Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Grosse Messer


Some time ago I was contacted by a customer to produce for him a blunt, re-enactment sword in the style of a German “Grosse Messer”, meaning literally “big knife”.

These weapons of the renaissance form an intriguing family that take a variety of form and sizes, the style we elected for is of the longest type, a “krieges Messer”, a “war knife", identifying it as a type exclusively intended for use by the professional soldier of the day.  What's unusual about that is that many of the Messers were not exclusively for fighting; many occupied that intriguing place in the contemporary society as tools, status symbols, civilian personal defence and hunting swords. They existed as rudimentary Civilian implements and objects of the elite.

Their name “big knife” does not simply infer that they were large single edge blades, but reveals something of their manufacture as they were made by knife cutlers (a guild distinct from the sword cutlers) and also exploited a legal loop hole of the time that a peasant could not own a sword, yet there were no limits to what defined a knife, so knives became larger.

The design of this hand forged re-enactment sword was based on several modern examples including the fine piece by Peter Johnsson, as well as my own research on original pieces. The blade was forged from En9 carbon steel.

This is the story of the sword’s manufacture.
The starting stock for the blade was 20 inches of 40x10 En9
 This was forged out to 44 inches before a clip was forged in and the bevels were established, which produced the natural curve.

Once the outline of the sword had been formed with the bevels roughed forged, the spare material  in the tang end, was cut off to be forged into a punch to cut the hole in the guard.
The design called for a double fuller to be forged in so a tool was made to this, forging from both sides of the blade simultaneously.
Once these were forged, it was time to begin hand polishing  the blade with files and abrasives, the fullers were polished by wrapping 8mm diameter steel rods in abrasive and rubbing in slow even movements to ensure that the fullers terminates gracefully.
Once a rough polish had been achieved it was time to move on to the hilt parts, these were all hand forged from mild steel using a range of techniques.
The starting stock was a piece of 20mm square
This was knocked down to something like 16x 25.
The offcut from the tang was forged into a punch the same width as the widest point on the tang (pommel end) and used to hot punch out the slot.

Once the slot had been cut, the billet was marked out and the sections that would become the quillions were separated using a top set forged some time ago.  Care was taken not to intrude in to the newly punched slot, which would have damaged or distorted it.

The blanks for the quillions were then drawn out under the Goliath power hammer.
The Nagel hand guard was forged carefully from one piece.

A large rasp was used to set the shoulder before, finally, a bolster was employ to upset the back and fully square the shoulder. The long rivet or mortise would be trimmed shorter before final assembly of the guard.



After the clamour of forgework comes the inevitable fettling and making of dust, quite course dust at this point, but dust all the same.
The cross piece and the nagel were shaped and formed with files and abrasives until they were In a condition to marry.


These were fitted to the sword and progress could begin on fitting the oak grip and the asymmetric pommel.

Once all the holes had been drilled and the timber fitted, everything was secured.
Like in the originals, copper shims were carefully fabricated do ensure absolute tightness.
Copper tubes with steel rods were used as rivets- this exactly replicates the method used on originals.
The nagel guard was peened into a counter sunk hole on the reverse, piercing the blade securely in position.  Once the mortise had been peened it was nearly invisible.
The timber was sealed with several protective coats of linseed oil, which encourages any interesting aspects of the grain tremendously.
This also prevents filth from the hands marking the wood and the tannins from the oak staining the skin. The contrast between wood, copper and steel was also increased and the object is left with a satisfying variety of textures and colours.
Two astrological symbols were carved into the grip upon the customer’s request and the piece was finished.

Thank you.


  1. Beautiful work! I'm a big fan of the grosse messer and kriegs messer style.

  2. This is lovely Josh!

  3. Most interesting to learn about the distinctions characterizing the "big knife". Legal loophole for the non-gentry and manufacture by knife, rather than sword-makers - including scale handles. I had always puzzled over that one. Thank you for such an informative and interesting piece!

    And your work is impressive - lethally beautiful "knife"!