Of blade shapes and field craft

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Elleth
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Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Elleth » Sun Jan 13, 2019 7:51 pm

It's that time again.

We processed four sheep this morning, and I just finished skinning the last of them out.
This time I used the small seax that Ursus gifted me for Yule some years back:

merf-ursus-seax.jpg
merf-ursus-seax.jpg (73.2 KiB) Viewed 1081 times


While I've of course used it for all manner of little tasks over the years, this was the first time I really used it hard, skinning out four fair sized animals over the course of a morning with several sharpening stops.
And I was impressed!

What particularly struck me - and a thing I'd never thought too much about - was how much better control I had with the dropped mostly-"broken-back" point than I did with a more standard knife shape, where the tip is inline with back of the blade. The best analogy I can think of is - you know how riding in an old '70's car, you saw this giant hood out front? And then in a post-90's minivan, the hood just drops away so sharply that it's like it isn't even there? This had a similar feeling: I knew there wasn't blade mass hanging out in front of what I could see.

It seems a small thing, but over the course of hours it was a really noticeable difference.
Once I hit that membrane layer, it was surprisingly easy work to just snik-snik-snik down the hide.


Which leads me to wonder:

I've heard speculation that the bow endured in scandi countries longer than on the contienent because the hunting tradition never died out among the peasantry: the nobility didn't (as I understand) claim that right as an exclusive priviliege.

Now I'm wondering if perhaps the dropped-tip seax died out in part because fewer people were processing animals as a matter of course? And/or that greater material wealth meant the ability to have a dedicated tool for the job rather than one blade for most everything?

Anyhow - I'm curious to hear the thoughts of those who've done significant meat and/or wood processing with both types of blade. Am I completely off base? Or is there something here?


edit - I'd never really liked the seax proper as a Middle-earth / Dunedain thing: it seemed too Nordic to fit.
And yet... I gotta admit it works in exactly the environment the Rangers live in. So.... maybe?
Persona: Aerlinneth, Dúnedain of Amon Lendel c. TA 3010.
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Kortoso
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Kortoso » Fri Jan 18, 2019 4:53 am

Now I haven't done nearly as much butchery as yourself, and I can't clearly recall which blades I've used, except the sharpest one I can find!
But I'm wondering if that historical blade most similar in form to the saex - the Bowie knife - may have survived so long on the frontier for exactly this reason?
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Elleth
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Elleth » Sat Jan 19, 2019 4:26 pm

Hunh... maybe so!

My mental association with the Bowie blade is that wicked concave tip at the end, which I'd think in skinning would constantly risk poking the hide.
... I'd bet it's great for boning out meat though!

I suppose there's tons of designs that fall under the broad term "bowie" so I'd not at all be surprised if some of the worked quite well for skinning. I've a vague memory there was also a deeply curved, rather blunt knife the buckskinners used for...well, skinning bucks. :)

Not my period though, so I've no idea how well those work. Pretty well, I assume.
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Odigan
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Odigan » Sun Jan 20, 2019 2:49 am

Elleth wrote:I suppose there's tons of designs that fall under the broad term "bowie" so I'd not at all be surprised if some of the worked quite well for skinning. I've a vague memory there was also a deeply curved, rather blunt knife the buckskinners used for...well, skinning bucks. :)


The Bowie knife gets a lot of notoriety, but you're right in that it's an overly broad term, and that for the most part it wasn't even used much at all! This other style of knife you mention was the real workhorse and what was mostly carried by frontiersmen. These were basically just re-purposed kitchen and butchers knives, the most famous being in the style of the "Green River" knife. These do typically have an upswept cutting edge and a relatively thin section.

What is commonly labelled a "seax" today is almost always quite far from historical forms. If there's anything the bowie and seax share in common it is that they've both been re-imagined by modern eyes and makers into something that they never were, based on superficial visual elements. There is much more to the seax blade than the "broken back," and rarely is this executed in the way that it was in originals. I won't say that other ways make it "wrong," but it makes them "seax-like" knives, and I think it's important to understand that, just as it is to realize that what is sold now as a "bowie" is far from what one would find in a mountain man's sash.
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Elleth
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Elleth » Wed Jan 23, 2019 2:20 am

neat!

Odigan, would you mind elaborating on what stylistic elements make a "seax" a "seax?" I mean, I know the word just means "knife" and obviously the people who used the word likely had tons of blade shapes: but what would you say the quintessential/ Platonic form seax is?
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Odigan
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Odigan » Wed Jan 23, 2019 10:15 pm

Elleth wrote:Odigan, would you mind elaborating on what stylistic elements make a "seax" a "seax?" I mean, I know the word just means "knife" and obviously the people who used the word likely had tons of blade shapes: but what would you say the quintessential/ Platonic form seax is?


Sure, I'm likely forgetting a few things here, and there's the usual caveat that to every rule there are exceptions, but generally speaking some characteristics shared by historical seax are:

- Single-edged
- Satin or polished finish
- A waisted grip, often swelling toward the blade
- Belly to the blade, deepest in the front half toward the tip
- Flat grind, running from edge to spine, or slightly convex
- Hidden tang construction, running at or just above centerline
- For broken-back types, the point being 3/5 to 1/3 of overall blade length
- May have composite blade construction, sometimes with a pattern-welded element
- Fairly long hilt relative to the length of blade (greater than ~8” assuming a blade of similar length)

Things they should NOT have, but are often common “re-enactor-isms” found in modern blades:

- Guards
- Forge scale
- Stacked grips
- Secondary bevels
- Parallel spine and edge
- Scandi or "Saber" grind
- Completely straight lines
- Undecorated antler or bone
- Total “damascus” or pattern-welded blade
- A ricasso, or any step in transition between blade and handle

The image below shows some of the variety across types, but as you can see the historical record of broken-back style seax differs substantially from what most now call a "seax."


Seax_Blades_sm.jpg
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Ursus » Wed Jan 23, 2019 11:28 pm

Great info. Thank you for posting this. I realize this puts the little one I made for Elleth out of the running historically according to this but then again a day you learned nothing is a day wasted.
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Odigan
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Odigan » Thu Jan 24, 2019 1:16 am

Ursus wrote:Great info. Thank you for posting this. I realize this puts the little one I made for Elleth out of the running historically according to this but then again a day you learned nothing is a day wasted.


There's absolutely nothing wrong with making modern, fantasy, or historically-inspired interpretations, it's just a matter of acknowledging what is what. Given that we here portray essentially a fantastic "could have been" past, I wouldn't expect us to strictly adhere to known historical forms anyway! This flexibility is precisely what I enjoy so much about this past-time. Good fantasy, of course, is firmly grounded in reality (as Tolkien well knew), and so looking to the archaeological record for what was done, understanding why it was (or wasn't) and using that information to build a convincing alternate history is what (I think) we should strive for.
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Elleth
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Re: Of blade shapes and field craft

Postby Elleth » Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:05 am

Well I like it. :mrgreen:

That's fascinating Odigan- thank you!
The time graph is interesting. I wonder how much of that is changing preferences, how much is changing peoples, how much is just an artifact of a limited data set?
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