replicas.jpg (14701 bytes)A Vocabulary for Modern
Replica and Reproduction Swords

While sword consumers now are generally more sophisticated than just a decade ago, as a community they are still just vulnerable to disinformation and misinformation when it comes to evaluating (or purchasing) a modern-made sword.  The same can more or less be said for sword makers. An ongoing project within ARMA is to improve communication among sword enthusiasts, consumers, and sword industry professionals.   Part of this involves offering a list of definitions for replicas and reproduction swords.  So many terms and words are misunderstood and thrown about and in sales pitches, marketing hype, and online forums that it is hard to get straight honest information.  Disagreement among definitions also leads to unnecessary friction.  The following is a vocabulary of common terms compiled from sword aficionados and professionals and amateurs within the sword industry. We present this list as a way of fostering understanding and discouraging misuse.  We offer appreciation to our Expert Consultants for assisting in compiling this list. 

Authentic - Aunthenticity in a replica is a subjective matter but one that can be qualified to a large degree.  Does the piece use appropriate high-carbon steel? Does it have the appropriate temper? Does it have a full and correctly shaped tang?   Is the blade of correct cross-section and dimension? Is the edge of proper bevel angle? Is the hilt attached securely?  Is it based on a knwon period specimen or example?

Battle-Ready – A modern marketing term ostensibly implying the sword could potentially be a real fighting tool. The term is mostly meaningless as nearly any item could potentially qualify as a tool for killing.

Blade – 1. As opposed to whole sword, the entire continuous metal structure from tang to tip. The blade is traditionally the tempered and forged portion in contrast to the hilt attachments (or "furniture"). When hilted a blade generally refers to the metal portion from tip to cross.  2. “the long, sharp, pointy thing which extends from the short, wide, grippy thing.”

Bladesmith A term usually used for knife makers who use forging as the primary shaping technique.  Essentially a swordsmith, but referring to the blade only rather than a complete sword.

Blunt – A generic term for an unsharpened sword, typically a practice or training weapon.

Case Hardened1. A variety of techniques by which carbon is diffused into the surface of a low or no carbon iron. Typically in modern applications the material is then quenched and tempered resulting in a very thin layer of hardened steel on the outside of a soft bar.  Traditionally this technique was also used for building up large billets of fairly homogeneous carbon steels (stack up carburized bars, weld them together, fold them "x" amount of times to let the carbon diffuse and "voila"-somewhat homogeneous steel). 2. Any piece of iron that has been put under conditions that has allowed the outside "skin" of the iron to absorb enough carbon to become steel and thus hardenable (pure iron without carbon will not harden from quenching). The method has been used on armor and weapons --as well as on the raw material used to make a stack of steel pieces or bars which are then repeatedly folded then shaped into a weapon.  Case hardening ussualy produces only a thin outer skin of steel. Metallurgically, it is inferior to full tempering.

Center-of-Percussion – The portion of a cutting blade that is the ideal location for striking to cause the greatest impact with the least effort or vibration (i.e., the “sweet spot”). It is a factor or the blade’s length, width, cross-sectional shape, and overall balance.

Center-of-Gravity - a term expressing how a sword wields and handles determined by its weight and how its center-of-percussion relates to its center-of balance.

Custom made sword 1. Any sword that is individually handcrafted by one individual. It may or may not be historically accurate. But it is a one of a kind, even if the maker produces several of the same pattern or design. 2. Any sword made to the unique specifications of the customer. 3. A sword a manufacturer designs and has it made. However, if the manufacturer mass produces the sword, then it is no longer a custom sword.

Edge - the place where the bevel planes of a sword, knife or other bladed tool meet or come closest to one another.  An edge bevel is the part that tapers in toward the centerline of a cross-section of the blade forming an edge. During sharpening usually just the edge bevels are actually ground/polished. Some edge bevels can be the entire side of the blade. Blade bevels are the tapering sides of the blade that lead to edge bevels. There are many different types of edge bevel possible.

Elasticity - The property of springiness in a blade or the ability to return to its shape without distortion (in contrast to its plasticity).

Fantasy Sword – 1. A modern sword produced from an original or imaginary design in contrast to a known historical specimen. It may or may not be a functional weapon and may or may not be made through a historical process.  2. Any sword style inspired by fictional literature or artwork.

