GLADIUS HINTS--MAKING AND
MAKING A GLADIUS BLADE
Forging a sword blade is a job for a skilled and experienced blacksmith, and is really beyond the scope of this website. However, a perfectly good blade can be made by "stock removal", or grinding a piece of steel into the desired shape. The quality of the finished blade will depend mostly on your own skill and the type of metal used, but bear in mind that most originals were not the best steel or outstanding workmanship. Even mild steel can be made into a very good-looking sword, though it will certainly not be as strong as a higher-carbon steel. Of course, harder steels are harder to grind!
You may have to ask around to determine what a good type of steel is for your purpose, and where to find it. The Sword Forum is a good place to start, http://www.swordforum.com/. Various mills or metal shops should be able to supply what you need, or even scrap from junkyards or recycling centers. You will need a piece that is at least as long and wide as your finished blade, and somewhere around 1/4" to 5/16" thick. For cutting out the basic shape, see this essay on metal cutting tools: http://www.armourarchive.org/essays/sasha_metal_cutting/.
Then start grinding! See
the Armoring Hints page for safety
A bench grinder, disc or belt sander, electric drill with sanding
and regular files are among the tools that might be used. The
of the blade can be a flattened diamond (with a discernable ridge down
the center) or lens-shaped. (Fullers (grooves) only came into use
on Roman blades later in the second and third centuries.) The
should be about a half-inch wide at the base, basically as wide as
while still fitting through the bone grip (see below). It should
taper down to a square or round cross-section where it projects through
the pommel. When the rough grinding is finished, the grinding
need to be removed by using finer and finer grades of grinding stones
sandpaper or files. Roman blades apparently usually taper
to the edge, but how sharp the blade will be is up to you. (Legio
XX requires blades to be slightly blunt, i.e., incapable of slicing
if they are to be used in public.)
Roman Army Talk has great
information on making and converting swords:
Grinding a blade, how-to: http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=22730
Find-It Fulham scabbard re-fit: http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=22681
YouTube videos on making a gladius, by G. Horvath, http://www.youtube.com/user/gabber700
Heat-treating the blade for strength is also beyond the scope and knowledge of this writer. Again, the Sword Forum may be a good place to find out how and where that can be done.
POMMEL AND GUARD CONSTRUCTION
These pieces are usually wood, though bone and ivory were also used. As stated on the Gladius page, most surviving hilt parts have not been analyzed, but any typical hardwood is acceptable. Lighter woods are fine, but should NOT be stained to imitate something darker. A couple coats of boiled linseed oil (mixed 50/50 with turpentine) will eventually darken the wood somewhat. Walnut is very popular on reproduction swords, and while it cannot be firmly documented it is a joy to work with.
Most Pompeii gladius pommels were more or less spherical. A hardwood ball from a craft store is perfect, and the diameter should be about the width of the blade or even less. The Segontium sword's pommel is more egg-shaped, but hardwood eggs are also sold in craft stores. There are a very few original pommels that are more disc-shaped, standing on edge, and it has begun to be common to see these on reproductions as they will (allegedly) lie closer to the body more comfortably. But these flatter pommels might be of later date than the first century AD, and a rounder pommel that is not too large is perfectly comfortable to wear and carry. For a bone pommel, the ball from a hip joint is perfect--check the dog-chew section of your local pet stores.
For a matching guard on a Pompeii sword, another craft store wood ball can be cut in half, or a little off-center for a guard that is more or less than a hemisphere. It should be a little wider than the blade, up to a quarter-inch on each edge, so a 2-1/2" ball for a 2"-wide blade should suffice. Like pommels, guards were typically round in plan (seen from the top or bottom), not flattened. Some were quite blockish and rectangular, rather than hemispherical, and some were decorated with grooves near the bottom edge.
The brass plate that is typically found on the bottom of the guard is not very thick, .015" to .032" brass being sufficient. It can be made the same size as the guard and simply mounted flat against it. Usually, however, it was set into a recess in the bottom of the guard. Use the guard to trace the shape out on the brass, then cut out the shape inside that line, about 1/8" smaller all around. File the edge smooth. Now use the plate to trace a line on the bottom of the guard with a knife, and use a small chisel or a Dremel tool to rout out the wood inside that line. The recess only needs to be a little deeper than the thickness of the metal. When the plate fits into its recess, mark and carefully drill/file/cut the hole in it for the tang.
