new forumite with question

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

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kevin (the prof)
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new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Mon Jul 11, 2011 6:04 pm

Hello Everyone,
I am a new forumite and this is my first post. I have been reading this forum for months and finally decided to join. The reason for the post - I am an aspiring bladesmith. Not my full-time job (Psychology prof). I am most interested in Chinese swords, although I am admittedly still fairly early in my learning.

To overgeneralize horribly, I am interested in daos most of all (though I do like jian). So, the question: Most of the daos I have seen have either a fuller or fullers, a ridge, or both. I am a bladesmith but not a swordsman, so I would like information from one or many of you who practice concerning the difference in weight, balance, and performance of the ridged versus non-ridged daos.

As of now, I have been making blades that are inspired by willow leaf or goose quill daos. They are not exact copies, and they are of the ridged variety. I am curious to know about how these compare to the blades with fullers. Over time, I hope to learn to make fittings more closely resembling the originals, or to partner with people who specialize in fittings. I make good blades, but I am not very good at fittings and furniture at this point. It may just be more pragmatic for me to keep exploring blades and work with others for fittings.

I am glad to have joined this community. Any information you can provide will be appreciated.

thanks,

Kevin

Yes - I polished to emphasize the effects of the heat treatment. I know that differential heat treatment was common, but I don't know about whether it was emphasized. I also sometimes put subtle patterns in my swords (not the vivid ones using nickel steel but patterns from two different levels of carbon and minor alloys like manganese).
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Philip Tom
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how they play in the hand

Post by Philip Tom » Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:07 am

Let me kick off the discussions by prevailing on Scott to share his experiences in test cutting with sabers of various designs from contemporary manufacturers in China and elsewhere...

When you ask for comparisons between faceted (ridged) dao blades on the one hand, and fullered blades on the other, it's not as easy as it seems because the Chinese employed a wide variety of fullers. There are differences in cross section as well. As to the fullers or channels, some are deep and narrow, some are broad and shallow (much like those on some European blades), and they vary in number, location, and length relative to the blade. In some cases you have both faceting and fullers on the same blade! So where to begin?

In general, the use of fullers served to lighten a blade while providing added stiffness at the same time (think of an I-beam used as a structural girder, and a deep fuller being analogous to the load-bearing characteristics of an arch or vault).

Faceted or ridged single-edged blades allow the maximum thickness to be moved closer to the edge, rather than left at the spine or back. Indeed, in many cases the thickness tapers somewhat from the ridge towards the back of the blade. By moving the point of maximum thickness in this way, the angle of the edge bevels is increased, making a stronger edge. The value of this design was realized early on, bronze straight-backed dao from the Zhou Dynasty have this feature, carried over into the Han and Tang dao, and then onward to the Japanese tradition. You also see it in early medieval Eurasian saber and backsword blades, and it survives on some early kilij from Mamluk and Ottoman times. The downside of this arrangement is a slight increase in weight. It is also problematic if a back-edge is desired in the vicinity of the tip. To compensate, adjustments can be made to profile and distal taper, and of course fullers can be added if necessary.

So you can see that there are a number of ways to slice and dice the challenge of designing a saber. Or to skin the cat. What sort of parameters do you have in mind on your project blade: size requirements, role of cut vs thrust in your swordplay system, type of cutting the blade is intended for (armored vs cloth-garbed foes), and of course aesthetic considerations.
Phil

kevin (the prof)
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Tue Jul 12, 2011 5:38 am

Oh heck man, I am just learning. As you can see, I have been playing with a fuller behind the ridge to lighten the sword. What I really am aiming for will take years, but that's ok. I am trying to develop a fairly sophisticated understanding of sword geometries and how to make them for different purposes. I have heard/read some people say that the ridge can help cutting by reducing drag relative to blade width. Obviously, fullers reduce drag. I have wondered often, at this point in my career (only 4 years of experience and trying), why so many of the daos I see seem to have one or more fullers but many fewer have ridges. So, I was curious as to what the trade-off was. I guess it could be something as simple as ease of production. It is easier to make a convex blade and scrape a fuller in than it is to put in a ridge and taper the back. (fyi - I also taper the back bevel significantly to reduce weight. The sword I showed has a 24.5" blade and weighs between 1.4 and 1.6 lb.)

