The Basics of Making of an SCA legal sword of the one handed, basket hilted, Ansteoran style as rendered by Caladin Ironhearth esq.
(with instructions on the double triggered style he prefers)
Step 1. - Selecting rattan.
††††††††† Your should always select rattan with the following criteria in mind. Your rattan should be straight, have few/no cracks in the skin from drying, and of the weight/ flexibility you prefer. For durability, I recommend a slender, dense piece of rattan. You can visually tell the density of rattan by looking a the size of the pores at the cut ends of the rattan. Larger pores equal a lighter/faster/more flexible/shorter lived sword. Fighting with a too light sword can, in my opinion, lead to arm and shoulder trouble, as you have to work harder to get people to call your blows, despite your increased speed. Plus you are spending too much of your time making new swords and getting used to them, as they pulp out faster. Other factors to look for in grading the quality of rattan are stiffness, hardness/smoothness of the skin, and the thickness/density of the non porous layer immediately below the skin of the rattan.
If you buy rattan over the phone, remember this: 1.25" is SCA minimum diameter for a weapon, and buying 1.25" rattan gives you rattan of an average dia of 1.25". This is okay for swords as tape usually adds about .125" (1/8") to the overall weapon diameter, but is not acceptable for spears, poles or other weapons where there will not be tape over the entire weapon surface.
I deal exclusively with "Franks Cane and Rush" in California (714-847-0707, http://www.franksupply.com/ ), who are supposedly the primary importer of rattan for the US, meaning that most rattan you buy from other places was bought from them in the first place.
For a new fighter I HIGHLY recommend buying your rattan the following way.
Ask for "1 3/8" straight dense rattan for the sca. "
Frankís deals with enough SCAíers that he sets aside special rattan which is superior for our uses. He also periodically gets shipment of an even better grade of rattan, so ask about it. Heís incredibly cool, and his sales ladies are nice too.
Have them cut the 9í piece so that one length is under 6í and the other is about the length you want for a sword (Iíll mention again this later, but for now assume 3í). This is because of the UPS shipping regulations which charge Way more to ship an object which is over 6 feet in length. (If for some reason you want 2, 6í pieces they sell 12í staves too...). Itíll come to your door for about 15$ a 9í stave. Unless, of course, the price went up since I bought it last.
Step 2. - Cleaning up the rattan.
I really donít know if this is a necessary step, but I like it, it makes me feel better about how well the tape sticks to the rattan, how it looks and minesculy how much it weights.
When rattan is dried and prepared for shipping, they burn off the leaves leaving the characteristic brown segment lines on the rattan, I found that when my tape peeled it usually started near or on one of these and that the brown rings were brittle and usually still stuck to the tape.
I remove them before making a sword thusly.
Using a sharp tool (I prefer a light hatchet or a heavy knife) starting at the top (skinny) end of the rattan a place the edge of the tool at as shallow an angle as I can and still have the edge against the rattan. I then slide it up and down against the rattan quickly while rotating it with my other hand. (Which is above the axe, as I find that fingers aid in the taping of the sword later). This cuts off the burnt bits leaving small roundish cuts on the rattan. Repeat this process till you reach the end of the rattan. now wipe the rattan off with a damp cloth to remove any dust oil etc. which is on it. (Be sure itís completely dry before taping!)
Step 3. - Cutting Rattan to length
††††††††† Iím assuming you know how to cut the rattan with a saw of your choice, other than reminding you to cut the end perpendicular to the edge of the rattan, all you really want to know is how long to cut your rattan. I recommend the length of your sword arm (shoulder to finger tip), plus the length of your sword hand(wrist to tip). Which works out to be about the same as the length from your nose to finger tip, which usually works out to be about 36 inches. As an added check, once you have cut the rattan, and hold it like a sword against the side of your body starting off the ground and lowering it till the tip touches the ground it should touch about 4" in front of you foot, or less, including the option of not touching at all. Longer swords can hit the ground while fighting, which is quite a suprize. Of course as you begin to fight you will add or remove length to match you personal style, I fight with a 39" sword, one of my squire brothers with a 34" sword.