The pommels on Mainz swords usually seemed to resemble a sphere which has been flattened somewhat, top to bottom. Like Pompeii pommels, they are typically round in plan, though larger in diameter. There does not seem to be any evidence for the "football" shaped pommels on the Deepeeka Mainz gladius. Mainz-style guards are more oval in plan, i.e., narrower from front to back than the pommel. This prevents them from being too bulky when worn. Construction is very similar to that of Pompeii hilt parts, but if you start with wooden balls you will hve to rasp and sand them down to a more suitable shape.
BONE GLADIUS GRIP
Making a bone grip for your gladius is easier than you might think. First, go to a pet supply store and look for plain white dog-chew bones four to eight inches long (not the flavored or filled kind), for two or three dollars each. The best ones have a nice squarish cross-section, though the more oval ones should be usable, and long ones can be cut to length with a hacksaw. You may have to check several stores.
Also buy a half-round rasp about eight inches long (and a handle if necessary). This rasp is the "secret weapon" of grip-making, and a new one will make life MUCH easier than an old one. You'll also need a medium-coarse half-round file, but if you have one already a new one is not vital. Get a dust mask, too.
Check to be sure the bone fits on your sword tang, and enlarge the hole if necessary. Usually the hole is plenty big--if you're worried about it wobbling on the tang you can pack the hole with wood shims. Cut it to the length you want--originals run 3" to 4". Now study one end and pencil on a cross-section that suits you and your bone. Octagonal seems to have been the most common, either more or less equilateral or sort of square with the corners angled off (i.e., four wide sides and four narrow sides). Hexagonal, septagonal, and round or oval grips are also known. Remember to check the thickness of your pommel and guard, so that the grip doesn't overhang them.
Clamp the bone in a vise or onto your workbench using leather or wood scraps to pad it, and get to work with the flat side of your rasp. Flatten one face at a time, watching to avoid any face becoming curved or twisted. You don't need to worry too much about perfect symmetry, because most lopsidedness will be hard to see once the pommel and guard are in place, and your hand probably won't be able to tell. Don't bother filing off the rasp marks, either.
Now use a ruler and pencil to divide the length into four equal segments, and draw the lines all the way around the grip. These mark the crests or peaks between the finger grooves. Clamp the bone down again and rasp out the grooves (with the round side of the rasp), working carefully to avoid going too deep or letting the rasp skip over the crests. Make the grooves evenly curved and not too deep--those on original examples tend to be shallower than on some reproductions. The peaks can be sharp or slightly rounded, but in either case most of the pencil lines should still be visible.
I have found this method to be just as easy and vastly neater than using power tools (not nearly as stinky, either!). Most of the bone dust lands in two neat piles, behind and under the vise. Sweep it up and sprinkle it in the garden, the roses love it. A word of caution: Bone dust is highly abrasive, so please wear a dust mask and don't expect your tools to last forever. If you don't trust yourself to do a good job with bone, try wood first. But since a bone is only a $3 investment, why not give it a try?
Fake ivory, called micata or micarta, is very realistic and available from jewelers' supply companies.
See the bottom of
page for recommendations on where to buy a good gladius. Also
see Sam Kimpton's page on how he modified his Deepeeka gladius, http://home.europa.com/~bessel/SPQR/Gladius.htm,
and Jared Fleury's, http://www.florentius.com/gladius.htm.
FROM QAMA TO GLADIUS
Atlanta Cutlery and other companies sell a big "qama" knife which can be modified into a useable Fulham-type gladius. It requires quite a bit of work, but total cost should be about $50. Beware: the blade might be chrome-plated, the removal of which will add quite a bit of work to the process.
The original Fulham gladius blade is 2" wide with parallel straight edges, but flared slightly at the hilt. It is 21" long without the tang, and the point is about 1/3 that length, 7". It is believed to be a transitional type between the older Mainz type (wide, waisted blade with long point) and the newer Pompeii pattern (narrower, parallel edges, short point). Click here for a drawing of blade shapes. The qama blade is 18"-19" long, 2" wide, with a 6" long point. It has an I-shaped handle of black horn riveted through the flat tang. The scabbard is wood covered with thin black leather, with metal chape and throat.
