Swords, no sorcery, part 1

From the moment I read my first Conan story by Robert E Howard, I had an interest in swords. Heck, it might have gone back to when I read “The Song of Roland” as a child.

As a teen I wanted to take up fencing, but unlike most sports, it wasn’t taught in school. Maybe it was and maybe my mom didn’t think it was a good idea. I don’t recall. I do recall that settled on other martial arts, generally of the non-weapons variety — judo, tai chi, and tae Kwon do.

Not being able to play with them in real life, I wrote fiction about them, some of it the sword and sorcery type.

But I never thought of collecting them. For one thing, where would I put them in the Navy? And it’s not a cheap hobby, as I’m finding out.

It wasn’t until I took my family to the renaissance faire that I realized, I really wanted a sword. I mentioned my desire to my wife who bought a couple off of eBay. Neither of us knew any better.

So for years I had two swords. One was a Scottish claymore style. The other, I have no idea what it is. I assumed maybe it was a Viking sword. What did I know?

Nothing as it turned out. Recently I got an ADHD bug up my ass. For those who don’t know what that is, that’s where we sufferers of that disorder suddenly become obsessed with something and dive in head first into a hobby or interest and we become consumed by whatever it is.

So I suddenly wanted more — a couple weeks ago. And I watched eBay and saw some good prices, and pulled the trigger.

And then, I started researching. I know, research should have come first, but I wanted them now! Only after I made my purchases did I discover my error.

I found a lot of good information on swords online and discovered that the swords I had were known as wall-hangers or SLOs (Sword-Like Objects) and were good for nothing more than display. And not even that in the case of the two I already had.

Aside from the fact that the swords are made of stainless steel (good for knives, not so good for swords), the two swords are actually scale models, so to speak, of the real swords.

Both have blades of about 22 inches, whereas a “battle ready” production Scottish Highland Claymore is generally a two-handed weapon with an overall length of over 55 inches and a blade length of 41 inches. Here’s an example of one over at Kult of Athena:

Albion Scottish Claymore

As you can see, that one is nothing like the one I own.

My SOLs

So drat it all. I just realized I’d purchased more wall-hangers because I didn’t research my topic, which is really unlike me. Sometimes I’ll spend months in the research phase just enjoying that as an end to itself. But here I jumped in head first without looking.

So what did I find out, aside from the fact that eBay offerings of swords are generally crap?

I found out that quality swords, not SLOs, are made of carbon steel — generally either 1045, 1060, or 1095, which represents the percentage of carbon within the steel. The higher the better. Stainless steel is OK for knives and blades under a foot in length, but the steel is too brittle for anything longer. Carbon offers strength and flex, something you need for a sword if your going to be doing anything other than hangin it on a wall.

Real swords have a solid tang–the part that isn’t the blade that the hilt (handle) surrounds. A quality tang is actually a continuation of the blade, slightly narrower. This is important, because some swords have what is known as a “rat tail” which is a small thin piece of metal welded onto the blade. In other words, it’s a terrifyingly weak point of the sword and if you were to actually hit something with it, it could snap off. Hell. it could snap off under forceful swinging and the blade could helicopter away from you toward who knows what or whom.

If you don’t believe me, here’s the infamous Home Shopping Network Katana Incident. Keep in mind that although my wall-hangers are not sharpened, for some reason decorative katana’s often are. Why? I don’t know, but it’s like having a 2 or 3 foot long sharpened butcher’s knife in your hand. Now imagine that blade breaking off and striking something. Now watch the video.

Think about that until I return with Part 2.

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