In the shifting political landscape of late 15th century Italy, war was a good profession to be in. Since the middle ages, the Italian city-states of Venice, Florence and Genoa had relied on contracting foreign mercenaries to defend their wealth from jealous neighbors. These mercenary companies increased in size and effectiveness, and before long, gained a reputation for driving hard bargains on their hapless employers. The condottieri who lead these professional military companies became fabulously wealthy, many of whom entered politics ostensibly to give their former employers an even harder time.
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio was an exemplar captain of fortune; he fought for the Florentines, the French, the Neapolitans, the French again, and ended his illustrious career as the Governor of Milan. Towards the end of his life he commissioned one Leonardo Da Vinci to make a statue of him which was never completed, and his brief Wikipedia page mentions that his “behavior as governor caused him to fall in disgrace”. That’s an invitation for juicy gossip if I ever saw one, but the details unfortunately still elude me.
While his misbehaviors seem to have been forgotten, he did leave behind a stunning example of a renaissance arming sword. I have never seen the sword in person, but the sheer craftsmanship of the piece is unmistakable. A scene involving a band of satyrs from classical mythology plays out in a fine layer of gold applied at the base of the blade. The hilt furniture has similarly been gilded; panels of golden foliage run down the grip and blossom into a garden of flowers adorning the face of the pommel. The blade is broad, designed for great cleaving strokes, with two expansive fullers running down the length towards a lethal point. Unlike some of the less modest swords residing at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, its simple profile betrays deadly intent; this was a soldier’s weapon and it was made to kill.
To recreate this sword, I started by re-purposing an old type XVI model made by the swordsmith Angus Trim. Early on in his profession, Gus spent significant time at various museums taking measurements of antique swords. He collected a wealth of data which he drew from over the years of his prolific career, and developed an acute understanding of how a sword should “feel” in the hand. The XVI is rather petite in comparison to the broad profile of the Trivulzio sword, and while it would have lacked the ferocious cutting power of the latter, it compensates for it with its nimble nature. The blade has a liveliness to it (as Gus is fond of saying) and moves with eager confidence, responding instantly to its wielder’s intent. There is also an intuitive sense of location when controlling the point in a thrust; your hand is almost guided by the sword as it follows behind its deadly tip. It might not cleave through the heavy padding of a battlefield combatant, but it would have been more than sufficient for civilian self-defense or settling matters of honour.
Gus is widely known for crafting perfectly balanced swords, but not particularly for giving them an immaculate finish. Polishing a sword is a time-consuming labor of patience, and its importance varies among different sword makers. Many of Gus’ swords, (mainly his earlier models) are affectionately described as “munition grade” and would have made proud sidearms for seasoned grunts. “Munition grade” however, wouldn’t cut it for the princely stature of the sword I had in mind. I started with 120 grit sandpaper and progressively moved up to 600 grit, before deciding I needed to start over from scratch. It took me another attempt and roughly twenty hours before I found the right technique for an acceptably smooth uniform polish. As with most efforts done by hand, the result wasn’t perfect (and likely wouldn’t impress a governor of Milan), but it was as close as I could personally manage.
For the hilt furniture, cast bronze was the only option (gilded steel was out of the question :|). While bronze was a common material for sword pommels, it was rarely used for the crossguard of a sword. The job of the crossguard is to protect the sword hand, and bronze (being much softer than iron and steel) would have held up poorly in combat. However since I’m happily not in the habit of getting into sword fights, this wasn’t a big issue for me. I’d worked with Artcast Inc in Canada before where they did a wonderful job on a previous hilt set, and I was eager to work with them again. They’re one of a handful of foundries that take a customer’s 3d model, print it in resin and directly cast the printed original. Normally as a first step, the foundry would make a silicone mould of the original part to produce wax copies. Afterwards, the actual casting process begins with the wax parts being dipped in a ceramic slurry, baked in an oven to burn out the wax and create a cavity, and finally pouring bronze into the cavity to create a perfect bronze copy of the original. The expensive first step can be skipped when you can directly cast the original part, which is excellent for projects where you don’t need multiple copies (and don’t mind destroying the 3d printed original). There are some drawbacks, I’ve heard of castable resin failing if the burn-out temperature and schedule aren’t just right, but Artcast seems to have it figured out. The grip panels were cast by Shapeways (also from 3d models I designed); they happen to be more cost-effective with smaller parts. I find that the slight difference in tone between the two sets of bronze provides a pleasing contrast in the hilt.
