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In 1997, a
knight named Sir Gilbert (pronounced the French way: gil BEAR') made
a gift to me of a sword that he had made. Our previous design, a
Dagorhir standard, tended to last me six months at best on the
grueling Roman schedule. That doesn’t say a lot for its longevity,
but it was the longest-lasting of any sword design I had yet seen.
Sir Gilbert gave me a sword that lasted an unprecedented two
years! When that sword finally broke down, we performed detailed
“autopsies” of swords that had eventually died. It was clear that
Sir Gilbert was a painstaking perfectionist.
below was published for Rome six months later in Commentaries XI. We've
taken a few shortcuts, and invite you to do so if necessary. This is
not the easiest or most basic sword design.
maintaining one’s own weapons is a prerequisite of Roman rank, where
professional soldiery prides itself on self-sufficiency. Anyone of
Optio rank or higher is expected to own and bring their own! If you
bring a sword and it breaks, then you can ask. But have yours fixed
by the next event! You really should have two swords at every
Some of the
products and methods below are recommendations only. There are
endless variations on this theme. The specific product and supplier
recommendations below are the best. The method described below
is proven, and has resulted in shields lasting a decade of use with
feet x ½ inch fiberglass rod. Square if you can get one,
cylindrical if you can't. For cylindrical rods, golf course flag
poles work brilliantly. (You do NOT have to commandeer them! Visit
a country club's maintenance office and ask. Chances are they have
some old ones sitting around and will be happy to share.)
1/2 sheet of 1/2" EVAlite (McMaster-Carr
Cheaper alternatives include1 sheet of 3/8" thick EVAlite
You can substitute EVAlite for a regular 3/8" camping pad
with decent results and a significant savings. But I recommend the
EVAlite for longevity. Especially for swords! It's hard to find
camping foam in 1/2" thickness, and your core SHOULD be that
I recommend 1 can of 3-M "77" (multi-purpose) spray adhesive
(1 can for 4 shields; about $10 each at Home Depot). DAP Adhesive
is a viable and cheaper alternative.
LOTS of fresh "standard" exacto knife blades for cutting
thick foam neatly *requires* a really long and sharp blade and is
the trickiest part of making one of my shields. Fortunately,
rectangle shields are all straight cuts.
1 2" roll of Scotch 3M duct tape - nothing but the best!
1 1/2" roll of Scotch strapping tape.
1 Metal yard stick
for measuring and cutting. A square edge is nice too!
BUILDING YOUR SWORD
The first and
perhaps most important step in constructing a Gilbert Sword is
completion of what we call the “box”. This is a tape-reinforced section
of foam that protects sword tip from being torn apart by the core. The
addition of this box will triple the life span of any
sword design. Begin by cutting out foam pieces of the following
The next step is to cover each of these
pieces with duct tape as follows. Cut pieces 2” long, the same length as
duct tape is wide. In the picture to the right, the facing piece of foam
is covered with a piece of duct tape that goes around the sides of the
foam. A second and longer piece is attached to the back. The back will
face out from the core. The facing side will face the core and be
protected by the duct tape that covers it. Do all four pieces this way.
duct-taped sections of foam to the tip of the core. They should be flush
with the tip. Start by securing the ½” sections to either side, the
secure the 1½” sections to either side, as demonstrated in the diagram
to the right. The foam should be secured firmly, but not tightly. Try
not to compress the foam when you apply it to the core with duct tape.
It will be important later that the box be close to 1½” wide x 1½” thick
x 2” long. Take care to keep it square.
Your next step
after completion of the box will be to prepare the foam for the blade.
If you do not yet have the quillions secured above the handle, don’t
worry. You can do this any time. You can base your blade length on an
estimate, just make sure there will be plenty of room for your hand, the
quillions, and the pommel. If all of these extras have already been
applied, the measurement must be as accurate as possible, snugly against
both the quillions and the bottom of the box.
Measure and cut
out four pieces (right) based on these measurements. The two wide pieces
are 2½” wide x the blade length from the box down. The two thin pieces
are 1” wide x the same length. Get your glue out and stir it well.
