For Beginners

sword hilt construction

One of the most frequent disappointments for new sword buyers is thinking they have a strong, functional sword, only to discover it has a weak tang. Do you know the difference between rat tail tang swords and full tangs swords? I've seen a blade advertised as "genuine rat tail tang", making that sound as if it is a good thing. How easy for a new buyer to be taken in by such deceptive advertising. Sword handles hide the truth under their wood, grip wrap, leather until you try to use them for their intended purpose. As you practise cutting, a poorly constructed sword hilt may bend or even break. The grip might become loose.

What's Inside Your Sword Hilt?

A strongly constructed sword has the tang (the part under sword handles), forged as an extension of the blade. It needs to be at least a third of the blade width. Half the width is better and some are even wider. These are full tang swords.

Cheaply made swords often have an untempered (non-heat treated) rod of metal welded onto the blade. This is known as a rat tail tang. It is weak for several reasons.

1. The weld can snap under pressure.
2. The rod is too thin for the weight of the blade.
3. The rod usually hasn't been tempered so it isn't very strong.

This is one of the many reasons decorative swords must never be used for cutting or sparring. However, when a sword marketted as "real" or "battle ready" has a rat tail tang, it's almost criminal. It endangers the person who bought it in good faith, thinking he had a good quality sword. Also, if the sword snaps, it endangers anyone or anything within range of the flying blade.

Loose Sword Grips

Grips can become loose for a number of reasons.

1. Putting a squared tang through a round hole. This is poor construction and     the best answer might be to have a new grip made by a better craftsman. It can be     adjusted by removing the grip and adding filler but this is not always satisfactory.

2. Changes in the wood as it dries with age.

3. A loose attachment at the pommel. Some swords are peened at the pommel.     This means they are hammered tightly in place by spreading the steel into a cap        with a ball peen hammer or similar tool. If a peened sword hilt loosens, it can be        hammered tighter. Some are tightened with a nut. If there is only one, it will                loosen often. If tangs are fastened with a pair of nuts, they will loosen less                 frequently. You could tighten them when they need it, ot remove the nut in favour     of peening the sword hilt.

4. Loosening of the grip wrap. Some poeple like to lacquer a wrapped sword hilt     as soon as they buy it, to prevent movement. This can work quite well but the             lacquer might make your hilt slippery in a sweaty hand.  Still, this is probably the     simplest solution. If the wood of a sword hilt shrinks only a little with age drying,     the grip wrap will become loose. Another answer is to rewrap the grip, or have         someone knowledgeable do it for you.

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