Federschwerter / Feather-sword - a special practice sword used in the Medieval and Renaissance eras for training and mock combat. Also known as a play-sword or foyle. Though having the same balance and weight as a "sharp" (a real weapon), it had thick rounded edges with a blunt rounded point as well as a more flexible temper on the last quarter of the blade.

Forge – To form a blade by heating and hammering the steel either manually or by mechanical aid. “Hand-forged” refers to using traditional hammers rather than pneumatic power tools. A modern smith may use one or both.

Forgery – Making a replica of a sword in a condition that is aged, pitted, rusted, and worn or damaged so as to intentionally falsify its antiquity (not to be confused with “forging” or to “forge” a sword).

Grind/Polish – The coarse removal of metal by abrasive action to change the shape of a piece of metal to match the desired shape of the blade.  To shape/refine the finished surface or edge of a blade.  This may or may not be accomplished by the aid of modern machinery or power tools.  There is “handmade” and then there is “handmade by a human”.

HardeningThe necessary process of transforming a blade of soft steel to a hardened state through quenching and tempering.

High-carbon steel - Steel that contains a minute percentage ratio of carbon that results in harder metal.  A broad and imprecise term referring normally to a steel with between 0.75%-1.20% carbon or steel that is over .50% carbon.   Many replica swords do not go over .8%.  Lower carbon steel would .01-.20% and medium, .20-.50%.  Typically steel, of low or no alloy content, will reach maximum hardness at about 0.60% C and will get no harder as you increase the carbon content, you just wind up with (hopefully) undissolved carbides for the rest.  

Historical Sword – A specimen documented to have actually existed and been used, in this case, during the Middle Ages or Renaissance eras, i.e. an "antique".  Evidence may come from an authentic surviving or excavated example or one depicted in historical artwork.

Historically Accurate Sword – 1. An exact copy of an actual historical piece (which itself may or may not have been a functional “long bladed hand tool” weapon). 2. A sword constructed by adhering to the known materials and manner of production (which are derived from the close study and testing of historical or ethnographic swords). 3. A sword made to esemble an antique specimen. An “accurate” sword is one that has comparable metallurgical quality, cross-sectional measurements, and dimensions of length, weight, balance, and hilt configuration of the original.

Honing – The act of sharpening a blade to a very fine edge.

Impact Strength - A qualitative term referring to the property of resilience a blade has to withstand stress during strikes with a rigid target.  This may refer to impacts on its edge or flat.

Lamination – a construction method involving the welding together of steels of different hardness and carbon contents to produce a blade of desired strength and resilience.

Museum-Quality – A modern marketing term ostensibly implying the sword is good enough to pass for a duplicate of one in a museum’s historical collection. The term is mostly meaningless as there is no quantifiable means by which to objectively judge the claim.

Peening – The act of attaching a pommel to the tang by hammering over the small nub that protrudes or riveting it with a small cap. 

Plasticity - The property of a blade to bend without breaking or fracturing (in contrast to its elasticity).

Practice Blunt - see Federschwerter. A modern term for a training sword.

Quenching – The act of rapidly cooling a blade that has been heated to a critical temperature in order to harden it (i.e., form martinsite). Water quenching steels are quenched in water, oil hardening steels are quenched in oil, air hardening steels ar quenched in air. What makes a steel air hardening, oil hardening, etc., is the amount and type of various chemicals in the steel besides the base iron and carbon.

Replica Sword / Reproduction Sword 1. A modern sword (made through whatever method) that attempts to replicate an original historical sword based on a surviving specimen or from a photograph, drawing or description. An accurate replica sword blade may or may not be hand forged (e.g., stock removal is fine if the other attributes are met) and may or may not have a hilt made in the exact manner (for various reasons).  2. A historically accurate copy that duplicates the original right down to any pitting, damage, rust, bends, etc., of the original. A reconstruction following a real historical example as the model and extrapolating any missing or damaged material. The goal is to reproduce what the subject piece was like in a new condition in terms of dimensions, balance, and weight --so long as a piece is not a replica in appearance only (i.e., a “full scale model car” as opposed to a working vehicle).

Sharp – A generic term for a sword with a sharpened edge –in other words, a weapon for either real fighting or just cutting practice.

Smelt/Smelting – To extract metal from ore through the use of heat and controlled atmosphere. Traditionally this entails the use of iron ore and a reduction furnace to separate the iron from the other minerals and impurities which would then be used to make steel through a secondary operation. Some cultures could smelt directly to steel. A more modern way is to use commercial iron powder and a crucible/furnace combination to make steel.

