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Guan Dao project

Posted: Tue May 31, 2011 12:36 am
by omni
Greetings all.

Since the glorious conclusion of the 'Yue Fei Dao project', my friends and I are planning to embark on another adventure, this time in hopes of creating a workable Guan Dao or Yan Yue Dao.

Surprisingly, information on this weapon seems quite scarce. The best example I have found so far is this one since it has some degree of historic authenticity, and the all-important measurements.
Having trawled through thousands of modern toys and video game images that appear in each Google Image search, there do not seem to be many examples of good antique weapons of this type.

Our plan at this stage is to cut and shape the blade ourselves from steel plate or bar and either weld a steel tube for the socket, or include a tang instead for greater strength.

If anyone knows of any further resources, it would be much appreciated.



Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:56 am
by Scott M. Rodell
The blade of the Guan Dao in the link you posted looks to be a ligit one, but keep in mind that it is distorted a bit by the angle at which the photo was taken.

I think the reason you don't find many of these polearms in collections available for study is their size. Most people prefer sword length weapons, they take up a lot less wall space, more than one client has told me, "My wife would never let me hang that up in the living room," when it came to getting a Guan Dao for their collection. And they become a lot less interesting when the head has been cut off the pole. And just try shipping one...

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:39 pm
by omni
Thanks for the info Scott. I hope there are some Chinese collectors at least preserving these weapons!

I came across another nice picture for future reference:

My friend has already put together a plywood template based on the original photo and the measurements supplied. I was surprised how sword-like it a short oxtail dao.
Given the varieties above, we might take a bit of creative license with the final product. I hope at least it will be more true to the historical model than some of the cheap commercial products available.

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Tue Jun 21, 2011 1:04 pm
by Scott M. Rodell
omni wrote:...
I came across another nice picture for future reference:...

Given the varieties above, we might take a bit of creative license with the final product...
Great selection, those I've come across were most like the 4th & last. I hope you got at least one measurement from the site so you can scale those up in photoshop... DOn;t go to far with taking license, you want to make sure it is balanced to do the job it is designed for. And please don't forget to post images here when you are done!

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:27 pm
by omni
Thank heaven for the internet : )

I did a bit more searching and came across another photo of the third blade in that group, alongside a tape-measure:


It appears to be a little over 27 inches long.
Hopefully that will be enough for us to work with!

Scott, do you have any idea of the thickness of these blades?
I'm presuming that like Peter Dekker's Pu dao from the Yue Fei Dao project thread, the blade will have to be quite thick....6mm?
Also, am I right in presuming that the centre of balance would ideally be the mid-point of the whole weapon?

correct historical terminology

Posted: Sat Jul 09, 2011 2:34 am
by Philip Tom
You chaps might wish to keep in mind that all the historical Chinese texts refer to this class of weapon as "yanyuedao" or reclining moon knife. It's been known by this name in military writings since the Song Dynasty (when the first recognizable examples appear), and the name also appears in the 18th cent. Qing palace inventory Huangchao liqi tushi. Guandao appears to be a modern "dojo-speak" term, and there is no physical or iconographic evidence that Guan Yu actually invented or used this weapon.

variety is the spice of life

Posted: Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:01 am
by Philip Tom
The group shot of several blades tells us something quite interesting -- the considerable variation in blade proportion, edge contour, and tip geometry show that over the centuries that this weapon has been in use (at least back to the 11th, AD up through the 19th), a variety of fighting systems had been developed to utilize these particular design features. If the examples in the photo date from the 18th-19th cent. (as is reasonable to suppose), it underscores the proliferation of martial arts styles that occurred in China during that time.

The exaggerated curve of the tips on the bottom examples in the group may be an adaptation of a Song Dynasty polearm, illustrated in the Wujing Zongyao , called a fengcuidao (phoenix beak knife). Its tip actually curls back slightly in hooklike fashion. A related and somewhat rare weapon called the xiangbidao (elephant trunk knife) carried the extreme radius of the tip further, it formed a whorl that resembled an ellie's curled proboscis. Both of these polearms do have a dorsal peak, although not as extended as the yanyuedao's projecting prong or talon.

