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Historical Inspiration This forum is dedicated to the discussion of historical knife design and its influence on modern custom knife work.

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  #1  
Old 01-01-2003, 07:44 PM
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Chuck Burrows Chuck Burrows is offline
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17th century Scottish dirk

Know a lot of you have seen this one before but it is truly an historically inspired piece so I figured it would be apropos to help christen this new forum.

This is a 17th style antler handled dirk. Like many early originals the blade is a cut down swordblade. The blade was made from a Spanish (it has Spain stamped on it anyway) sword blade Admittedly it isn't A grade steel but it is probably equivalent to the common steel of the period. According to the booklet, "Scottish Swords and Dirks" by John Wallace, the Highland Scots cut down a lot of their homegrown sword blades into dirks after they started getting better quality steel sword blades from Spain and Germany. The Spain on the blade was the spark that set off this set.
Blade length 14", overall length 19" (early dirks seemed to normally have quite short grips of around 4", but my hand is bigger than that and I wanted to be able to use this one. The blade is not highly polished because I was going for the look of a common Highlander, without a lot of metal working skills (like me), scrounging a broken blade and turning it into a dirk.
The sheath is leather covered wood and you can see more about it over on the Sheath Gallery in the Sheathmaking forum.



Grip Closeup


Here is a pic of the original dirk that influenced my grip design. The photo was scanned from page 69 of the above named book. It is a real gem of a book for those interested in Scottish edged weapons of all periods.



Chuck


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  #2  
Old 01-02-2003, 10:32 AM
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That's a great set- you do some great leatherwork! I've got an upcoming commission to make a set of Scottish ballock dirks... they should be fun.

Do you know of any books / resources on the subject of Scottish blades besides the booklet you mentioned?


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Old 01-02-2003, 10:41 AM
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Chuck,

Yes we had seen it before. But the inclusion of your source of inspiration makes it perfect for this forum. I like the merging of form between a dirk and a ballock dagger.


Who is the publisher and what is the publishing date of the booklet? (ISBN number would be ideal). Perhaps a thread on recommending source books would also be a good start to this forum.


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Old 01-02-2003, 05:46 PM
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Hey Jon and Scott-

I like these early style dirks best before they degenerated into a piece of dress jewelry.

Here is the full skinny on the book mentioned above:
Scottish Swords and Dirks an illustrated reference guide to Scottish edged weapons
John Wallace
Stackpole Books 1970
SBN: 8117-1509-4 (that's what it says SBN not ISBN)
80 pages
The only copy I saw anywhere for sale was going for $175.00!

Jon I have found various references and some pictures off dirks and other Scots weapons elsewhere, mainly in Scottish history or costuming books, but nothing has the scope that this book has. You said you had an order for ballock/dirks so here are a couple of examples from the book.


I really like this one. A definite example of the true dirk emerging from the ballock knife, Note the indented spot near the top of the sheath. Sure looks to me like a byknife (the small knife carried in the face of the dirk's sheath, later examples also included a small fork)was carried there


Chuck

BTW I've been hanging around or been a member of the SCA since around 1969 or 1970 mostly in An Tir. I'm too much of a misanthrope so I don't join in on any kind of group activity now. Enjoy the learning and sharing of skills part but not the politics. My first love of historical gear has always been the weapons of Frontier America, especially the Mtn Men era, but second is the 14th-16th century Scotland, Ireland, and Moorish occupied Spain.


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Old 01-03-2003, 12:50 PM
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Thanks for the pics and the bibliography, Chuck...

Another SCAdian, eh? I try to keep quiet about it.

I think one of my new forays into historical pieces is going to be Scottish. I have a new piece I'm finishing up this weekend that I'll post... very similar to the last Dirk I posted in the display case but this blade is 9 1/2"

Hmmm... I'd love to know what 'rootwood,' is!


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Old 01-03-2003, 02:11 PM
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You mean I wasn't supposed to come out???

