Walker plays the sax

Today is a rainy day, cool but not cold. My lawn is starting to green up.

I still expect another snowfall before spring.

I meant to post the pictures below on Monday, but was prevented for reasons explained yesterday. Then I figured I’d better review the Barnitz book while its memory remained fresh (memories go bad faster than ripe bananas for me these days). So I left it to today to report on my big weekend project.

The Vikings had two kinds of swords. One, called a sverd, was a double-edged, one-handed broadsword. The other was similar to the sverd, but had only one cutting edge. This somewhat cheaper sword was called a saex (or seax, or sax). There was also a shorter version called a scramasax, which was used as a utility knife, chef’s knife and backup weapon. A few weeks ago I bought this replica scramasax on eBay:


The knife itself is pretty decent. It appears to be a copy of a 7th Century Frankish scramasax presently located in the Cleveland Museum of Art (which I’ve visited, years back—great arms and armor collection). A knife like that is kind of early for my own Viking “impression,” but it wasn’t uncommon for weapons to be passed down from generation to generation.

The main problem with this knife, and the reason, I suspect, why the guy on eBay is selling them off cheap, is the sheath that comes with it. This sheath’s first sin is the black leather, which is something all serious reenactors eschew. It seems the Vikings did not blacken their leather.

Secondly, the sheath has too narrow a “collar.” The collar is important in a knife hung horizontally (in the Viking manner), because you need to hold it in the sheath with friction, as you can’t depend on gravity. But this sheath’s collar is too narrow to allow the knife to be completely sheathed. The guard comes up against it and is too big to squeeze inside. The only way to use this sheath is to slit the collar’s closed side, creating a pair of “wings” on either side that hold the knife only loosely. Since the knife is grip-heavy, this makes it prone to slipping out, especially in the action of live steel.

So I made a sheath of my own. It looks like this:


I’m pretty happy with it. It’s tight enough to hold the scramasax securely, and the rear belt loop is far enough toward the collar to make it hang pretty straight. You’ll note that the knife is suspended with the cutting edge upward in this configuration, but that’s something many reenactment groups prefer, or even insist on. It has the advantage of putting the weight down on the knife’s spine, which then doesn’t cut into the bottom of the sheath (an academic point here, since I gelded the blade for live steel use). And it’s no problem to draw that way, because it’s worn behind the back.

My real innovation is the shape of the collar. Instead of it being cut straight across, it’s cut at an angle. This wasn’t the result of a plan, but of the shape of the piece of scrap leather I was using. Once it was done, though, I found I rather liked it. It has a humped, whale-backed appearance that looks very Scandinavian to me.

Probably wouldn’t be approved by the English reenactors, though. But I already know the English reenactors would laugh my impression off the field.

My vengeance, needless to say, would be terrible to behold, but that would be bad for transatlantic relations.

7 thoughts on “Walker plays the sax”

  1. Hmmm. My middle daughter has introduced me to “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series of books by John Flanagan. (They’re “juvenile” fantasy fiction.) Flanagan has the rangers in these stories armed with bows and what he describes as a sort of long knive/short sword called a “saxe knife.” Guess he knows at least a tiny bit about Viking arms.

    Let me echo Phil: that’s a good looking knife. Nice work with the sheath as well.

  2. Lars: you know the first thing I thought when I saw your scramasax was “Bowie Knife”-which just goes to show how little I know about such things! Nice weapon, though.

    How long is this specimen, btw?

  3. Well, I did a quick search and found this:

    —–begin quote—–

    The Anglo-Saxons, better known as the English, were originally named after the knives they carried. These were the “Saxe”, which incidentally still means “knife” in modern North German dialect, North Germany being where the ancestors of the English came from. So, the “Saxons” translates into modern English as the “knife-men”

    The Saxe was about 16″ overall, with an 12-13″ blade, which ended in what we would now call a “gut hook”. Except that it was highly sharpened, and was in fact a “ripping-hook”. The obvious purpose was to rip open their opponents in combat.

    —–end quote—–

    The article is here: http://www.knifeart.com/thekbyedkon.html

    So, Lars, did those North Germans/Saxons get their knives from the Vikings, or was it the other way around?

  4. The Vikings got them from the Saxons. In fact many Vikings were probably descendents of Saxons. During the early Viking age, the saex was the preferred weapon of the west Norwegians.

    As to length, mine is 13 1/2″ inches long, which makes it a little short for live steel.

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