What is That Part Called? Basic Sword Anatomy From "DUH" To "Oh, Really?"
Some swords are simple; some swords are amazingly complex, but they all have the same basic parts. Here's a rundown of the parts, from top to bottom (assuming you're holding it correctly), inside and outside, and side to side:
Pommel: The knob-like, butt end of a sword that holds the handle together. The pommel is appropriately sized to provide the proper counterweight to the blade to enhance balance and maneuverability. The pommel may be secured by "peening" (which means that part of the Tang is extended past the pommel and hammered flat to overlap the pommel) or screwed tight with a nut on a threaded tang. Sometimes erroneously called a "pummel" (remember this little ditty: you can pummel with a pommel, but you can't pommel with a pummel).
Tang: The part of the blade that is inserted into the grip. The proper construction of the tang is critically important to make a sword fully functional. On a battle-worthy sword, the tang is wide and a continuous part of the blade, not a seperate, welded-on piece.
Grip: Extensive research has revealed that this part of the sword is called the grip because... this is where you grip the sword. Grips may be made of wood, metal and on modern swords, plastic (which is actually a great material because it's dimensionally stable, impervious to moisture, and isn't affected by temperature). Some grips are wood covered with leather or wire-wrapping, some grips are cast or carved metal. On traditional Japanese swords, the grip is wood, wrapped in Rayskin, and overwrapped with cotton, silk or leather cord.
Guard: This is the part between the grip and the blade and as the name implies, guards the hand from an opponent's blade. Guard designs range from simple, straight crossguards to knuckle bows to elaborate baskets that cover the whole hand.
Quillon: Either arm of a crossguard.
Hilt: Pommel + Grip + Guard = Hilt. Hilts have been created in an astonishing variety of shapes and sizes, from the spartan wood hilts of the Roman Gladius to the artistic and exquisite swept hilts of the Renaissance.
Furniture: A general term that refers to the parts of the hilt.
Blade: Here's the "DUH" part: the blade is the part of the sword that extends from the hilt and does the cutting and/or sticking. The "Oh, really?" part: not all sword blades will cut. Katanas, sabers and cutlasses cut on one side, most straight European swords cut on both sides, but the rapier cuts on neither side. Its blade is thick and rigid, with no cutting edges to speak of, and made exclusively for poking holes.
Of course, most swords we think of have steel blades, but there are also historical blades made of copper, bronze and even Sawfish snouts.
Ricasso: Yep, the blade also has parts. The Ricasso is the part of the blade that kisses the guard. This part of the blade may be flat or ground at the same angle as the blade. It's also a convenient area on which the maker's or a country's name may be stamped or etched.
Fuller: A narrow or wide groove running lengthwise along the blade that helps lighten the blade, which is especially important for longer blades. It's presumably called a fuller because "emptier" just didn't sound right.
Point: The end. The King of the point: the Rapier.
Free Bonus Definitions!
Scabbard: Or sheath, if you prefer; the apparatus that allows you to safely carry your sword over hill and dale without constantly holding it in your hand and having no way to drive your horse.
Throat or Locket: the opening at the top of the scabbard where you insert the blade. Note: scabbards typically don't make a metallic scraping sound when the sword is being removed or inserted like they do in the movies.
Chape or Tip: The bottom end of the scabbard; sometimes adorned with a metal cover.
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Types of Swords
One-handed swords were first developed by the Celts of northern Europe and the British Isles, who fought from horseback. Similar longer bladed swords were quickly adopted by the Romans in the form of the Spatha which was used by their mounted troops.
The term hand-and-a-half is more a modern designation for a range of sword types that featured tapered blades longer than the standard shorter arming swords of the time but without the double-hand grips of larger, heavier war-swords.
Two-handed swords were known as war-swords in the early Middle Ages and used to destroy an opponent’s shield, shear through mail, and damage helms. They were called great swords during the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Short swords have seen usage throughout history, from the Legionnaires to Renaissance squires and pirates. In ancient armies, short swords and large shields were a standard armament of the soldiers who fought against the long sarissa pikes of phalanxes. Limitations of copper, bronze, and iron regulated blade length at first. Later, the swords developed across many cultures leading to different types and shapes.
The term “rapier” comes from the Spanish term espada ropera or “sword of the robes,” meaning they were primarily civilian weapons.
You cannot talk about Japanese history without mentioning the elite Samurai Warrior. Experts at fighting both on horseback and the ground, the Samurai lived by a strict code of ethics. Instilled with "freedom from fear", they trained rigidly and were considered an aristocratic warrior class.