I had originally planned to carve the grip from camel bone, but found myself woefully ill equipped for such an undertaking (both in tools and skill). It occurred to me that a better alternative would be a composite grip consisting of a 3d printed core with mother of pearl panels glued betwen the bronze panels. Luckily the option to design the core in 3d afforded me the precision I wasn’t able to achieve by hand.
Unfortunately, mother of pearl is a fickle material to work with due to its fragility. I quickly learnt to operate the paper guillotine in my office to rough out the panels in away that avoided chipping, but when it came to sanding the panels for the final fit, the slightest unsteadiness was punished with a splintered fragment flying off. I had hoped for a flawless finish but on my second attempt I realized that that was expecting too much from the material. I’ve come to appreciate the subtle chips and cracks at the corners of the panels, they fit well with the aged look of the guard and pommel and contribute an aura of antiquity.
Once everything else was ready, it was time to glue together all the bronze parts and assemble the hilt! I unwisely started doing this without wearing gloves (despite the label on the epoxy tube insisting I should) but thankfully things weren’t too messy. Epoxy is a very very strong glue, but it also takes a long time to set allowing me to avoid the hilarity of gluing my hand to a sword. Once the hilt is in place and the glue is set, the final step is to hammer the end of the tang over the pommel to permanently pin the hilt into place. This can take several minutes of gentle tapping, but taking it slow was definitely preferable to accidentally hitting the pommel and bruising it.
And there you have it! This has one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever undertaken and while I’m immensely proud of the result, the journey has been a humbling one. I set out to create a masterpiece, but in the process found myself a long way before being a master of the craft. There are still many miles ahead and I look forward to sharing my progress along the way. Thanks for reading!
Update (4/3/2017): There is now a new grip option inspired by Strider’s sword from the Lord of the Rings movies. Grips are also automatically scaled now to accommodate thicker tangs.
I’m very proud to present an online tool for generating a 3D printable grip model! The grips are designed to match up with Printed Armoury fittings, but you’re all more than welcome to use this tool for whatever project tickles your fancy.
By and large, most tang measurements should work but there are some limits. In the case where the tang is too wide or thick to generate a sufficiently strong grip, the webpage should reject your submission instead of giving you a bad model. However I’m not 100% sure that this is always the case, so please get in touch if you have issues with the tool. Apart from that, enjoy! 🙂
Suontaka swords are for sale! See final paragraph for details.
When we think of vikings, we often imagine a brutish northman with a propensity for violence and a fondness for horned helmets. Their gods are similarly blood-thirsty and capricious, acting with a set of curious principles in their bizarre and wonderful mythos. For over 200 years, Vikings were the scourge of Europe, raiding and pillaging where they went. Yet despite their reputation as harbingers of destruction, the scandanavian people were also master craftsmen. Their uniquely alien culture still lives in the crowded intricacies of their surviving work. One of my favorite examples is the sword found in a female viking grave in Suontaka, Finland. Every inch of the piece is brimming with glorious detail, threatening to overflow the margins of its given frame. The modern reproduction by the esteemed swordsmith Rob Miller, is one of the most spell-binding swords I’ve ever seen (link here).
My own journey to create this historical reproduction began back in April 2014. I was inspired by the work of Nils Andersson’s Suontaka project who was nice enough to describe the steps he took in great detail. I had a rough idea of how I could start, but at the time I didn’t have any experience in 3D modelling or vector graphics. The vector graphic pattern of the knotwork proved straightforward enough, but I had no clue on how to give my 2D representation a 3D form.
I ended up asking a friend to help me out with the initial 3D model, and he was kind enough to do it for a small fee.The 3D knotwork details on the guard and the pommel was too much trouble for him so the pattern on the model was completely flat.
Because of this, once the plastic parts were printed, I had to hand carve the knotwork details myself. This took several hours and gave me a deep admiration for the craftsmen that choose to carve the original completely from scratch.