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Mon Jul 11, 2011 12:43 am
by omni
Thanks Phil, interesting points.
I hadn't considered that the variations in blade shape might correspond to differences in fighting style, but that seems obvious in retrospect.

I've been searching under both 'guan dao' (also kwan/kuan) and 'yanyue dao', as well as the relevant Chinese characters. I can't remember which term yielded the best results though.

Blade profile and balance

Posted: Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:42 am
by Philip Tom
I'd say that if you are making this replica with the intention of it being usable for martial arts practice, then you need to pay careful attention to design and functional characteristics before you even lay out a template. Fighting technique that calls for thrusts demands less backward curve of the tip profile. Remember that the closer the point is to the central axis of shaft and blade, the more accurate the weapon will be for inline thrusts. A spear is the ultimate long thrusting weapon but a yanyuedao embodies other functions as well, so there is a tradeoff involved. Reliance on sweeping, circular cuts would require a more deeply curved tip (the aforementioned "elephant trunk" or "phoenix wing" knife represents the ultimate functionality for this purpose, while neglecting linear thrusts entirely).

Having helped a colleague design a yanyuedao last year, I can also advise that designing distal taper can be tricky on these weapons. Because of the considerable stresses placed on a broad cutting blade on a long handle, the spine must be of sufficient thickness at the guard. On most antique examples made for fighting (as opposed to display or parade), the thickness is at least 5/16 inches (7.5 - 8 mm) at the forte. To maintain proper balance, the thickness reduces along the length towards the tip. It cannot be too thin in the area near the dorsal prong, otherwise the blade will be weak. 4 mm is a good working thickness for that area.
Note that one example in your group shot has a medial ridge in the area ahead of the prong. In otherwords, the thickest part of the blade is in the center, and thickness tapers off towards the spine. This gives good strength and weight distribution.

Your comment about these blades (when well designed) having a balance similar to an oxtail saber is well taken. In fact, I have seen a number of antique examples which have been rehilted as two handed falchions, and they balance well enough to be manageable with one hand.

Your project will turn out so much better if you have had the chance to actually handle as many antique examples as possible -- fighters, parade weapons, the whole gamut so you have points of comparison. You need the tactile exposure, just looking at pics is not enough. You can't appreciate how they balance and play in the hands unless you have a real one to play with. Yanyuedao are a more complex engineering exercise than one would think.

When you have the blade manufactured, is it going to be forged, or sawn and ground out of steel plate?

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 12:24 am
by omni
That's some valuable info, Phil. Thank you!

Unfortunately we have no chance of handling any yanyuedao good, bad, or ugly.
The more measurements we can get, the better.

We are planning on cutting and shaping out of steel plate.

suggestions for fabrication

Posted: Wed Jul 13, 2011 11:51 pm
by Philip Tom
You have a big job on your hands, good luck on this one and keep us posted. What kind of steel are you going to use? One of my old hunting buddies is an amateur knifemaker, he uses steel from discarded industrial circular saws, you might want to look into how big a blade you can get, in fact next time I talk to him I'll ask what's the biggest one he's seen. I believe the alloy is L6, he makes his blades via stock removal and finds it ideal. You may have to make the tang separate and weld it on.

I don't know if you have experience with making knives, but if you have access to a plasma cutter, it will make the cutout of your blade profile a lot easier. Ditto for a grinder that professional cutlers use, check out the websites for outfits like Jantz Supply or K&G Finishing, they sell knife- and gunmaking supplies and machinery. These things are pricey, so if this is a one-shot project, better to make friends with a knifemaker or metalworker who has good grinding and cutting equipment.

My suggestion is that once you decide on a profile, start with edge and distal taper geometry that's a bit on the conservative side, don't remove too much metal and make it too thin. You can't put steel back on once you've ground it off! Once you reach a particular stage in shaping, mount it in a shaft of the length and diameter you intend to use on the final product (and don't forget to design and install the butt spike because that provides some counterbalance). Do your forms with it and see how it balances. You can then grind more off to improve the balance as needed. I would pay attention to the sample blades in your pic which are narrower, and have their maximum thickness towards the center, not the spine. You'll get good strong edge geometry that way, and a good compromise between rigidity and manageable weight. Play around with alternative x-sections on paper before you start putting steel to wheel. Decide how your thicknesses are going to decrease, in short intervals from forte to tip, and grind precisely without leaving hills and dales. Don't even think about heat treating until you've gotten the distal taper where you want it to be (the process should be done before the edge is ground fully sharp, however.)