When measuring rattan swords measure the whole piece of rattan, not just the blade as in real swords, cause, itís easier to remember what length to tell Frank to cut your rattan that way.
Step 4. - Rounding the tip.
††††††††† There are varying theories on how much you should round the tip of your sword, because the more your round it, the more pulp you expose. This makes the tip of your sword last less long, and correspondingly effecting the life of your entire sword.
1. Donít round it , the marshals never notice, true, at least here, but the sharp edges will quickly cut the tape, leaving a round bit flipping off the end, which exposes your rattan to beating, and is technically also a violation of rules, which require the whole surface of the sword to be covered with tape, and can get you thrown off the field in search of duct tape. Besides, It really hurts extra to get hit with on of these tips, and is more likely to cause injury.
2. Barely round it , just enough not to cut the tape. This is okay if you are going to be putting a pokietip on your sword (which Iíll get to in another article), but if you are not I recommend fully rounding it.
3. Fully rounded, this has the most exposed pulp, but is safest for your opponent and least likely to expose rattan, through tape wasting.
How do I Round it? I strongly recommend a powersander, preferably a bench mounted one, but if used, power saws, sanders, hand saws, rasps files, sandpaper(yuck) and the ever popular run around dragging it on the concrete or blacktop rotating the rattan till rounded (If you are this tool challenged, stop between #2 and # three in rounding) still work, with varying amounts of effort and silliness.
Which end do I round? Obviously this is to your preference. if the sword seems tip heavy, round the skinny end, conversely, if whippy, round the fat end. If in doubt, round the skinny end, as you can add weight later with tape.
Step 5. - Cutting the handle.††
I strongly recommend Cutting the handle down, as the more flattened shape provides MUCH more control, and fatigues the hand much less to hold. Basically you should cut it to the shape you feel comfortable with. My Squire Brother and I cut our handles as shown in the figure, with the notch, but while I use the notch for my thumb, He uses it for his index finger rotating the blade 180 degrees along itís long axis. Be careful not to cut to deeply or to sharply (angle wise) at the blade end, as this can lead to weakness and early sword failure.
You can cut a sword down simply with a saw and a prying tool, simply mark the ends of the handle you want to cut down, saw perpendicularly in about 1/4 of the way on each side and pry out the resulting slab. But I prefer to shape it as shown with a wood working tool as used to round the tip (yay belt sanders!).
NOTE: It is also a good idea to sand a small flat spot on the bottom edge of the rattan for the tabs of the basket hilt to help it seat more firmly when attached.
Adding the Mock Pommel (optional) If you look at the diagram of the cut down sword hilt you will notice sticking out from the bottom a small hook, which most fencers will recognize as a trigger. Well this triggers purpose is to simulate the period practice of having the pommel of your sword close enough to your hand to rest your pinkie against it, without letting the pinkie get close enough to the end of the basket to get hit (owwie!). All period sword with trigger that I found used them between the 1st and second or 2nd and 3rd fingers, but I found that a Rigid trigger here could hurt your hand when thrusting, so I use a soft trigger to emulate it. (see triggers or lanyards later). I sand a small flat spot on the underside of the handle so the trigger will attach firmly and flush with the surface of the rattan. I attach the Mock Pommel with two oval head wood screws inserted in counter sunk holes in the metal, which go into predrilled guide holes in the rattan. I glue the screws in with epoxy, as Iíd rather not have them fall off, but this make them difficult to reuse. I also apply a layer of epoxy under the trigger.
I make the rigid trigger out of a piece of aluminum which I bend to the desired curve and then dish the curved bits for rigidity and comfort (makes it look more like a gun trigger rounded away from the finger) .
If I went too fast, give me a holler, but you should probably avoid the mock pommel till you are more tool fluent / stick fluent.
Step 6. - Taping the sword.
