Was this sword used right or left handed? A question that many period examples will answer for you, if you look closely and study the clues left by its original user. Taking great care to notice the details of the pieces we intend to reproduce has taught us over the years to see what may not be obvious in how the sword was handled. It is important to notice wear patterns, material compression and other subtle indicators of how a sword fighter controlled their weapon.
Some styles of sword, like complex hilts, are made with distinct shapes and sizes that are clear tells as to their intended handedness. But other pieces like a long sword may still have some evidence from use but would not have been constructed differently.
One of the big factors in this is the materials the grip are made of. Wood and leather can compress and wear over even a short time of intense use and when we look at surviving examples we see they are not symmetrical and smoothly formed even though they may have been when first made. A grip can acquire a unique shape from its life.
In the case of other materials like horn, bone and wire wear patterns may be more subtle but they are often there and quite distinct when looked for. The evolution of a weapon in its working life will bear witness to its use and can also inform on how we interpret that use today in our training and practice.
Check out this video were we detail some of these things and look at some reproduction and original 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.