade.  The belt loop is somewhat heavier-gauge brass strip, soldered to the throat and tacked through the throat into the wood.

The chape is actually a large cotter pin.  I have no idea what a cotter pin is actually made for.  It's wrapped with soldered-on brass strip and held in place with the same aforementioned assemblage of washers and tacks (though down here they're well clear of the blade, so they're stuck through both the front and back scabbard pieces).