Thanks for the info. I am trying to be a serious student, and I appreciate this source of information (the forum). I am stunned by the relative lack of information on Chinese blades compared to Europe and Japan given the length of China's history of superior metallurgy and craft. So, I am going to primarily specialize in Chinese blade forms. Everything that is fun for a smith is within the lexicon - pattern welding, differential heat treating, a whole array of size, shapes, usages...

Any and all info is appreciated. I am just trying to learn. I am attracted to the ridged geometry (usually with fuller, too), but there is such a large number of specimens with fullers and no ridges that there must be several advantages. So, I thought I would ask some serious swordsmen/people who use these blades. Besides, the only way I can ever really advance in this area is to develop exchange of information with martial artists. This seems to be one of the biggest meeting areas for people with the skills to use these blades, so I thank you for your time.

Kevin

Philip Tom
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fullers vs facets

Post by Philip Tom » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:58 am

If proper design and placement of fullers can affect the weight and balance of a blade, sword makers are going to take this into account when designing blades for specific purposes. A two handed weapon used for fighting on foot is going to require different handling characteristics from one wielded on horseback with only one hand. Weight, balance, and hilt length all come into play.

The zhibeidao (straight back knife, or backsword) of China's classical antiquity and middle ages was pretty uniform in design -- faceted sides, mostly angular or fairly obtuse-profiled radiused tips, occasionally with a backedge on later versions. When the curved versions of dao (true sabers) became popular during the Yuan Dynasty and afterward, there arose a profusion of curvatures and blade x-sections. The saber itself is an import from the Eurasian cultures of the medieval period. Many of the trends and vogues in Chinese fullering have direct counterparts in the Middle East. And other features, such as the sleeve or tunkou at the forte of the blade, are seen not only in China but in Central Asia, the Hungarian steppe, Anatolia, and Mamluk Egypt. People mistakenly associate the essentials of dao with the katana, but aside from its disc-shaped handguard, the saber in China owes more to conceptual and stylistic influences from its western borders.

There is a considerable variety in Chinese sabers (peidao) - blade shapes, decor, and most importantly, their functional role and how they play in the hand. The diversity is greater than in the world of samuari swords, and is exceeded perhaps only by the swords of the Indian subcontinent.
Phil

kevin (the prof)
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:34 pm

Thanks Phil.
It is the variety of the Chinese tradition that makes it so appealing, that and the dearth of modern smiths working in the US in this tradition.

Japanese swords are overly-represented, and have very little stylistic flexibility. The array of shapes from the Chinese world of edged weapons is beautiful and daunting. I spend at least as much time reading and studying as I do hammering and filing.

kc

Scott M. Rodell
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Fri Jul 15, 2011 7:35 am

Dear Kevin, Welcome to the forum...

My good friend, the well known swordsmith, Paul Champagne, use to say, "If I was designing fighter jets, I'd have to at least learn to fly to understand the needs of the fighter pilot. If I'm going to forge swords, I'm going to have at least understand the basics of swordsmanship." When he came to my seminars, he explained that he wasn't trying to become a skilled swordsman, he just wanted to be a better blade smith. And Paul, God rest his soul, he is sorely missed, was one of the best while he was alive, a man truly & totally dedicated to his art. In addition to having studied with several sword masters, Paul also spent a great deal of time readIng & studying period examples of old blades. Once he flew down to visit & we spent the entire day measuring swords & studying cross sections. The simple reason for this was obvious. Smiths in the past made swords, that is weapons that had to perform in combat, not pretty objects for collectors that will never get a scratch. Paul wasn't looking to reinvent the wheel, he was studying wheels built by past masters.

Paul was also a serious cutter. It's funny, I've become well known for my cutting work for having been the first to bring test cutting back into Chinese swordsmanship (it wasn't so long ago that you'd hear people tell you as absolute gospel that straight swords don't cut) but when I had a question about cutting, I'd call Paul. He tested most of the swords he forged to the point of distraction.

In short, if you want to be a great smith, I strongly suggest you follow in Paul Champagne's foot steps. You can go wrong following a master like Paul was...

