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Parts of a Sword and Their Anatomy Explained 

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: July 31, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Longer than a dagger and subtler than an ax, the sword was the most highly regarded of all weapons. Fitted with a grip and a hand guard, it has a long blade for thrusting or cutting. Swords have several possible varieties in form, design, and versatility, which evolved to suit the military strategies of the time.

A sword has two main parts: the hilt and the blade, each with distinctive characteristics. Let’s talk about the different parts of a sword, their practical use, and how they differ in each sword type.

Hilt

Cross Hilt Sword, 1600–1625
( Source)

The hilt consists of the pommel, grip, and sword guard. It comes in a wide variety of forms, depending on the type of sword and fighting techniques of the time. Early medieval swords had simple crossguards, and hilts eventually included finger guards, side rings, knuckle guards, and baskets.

Pommel

Sword Pommel
( Source)

Metal attached to the end of the grip, the pommel served as a counterweight to the blade, allowing a better hold on the weapon. Pommels were often spherical, but other shapes like triangular, mushroom, and brazil-nut were also common.

Grip

Swiss Saber Grip
( Source)

As the term suggests, the grip is the part of a sword gripped by the hand. Early medieval swords, especially arming swords, had a one-handed grip, but later longswords featured longer handles that allowed two-handed use. Most grips had wire wrapping that secured the sword handle. Polished leather, colored fabrics, and precious metals served as decoration.

Sword Guard

Sword Guard
( Source)

The sword guard prevents an opponent’s sword from sliding down the blade and injuring the wielder’s hand, hence the term “hand guard”. Apart from protecting the hand, it became a decorative part of the sword. The crossguard is the simplest form of guard that forms the profile of a crucifix.

On the other hand, the quillons are the arms of the crossguard on either side of the blade. Found in various shapes, they protected the wielder’s hand by blocking enemy blows. Some swords of the early 14th century had straight or forward-curving quillons.

Finger Guards

Rapier Finger Guards
( Source)

Sometimes called finger rings or arms of the hilt, the finger guards are the semi-circular bar at the plane of the blade attached to the crossguard. They protected the fingers gripping the ricasso and were common in thrusting swords like rapier and estoc.

Side Rings

Sword Side Rings
( Source)

Sometimes called ring guards, the side rings are positioned at the center of the crossguard, at right angles to the blade. They provided extra protection on the hand during parrying actions. They were common features on rapiers, two-handed swords, and the Scottish Lowland sword.

Knuckle Guard

Hilt from a Court Sword with Knuckles Guard
( Source)

Sometimes called a knuckle bow, the knuckle guard is a narrow metal strip that curves over the length of the hilt, from the crossguard to the pommel. It laid the groundwork for the development of decorative hilts during the Renaissance. It protected the warrior’s knuckle, making it an essential feature on rapiers, smallswords, and sabres.

Basket Guard

Basket-Hilted Sword, 1600–1625
( Source)

The basket-hilted swords protected the wielder’s hand in a protective cage of metalwork. Basket-hilted swords were used throughout Europe from the mid-16th century, though they are often associated with the 18th-century Scottish broadswords. The Venetian broadsword or schiavona also features a distinctive form of basket hilt.

Blade

Anatomy of a Longsword
( Source)

The blade is what makes a sword a deadly weapon. It consists of an edge and point, though blade shape and configuration vary for different purposes. Some blades are efficient for thrusting, others for cutting.

Forte and Foible

The strongest part of the blade is called forte, from the French adjective fort, which means strong. It is located just above the hilt and may or may not be sharpened. On the other hand, the weakest part of the blade is called foible, from the Old French feble, which means feeble. It is located at the end of the sword blade, between the point and the middle. Generally, swordsmen utilized the forte on parrying against the foible of the opponent’s blade.

Edge

The edge is the sharpened part of the blade for cutting. Depending on the type of sword, blades may have one or two sharp edges. Early medieval swords had a straight, double-edged blade, but sabers featured a slightly curved one-edged blade. Some thrusting swords, especially the smallsword, had a stiff triangular blade without sharpened edges.

Point

The point is the tip of the blade used for thrusting. In the Middle Ages, the development of plate armor required sharply pointed thrusting swords, with blades that taper more toward the point. However, other swords like the falchion are distinctive for their clipped tip.

Central Ridge

Sword, 1375–1450, Western European
( Source)

There are a great variety of sectional shapes in sword blades to make them lightweight and rigid as much as possible. Earlier swords with diamond cross-sections had a central ridge running along the middle of the blade just before the point.

Fuller

Sword, ca. 1500, Spanish
( Source)

Sometimes called a blood groove, the fuller is a hollowed portion of the blade that runs along its length. It lightens the sword blade without compromising its structural integrity. Not all swords had fullers as they were later technological advances in metalworking. In the 16th and 17th centuries, some fuller designs became decorative and a testament to the craftsman’s skill.

Ricasso

Sword Ricasso
( Source)

Some European swords feature a ricasso, an unsharpened portion of the blade just above the hilt. It allowed the wielder to grip the blade safely past the sword guard for better point control. Rapiers, Highland claymores, and German zweihanders, or two handers often feature a ricasso.