Reference to "Rootwood" is usually considered to be the root of the hawthorn or "fairy" tree (Crateaegus monogyna). It is one of the tree shrubs that make up the hedgrows of the British Isles which from what I hear are disappearing fast. The wood is extremely fine grained and very dense and the root is even more so. I have worked a few pieces over the years and even had a hawthorne walking staff at one time that a friend brought back from Ireland that I carved and it works beautifully with good, sharp tools.

Here are a couple of links with some info on hawthorne:
http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/...ltanefiles.txt

http://www.gardenguides.com/herbs/hawthorne.htm

The shrub has been been imported to the US so I would check with some local nurseries and see.

With that all said my rattling around in my brain is the idea that the blackthorn bushes root is also called rootwood. This also a dense hard wood that comes from the British Isles and is what they make the famous Irish walking sticks from.

Chuck
PS Did you get my PM?


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Old 01-12-2003, 12:44 AM
Jan Dox Jan Dox is offline
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I have some info on the evolution of the Highland dirk:
In Levine's Guide to Knives and their Values (1985),
ISBN 0-910676-94-1 , page 438 is the reproduction of a graphic of the "Development of Daggers from XIII-XVIII century".
Without permission to reproduce I'll translate it to words:

We start in 1300 with two main types of daggers (utility and hunting knives are not in this picture)

Type A seems double edged with two lobes at the hilt and a similar pommel (1300) the line splits in three around 1400:
A1:The line of the ballock or kidney daggers that evolve up to 1550.
A2: the Highland dirks who evolve similar to the kidney dagger (until 1500)but the lobes get less distinct and get flatter. Single edges get more common and the "typical" highland dirk appeares around 1600 to the 18th century when the "Victorian Dress Dirk"
appeared.
A3 is a shape in between A1 and A2 but not detailed.

Type B seems to have a wider blade and a ring at the pommel (1300)and has four main lines evolving:
B1:Roundel daggers become Landsknechtdaggers(1550-1600).
B2: Baselard daggers (up to 1500's) and swiss daggers (up to 1600's)
B3: Quillion daggers evolve (around 1550's) in Poingnards(B3.1)
stylets(B3.2) ,plug bayonets(B3.3) and left hand daggers(B3.4).
B4: Ring daggers become eared daggers from 1400-1600's.

The Fall 1999 issue of Swordforum is great about the Arms of the Scots and links to Michael McRae and others:
http://www.swordforum.com/fall99/main.html

I have seen and handled Highland dirks in many shapes : light and fast,well balanced fighters up to heavy blades, some leaning towards saexes . Many dirks were made from broken swords, what often dictated final shape.
To me the Victorian dirk is more jewelry and the stylised thistle shapes are uncomfortable in the hand.


Jan
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Old 01-12-2003, 08:05 PM
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Thanks Jan for the outlien. Man you are one lucky dog to have handled the originals.

I totally agree about the Victorian Era style dirks, which actually started really degenerating when George IV of England decided in the early 1800's to "discover" his Stewart roots. The story of his first trip to Scotand, which initiated a lot of the hooferaw over "clan" tartans and such is an intersting story in itself.
I read a while ago on another forum that the EARLY dirks had precious stones mounted on them so that the Scotsmen could carry their wealth around. Only thing is every early dirk I've ever seen has been devoid of any such fancies and the later ones are mainly adorned with garnet or Cairngorm which is a semi-precious quartz. Is this how Urban Legends get started?


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Old 01-13-2003, 02:16 AM
Jan Dox Jan Dox is offline
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I have seen more than I have handled over the last 20 years.
When going to shows of historical guns and arms I had the most
chance to handle the dirks (if lucky there were some on display). If you handle them with respect and a handkerchief (to protect the blade )when examining them, the dealers are willing and some even eager to handle you the blade to show off their best merchandise trying to sell.
Second are the musea: when you keep the handling caracteristics of the ones you handled in mind and the knifes are well displayed, you can estimate the balance too, but nothing beats handling them yourself .
I have seen dirks (few) with silver nails but don't remember any with precious stones from before the "Victorian" era. We must remember that they weren't allowed weapons under the English and the dirks often were hidden(which was easier than hiding swords).When the Scots wanted to show off their wealth it was more in their belt buckles and broaches and pins that held their tartan kilts.