Nik
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by Nik » Fri Jul 15, 2011 9:01 am

Trips to museums, and obtaining books with well-documented historical samples, are also very helpful in determining styles. Modern remakes don't necessarily have to be very accurate, they are usually made rather closely after a certain museum piece in outside appearance, but vary a lot from the original in weight and balance.

BTW, your blade looks nice, from the first glance, regarding the forging and hardening quality. The shape of the blades back seems to differ from what I saw yet a bit. Don't know if you have access to a museum, and are allowed to measure the thickness at crucial points with a caliper. The Klingenmuseum near my location in Solingen is a bit nitpicking about allowing access to the blades, without connections.

Scott M. Rodell
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Sat Jul 16, 2011 7:44 am

Nik wrote:Trips to museums, and obtaining books...

BTW, your blade looks nice..
Nik's suggest is an excellent one. I would add going to antique arms shows to that. Museums are great, but everything is behind glass & you can't handle the swords. At antique arms shows, you can pick up most pieces. There aren't many other places where you can handle hundreds or even sometimes, thousands of swords for different cultures all in one day.

& I have to agree, your blade does look quite nice...

kevin (the prof)
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Sun Jul 17, 2011 10:47 pm

Scott and Nick - thanks.
Scott - I am well aware of Paul Champagne. He is very well regarded in the bladesmithing community. Each year since his departure, there has been some mention and memorium of him at the Ashokan gathering, here in New England. I am essentially following in his footsteps, but many, many miles behind. I really just began.

I am active in bladesmithing communities and gatherings, and it was a desire to connect with people who know and use these types of swords that caused me to come here. I definitely appreciate the advice, and I had not thought of there being antique sword gatherings outside of museums. You are correct, of course, I did not realize when I began bladesmithing but I need to learn some basics and begin test cutting with my own blades. Spend some time with some more experienced and learn more, "hands on" with good swords. I have been relying on feedback from people with cutting experience, but it does seem obvious that it would be even better if I knew a bit about cutting myself (not just academically, but the muscle-kinesthetic aspects).

I have been and continue to visit museums (going to London in a couple of weeks).

Thank you for this forum and for your time. If you come across good resources or learn of gatherings, especially in New England, please think of me and drop me an email.

Kevin

kevin (the prof)
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Sun Jul 17, 2011 11:00 pm

And yes - this blade is shaped after a picture of a blade from the net (Paul Chen's site). Only, I added a small fuller. It is not carefully matched to a real example or anything. As I said, I am just beginning to really learn about Chinese swords (and I guess I will need to include a little swordmanship). These last few years, I have been mostly focused on learning to build a good blade, in general. It has only been for the past year that I have become attracted to this historical tradition. Time, it will all take good time. I usually make a practice piece or two for each "formal" one I complete to study different techniques. Each takes a few months. I may or may not continue to require the "practice" pieces along the way. I don't know the answer to that, yet. No matter, it is a fun and engaging art.

I have begun smelting my own steel, as well. In this way, I hope to come to understand the process that came during the true heyday of swordmaking.

I like the quote from Paul, by the way. I don't think I will ever compare to the smith's whose work defended their friends and family, but I am going to do the best I can to learn. As Michael Bell once said about swordsmithing - it all takes a tremendous amount of practice, but that's no problem, because practice is so much FUN!

take care,
Kevin

Scott M. Rodell
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:18 am

kevin (the prof) wrote:...I need to learn some basics and begin test cutting with my own blades. Spend some time with some more experienced and learn more, "hands on" with good swords... If you come across good resources or learn of gatherings, especially in New England...
I teach several seminars a year in New England, in Vermont & in Maine... sometimes there is test cutting practice on the Friday evenings before the Swordsmanship Seminar. You can find more information, local contacts, dates at: http://www.grtc.org/category/events/

& you can find general inforamtion about our program in Chinese Swordsmanship at: http://www.grtc.org/classes/chinese-swo ... um/#more-5

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kevin (the prof)
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Re: new forumite with question

Post by kevin (the prof) » Thu Aug 04, 2011 7:22 pm

thank you, Scott.

I am just back from trip to British Museum and Royal Armouries at Leeds. Not a lot of great Chinese stuff, especially swords. After emailing with Phillip, I also now know that some of what is there is poorly-labelled.

trying.

thanks,

Kevin

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