Forge Experiments: Long Rondel Daggers

This is a guest piece by Andrea Carloni (in cooperation with Marco Vignola, Enrico Lazzari and Matteo Ercole)

The following article is intended as an account of a recent attempt at reproducing two long rondel daggers, a peculiar kind of side-arm which is widely attested  both in museum collections and Central European iconographic sources (see bottom of page, ref. “A”), from at least late 14th to the last decade of 15th century, though it is basically neglected by most re-enactors.

Craftsmen: Enrico Lazzari & Matteo Ercole (Vicenza, Italy)
Commissioners / Supervisors: Marco Vignola & Andrea Carloni

LEFT: a long rondel dagger commissioned by Marco Vignola (veteran member).

RIGHT: fight scene from an Italian illumination dating back to 1460 c.  (De Sphaera Codex, folio 5v, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena, Italy).

ABOVE: an original 15th c. long  rondel dagger, displayed at the National Museum of Bargello in Florence (inv. RE115). BELOW: a faithful replica of the original shown above, commissioned by Andrea Carloni (guest member).

The technical approach to the blade was completely different for the two pieces, due to their distinct sections and intended use. Furthermore, we have to point out that the dagger commissioned by Andrea is directly inspired by an original finding, showing punctual features to reproduce. Instead, Marco’s dagger is the fruit of an accurate interpolation of direct and indirect sources for every single part, coherently assembled thanks to the typical philological congruence of an archaeologist and long-term re-enactor.

For both blades modern monolithic steel was left aside, in favour of a structure made of two different kinds of metal. Our blacksmiths opted for C70 and iron, which should match the chemical and mechanical properties of late medieval steel better.

Our pattern welding choice was driven by the purpose of replicating a common standard for the period, which we might ironically call “sandwich-style damascus”. Considering the outcome blade in section, steel appears to be placed in the middle, carefully wrapped by two iron bars, which sort of clasped both sides. The major benefit of this technique is the possibility of developing highly reliable blades, as well as very slender cutting edges to be placed upon the blade, since the diagonal welding line mostly allows monolithic firmness, which is much more difficult to achieve with “column welding”, as the latter is exposed to higher risks of fracture.

By observing paintings and illuminations one can easily notice that this kind of long blades were primarily meant for thrusting, thus most of the forge work was meticulously performed to drive metal layers alongside the cutting edges and towards the tip, in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Both daggers present concave bevels on the blade, a feature frequently attested in museum pieces, i.e. at the Royal Armouries in Leeds (see bottom of page, ref. “B”), consistent with the aim of reducing the dagger's weight as much as possible. It was a functional requirement specifically asked for by Marco and virtually a Hobson’s choice for Andrea, who needed to copy the original shape of the relic displayed at Bargello.

Quenching proved to be a critical step for both blades. Craftsmen used a modern electric furnace: though distant from their usual integralist approach (they’re still unsatisfied for having to bend to a compromise!!), that was the only way to avoid wild cards after plugging away with top quality forging. The goal of this treatment was to harden the edges and tip, as well as making them stress-resilient. The result was a blade more inclined to flex rather than break, preventing steel splinters from being ejected during a hypothetical fight. For the experts in the field: we’re talking of a quenching done at 810° C, using oil for dipping and 1-hour tempering at 390° C.

Once finished, the blades were carefully polished and submitted to a number of breakage tests, which turned out to be completely successful. A slight flaw emerged at the end of the process only for the double-edged dagger. It was possibly due to the temperature leap, which caused a tiny detachment of the weld around the tip area. The blacksmiths verified that the problem affected only the superficial layer, without impairing the full mechanical functionality of the blade, so they decided not to perform any recovery operations.

There are substantial differences between the two blades. Marco’s is single-edged (triangular section) and shows a mighty 1-cm-thick backside, pretty much effective in battle, especially for piercing chainmail or “unhinging” armour plates. On the contrary, Andrea’s is double-edged (flat diamond section), extremely light and sharp, a quick, ideal mate during civilian contexts, i.e. trying to survive in an ambush. It’s a matter of fact that using a long dagger as a side-arm implies a lower level of hindrance compared to a sword!

The hilts appear different as well in the two replicas, although they show quite similar technical features.

Now, originals are often composed of hollow box-like rondels. By observing them closely and striving hard to discover the ancient manufacturing techniques used, you can often notice marks of soft soldering, possibly made with common alloys, tin in particular.

CLOSE-UP OF THE BARGELLO DAGGER (RIGHT) AND ITS REPLICA (LEFT): the bottom rondel shows three small brass decorative spheres and a smooth solder line just underneath the upper“plate”.

As usual, the skill and knowledge of our ancestors were amazing: the hollow rondels were masterly fixed to the hilt, sometimes to the point of concealing the projection of the hammered tang after its peening in place! That is how rondels looks like in the Bargello dagger and the same were reproduced by Enrico and Matteo for Andrea’s replica. Tin soldering was performed freehand on a flame, just like it was probably done about 550 years ago. Thanks to a great deal of patience and accuracy, the rondels were hermetically sealed. It’s important to note that the property of tin to reach its melting point at a rather low temperature (232° C) had no impact at all on the previous quenching phase.

