Alright, this post comes with a long video, so settle in and grab some popcorn or a beer. Among historical sword aficionados the concept of distal taper has become an important proxy for the quality and authenticity of reproduction blades. In many ways this is great. Most really crumby modern swords or sword-like objects are inaccurate in part because they are too heavy. One of the reasons they are too heavy is that they have insufficient distal taper, the reduction in thickness of the blade from the hilt to the point.
The Arms and Armor English Longsword requires relatively little distal taper because the blade overall is thin and light
Swords that lack this progressive thinning are usually very point heavy and do not move or function like a real, historical blade. Cheap blades and some fantasy blades often neglect distal taper because it takes a lot of skill, time, and knowledge to build a blade that tapers correctly in multiple directions.
The Arms and Armor Black Prince Sword has a thick spine and features significant distal and profile taper
However, distal taper is only one attribute of real swords, and it is more pronounced and more functionally important on some types of blades than on others. Equally important is profile taper, the the change in width of the blade from the hilt to the point. Profile taper varies really significantly between sword types. Some swords have relatively parallel edges that only taper near the point, while others start very wide and begin to taper immediately from the hilt to the point. The cross section of a sword also contributes significantly to its handling. For example, a sword with a diamond cross section may need more distal and/or profile taper to be wieldy than a deeply hollow ground or hexagonal-sectioned sword of similar proportion might. The below pics and charts (sorry for handwritten) detail the distal and profile taper of four historical swords from The Oakeshott Institute Collection. I chose these four swords to illustrate how distal taper, profile taper, and blade profile contribute to the function and handling of the blades.
The first blade I chose to include is Moonbrand, a 13th century arming sword with a hexagonal blade profile. In addition to the pic and specs below you can check out this high quality 3D model of the sword that we produced.
The second sword is a 15th century hollow ground arming sword. Arms and Armor reproduces this sword as the Oakeshott Sword.
The third sword is a diamond sectioned 15th century German longsword. We reproduce this sword as well.
Finally, I've included an 18th century small sword with a hollow ground triangular section to illustrate how distal and profile taper operate somewhat differently with a three-edge shape.
In this video I examine the Arms and Armor English Longsword and Black Prince Sword, along with four historical swords from the Oakeshott Institute Collection to explore how various aspects of blade geometry contribute to the handling characteristics of these pieces. If you are interested in sword dynamics we recommend that you read this excellent article from MyArmoury.com alongside our video.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985