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Construction Details of a Small Sword

Disassembled hilt
View of the completely disassembled hilt.

While cleaning weapons in preparation for the new upcoming exhibit Bullets & Blades: The Weapons of America’s Colonial War and Revolution, we had the rare opportunity to completely disassemble an American small sword; a sword made by the Boston, Massachusetts silversmith William Cowell, Jr. (1713-1761), ca. 1740-1760. (The pommel of the sword was loose and easily slipped off the tang with little additional assistance.)

With the sword disassembled and cleaned, several interesting construction details are visible. 


A pommel
Note the vertical line where the two halves of the pommel were soldered together.

The Pommel.                                The pommel is composed of two cast halves silver soldered together along its center. Note the clear solder joint line extending downward from the top of the pommel. The ring at the bottom of the pommel is a second formed piece of silver soldered together into a ring then soldered to the bottom of the pommel.

The grip.
The sword’s grip is formed from a single carved wooden core covered in twisted silver wire. The silver wire forms what appears to be a braided texture to the grip, but the wire is not actually braided. The braided effect is formed by laying pairs of oppositely twisted wire next to each other. Each pair of twisted wire is secured to the grip by passing the ends of the wires through small holes in the upper and lower ends of the wooden grip.

Grip wrap
Note how the oppositely twisted wires for a braided effect

The wire at the bottom of the grip is held securely in place by friction when the blade tang is pushed through the hole in the grip. The wire on the top end of the grip is clearly shown to have been forced upwards out of the upper hole of the grip and folded over the top of the grip.

The knuckle bow – quillon block.
The knuckle bow, quillon block, pas d’ane rings and quillon are formed from one casting of silver. However, the bottom of the quillon block has a decorative rectangular spacer that provides an attractive joint between the knuckle bow casting and the counter guard.

Transition from knuckle bow assembly to the counter guard
A rectangular spacer provides an attractive transition from the knuckle bow assembly to the counter guard.

The hilt assembly.
As is seen in the photo below, the assembly of the hilt is a fairly straight forward process. The counter guard and knuckle bow is fit over the blade tang along with the wire-covered grip. The pommel is then fit over the end of the tang holding the grip securely in place and locking a post at the top the end of the knuckle bow in place. The blade tang is lightly worked with a hammer to slightly mushroom the end locking the entire hilt assembly securely onto the blade.

Final assemby
View of the hilt during final assembly.

Blog post by Christopher D. Fox, Curator, Fort Ticonderoga.