Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Forging Medieval Swords

Guests on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have asked at the blacksmith’s shop whether swords can be made on the forge there.  TheJuly20 (1) answer is that even though the blacksmith shop and forge look very primitive, just about anything made of iron can be made there. 

People think of swords as being very special because they have a big reputation, but a lot of blacksmiths would argue that it takes as much care and skill to make a good knife or even a good mason’s chisel as a sword.  Most blacksmiths now and, I believe, most blacksmiths in the Middle Ages would call a weapon that is three span (18 inches) or longer a sword and under that measurement, a knife or dagger.  Also, it is important to remember that weapon and armor making was a specialty and not done by an ordinary blacksmith.  To describe the process of making a sword would be almost as involved as describing how to make a car.  You can get into a lot of detail and there are many good books on sword and knife making.

During the Medieval period, the sword, certainly, was an important weapon and a symbol of the knights.  The sword reached maturity in its development during this time.  In the 900’s the metal was hardened and tempered.  Hardening makes the blade stronger and tempering makes it more flexible.  In the 11th Century, the Normans of Northern France developed the sword type most associated with the Crusades - with a cross guard straight and long like a Christian cross. 

June25 (15)The cross guard is the “T” of the sword, which protects the hand.  The blade is the long, sharp, dangerous part.  The grip is what is held and the pommel is the counter-weight and decoration at the end of the grip.  The cross guard, grip and pommel together are called the hilt.  When you say “bury it to the hilt”, it means the entire blade up to the cross guard. 

After saying that the forge at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is the right setup to make a sword, I figured it was best to make sure so I made one.  I used a piece of hard steel from an old buckboard wagon and fashioned a likeness of a short sword I saw in a book I have on German Medieval weapons.  In the drawing I thought the pommel was too big, but it turned out a good thing I followed that old illustration carefully because the balance ended up just right.  Lessons like that are a big part of the “archeology in reverse” of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Medieval Sheep Shearing Scissors

In the Wool Cottage at the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests see several Medieval spring-type scissors.  They often ask whether they are authentic June3 (26)to the Middle Ages and whether they are used to shear the nearby sheep.  The answer to both questions is “Yes”.   In addition, the good wife uses these scissors to cut the yarn.

Spring scissors like these go back to the ancient Egyptians, who made them out of bronze.  The Romans had not only iron spring scissors, but also developed a pivot scissor that is the ancestor of the modern scissors.  The Roman pivot-type used crossing blades like modern hand held grass shears.  By modern, I mean like the kind Grandpa used to trim the edges of his lawn on hands and knees. 

July17 (1)Medieval spring scissors were made of iron by the blacksmith.  The middle of the metal, which is the bottom of the scissors, is made of high carbon iron that is heated, cooled and heated again to make it like spring steel.  That gives these scissors their name.  In the middle on both sides are handles that let a person squeeze the scissor to make it cut.  At the ends, or top, are the blades, which are separate.  The tension between the blades is created by a slight twist in the spring end. 

These scissors were not especially difficult to make and the design stayed the same until the late Middle Ages.  They were, therefore, well known by common people and put to daily use in the home, on the farm and in the castles.  On the other hand, it is unbelievable how much work it takes to squeeze these scissors over and over on a job such as shearing a sheep.  Once again it is easy to underestimate the effort that went into something as common to us as cutting with scissors.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Medieval Sickles and Scythes

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests have asked about the tools used to harvest crops during the Middle Ages.  Unfortunately July13 (7)for the peasants, there had been improvements in crop planting tools (such as the plow) but none in crop harvesting.  Basically, they had to deal with the harvesting of grain crops such as wheat and barley by using a hand-held sickle in one hand and grasping the stems in the other.  That meant bending over and cutting almost at ground level.  Ouch!  For hay crops, which is cutting grass and similar crops for winter animal feed, peasants commonly are pictured in Medieval drawings using a scythe.  That is a blade which is straighter and heavier than that of a sickle and is mounted on a long, heavy handle.  A scythe handle required the use of two hands but was swung while standing erect.  That sounds better, but still a lot of “back work”.  Some of the blades for scythes were made curved and light like a sickle blade and with lighter handles.  Then and now these were used for weed control.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress this weed cutting tool is what is used most because to date we have not had any grain

crops or hay to cut. 

The history of sickles and scythes goes way back into the ancient world.  In the Middle Ages they were also used as weapons.  Peasants were sometimes called upon to fight and these tools were what they had available.  Symbolically, the sickle came to represent the peasant farmer and the scythe to represent the “Grim Reaper” or death.  There was no set standard angle, length or curve to the blades.  Each blacksmith had his own style.  The most popular blade in use at the Ozark Medieval Fortress was made by Rasmus, a volunteer from Denmark.  What is amazing is that in the modern day of gas-powered weed cutters, this ancient tool is still in use all over the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Medieval Castle Construction and Life

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have askedJune22 (1) me to put together a video of my favorite photos and video clips taken over the more than 850 tours I have led there.  It has been a lot of work, but it is finished and I am pleased to say is now available.  It is in the gift shop at the Ozark Medieval Fortress and the best way to get it is to come visit the castle.  I understand some people may not be able to do that, so if you would like a copy you can call the Fortress’ Gift Shop and order one by phone if you have a credit card.  The cost is $20 plus Arkansas sales tax and $5 for shipping and handling.  The DVD is about 25 minutes long and a very pleasant look at Medieval castle construction and life.  It is also a great memento of a visit to the Middle Ages. 

Below is a clip of the first 2 minutes or so of the 25 minute DVD.  The phone number of the castle is 870-436-7625.