Scabbard

Sword and Scabbard
( Source)

Scabbards often have a cloth lining to protect the blade and they are sometimes as expensive as the swords. Ancient swords like the Roman gladius had scabbards made from organic materials like wood and leather.

Early medieval scabbards were generally blocky, but they eventually became slimmer and more decorative in later periods. Viking swords and longswords had metal chapes that protected the end of the scabbard with later swords often featuring decorative metal fittings in silver and gold.

European Swords vs. Japanese Swords

European swords and Japanese swords have different constructions, and their sword parts vary in terminology and purpose. For instance, the latter often features a disk-shaped tsuba or hand guard instead of the classic cross hilt. Also, Japanese swords like the katana don’t need a pommel to counterbalance the blade, as the samurai wielded them differently.

Japanese blades are also unique in the type of steel and tempering, as swordsmiths craft them from high carbon steel called tamahagane using traditional techniques. They also have several aesthetic features on the blade itself that make them a work of art, especially the hamon or temperline pattern. Still, both European and Japanese swords remain relevant in martial arts today.

Facts About the European Swords

In the Middle Ages, European swords started to evolve from the Viking swords into a classic cruciform design that we know today.

Here are the things you need to know about the European swords:

European swords varied in the type of steel and tempering.

The Romans used the piling technique on their gladius swords, while the Vikings utilized the pattern welding technique. The so-called Ulfberht swords had blades made of crucible steel, known as wootz and later as Damascus steel. Later improvements in sword making resulted in swords with high-quality carbon steel blades.

Blade designs adapted to fighting styles of the time.

Slashing swords such as those of the Viking Age, had blades efficient against lightly armored opponents. The development of heavy plate armor eventually led to swords efficient for thrusting. While cut-and-thrust swords had sharp edges and points, late medieval swords like estocs had an acutely pointed blade and served as armor piercers.

Some European swords had flame-shaped or flammard blades.

Two-Handed Sword, 1550–1600
( Source)

Many believe that a wavy undulating blade would inflict a more deadly wound than a straight blade. However, a flame-shaped or flammard blade made little difference in a sword’s cutting efficiency. Some zweihanders or two-handers of the German Landsknechts featured flammard blades. The doppelsöldners wielded the weapon against the pikes on the battlefield, and some of them served as ceremonial weapons and parade swords or paratschwert.

The curved blade was early appreciated in Asia before its introduction to Europe.

In Asia, the Persians and the Indians long used curved blades before the Turks introduced them to Europe. In the West, the Turkish scimitar was modified into the cavalry sabre. Japanese swords like the katana also relied on slightly curved blades with a two-handed grip and eventually became ornate weapons carried by the samurai class.

Medieval weapons remain relevant in Historical European Martial Arts.

Unlike modern fencing that grew from smallsword and military saber traditions, the HEMA focuses on fighting methods from classical antiquity, Late Middle Ages, and Renaissance. Practitioners often use the longsword, rapier, zweihander, and other medieval weapons. Some even study how to fight on horseback using the sword.

Conclusion

Each type of sword has its recognizable form and design, which contributed to its efficiency as a weapon. Sword hilts evolved from the classic cruciform design to more elaborate styles that added protection to the hand. Blade designs also adapted to military strategies of the time. Today, these swords remain relevant among the practitioners of historical fencing.

Sources Cited

u003colu003ern tu003cliu003eu003cspan style=u0022font-weight: 400;u0022u003eFord, R. (2006). Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor. DK Pub. u003ca href=u0022https://books.google.com/books/about/Weapon.html?id=9WdYAAAAYAAJu0022u003ehttps://books.google.com/books/about/Weapon.html?id=9WdYAAAAYAAJu003c/au003eu003c/spanu003eu003c/liu003ern tu003cliu003eu003cspan style=u0022font-weight: 400;u0022u003eMcNab, C. (Ed.). (2010). Knives and Swords: A Visual History. DK Pub. u003ca href=u0022https://books.google.com/books/about/Knives_and_Swords.html?id=sB5ZPgAACAAJu0022u003ehttps://books.google.com/books/about/Knives_and_Swords.html?id=sB5ZPgAACAAJu003c/au003eu003c/spanu003eu003c/liu003ern tu003cliu003eu003cspan style=u0022font-weight: 400;u0022u003eOakeshott, E. (2012). European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Boydell Press. u003ca href=u0022https://books.google.com/books?id=NkD86JPgCS4Cu0022u003ehttps://books.google.com/books?id=NkD86JPgCS4Cu003c/au003eu003c/spanu003eu003c/liu003ern tu003cliu003eu003cspan style=u0022font-weight: 400;u0022u003eWeapons: An International Encyclopedia From 5000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. (1990). St. Martin’s Press.  u003ca href=u0022https://books.google.com/books/about/Weapons.html?id=iEpJYgh3gkwCu0022u003ehttps://books.google.com/books/about/Weapons.html?id=iEpJYgh3gkwCu003c/au003eu003c/spanu003eu003c/liu003ernu003c/olu003e

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