View Full Version : Medieval finishes


Coutel
05-20-2003, 08:37 AM
Hi.
I have just received the book ...'Knives and Scabbards', an excellant book which documents medieval finds in London.

However, on page 11 it quotes (snip)......'the final stage of manufacture of shear and knife blades was the filing of the surfaces to remove traces of working and to create a smooth finish.....'....even goes on to describe file marks in the steel.

I didnt think that (steel?) files were invented until about the 19th century, so what is the book referring to when it mentions 'filing'?



Kevin.

J.Arthur Loose
05-20-2003, 10:15 AM
I believe there have been files found in Viking Age tool hoards and I know that Theophilus mentions making and using files in On Divers Arts from the 1200's.

I'm pretty sure that steel / iron files go back at least as far as Ancient Rome.

Rough cut files really aren't too hard to make... you just need a strip of steel or iron and a chisel.

Coutel
05-20-2003, 10:44 AM
Thanks Johnathan...I didnt know that.

What sort of finish do you think these medieval knives would have been finished to?......The book describes what seems to be file marks on some blades (or could they be sharpening stone marks).

I s'pose the quality of finish depends on the maker, but do you think they took them past the file finish stage to what we know as a polished finish for working knives?.

I would like to try and duplicate one of these knives and am trying to get a feel for the final finish they would have had.

Kevin.

sjaqua
05-20-2003, 01:12 PM
Files for sure date back to at least the Viking (migration) period. I saw several examples when the Smithsonian's North Atlantic Saga exhibit came to Los Angeles. Many of the files I saw look very much like modern Machine files.

Also the book 'Knives and Scabbards', is from the Museum of London. And I have yet to catch them in any sort of mistake. So if that work says file marks, I will believe they are file marks and not marks from grinding stones. Which means I would expect long linear lines it the finish of the blade.

Coutel
05-20-2003, 07:12 PM
Originally posted by sjaqua
Files for sure date back to at least the Viking (migration) period. I saw several examples when the Smithsonian's North Atlantic Saga exhibit came to Los Angeles. Many of the files I saw look very much like modern Machine files.

Also the book 'Knives and Scabbards', is from the Museum of London. And I have yet to catch them in any sort of mistake. So if that work says file marks, I will believe they are file marks and not marks from grinding stones. Which means I would expect long linear lines it the finish of the blade.

Thank you.
Kevin..

Coutel
05-21-2003, 12:42 PM
I am hoping to visit some of these museums this summer so it will be interesting to see the knives in the 'flesh'.

One thing that strikes me is how narrow the blade widths are.

Kevin.

sjaqua
05-21-2003, 01:00 PM
Well everything in that book is an archaeological find from the Themes River Valley. So I would venture a guess that most of those blades were deposited near the end of their useful life. I think you need to take wear and excessive sharpening into account when trying to determine the original size.

But these are for the most part working knives of the lower and middle classes. As such, metal would be a expensive commodity (whereas labor was not, so a small working knife could have a goodly amount of time put into it's crafting and decoration). So maybe they were as small as indicated.

When you are in London, the Museum of London( the source of the collection in this book) doesn't get a lot of coverage in the guide books. But it should be on your list of "must see" locations. Also be sure to hit the Wallace Collection (around the corner from Harrads department store). It's another great collection that gets short shrift in the guide books.

Coutel
05-23-2003, 07:46 PM
http://216.46.248.210/pixc/coutel/untitled.jpg

This is what I have come up with so far.

I have kept the sizes in keeping with some of the finds....
OAL 10 inches, selectively hardened 1095, left as a forge finish.
The handle is a 'whittle' style as described in the book (hidden tang), tang fits very snugly and two wedges have been used to help secure it.....this method works so well that I can see no gaps between tang and handle...I did use some epoxy for additional security and to help seal it.
The 'hilt band' is copper, handle is curly maple.

Need to make the sheath next.

Kevin.

whv
05-23-2003, 09:33 PM
nice knife, kevin. thanx

Roger Gregory
05-24-2003, 05:11 PM
1. (most important) Nice knife Kevin :D I love that blade shape.

2. If you need any help at all tracking down the museums let me know (I know you're an ex-pat so you have no excuse :))

3. Frank over at British Blades is a curator at the Wallace Collection - if we have an occasional specific question for him I think he'll be happy to help us out :)

Roger

Coutel
06-02-2003, 09:14 PM
Thanks Roger. I have been in contact with Frank who gave me some useful information. I hope to visit the Wallace Collection next month.

Kevin.

mstu
06-10-2003, 01:00 PM
I just got the Viking Sword book, and one of the find descriptions mentions that a file was found in the same group as the sword. Also, the surface condition of many of the blades is excellent, I don't see any file marks on them at the scale of the photos. If it were my file finish, I would expect to see some still but they may have had a finer file than I have used (and they certainly were more skilled at filing too). So, I'm guessing that they were quite able to make a smooth finish whenever they felt like it, although maybe not a mirror polish. Then again, with no shortage of labor and extensive trade networks for supplies, they probably could do a mirror polish if they felt like it.

Coutel
06-10-2003, 02:57 PM
I read on another forum that wood ashes may have been used to put a final polish on.....

A slight change of subject, but I am reading a book titled Sarum........has anyone here read it?....I am really getting into it and am begining tp understand a bit more about the early history of England.......briefly, the book starts with early prehistoric man that travels south to find warmer weather and better hunting grounds and he eventualy settles in what today is Salisbury Plain ( subsequently his ancestors build Stonehenge).....I have just finished the Roman era and Saxons are now raiding villages along the South Coast...I think it finishes somewhere in the 17th century.....an excellant novel as it puts history into perspective.

Kevin.

Chuck Burrows
06-10-2003, 03:15 PM
Sharkskin has been used by primitive man to sand and polish with.
One method I have read about and used is to take a piece of leather, dampen it, and then dab it into various grits of sand and/or wood ash which will cling to the damp leather. You then use it just like sandpaper. I've used this method on both wood and metal and have achieved the equivalent of at least a 400 grit finish.

Fox Creek
06-10-2003, 11:00 PM
ya, Sarum is a very good book trailangel, so are the other books by that author, the one about London is wonderful.

mstu
06-11-2003, 12:25 PM
I'm thinking some more, and guessing that scrapers and burnishers were probably used more than we would imagine as well. A burnishing rod would just look like a piece of scrap iron after it's buried for a while, not likely that it would be identified as anything other than part of a scrap hoard. It seems like the hook on a scraper edge would also be unlikely to preserve well enough to identify it as such. The fullers on Japanese swords are finished by burnishing, if I recall correctly, so it stands to reason that other cultures probably would have used the technique as well.

Coutel
06-12-2003, 09:11 AM
I agree.....the more I learn, the more I believe that they were more than capable of producing any finish they wanted.
I am sure there was the 'lower cost' farmers version that may have just been left as a forge finish as well as the upmarket polished version for the wealthy.
Kevin.

Coutel
07-03-2003, 05:39 PM
Originally posted by J.Loose
I believe there have been files found in Viking Age tool hoards and I know that Theophilus mentions making and using files in On Divers Arts from the 1200's.

I'm pretty sure that steel / iron files go back at least as far as Ancient Rome.

Rough cut files really aren't too hard to make... you just need a strip of steel or iron and a chisel.

You were right.......I visited several of the museums in London last week and in the Museum of London there was an original Roman file on display.

thanks.
kevin.