ARMA's International Gathering 2003 - A few Test-Cutting Experiments

When an edged blade is employed for its historical purpose as a cutting tool--to slash and cleave and chop things--there are so many aspects of its use that become clear (and so many other questions that arise). This is why using well-made accurate reproduction blades to test-cut on substantial materials is so crucial today to our understanding and reconstruction of these arts. Experimenting with different swords and different edges on different materials yields great insights. Yet, cutting strongly and accurately with good grip and edge placement is a skill and must be practiced. ARMA stresses the necessity of test-cutting experience and our '03 Gathering gave us the occasion to do some. Swords from several makers including, Del Tin, Albion, Raven, Atrim, Angel Sword, and others were used on a variety of materials, such as single and double rolls of water-soaked straw mats, including some with wood dowel cores.  There were several helmets available to strike on, including ones from Valentine Armories and MRL in addition to some finely made historical style riveted maile (which proved impregnable to all our strikes).  Various cuts and types of blows were tried out on the targets by several attendees.  Examples of sharp blades, straight and curved, single and double handed were tested, cutting effortlessly through straw mats of all sizes.  A cloth gambeson was cut at, proving virtually impervious to cuts.  One especially sharp, short Angelsword Messer cut through three straw mats on one horizontal cut.  Several curved Angel blades sheared through mats diagonally without effort. Some Del Tin blades also pereformed well. However, most intriguing was how a blunt and entirely unsharpened Raven bastard sword performed, cleaving smoothly through one entire mat, and on a single cut even through one with a wood core and then on into another mat. The same blade dented two helms without any edge trauma. Some short blades proved deficient when they broke against helms as did several pole-arm shafts and even their (un-tempered ) steel blade heads. In another example of how far modern replicas still have to go, one very sharply edged longsword proved severely deficient in hitting hard targets when its edge was pulverized and shattered as a result. See pics and video clips below.

Bart W. tries his hand at various strikes against wet mats

Tim Sheetz in armor with an arming sword cuts at a bascinet

Tim hits a helm with a long axe

Inspecting the results with Jake N.

John C. slices at some mats while showing variations of body mechanics and gripping methods that effect cutting results with a long straight double-edged blade.

John wails at a sallet with a robust Raven Armouries bastard sword

Jake uses a warhammer on a sallet

Jake with his handiwork

Tim amused in his own effort

Patrick H. shows off his attempt, the helm deeply dented

The helm after quite a pounding

The results of an inferior handle --not an uncommon problem that day unfortunately

John C. snipping at targets --straw mats actually cut very easily with an especially sharp edge

The results of one blade hitting the helm --deformation on the edge

A close up of another blade shows the edge obliterated by impact on the helm

Another angle...the helm was hardly scratched but portions of the the sword's edge were literally ripped and twisted off in strands

The trauma underscores the necessity of testing replica blades to destruction, and not merely within their limits against soft targets and soft cuts.

The view from another camera

After close examination, the damage to the edge was significant for several inches at the impact point

Yet, the blade was still resilient enough to continue cutting straw mats

Tim back at it again, easily denting, but not cutting another helm

A shot of the superbly made riveted flat link maile (by member Brad Girod) which was cut on repeatedly and unsuccessfully
by several swords.

Tim S. holds out a long fresh cut 2" tree branch while John C. sheers off pieces with a keen Angelsword messer.

The armet after several blows and bashes.


Short version - John C. cuts clean through a moist rolled straw mat with a wood dowel core using a blunt Raven bastard sword

Full version - Raven blunt cutting --showing how easy straw mats can be cut by a well-honed but even completely unsharpened sword

With a Zornhau strike John C. dents an armet helm using the same blunt sword --resulting in no damage to the blade

John C. cuts at a section of fine riveted maile armor using an especially sharp Messer --but producing no affect on the maile or blade edge

Tim S. punctures a well made armet helm with a warhammer

John C. snaps and breaks a sharp Messer on the helm,
causing only a scratch to both

Cutting at a straw mat, John C. gives an impromptu demo explanation of how short quick downward chops even with a very sharp straight sword may not be very effective against the forearms or hands as thought

John C. shows show to defend against "attacks by flying mats" using a very sharp Grossmesser

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