Start by cutting or drilling out the hilt rivets and removing the grip. (Use the horn for apron terminals, combs, pugio grip, etc.) You gain almost an inch of blade length because the hilt overlapped it; just shine that new bit up. Check to see that the full length of the blade will fit in the scabbard without trouble. If some blade sticks out, either cut it down or dismantle the scabbard and lengthen the cavity.
The tang, as it is, is too wide and short. Either cut it to about 1/4" wide and weld a rod or bolt (headless) to the end, or forge out what's there into the shape you need. Total tang length should be at least 9". Using a bolt or threaded rod allows you to secure the hilt with a nut if you like. All cutting can be done with a hacksaw, saber saw, or Dremel tool--it is not high-grade steel!
Now just make a new hilt as described above, and put it on. The original Fulham gladius was missing its hilt, but more likely resembled a Mainz style.
Remove the metal from the scabbard. The leather can be replaced if you like, and if you feel the wood is too thick, rasp it down some. How you finish the scabbard is also up to you, bearing in mind the general parameters in the Handbook. The original scabbard was of Mainz type, with side gutters extending top to bottom, and at least two embossed plates.
--NOTE: Associate member Andy Buse recently modified a qama, and discovered some changes. The blade and tang were hardened and difficult to cut, and the blade was chrome-plated. The handle was plastic! This may be from a different source than before.
IMPROVING THE MUSEUM REPLICAS POMPEII GLADIUS
The gladius from Museum Replicas is NOT recommended. It is made by Windlass Steelcrafts in India and comes with a usable scabbard, but the sword requires some modification before it is acceptable for use. Here are guidelines for making the Museum Replicas Pompeii Gladius more historically accurate, though it probably cannot be made as good as Albion's gladius or a custom-made sword. NOTE: The Museum Replicas "Maintz" Gladius might be modified into a decent Fulham or Mainz type blade, but the bone (or PLASTIC?) grip is incorrectly done and the scabbard is a Pompeii style. A number of other companies offer swords based on the Windlass Steelcrafts gladius, but their details have degenerated to the point where the piece is no longer salvagable. Beware! See the page of Things to Avoid. And the newer Deepeeka swords, available from various dealers, are much better "as is", so these guidlines are mainly for those who already own the Windlass sword.
The presence of a pommel nut is not incorrect, but if it looks too much like a ground-down cap nut (which it is), it can be further doctored or replaced. Unscrew it with padded pliers to remove the hilt pieces.
Sand the modern finish off the pommel and guard. If the pommel is too large for your tastes, replace it or reduce its size on a lathe, etc. It can have one or more grooves around the middle. The pommel of the Segontium gladius is egg-shaped.
DISCARD THE STEEL GUARD PLATE and replace it with one made of thin brass. Properly this is set into a shallow recess in the bottom of the guard (easily carved out with a Dremel tool). The guard can have carved decoration.
The grip can be made into a proper octagonal or hexagonal cross-section very easily with a rasp and a half-round file, then sanded smooth. Optimally, make a new grip of bone (see above).
Oil all the wood parts well with boiled linseed oil (can be mixed 50/50 with turpentine).
Beware: know what you're doing if you plan to alter the blade yourself. It may be very difficult to remove grinder marks, etc. Any competent armorer should be able to make these changes for you inexpensively.
The blade can be narrowed to about 2", and the point shortened slightly if desired. The triangular "ricasso" at the top of the blade can be ground off (the Segontium blade has small rectangular shoulders).
The crossbands need to be secured with small nails. Before doing that, you can remove them and the other brass parts, in order to decorate the brass plates as you like (copying an original example, of course). The frame can be cleaned up a bit, but be careful if you tin or silver it because the joints are soldered. The leather can also be peeled off and replaced with thin vegetable-tanned leather, dyed to whatever color you like. A small brass finial can be soldered to the tip of the scabbard. Place a metal ring through each suspension loop, soldering them shut for extra strength.
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