Jan
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Old 01-22-2003, 01:23 PM
Jan Dox Jan Dox is offline
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I've been surfing the net and using key words "scotland dirks"
I found several sites interesting , some more about modern dirks,
but these were the better:

http://www.oregonknifeclub.org/dirk.html

tells the history,

http://www.scottishsword.com

has also antiques (with pics) for sale;

Jan
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Old 01-22-2003, 05:42 PM
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Daggers & Ballock Knives

This was originally posted to the TKCL 8-19-99. It seems to be the topic here again.


OK, I actually looked something up

According to "arms through the ages" by William Reid. The ballock knife is from and was used in the northern European regions mainly Germany and Britain. It was worn in front hung low between the thighs and It's no coincidence that it resembles male genitalia. There is a chicken and egg controversy over which came first the Scottish "durk" or "dirk" or the "ballock" knife, which was later known as a "kidney" knife and a "dudgeon" knife (not dungeon, dudgeon it's a root that the handles were made from).

The term kidney knife came about in the 19th century where the need to not offend delicate sensibilities (see any similarities to today?) led to the name change. At this same time, the term hand-and-a-half sword came up as well and for similar reasons. This sword had a handle that was too long for use with one hand and yet not quite long enough for two. This sword type came to be called a "bastard" sword. This was deemed too vulgar and so the kinder gentler appellation is applied.

Historical earlier versions of ballock knives have been discovered than dirks, but that doesn't mean that a new find is not ready to shake up the archeological record.

It can be assumed from the shape of the blade that it was primarily a stabbing weapon. The implication here is that the steel used was strong enough for a point, but not good in the edge holding department.

The earlier versions tend to have smaller blades, which leads to two possibilities , one as steel smithing became better the blades got longer and sharper and two that the blades day to day use changed from a using tool to a combat role where the extra reach was appreciated.

Some of these knives (the dirks) became so large that a small fork and "by knyf" was added to the sheath, these where eating implements and performed the utility tasks that the dirk was to large for.

The ballock knife either lent itself out to other areas where similar knives where made, or the basic style is so common that it naturally lent itself to being discovered in multiple areas.

The "Rondel" dagger is a very similar blade shape and style of knife to the ballock. The significant difference being that the Rondel dagger used two round disks (wood w/ iron reinforcements) as the guard and pommel. There are also "ear" daggers which also have similar shape and style the difference being that the pommel has two wings or "ears". In combat the ears lent a spot for the thumb to be hooked over (capping the pommel) in a reverse grip. The thumb over the ears would also let you index the blade.So what you have is very similar knives with minor differences.

To bring this to a more modern perspective, the Rondel is credited as the ancestor of the more modern stiletto (the dagger, not the cheap Italian auto). A famous stabbing only style dagger. While Dirks are said to have influenced more modern designs, such as Fairbairn - Sykes W.W.II combat knife.

Wow, well that was pretty wordy, got's to be more careful while lookin' stuff up.


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Last edited by Jerry Oksman; 01-22-2003 at 05:45 PM.
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Old 01-22-2003, 06:45 PM
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Thanks for the info Jerry, and don't apologise for wordiness in this forum. I think everyone in here will rattle on for hours given half a chance

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Old 01-30-2003, 03:39 PM
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that's really nice , impressive leather work. what part of the antler did you use?
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Old 01-30-2003, 04:08 PM
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Chuck Burrows Chuck Burrows is offline
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Jake-
The main grip, including the buttcap portion, was made form the crown end of the antler, with the crown forming the buttcap. The haunches portion is a second piece laid crosswise and the main grip was then fitted to the top of it following the curve. It's fitted using a compound curve and if you look at the closeup the U shape coming down over the haunches is where it has been fitted together. A lot of file and fit.


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