Swords with a hexagonal blade section seem to get little attention these days. Maybe it's because so many cheap "Toledo" wall hangers of last century were made in this style, with no distal taper and insufficient stiffness. Maybe it's because there isn't an Oakeshott type that is entirely populated with these blades, which are instead distributed throughout the typology. Maybe they just haven't had their moment in the limelight. Let's change that.
Hexagonal blades can be a bit counter-intuitive. If made poorly, i.e. without sufficient distal taper, they can be clunky, over-weighty in the blade, and floppy. It doesn't help that this shape, essentially a sharpened steel bar, is frequently favored by lower-end makers because without distal taper it requires less grinding to produce than a diamond or lenticular sectioned blade. When made correctly, with a distinct distal taper, they leave very little room for error due to the thinness of the end of the blade.
Let's look at some historical examples from the Oakeshott Institute collection, and then a couple of our historical replicas from Arms and Armor.
Swords from the Oakeshott Institute collection
All four of these swords, respectively, from left to right, from the 13th, 15th, and late 16th to early 17th centuries, have a blade of hexagonal section. They span four different types from different parts of Europe, and were used in differing contexts.
The first of these is a type XIV sword that Ewart Oakeshott loved so much that he named it Moonbrand. Though on first glance it appears somewhat lenticular, that is due to weathering over the centuries. This sword has a blade that, at the cross is almost 3" wide. It is also quite thin, it tapers to a mere 2mm by the last half foot. You can view a video here in which Roland Warzecha and Craig Johnson of Arms and Armor and the Oakeshott Institute examine and discuss the sword. Also check out our replica and description of Moonbrand here.
The second example is a late 15th century Italian arming sword with a complex hilt. The blade has three fullers at the cross that diminish as the hexagonal section strengthens, and fade entirely within a foot. The distal third of the blade is somewhat spatulate and thins down to 1.5mm an inch from the tip. Check out a 3D model of this sword here.
The third example is a hanger from the late 17th or early 18th century. It has a complex hilt and is light and lively in the hand. The blade has an inscription indicating that it was made in Germany. It tapers to a fine point.
The final example, probably dating from the mid 19th century (though the blade is probably older) has very similar blade characteristics to the second example above. There is a (awesome) inscription on the blade in Spanish that translates to "Do not draw me without need" on one side, and "Do not sheath me without honor" on the reverse. The point is acute and the end is quite thin.
Arms and Armor historical replicas
Our Bohemian Broadsword is a replica of a late 15th century sword of Oakeshott type XVIA. It has a highly ornamental hilt of written style and strong distal taper with central fuller. Though it is also functional in the thrust, it moves in a manner that favors the cut.
The Arms and Armor Calliano sword is an Oakeshott type XIX longsword with a distinctive "S" hilt and Italian square pommel. The blade hearkens back to classical forms with its triangular tip and is of hexagonal section with a very pronounced distal taper. The last third of this blade tapers to less than 1.5mm in thickness. In the image below you can get a better idea of the hexagonal shape of the blade.
A hexagonal blade section is a style that clearly spans centuries, hilt styles, and martial periods. The characteristic that they all share is a propensity for the cut. Even the light weight hanger, while it looks like a transitional rapier, feels like a three-foot filet knife. Despite how thin the blades are, or indeed because of the acute distal taper they all exhibit, none of the blades feel 'floppy' or insufficiently stiff. They are, however, quite flexible, especially toward the point. While I would never attempt to flex Moonbrand, merely holding it is sufficient to realize that in use it would have been much less rigid than most blades with a diamond section. This quality was clearly something that was desired for all of these blades.
If you have never cut with a high-quality and historically accurate hexagonal sectioned blade I highly recommend it. These swords are optimized for the cut in a way that few others approach.