As for the triangular section dagger, commissioned by Marco, the bottom rondel is solid ( not hollow), a custom requirement which helps keep a correct balance to the whole dagger and by placing its barycentre roughly at 1 cm from the “hilt rondel”. This allows quite a heavy dagger to be properly handled and suspended to a belt without going topsy-turvy while walking or drilling. The horn grip was embellished with a typical spiral motif, an engaging fashion well attested by 15th c. sources (see bottom of page, ref. “C”).

CLOSE-UP ON MARCO’S DAGGER: it  shows a spiral shaped grip, just like in a dagger featured in ‘Alte Armatur und Ringkuns’ by Hans Talhoffer, 1459 (Copenhagen Royal Library).

Before concluding, let us add a few more words about Andrea’s dagger since it proved to be a real challenge, considering we couldn’t visit the armoury at the National Museum of Bargello for it was closed for renovation.

Thus, providing we couldn’t study the original dagger in every part and were still resolved in matching all its features as carefully as possible, we inevitably had to rely on published data concerning measurements and weight (see bottom of page, ref. “D”) and calculating the unknown values through a dull work of approximation and volumetric calculations. Despite difficulties, Enrico and Matteo are very satisfied with their final outcome. 

Bargello’s relic (known data)
Total Lenght: 595 mm
Blade lenght: 474 mm
Blade width: 24 mm
Weight: 370 gr

Total Lenght: 598 mm
Blade lenght: 474 mm
Blade width: 28 mm
Weight: 377 gr

Since the hilt grip is missing in the original piece, we have surmised that it might have been made of wood, and had completely deteriorated over the centuries: the weight difference with our replica may be largely ascribed to this factor. The commissioner specifically asked for a totally “safe” wood: certified Italian walnut, widely spread in all central Europe too according to late medieval evidence.

The craftsmen extended the hilt length just a few millimetres, to fit Andrea’s hand better. As a consequence, the blade width had to be enlarged at the base, passing from 24 to 28 mm, in order to not compromise its overall shape. All things considered, they are tolerable adaptations, aren't they? 

* * * * *

Reference list for long rondel daggers

A. Iconographic sources:

  • 1455-1465 c., Altarpiece (detail), St. Lorenz Church (Nuremberg, Germany);
  • 1460 c., “De Sphaera” (a.x.2.14=Lat.209), folio 5v and 8r, possibly illuminated by Cristoforo De Predis, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria di Modena (Modena, Italia);
  • 1460-1465 c., “Saint George” by Maître de Monticelli (Jérôme Bembo), Museo Civico Ala Ponzone (Cremona, Italy);
  • 1466-1499 c., “San Sebastian” by Master of Villalobos, Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest, Hungary);
  • 1469, Winer Schottenaltar (detail) by Master Schottenaltar, Schottenstift Monastery (Vienna, Austria);
  • Late 15th c., episodes from “Saint Fiorenzo’s life”, San Fiorenzo Church (Bastia Mondovì, Italy);
  • 1480-1485 c., “Storie di Lucrezia” by Biagio d’Antonio, Ca’ d'Oro (Venice, Italy), Franchetti coll.;
  • 1494, “La caduta dei Bonacolsi” (detail) by Domenico Morone, Palazzo Ducale di Mantova (Mantua, Italy).

B. Museum relics:

  • 1300 c., possibly French or Spanish, Bargello National Museum (Florence, Italy), inv. 1717, Carrand coll.;
  • 1300 c., European, Koninklijk Legermuseum (Brussels, Belgium), inv. 2601;
  • 1400 (early), possibly English, Royal Armouries (Leeds, England), inv. X.602;
  • 1400 c., possibly French or Spanish, Bargello National Museum (Florence, Italy), inv. RE115, Ressman coll.;
  • 1400 c., possibly German, Germanisches National Museum (Nuremberg, Germany), inv. W2813;
  • 1440 c., English, Royal Arsenal Museum / Tojhusmuseet (Copenhagen, Denmark), inv. C17/42;
  • 1500 c., Italian, Musée de l'Armée / Les Invalides (Paris, France), inv J PO 1192.

C. Twisted handle daggers:

  • Late 1300 - early 1400, possibly French or Italian, Musée National du Moyen Age / Hôtel de Cluny (Paris, France), inv. CL11831
  • Early 1400 c., possibly English, Royal Armouries (Leeds, England);
  • 1459, “Alte Armatur und Ringkuns” by Hans Talhoffer, Royal Library, Copenhagen (Online; see page 62)

D. Long rondel dagger at the National Museum of Bargello (bibliography):

  • L. GIANNONI, L'Assedio di Piombino del 1448, coll. “Nuovi Quaderni dell'Archivio Storico della Città di Piombino, 2”, Archivivinform, Livorno, 2011, pp. 76-77;
  • L. SALVATICI, Posate, pugnali, coltelli da caccia, Museo Nazionale del Bargello / SPES, Firenze, 1999, p. 64


By Andrea Carloni, guest author

Tags (taxonomy):