††††††††† Once you have cut the sword to length you must tape it. Remember to always keep the tape as tight as you can, and as perfectly stuck down as you can avoiding bubbles and wrinkles in the taping job (but donít worry a few usually get in any way)
Start with a single layer of tape along the striking edges of the sword. Start at the Handle end of the sword, on the top. Run the tape up over the end and back down to the hilt and fold down the bits which stick up over the rounded tip... Next add two more layers at about 45 degrees to this piece which will over lap to form a double layer over the first piece of tape and a single layer on the sides. If using narrow tape, add another single layer to cover the sides of the sword. Next starting at the tip of the sword start wrapping the sword with a spiral of tape. Overlap the tape so that each wrap around covers half the of the layer before (adding another double layer) You can continue this all the way to the end of the sword if you like, but I stop between 1/2 and 1/3 of the way down, as I feel the protection is not needed any further down. when you end the wrapping, go a time or three around the same spot to anchor down the end of the tape.
If the sword is not too heavy, I recommend adding another single lengthwise layer over
this one (cover all sides).
Finally the last step is to tape around the tip of the sword only overlapping 100% with 4-6 layers of tape. This protects the tip of the sword most which is usually where a sword pulps out first.
Step 7. - Affixing the Basket.
††††††††† Align the basket as you desire at the appropriate end of the sword (duh!). This is once again a matter of taste. many people mount the basket exactly perpendicular to the cutting edge of the sword. I recommend this to beginners. I personal rotate the basket about 15 degrees clockwise, as I find that this slight imbalance of the sword makes it easier to hang on to the sword when fighting. Others rotate it even more. Play with it!
Once you have the basket aligned as you desire, run about three layers of strapping tape around both tabs of the basket (If your basket does not have two tabs (rings, bolt holes etc.)), ask the maker how to best mount that basket.) This will hold it in place for the final attachment. You can either use a hose clamp, which is tightened, tapped all around with a hammer and retightened and then taped over, or 11 or more additional layers of strapping tape to affix the basket. Often you will see the hilt end taped on, and the blade end clamped on but I just tape both ends most of the time.
Triggers or lanyards. I use a two finger trigger made of a loop of rope which I cut to length and then tie to the bars of the basket hilt in place of a lanyard. If the basket is solid, or the bars are inconveniently placed, the trigger can be taped to the sword blade and inserted through the hole by the front tab of the basket. If you use this method, use a hose clamp or two over the tab and trigger to hold the blade end on.
Triggers can be solid, as in the mock pommel discussed earlier, or soft, as in this case. soft trigger can be made of leather, ribbon, rope, belt webbing, or anything else you desire. Find what is right for you.
If you use a lanyard, I prefer a simple loop tied to the hilt end of the sword, which is long enough to allow full mobility of the sword, but not much longer, I wear the lanyard at my wrist. Other people prefer longer lanyards, or lanyards which have a slip knot, which tightens around the wrist, to prevent losing the sword. Figure out what you prefer and go for it.
Step 8. - Coloring the sword.
††††††††† Basically there are only a few acceptable choices in coloring you sword. Iíll enumerate them and there pros & cons here quickly.
††††††††† 1. Duct Tape - in a single layer, lengthwise of the rattan.
†††††††††††††††††† Pros†† - Right color, easy, already have materials, everybody does it.
†††††††††††††††††† Cons† - Heavy, adds no real protection to the rattan
††††††††† 2. Colored strapping tape -
†††††††††††††††††† Pros † - Light, protective, easy
†††††††††††††††††† Cons† - Iíve never found it, except already on boxes...
††††††††† 3. Uncolored strapping tape-
†††††††††††††††††† Pros † - Already done, light protective , easy
†††††††††††††††††† Cons† - Ugly
††††††††† 4. Chrome or other spray paint - (apply 24 hours before using sword (trust me))
†††††††††††††††††† Pros † - Way light, Looks great, Easy
†††††††††††††††††† Cons† - Need to buy, flakes off with use and must be reapplied.
†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †Really flakes off a poky tip quickly.
Step 9. Chortle with Glee
You now have your very own sword, whack with it mightily and merrily!
(But I usually let the paint dry first... Itís a bummer to get out of a surcoat. )