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    Bronze Age Weaponry

    I've lately become more interested in the Bronze Age, and found this site - A bronzesmith working in the UK reproducing many historical examples. Also he has experimented a fair bit with the weight and balance of his recreations compared to historical examples. He raises an interesting point that a well made bronze weapon can match equally an iron weapon, and so postulates that the transition from Bronze to Iron would not have been so straightforward, as at the time when Bronze working was at it's best, Iron working was in it's infancy.

    My name is Neil Burridge and this site showcases my work as a bronze sword smith. Over the last 12 years I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the leading archaeologists in the study of ancient weapons. This has enabled me to have hands on experience of the original artifacts and has greatly helped me in the understanding of their manufacture and the skills of the ancient metal-workers. In my work I strive to recreate the quality and elegance of the ancient bronze swords.
    Apart from the design, the three qualities that you would look for in a bronze sword are, weight, balance and alloy, the level of skill Bronze age sword makers achieved with clay casting technology is stunning, and the fact that no one can match them today, is even more humbling.

    Bronze swords rarely exceeded 800 grams, if it is over 1 kilo it is way to heavy, "it's a lemon". Due to the difficulty of casting swords in sand, most foundries will cast on the heavy side, and although the end results would look good in a glass case, they bare no comparison to a genuine Bronze Age weapon.

    It is interesting that if you were to look at the balance point on bronze age swords, its much nearer the handle than you would expect, the blades taper evenly toward the point, and are not end heavy.

    The alloys used in the bronze age for swords, on average, vary from 8% to 12% tin and in later swords the lead content varies 1% to 5% depending on the tin content. My personal feelings are that the hardness of sword alloys could not exceed the hardness of the tools used in the process of edge hardening.
    All bronze age sword edges were hardened and sharpened at the same time, the edges were forged down to a thin, hard wafer. The work is so neat, its not easy to understand how they achieved it.

    Over the past couple of years I have had some interesting interactions with archaeologists researching bronze swords. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that we only see bronze swords in drawings in one dimension, and have little understanding of their weight, balance and how they were used.

    The first thing we would all say, when a bronze age sword was paced in are hands is, "it's so small", and they were small! It is only by the end of the bronze age that swords were getting any thing like the size we imagine, so 67cm would be a very big sword, and would probably weigh around 700 grams.

    "What's so good about, my swords?"
    I hear you ask. I cast my swords vertically in very hot moulds. This means I can cast swords at the right weight, it also means I get a better structure to the bronze. As the casting method is nearer the bronze age method, I use a 12% tin/copper alloy which is at the top end for tin content for a bronze age sword. This casts well and gives a nice stiff blade. I mix all my own alloys and never use soft silicon bronzes.
    Hardened Edges
    One of the most beautiful things about the bronze age swords are the recasso edges, which are forged in. All my swords come with hardened edges, done in the (forged in) bronze age method. The forging is quite time consuming and I believe I am the only person able to do this at the moment. I cast all my blade as near to a sensible weight for bronze age sword as possible, and tuning a mould might take me many days and up to nine castings until I am happy.

    In recent television programme for the BBC, one of my bronze swords was repeatedly stuck against a reproduction of an early iron sword, in a test to show the advantages of iron over bronze. Even though both myself and Hector Cole (the iron sword maker) had advised the programme makers the that the bronze sword would do better than expected, they were very surprised. The bronze sword was more than a match for the iron, both blades received heavy damage. The ability of bronze to rapidly work harden under impact, and the lack of carbon in early iron swords must have created a bit of a technological stand off around 700bc. At this time the art of the bronze caster was at its height and iron working was in its infancy.

    In my work as a bronze sword maker i try to catch the essence of sword making in the bronze age and get as close as possible to the originals.
    Sword Finishing
    I have written this page to give a rough idea of what's involved in the finishing after casting. I put a lot of work into the swords and I am constantly increasing their quality and accuracy. I believe that my bronze swords are some of the most authentic reproductions of these ancient swords on the market today. You would be surprised by some of the questions I get asked, "Do they come out of the mould shiny?" "Are they made of steel?" and "Do you get them made in India?" and the best insult was "I could make that on a CNC milling machine for half the cost!" and so on.

    When the sword comes out of the mould it looks nothing like the finished object. Like the originals I cast the Limehouse sword through the tip of the blade and one can see the pouring cup and the over casting called the flash. In a way this is a good thing as it takes the metal past the edges of the blade so they will have a better micro structure when forged.

    The first step is to remove all the flash and the bulk of the pouring cup and inspect the casting for flaws and to make sure that there is no misalignment. On the originals they would forge the misalignment's out to recover the castings and very few Bronze Age swords are truly symmetrical. Most have noticeable to minor handle distortion.

    Here we can see the sword starting to take shape. It has been cleaned all over to check for casting flaws some casting flaws, small ones, are acceptable being found on the originals as well. The pouring cup has been completely removed, handle slot added and the blade straightened and profiled. This must have been a pain in the Bronze Age with lots of grinding and forging to recover the blade profile at the tip, possibly one of the reasons they moved to casting though the handles. Also at this point I will work-harden the blade to stiffen it up by gently bending it back and forth. This has the effect of cold working the bronze which makes it more rigid. I am convinced this was done in the past to get a more usable and less bendy sword.

    From here it is all hand finishing and it takes ages. They are rubbed down with abrasive papers this is the only way to get an optical flat finish which you see on all Bronze Age swords. The best test for this is that you can see your own reflection with little distortion compared to a machine finish. While the blade is in a dull sheen I forge the lines into the blade, this proves impossible when the blade is polished due to the reflection. Most, if not all decoration lines run parallel to the edges. It is incredibly difficult to get anything like the neatness achieved by the ancient sword smiths. The last step before polishing is to forge the blade edges. This is where the first 3mm is hammered down to a thin wafer. This also hardens them at the same time and puts the beautiful stepped edges or hollow ground as some books describe it. I believe I am the first person to rediscover this method since the Bronze Age. I do use a machine to polish the final finish on the blade and even this can take two hours. Although my swords come polished I often wonder if the Bronze Age weapons were finished to a sheen, being much easier to maintain on the battlefield as polished bronze reacts to the slightest finger print.

    The handles are very intricate on these swords and riveting is a hard earned skill. Over-hammering the rivets always results in splitting the handles and the Limehouse sword has the most difficult handle of them all, with the rivets being so close together where the wood is very short grained and easy to split. The finished sword is such a contrast to what it started out as and would have taken nearly three days. Striking a balance between quality and cost is always difficult but bearing in mind some of these swords were made for kings it would be hard to find a comparative value nowadays.
    And some of his work:

    Y-DNA: I1* (Ware, Hertfordshire)
    MT-DNA: U5a1b4 (Boughton Aluph, Kent)
    Father's MT-DNA: J1c8 (Wolverhampton, Staffordshire)
    Grandfather's MT-DNA: H1b (Littlehampton, Sussex)

  2. The Following User Says Thank You to Anglecynn For This Useful Post:

     MikeWhalen (08-02-2015)

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