Up until then, I had planned to commission a local foundry to create wax copies from moulds to fit a particular sword blade (the albion type X bare blade). It occurred to me that there was opportunity here to offer my designs to a wider audience. I started talking to a number of notable sword manufacturers, but we weren’t able to come to a satisfactory arrangement. Since I didn’t have an affordable supplier who could deliver bronze copies of my parts, I would need to license out my design, and no one was particularly happy (or in a financial position) to fork out cash for a licensing fee.
I ended up shelving the project for a while, until I met a sword distributor by the name of Rob who happened to also live in Canberra. He got me in touch with a foundryman in Pennsylvania who was very excited about what I was doing and offered to help make moulds and bronze casting at just over half the price of what the local foundry was charging. Rob also helped me open up a line of communication with Sonny, the owner and operator of Valiant Armoury, and it so happened he had a new production blade that would be perfect for the project. By this time, my 3D modelling skills had vastly improved. I decided to redo the 3D model I had for the Suontaka project to include the rippling overlaps in the knotwork, and also to create slots that would perfectly fit the new sword blade. The new parts were printed and given a finish by John (our foundryman in PA), and sent over to Sonny for a test fit (and as it turned out, also a photoshoot).
They were then sent back to John who made moulds and waxes, and cast the copies in bronze.
The work doesn’t end there though. Due to the high detail density on the piece, little air bubbles are trapped during casting, and they end up as little lumps embedded in the bronze. It takes a steady hand and several hours to work them out of the metal.
John does an exceptional job of it, of course.
It’s taken a while for Sonny to bring all the parts together (he’s added his own bells and whistles to the project in the mean time) but things are finally beginning to take shape! We’ve decided to use the Hanwei Tinker Viking bare blade as a base for this production run, but if we make more the in future we’ll probably use the blade of Valiant Armoury’s Norseman sword.
We’re very excited to begin taking orders for the available 4 swords that are currently reaching the end of production. Each sword will come with a scabbard and belt suspension in colours of your choosing for $1050 + 30 shipping CONUS (international buyers please get in contact for a quote). The sword will be shipped within 3 weeks of payment. Please contact email@example.com place an order.
Since the production of the fittings are costly and time consuming, it’s unclear if we will be doing more of these in the future. We’re hopeful that a market for our Suontaka sword exists and that John can dedicate the time and effort to make more, but for now we can’t promise anything.
I’m pleased to announce that the complex longsword parts I promised are finally in stock! We’re naming it the Reisläufer in honour of the fearsome Swiss mercenaries who were so good at their job, they caused bidding wars between rival monarchs. More about the swiss pikemen in this hilarious and informative article.
These fittings are not designed for the Hanwei Tinker bare blades (the pommel is a bit too heavy for that, weighing in at 10oz), but it should pair nicely with the HT GSoW, or one of the Albion bare blades.
If that’s not enough, we’re also introducing the Warden, an arming sword set that shares the same pommel as the Reisläufer.
The design is loosely based on Boromir’s sword from the Fellowship of the Ring movie, but it wouldn’t look too out of place on the hip of a swaggering medieval mercenary captain.
Here are the results of a new surface treatment I’m trying out with the foundry. Naturally the new finish will come at increased cost, but I imagine a lot of you would find the difference (around $20) vastly more cost effective than doing the polish yourself. New stock will be available in the LG Martial Arts Store around May/June.
Also we will likely be doing the next run of fittings in mild steel. Whether or not we repeat the run will mostly be down to how easy they are to maintain (seeing as mild steels picks up rust fairly quickly).
Finally there have been a number of complaints on the fit of Printed Armoury guards, some found them too tight, but most considered them too loose. I’m going ask the foundry to adjust the moulds so that the guards will be overly tight and allow customers to adjust the width of the slot themselves.
Press and drag the mouse wheel to rotate the view.
Hold shift while pressing the mouse wheel to move the view without rotating the angle of the view.
Press 1 on the numpad to return to a front facing view, press 3 on the numpad to get a side view, and press 7 on the numpad to get a birds-eye view.
Pressing 5 on the numpad toggles between an orthogonal view and a wide lens view (best to keep things orthogonal though).
Right click to select an object.
This is the location of the selected object in the 3d space.
