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War Hammer WIP

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

This is a War Hammer project I documented for the Facebook group Weapons ( August 2018. The War Hammer is of a type seen in Continental Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, also called a Horseman's Hammer, they were used one-handed by knights on horse back to crush and rip into armour and soft targets from above. The all iron and steel construction is indicative of the type, though the process by which pieces are mortised and tenoned together, along with the decorative elements, and overall creation of the piece may be of interest for those that have never seen a War Hammer being made.

I started the project by googling images of historic and contemporary examples of war hammers. I start googling with large key words such as "16th century war hammer" and as I find ones I like I pay attention to the words and phrase the original poster describe them as - From here I narrow my search and try to find a handful of pictures that I like, like these on the left which are two historical examples at the top, and a contemporary one by Cognot

I now study these photos and try to understand how these were constructed, what techniques were used and what materials. Once I have a plan in my head I select my materials and light the forge.

My starting material is a length of straightened coil spring (5160 most likely), a bar of 1050 for the head, and some mild low carbon steel for the hilt. Each of these materials has its special place and use within the project. The head needs to be impact resistant medium carbon, the shaft has to survive the stress of impact without breaking or bending and the hilt needs to be tough to protect the hand.

I start by forging what will be the shaft out of the spring steel. I have to keep in mind not only what I want to piece to look like, but also how it will balance and feel in the hand, also its dynamics; ie how it will flex and rebound in use.

I forged out a long taper leaving enough material to forge the tenon and bolster for the head at one end and blocked in the shoulders for the heavy square tang on the other.

After the shaft I forge the head and the hilt. I also make the two capstan nuts, pommel plate, and a few other components that I may or may not use but might as well forge while the fire is lit. Here is a picture of the three major components final forged.

Once final forging is complete and everything air cools until I can handle it (allowing the steel to cool slowly makes sure it does not accidentally harden). I then rough grind/draw file all the pieces clean to remove the forging scale and to refine the shapes.

Historically, at least in high end weapons, all signs of the blacksmiths trade was removed from the final object. This removal process was the job of the "whitesmith" who used files, grinding stones, and polishing wheels to 'whiten' the blacksmiths 'black' iron. It is always a battle in my contemporary art to decide how much to do this or not, as leaving some trace of the process through the forge and on the anvil tells the story of the piece. But in this case I want the final piece to look original so I will remove every trace of scale and hammer marks, and then make sure I remove all trace of modern grinding belts etc leaving a bright draw filed finish.

After everything it to a whitesmithed finish I file in all lines, shapes, and decoration. I get all the pieces to fit together on the shaft; the head on its tenon and the hilt on its tang but do not set them yet. First I will heat treat the head and the shaft separately to bring out each steels different characteristics, after tempering I will final set and peen the head on the shaft and move onto the handle and pommel.

Here you can see the heat treated head and shaft fit together with the mortise and tenon peened atop the capstan nut. I have also added a saddle hook to the side of the head so the weapon could be carried on the belt or on horse tack.

I then make a hardwood grip core to fit between the hilt and the pommel. This is carved with flutes, then stretchy sheep skin leather is first dyed then molded onto the core with the traditional wet cordage method. Final assembly, patina and bit of artificial age and the war hammer is finished! Scroll down to see the final photos of the War Hammer August 2018

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