If you're new to all this, a yanyuedao is a pretty big mouthful to chew on. Go slow, think ahead, and as any carpenter will tell you, measure twice and cut once.

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 12:23 am
by omni
I hope we haven't bitten off more than we can chew...

I appreciate your comments on distal taper especially. We were originally planning to keep it linear, but having it thicker at the forte is a good idea, though it unfortunately means more grinding.
We are planning to make at least three weapons, so that will give us a chance to learn from our mistakes too.

How did your friend go about making the buttspike? I've seen one on an old photo that appears to have a + shaped cross-section, rather than a solid round one. I'm thinking we should be able to weld something like that together.

We haven't yet sourced steel. Will need to look at what is available.



distal taper / butt spike

Posted: Mon Jul 18, 2011 12:09 am
by Philip Tom
Distal taper needs to be part of the picture, otherwise you are likely to run into problems with weight and balance. There is a reason that just about every antique blade you see, whether it be a hilt weapon of any length or a pole arm, tapers in thickness from the forte to the tip. Impact to a blade causes harmonic vibrations to the blade itself, which are transferred to the hilt or shaft. The added thickness at the forte is not only for strength, but to absorb more of the shock. The less of a "jolt" that is felt by the user's hands, the more control he has over the weapon.

A lot of butt spikes are indeed of cruciform section, I've also seen trifoil sections, and even tapered squares. Keep it simple, the last alternative will be the easiest and believe me you have enough on your plate dealing with blade design. You are mainly concerned with the weight of this appendage when tied in to the length and density of the shaft and the weight distribution of the blade, is going to affect balance.

choice of steel

Posted: Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:22 am
by Philip Tom
I recently talked to a knifemaker buddy who's been making some almost indestructible survival machetes and pig-killer knives out of the steel that those diamond-studded masonry disc saws are made of. The alloy is probably L6, it hardens by water quench (if you have no experience heat-treating, I suggest that you send your fully shaped blade out to a specialist in this work because something this length is awfully unwieldy to heat using a torch, and if you can't tell the optimum quenching temp by the color of the metal, you can really mess up the job.)

Now, for dimensions. These saw discs are 1/8 in. thick, which is on the thin side for an antique, functional yanyuedao. However, this is very strong material, and you might consider scaling your blade down to a more compact size -- I've seen a couple of made-for-combat examples, probably 19th cent., which had blades in the 16-18 in. range from guard to tip. You don't really need big: balance and cutting efficiency are more important.

My friend says that he has seen these sawblades in 3 ft diameter and he says they may even come in 4 ft size. They are circular of course, with an arbor hole in the center. If you lay out your template so that it's as close to center as possible given the design, you can eke out quite a bit of usable length on a 3-foot diameter saw, if you stick to a shorter blade length as above, and have an integral tang (easier than welding one on separately). If you can find a four-footer, you have even more wiggle room but then you need to watch out for possible rigidity issues with only a 1/8 in. thickness.

What you want is a used blade with the diamonds or carbides all worn off so that they are discarded and thus available for free or a nominal scrap charge. That's how my friend gets them -- a concrete sawing company saves them and gives him a call when a sizeable stack builds up. They rather have him take them gratis than have to pay a disposal company to cart them away! Get several, you'll have lots of material to experiment with various blade shapes and it won't be the end of the world if you make a mistake and screw one up.

If you live in timber country, you might check with local sawmills for large circular millsaw blades that have been retired from service due to damage or excessive wear. They can come in pretty large sizes, too, and the steel is of high quality.

Re: Guan Dao project

Posted: Thu Jul 28, 2011 7:30 pm
by omni
Thanks Phil!
There are some sawmills in our state - will get onto them!