How do cross guards work on swords and daggers?

A query from one of our viewers on a recent video prompted us to answer his questions in this quick video about cross guards. They are a basic element of a sword, starting out as a simple widened portion of the grip. A simp bit of wood or metal in its earliest forms. It evolves over time into a huge variety of shapes and styles, many highly decorated. One could say it is the part of the sword that sees the greatest change over time, style and form.

From the simple hilt of a bronze age sword or Roman Gladius to the cross hilted medieval sword to the swept hilt of a rapier one can see the excellent design and function of the maker and the beauty of their detailing skills. 

Gladius hilt

Roman Gladius by Arms & Armor

The basic guard is often a simple bar shape pierced in the center to accommodate the tang of the sword blade passing through it. It will have the grip seated against it and on the other end of the grip a pommel. The shoulders of the blade are set against the forward surface, sometimes flush to the face other times inset in a grove or shaped pocket.

Schloss Erbach longsword guard

Original Schloss Erbach Longsword guard

From this simple construction the piece is enhanced with such things as nagels, rings, bars, posts, sweeps and knuckle bows. They enhance the protection of the sword hand and allow the use of the sword with little hinderance but greater protection. 

Sword guards at the Royal Armouries Leeds UK

Assorted guards at the Royal Armouries Leeds UK.

One has to remember the best sword ever made can not compensate for poor execution in use. A great sword fighter is dangerous with a stick and a poor sword fighter is in danger even with excalibur in their hand.

Moonbrand's guard

Original Moonbrand's Guard

Check out our video as we look at what a sword guard does and how it works to help you in a moment of need.

 Here are some other posts where we touched on some of these discussions in more detail or specific elements. Please check them out if you are interested.

Complex sword hilt development  

Early Knuckle Bows  

Where do Finger Rings first appear on swords 

How Rapiers hilts were built

divider swords

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.


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