View Full Version : Working knives from the Middle Ages

Guy Thomas
04-16-2003, 01:41 PM
Does anyone have any good pictures of everyday belt/utility/hunting knives from Midieval/Dark Ages Europe? I realize that this type of knife seldom survived, they often were worn away to nothing over time by constant sharpening and weren't conserved like expensive weapons from the period.

Some few examples I've seen pictures of are from the High Middle Ages. They often are full tang knives, with scale handles and slender, pointy single edged blades. Thought some of you guys might actually know of more examples.

Don Halter
04-16-2003, 04:47 PM
I have about 40 originals in as dug condition to slightly restored and ranging from 8th-16th centuries. Any particular shape you had in mind?

Roger Gregory
04-16-2003, 05:02 PM
Guy, if Don doesn't have something suitable in his collection, the rest of us will resort to books :)

A new project you're working on?


04-16-2003, 05:46 PM
If you are looking at a book resource I would suggest

Knives and scabbards. Medieval finds from excavations in London
by Jane Cowgill, Margrethe De Neergaard, Nick Griffiths
(1987), London : H.M.S.O.

It deals primarily with working knives. It is a very well researched book, put out by the museum of London. Knives are arranged by deposit date in the archaeological record. I was just looking at my copy over the weekend.

Guy Thomas
04-16-2003, 09:06 PM
Hey Don, no particular shape, though it would be very interesting to see a smattering of the blades you have of the different shapes/periods!

Pictures from books (and info on the books!) would be great Roger. I can't say that I have a particular project in mind. I would like to make some non-weapon style Medieval knives at some point, just something that I keep coming back to.

Scott that book sounds of great interest to me! I may just have to look for a copy. Thanks!

One of the reasons this interests me is that knives were/are one of the most basic tools carried. As a modern knifemaker I most frequently make hunter/utility type knives and I'd like to see how modern "using" knives differed from "using" knives of ages past. I am familiar with the seax and I imagine most common knives differed little from the standard simple butcher knife used today, but was there also something similar to what we make today on the custom market? That is, expensive high quality using knives that weren't daggers.

Guy Thomas
04-16-2003, 09:19 PM
Well, I just checked Amazon and they have that book, hardcover edition, for right at $28.00. I may not be able to pass that up for long, I even still have a gift card from Christmas I haven't used yet! So Scott, do you recomend that book as a good reference book to have on hand? I noticed there is a companion book on textiles and clothing also. (By the way, I used to be in the SCA many, many moons ago, but I've always been interested in the Middle Ages.)

Don Halter
04-16-2003, 11:42 PM
I have a few that are pretty close to what you described. None have slab handles/full tangs. Those weren't very common in medieval times.

I scanned in a few, but my domain is being funky tonight...I'll load them up tomorrow.

My goal is to make a copy of every one I have and make a display case of the original next to the copy. I have several axe heads as well i plan on doing the same with. We have a great nuatical archaeology dept on campus here. the guy that runs it shows me how to restore ancient iron artifacts. last month they had an anchor about 10' long and 8' wide made from all wrought iron!

04-17-2003, 10:08 AM

I would have to say it is the best book in my collection for reference on working knives. It is also a wonderful reference for period leather working. So over all I am very impressed with it. So far, I have not been disappointed by anything released by the Museum of London.

I had a bunch of people looking at the book this weekend, at an event. If everyone that said so, buys one, Amazon may have a bit of a run on them :)

So mine, wasn't the only positive review.

Don Halter
04-17-2003, 10:33 AM
Is it picture intensive, or just sketches and such?

04-17-2003, 10:37 AM
Some photos and x-rays. But, mostly the catalog consists of archaeological drawings.

Roger Gregory
04-17-2003, 02:37 PM
I'll support everything Scott has said about this book, I bought a copy on his recommendation and it is excellent. For an archaeological work it is extremely thorough on the questions we all want to ask about construction and even steel composition.

For anyone visiting London, the Museum of London is very accessible, just not situated in South Kensington with 90% of the other museums. The London HQ of the Knights of St John is nearby, with another interesting museum, the Barbican, Hatton Gardens, the jewellery centre...... (I'll put my English Tourist Board hat away now :) )

I think over on British Blades we have a member who is a curator there.......I'll ask tomorrow. Now I'm off to the pub :)


Don Halter
04-17-2003, 09:45 PM
Here's three knives similar to what you describe. The first is in "as dug" condition and has undergone no restoration. The blade is about 4.5" long, just under 3/16" thick at the spine and has remnants of silver gilding/damascening (bladed edge is up). It's badly corroded, though. The second one is a 3" blade about 1/8" at the spine. The third blade is about 4.5" and just over 3/16" thick. All have portions of the tang still intact.

The last is just a neat little seax blade. It's only a 2" bladelength and apears to be patternwelded/layered steel. I have several of the "utility" sized seaxes. They're pretty neat.

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Guy Thomas
04-20-2003, 08:33 PM
Cool archeological finds Don! Thanks for sharing those with us. The little seax is quite neat. Where is the edge on the two knives in the middle? You know, looking at the tang/blade junctures I think we can assume that Medieval cutlers were not slaves to the fit and finish crowd!

Jared L. Cass
08-20-2003, 03:37 PM
Hi all,

This "Historical Inspiration" forum is one of the best! Being a new (hobbiest) knife maker, the ancient/ time tested styles are my primary insperation.

I realize that this is an older thread, but being new to this forum I've been exploring it abit. I don't know how to creat links, so just copy and paste this address into the address bar:

It's a bunch of period/antique medieval european working knives.

Hope this helps and maybe inspires everybody!

Jared L. Cass, Wisconsin

Chuck Burrows
08-20-2003, 06:10 PM
Welcome - the more the merrier so to speak.

Great Link- I'm going to save that page for sure.

BTW you created a link automatically by typing www. etc. So now you know how :D

If you ever want to post images go to the CKDF Computer Forum and there are a couple of stickys at the top that will explain how.

Jan Dox
08-31-2003, 03:07 AM
I've been asked by a "living history" reenactment group to work together for a number of knives from the period around 1302.
This is the year of the "battle of the Golden Spurs" near Kortrijk in Flanders where the Flemish massacred the French army. (and around the same time (give a couple of years) the battle of Bannockburn in Scotland where the Scots, lead by William Wallace, defeated the English (movie "Bravehaert")).

Any links or more info for utility cutlery from this time will be helpfull.
( the link to medievalantiquities was already helpfull)

Don, your pics didn't show today