Medieval Sword Edges, how sharp?

When we look at the functionality of a sword, the edge and point are the only reason the rest of the piece exists. As part four of How a Medieval Sword is Finished we will talk a bit about the edges. The geometry and how the edge is a commodity. One uses it and can use it up!

The design and intended function of any sword is literally "an edge and point delivery device" to quote our friend Peter Johnson. While many people become enamored of a style of sword or a way of using a sword, the practical function of the edge in contact with the target or the point piercing its intended landing point is literally the point of it all :-).

The edge is the result of two planes or surfaces of the blade coming to an abrupt end. The thickness and shape of this edge area is what cuts, chops and slices. The sharpness of this meeting of the two surfaces is dependent on the geometry of the planes as they come together and how finely this area is ground, scraped or honed.

In this video we look at an ancient sword and some early medieval originals that allow us to see how they made their edge architecture to create sharp, durable and functional swords. This may fly in the face of a lot of current ideas on sword sharpness but looking at the examples of the past is the best way to anchor any of our ideas about what a medieval sword was in reality. 

The thinness of the sword as it comes together can alter the shape one can achieve with the shape of the edge area and contribute to its durability, structure and cutting ability. In almost all cases this is a convex or faceted structure. It goes from the flatter planes of the blades surfaces and tends to steepen the angle as you approach the edge in the last few fractions of measure along the edge.

 Check out parts 1, 2, and 3 in How a Medieval Sword Blade was Finished.

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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