Sword Term Definitions

We thought it would be a good idea to add some definitions to our earlier post about sword terms. Communication and study about a subject is tough to do without a clearly defined terminology. 

The topic can get complicated quickly when we have sources from several different generations and multiple languages. The terms used in the life time of the pieces were not exact and often very regional in use. In inventories of the day pieces were often classified by intended use rather than any physical attributes. So today we try to use simplicity and clarity to define our subject. 

This list is not exhaustive but rather some of the most common terms and terminology we use in the shop. A few are shared as some comedic relief and they do creep in to our presentations from time to time :-).

Some sword terms in alphabetical order

Active Rotational Point- (ARP). This is a term I created to describe a concept about a sword when it is in active use. It is the point that the piece wants to rotate around in the three dimensional context of a combat. This is not only affected by the attributes of the physical piece but the grip that is being used by the wielder and the forces being imparted on the object for speed and direction. This spot will move up and down the sword as grip and forces change. This is an important characteristic when making and using swords and multiple researchers have identified this concept including Roland Warzecha and Guy Windsor.

Basket Hilt - Sword with a complex guard of bars or plates that enclose the hand. Check out our post here for details.

Blade - The portion that is edged and pointed to do the stabbing and the cutting. Usually anything that is not the hilt. Often referred to as the business end.

Blade bevel - The angle of the two sloping surfaces of a blade from the thickest portion of the blade towards the edge. On a blade the tapers in thickness and profile, this angle is rarely consistent from guard to tip.

Measuring the blade bevel.Blade bevel measurement
Blade bevel measurement

Blade Bevel Secondary - Used a lot today to discuss the area between the Blade bevel and the actual meeting of the two surfaces creating the edge.

secondary bevel on a medieval sword

Secondary Bevel

Blade divisions - Most fighting systems divide the blade into two or three sections. The common names used are listed below. The basic recognition is the blade section closest to the user exerts more leverage on the opponents blade then the portion furthest from the user.

Portions of the blade

Areas of the blade

Boat Anchor - weapon that is too heavy or poorly balanced.

COG or BP - Center of Gravity, Balance Point. Where the object's center of mass is. Good link to cover this and terms above as well.

COP - Center of percussion The point on the blade where little vibration occurs when the flat of the blade is tapped while holding the grip as you would to use the sword. Sometimes referred to as the forward vibrational node, also the sweet spot.

Complex Hilts - Used to describe swords that have more hilt structure than a simple cross and pommel. Includes finger and side rings, sweeps, plates, cups and cages. see more here

Cross Section - The shape of a blade that is revealed if one where to slice the blade perpendicular to an edge at any given point along its length. This shape will normally change as one moves along a blade.

Crossection of blade

Cross Section of a fullered blade

Distal taper - Term used by knife and sword makers to encompass the tapering thickness and profile of the blade in one term. It means to taper from the center or hilt to the edge or tip. Sometimes distal is used to mean the thickness from shoulders to tip and profile taper is used to describe the tapering shape of the profile.

Distal Taper illustration


False Edge - Opposite of True Edge see below. Also called the short or rear edge.

Forte of blade - This is a term used for the third of the blade closest to the hilt. It is also referred to as the strong of the blade.

Foible of blade - The last third of the blade closest to the tip. Also referred to as the weak of the blade.

Fuller - Grove or groves in a blade. A fuller allows placing the mass in different areas to adjust the weight and functions of the blade, such as reinforcing the edges. It also was a decorative technique especially as you get into the late medieval and renaissance period.

Fullers in antique blades


Grip - The handle of the sword. Usually made of wood with a covering. It sits between the pommel and the guard.

Guard - the application of a piece at the shoulders of the blade to enhance grip and protect the hand. Varies dramatically over time, from simple small bar to complex cage structures as on a rapier. Often referred to as quillons.

Hilt components of two different swords.

Custom Gladius and Hungarian Sword by Arms & Armor

Hilt - The guard, grip and pommel as a whole, can have many forms. 

Knuckle Bow or Guard - A bar that emanates from the guard close to the grip and travels towards the pommel  in a shape that allows the hand to grip the sword but protects the knuckles of that hand. Sometimes it will be an extension from the end of the guard.

 Serenissima knuckle bowGuard bent back into knuckle bow

Two forms of knuckle bow

Pivot point - when gripping the sword just below the pommel with the thumb and forefinger and you waggle the blade back and forth you will see where it would like to rotate around itself. This will vary on the intended main purpose of the sword. When in action this point becomes variable see ARP. This can be quantified in a couple ways check here for good info. 

Pommel - Pomello, Pomo, Pommeau, Knauf, Maçaneta, rоловка, Topuz, I could not sort out which welsh term would be appropriate, but these all are the object at the end of the sword opposite the tip. It can vary to almost any shape but ball, wheel and stopper shapes have a tendency to be most popular on medieval swords. They can be very plain too highly decorated. 

Quillon - see guard above.

Rebated edge - Rounded edge used for safety on display, reenactment and demonstration pieces for the public. Sometimes called a stage edge though one should always check a piece prior to using it in action where one could injury others or yourself. Remember steel hard, human soft.

Ricasso - A blunt section of varying lengths immediately in front of the guard. The section inside the hilt on many rapier blades and the portion of the blade were the hand is sometimes placed in front of the guard on two handers.

Image of ricassos

Ancient bronze sword and reproduction Rapier


Riser - A cord or contour under the leather of a grip to give it reinforce and shape. They can be done in patterns or as a simple ring around the circumference. As martial use of the sword developed it is sometimes place to enhance the grip and tactile feed back the sword delivers to the user.

Calliano Sword by Arms & Armor Inc. with spiraled riser

Calliano Sword with Spiraled riser

Rc Hardness - The Rockwell hardness of a material. Usually used to describe the hardness of a heat treated steel. It is a measure of the abrasive resistance of a surface. It indicates the hardness of the steel and can relate to how ductile or brittle it maybe.

Shoulders of Blade - the portion of the blade that faces the hilt at the point were the blade widens from the tang, these can be wedge shaped, to sloping, to a right angle.

Parts of a sword Blade

Parts of a blade

SLO - Sword like Object. Poorly made or extra heavy reproduction swords.

Snicky-snack - An in shop term that implies an extreme edge for cutting. A fair ways beyond a traditional sword edge.

Tip - pointy bit, usually part that is closest to your adversary. 

Tang - portion of the sword blade inside the hilt. See our blog post Tangs on Medieval Swords here.

True Edge - When holding sword in vertical position with point high and your knuckles towards your opponent it it the edge facing your opponent. On a rapier it would be the same side as the knuckle bow. Also called the long or strong edge.

Vibrational Node - The spot on the blade when held on the grip and the flat of the blade is struck. There will be a still spot on the blade if it is struck hard enough to vibrate. This is sometimes referred to as the sweet spot or center of percussion as well. Check here for detailed explanation.

Wack Bonk - Good feeling impact weapon

Zwwiiinng - Imaginary sound made by person pretending to draw a sword from a scabbard.

Hope this helps :-)


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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