You’re ready to start gluing the blade.
On gluing: ALWAYS
use the glue liberally. So many would-be sword makers are careful not to
overdo it. You should always put it on thickly and evenly, just so it
isn’t dripping over the edges. And let it get nice and tacky, almost
dry. In 75° temperatures, it may take as long as 15 minutes to tack up
properly. Be patient: do it right the first time.
Apply the foam as
described in the detail below. Be careful to keep the foam snug against
the core, and use lots of glue. If your cuts were well measured, the
edges of the blade should be flush when all three layers have been
adhered. Gilbert notched in the inner slices as detailed below. It
reinforces the joint between the lower and upper blade. We have an
easier alternative, below.
Once you have
successfully glued all three layers of the lower blade to the core, set
a piece of plywood over the whole thing and lay weights or books on that
so that you have a nice, even, constant distribution of pressure across
the entire blade length. Give the glue a day to dry, then you are ready
for the next step.
Cut a notch out of both sides of your
a straight section down 1".
then replace it with a 3" long 1.5" wide piece that runs from the notch
to the top of the box. This serves to reinforce (as Sir Gilbert
intended) without overcomplicating things with the locking tab detailed
in the graphic below.
I removed the old text, it was charactistically verbose and long winded.
As I started to say above, cut out two tabs, each 3" long and 1.5" wide.
Glue these in, from the bottom of the notch to the top of the box. The
"Up and Over" piece detailed below is an unnecessary complexity in
Gilbert's original design.
When you have
completed the tip, run duct tape up the entire flat of the blade up to
Now you are
ready for the final step (well, except for the cover and pommel).
You're going to
cut a a strip 1.5" wide by the the overall length up, over and around
your sword. (Outer piece, below left) Measure the entire blade up and
over the tip and back down the other side. You can do this with two
pieces, but one is better.
make sure the
blade edges are flush where the seams are, that you have a flat surface
you can glue to. If not, carefully use a new razor to trim the edge, but
not too much. Now glue the final outer edge into place. Remember not to
stretch the foam as you glue it in place.
When it has dried,
put a strip of ½” wide strapping tape up and over the entire outside
section (edge) of the blade. (Above right) Keep it centered! Your blade
is exactly 1½” thick. The strapping tape should cover only the center ½
inch. Now use a fresh razor to trim off the uncovered foam, resulting in
a beveled edge. That means anything not covered by the duct tape on the
flat, and the strapping tape on the edge. Cutting at an angle will give
you a nice, finished appearance of a bladed sword. A beveled edge will
also reduce the slapping effect of a wide sword edge, and give your
victims more “progressive resistance” when you smite them.
If you want to add a spherical Gladius pommel, first run several ½”
strips of duct tape around the bottom of the core, keeping flush with
the bottom edge. This builds up the ½” core because the foam
will not stay wrapped so tightly as to conform to that circumference.
Now cut 2
strips of foam that are 4” wide. One will be 4 & 5/8” long, the other
will be 6 & 3/4” long. Wrap the first and inner piece (yes, you have
found inner peace) snugly around the bottom of the core as detailed
below. Tape it firmly into place with a ½” wide piece of strapping or
duct tape. Secure the outer piece on around the first piece, but don’t
overlap the joints where the wrap comes full circle.
Tape it into place again with a ½” wide piece of duct or strapping
tape. This leaves you with a 4” long cylinder wrapping around the
bottom of the core, and ½” width of tape going around the middle
of that circumference. That tape represents the middle of the ball.
Start carving it into a spherical shape with a new razor.
Plug the hole in
the bottom with a piece of closed cell and tape the whole thing up. Tape
the cross guard too.
Now cover your
sword blade with gray or black cloth that is both light and durable, and
secure it to the guard. When you have completed this, find a good friend
and knock the crap out of him.
©1997-2005 Sean Richey. The sword design is Sir Gilbert's. He was generous
in sharing his design with Rome and we have honored him with the credit he
deserves. The instructions and graphics above are ours. Please feel free to
link to our page, but do not reproduce it without permission.