This is the name of the object.
These are the dimensions of the objects in millimeters.
These are the “tabs” in the blender file, sort of like how you have tabs in Google Chrome or Internet Explorer. The first tab are the models for the longsword grip and longsword tangs, the second are the models for the bastard, and the third tab is for the EMSH grip and tangs.
Creating a custom grip
First you’ll need to put the fittings on your blade and take two measurements:
Slot width at guard
Right now the grip model is just a solid object with no slot through it; we will need to select a tang to make a slot through it.
First, make a copy of the grip by right clicking the grip object and then pressing “control-c”. You will notice it says “copied selected objects to buffer” at the top of the screen. Paste the object by pressing “control-v”. You will notice that it says “Objects pasted from buffer” at the top, and the outline of the object is red instead of yellow. Click and hold the red arrow (surrounded by the red square in the picture) and drag it across the screen so it’s away from the other objects.
You will notice that the outline of the object is still red. Right click the object to properly select it, (the outline will turn yellow). Notice that the location of the object has changed since you dragged it across the screen. Change the X coordinate of the location to a nice round number like 100 so it’s easierto align objects. in the future.
Change the length of the grip by changing the Z number under “Dimensions”. In this case we’ve changed it to 156mm tall.
Since there’s a lot of variation in tang measurements, I’ve curated a number of tangs that have different widths at the bottom, but the same width at the top. These tangs have the width written in their object name, but you can also tell how wide they are by looking at the dimension numbers after you select the object. If the customer has measured the width of the tang at the guard slot correctly, you will want to make sure the slot is at least 0.4mm wider, as 3d printed slots tend to shrink a little a bit after cooling.
ADVANCED: You can adjust the width of the tang by changing the dimensions directly, but make sure you only make the tang wider, and never shorter, as this could make the slot too tight at the top. Remember to change the tang dimensions back after you finish using it.
Make a copy of the tang, and change its X coordinate location to 100 (the same as where the newly pasted grip is). Change the dimension of the tang so it’s 1+ whatever the required length of the grip is. In this case that would be 156 + 1 = 157.
Now right click the grip and click on the wrench icon on the far right column. Click the “Add Modifier” drop down selector, and select “Boolean”.
Change the “Operation” to difference, and select the tang object you copied. You can tell it was copied because it has “.001” appended to the end of its name. Click Apply.
Drag the model away and rotate the view to check if the slot has been created.
If the model looks ok, go to File -> Export -> Stl and export your 3d grip model 🙂 When you’ve successfully exported the model, it’s a good idea to delete the grip and the copied tang and leave the blender file exactly as you found it.
Create an account on 3dhubs and get your grip printed 🙂 You can find a 3d printer near where you live and just pick it up, but if really don’t know where to start, I can definitely recommend this guy: https://www.3dhubs.com/washington/hubs/ara.
My recommended options for printing would be:
resolution of 100-150 microns (although 200 microns may be fine too),
using ABS plastic as the material.
Generally you will be able to print a longsword grip at around $25, a bastard grip at $18 and a EMSH grip at around $12.
This swiss longsword design has been in the works for some time but I’ve finally got it finalized. The pommel will weigh roughly 10-11oz making it too heavy for any of the Hanwei Tinker bare blades, so this one is mainly for custom swordsmiths who want some gorgeous out of the box fittings.
Price tag has yet to be finalized but will be in the range of $100-120.
As a big fan of Game of Thrones, I had to do a take on the Jaime Lannister sword, and I’m pretty pleased to show off my initial design. I was hoping I could find a couple of swordsmiths who might be interested in buying the bronze guard and pommel for this design. Price is still up in the air atm but it should be close to 150usd for the set (I’ll be be working with a local Australian foundry instead of my partners in China who do my Hanwei Tinker fittings).
If you know any smiths who might be interested, please let them know and have them get in contact with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I currently have 3 spare viscount prototypes (one with a Zurich pommel) that are looking for a happy home. Customer can select a grip colour of their choice.
The total price of the package is $275 + $25 shipping CONUS. A deposit of $100 will be required to reserve the prototype, and the remaining $200 to be paid in roughly 2 weeks on completion of the sword.
Please email email@example.com for further enquiries.