Sharp Cutting Swords.

Various methods of making swords have been practiced over the centuries.

For my money I would have as heavy a high carbon blade as a man could handle with the cutting edge(s) overlayed with “Stellite” hard facing alloy and then ground to a double concave cutting profile.

A sword like that in the hands of a skilled swordsman should easily slice the equivalent of a man’s body cleanly in half or more parts if so desires.

Here’s the link to the article:

Hopefully, your opponent won’t be wearing much in the way of armor.

When the King Tut exhibit was in LA (June 1978), I recall reading a card describing his 24 karat gold dagar as being as hard as steel, but the metalurgical techniques had been lost thru the centuries.

Hi Cecil (& company),

First let me say, I thoroughly enjoy reading “The Straght Dope”!

In regards to the veiwer question about samari swords and your answer (see column You mention how you would “love to see them tackle on Mythbusters.” this question. I think they have!

I wish I could provide you with episode information, but, alas, I can not! I do remember an episode, not too long ago where they did attempt to “duel” it out. Can’t seem to remember if it was in fact sharpness they were testing or strength in comparison to other sword types.

Anyway, keep enlightening the masses!

Deuces from Canada

Actually IIRC they were testing the ability of one sword to cut another sword in half. IIRC, a human couldn’t do it.

There was a NOVA special on Samurai swords that conatined this comment on cutting through bodies to test a sword:

Marvelous topic/user name combo

Lascivious comments available upon request.

And IIRC there was a very old (70’s) BBC series called the “Ascent of Man” in which the host (an older genetleman) cut a side of beef in half with a single stroke of a sword as a demonstration - followed by a discussion about how it was not the sharpness, but the leverage and momentum that did the cleaving (much like one blade of a pair of scissors).

If the Mythbusters haven’t already done this, I’m pretty sure they would. It seems like they are always soliciting ideas from viewers. However they would probably use hog carcasses instead of human remains.

Yeah, and the cow chopped straight through the spine in “Apocalypse Now” presented a greater challenge than a skinny Japanese prisoner or two. It’s all in strength, english, and a good, hard, fairly sharp blade. Though those skills are better used knocking one into the left field bleachers at the Nagoya Dome.

I’ve seen a fair-sized sapling cut through with a Starfire LS-28 stage sword, which is high-carbon steel, but roughly as sharp as the spine of a typical issue of TV Guide.

One episode of MythBusters that dealt with something like this occurred in episode 64 during Season 4. It examined whether a japanese sword could cut through the barrel of a gun. They constructed a mechanical arm to approximate superhuman strength in swinging the sword and let it fly against several gun barrels. Although they were able to make marks in the barrel, they could not cut through it.


Historically, the lightest blade that would serve the purpose was favored. Lighter blades favor speed and reduce fatigue. Both of these are invaluable in combat.

Figures they’d go to ARMA (in the linked column). John Clements is kind of a dick, but he’s right about this. It doesn’t take a super-sharp sword to cut through a human body.

For actual combat, you don’t want a doubly concave edge; it’ll just get chipped. And a heavy sword will just wear you out. Figure about a pound per foot of length.

Where else are they going to go? ARMA has the high profile, and the layman doesn’t know how controversial Clements is.

True. And it could be a lot worse – you could use the tv show Conquest as a source.

(Coincidentally, I just bought back, from my ex-wife, the hand-and-a-half sword I lost in the divorce. Now I just need a condemned prisoner.)

The article’s comment on armor should have gone through Clements too. He might have clarified a little bit.

NO sword could cut through articulated plate armor, doesn’t matter if it’s a Japanese Dai To or a European longsword. The masters tell us that when facing an armored opponent, you should use the point against the weaknesses of the armor. The visor, the arm pits, the back of the knees, the sole of the feet, the palm of the hands and anywhere were there was articulation. Now, for that purpose, yes, the European longsword was a better fit. But this has nothing to do with it’s cutting ability and certainly not with it’s weight. In fact the European longsword would (on average) have weighed less than a katana per unit of length. This has to do with differences in blade geometry. The end result is that the (typically) shorter katana weighed the same as a (typically) longer European longsword.

As for what would make a great sword? I think those guys got it right. We’d be hard pressed to beat the ~3 pound 48 inch steel longsword.

Great, now Cecil is pissed at me for persuading him to mention Mythbusters. New lede coming up.

Not a bad column, but I thought Cecil should have focused on the misconception that sharpness is what’s important. If I’m cutting meat for a sandwich, obviously a sharp knife will work better and be easier to use than a butter knife. On the other hand, however, martial artists can cut through cinder blocks with their bare (and unsharpened) hands. I don’t think a steak knife, however sharp, would achieve better results against the cinder blocks. I suspect that with enough force you could cut through a body with a baseball bat. It just wouldn’t be a very clean cut.

So how does sharpness compare with strength and force in cutting something? What is the best trade off? Is sharpness ever a detriment?

Beats me, but I bet Cecil could have figured it out.