Spring steel - Steel with a temper that permits considerable flexibility without breaking. Typically preferred for sword blades. Usually refers to 5160 steel commonly used for leafsprings, etc. It also can mean a steel that has been tempered down in hardness to be "springy" instead of "hard". Modern steels exist in broad families based uon their intended main application i.e., high-speed steels are used for drill bits because they chemically do not soften from tempering at the temperatures such bits are exposed to. Spring steels are used in applications where flexibility or springiness is required. Shock resistant steels are used for jack hammer bits. High-wear steels are used for dies and wear surfaces, etc. There are many formulations within each family. Additionally, spring steel can be brittle and high speed steel can be soft, depending upon the proper heat treatment.  Each of the broad categories steel will be best at if treated in a prescribed manner. There is no family called "sword steel". In the past this term usually referred to a specific alloy of carbon steel, today it refers to any steel used for springs.  Carbon contents for modern spring steels range between 0.50% C to 0.95% C.

Stock Removal – A process for making knife or sword blades using abrasive or cutting tools to shape a flat piece of steel by grinding away excess material. Depending on the quality of tempering following the process can produce a very good or very poor blade. If a manufacturer uses the stock removal method to form blades they are a “maker” if forging is the primary means they are called “smiths”. Even forged blades (modern or historical) will have some degree of stock removal performed on them for final shaping/polishing.

Sword-like-object (“SLO”) – A derogatory term for an ahistorical blade-shaped bar of steel that is neither an accurate replica nor reproduction (i.e., a stage-combat “banger”). Modern slang for wall-hangers, or non-functional swords that despite appearing to be real cannot be used in realistic practice or serious training, let alone for their historical function.

Sword Cutler – 1. Historically, a person who put together a sword from parts made by others (i.e., a swordsmith). This was the usual method of sword manufacture.  2.  A hilt maker.

Sword Fabricator – A person who uses machinery, such as rolling mills or CNC machines, to produce blades and sword parts that are for all intents and purposes, identical. This can be good or bad, depending on the quality of the resulting sword. This is fabricating with the same meaning of the word that is used throughout the metal shaping industry. 

Swordmaker – A loose term for anyone who makes “swords” or “sword blades” (historical or not), either from parts or completely from scratch, using any fabrication technique or combination of techniques. A swordmaker may or may not conduct his own hardening and tempering process.  The term properly applies to an individual as opposed to a company.

Swordsmith – One who forges a sword blade (i.e., heats the metal red hot and shapes it while plastic by hammering).  The blade must be forged before the maker can be called a swordsmith. This is done by heating a bar of metal and pounding it into shape, then grinding or polishing and finishing it. A true smith is also capable of quenching, hardening and tempering his own blades.

Tang – The portion of a blade that extends through the handle to the pommel. It usually is of a different temper than the working portion of the larger blade itself.  Accurate reproductions swords are those with square or rectangular “full tangs” –that is, extending the full length into the pommel –as opposed to having a rod welded on. 

Temper – A selective reheating process performed after quenching to reduce the hardness of martinsite (hardened steel) by applying specific heat over a period time.

Tempering- The application of lower temperature to the metal part for a certain length of time to soften it up. This can range anywhere from light stress, to very springy and medium hard, to almost as soft as the un-quenched piece. A blade is first heated in a forge until bright red and then quickly dunked into a trough of water (quenched). At this point it is harder than a file and brittle as an icicle. Then, it is baked (tempering) at a low temperature for a short time so that it emerges springier and much less hard.

Test-cutting – The act of evaluating the performance of a cutting sword (or a swordsman) by striking test materials with a sharp weapon.

Test-to-destruction – Purposely testing a blade until it fails by breaking or catastrophic bending. Usually a sequential experiment from soft to hard-target testing designed to ensure the blade is no longer usable. Used by swordsmiths/makers to find the outer limits of performance of their blades.  A process employed by swordmakers seeking to learn the qualities and attributes of their piece or faithfully reproduce those of a historical example.

Wallhanger – A derogatory term for a decorative sword (i.e., a costume sword or prop) that is neither an accurate replica nor reproduction and is not a functional tool or true weapon.

Weapon - What a historical sword was primarily intended as...a bladed fighting tool


See Also Terms & Definitions


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