Sword Anatomy 101

If you write fantasy epics, Arthurian tales, pirate stories, or Medieval historical fiction – chances are that somewhere in the story a sword will come into play.  Being familiar with the vocabulary is the first step to writing sword fight sequences well.

General knowledge

Bastard Sword – The term refers to the grip and not the blade which can be the same length as a single hand sword and often longer. The tang and grip are long enough to accommodate two hands for better leverage and more power.  Also known as a long sword or a hand-and-a-half sword.

Double edged sword – Both edges of the blade are sharp

Rapier – an imprecise term referring to a slender, double-edged blade usually with a complex hilt (swept hilt), primarily designed for thrusting.

Broadsword – another imprecise term, this time applied to single-hand (especially Scottish basket-hilt) swords, generally meant to mean a broad two-edged blade (distinguishing it from a backsword.)

Small sword – The later period (late 18th c) sword carried by gentlemen as personal jewelry. Known for its ornately decorated hilts, the small-sword had a very narrow triangular blade, often with fullers on all three sides. The blade is usually quite stiff and intended for thrusting. Modern foil sport fencing was originally based on fighting techniques developed for the small-sword.

Back sword – A sword blade, which has a cutting edge only on one side. Most commonly found on curved blades, such as sabers, falchion, and cutlass and on Scottish basket hilted swords and Mortuary swords.

Katana – a Japanese backsword with it’s own unique vocabulary, to be discussed at a later date.

Hilt Parts

Hilt – composed of everything located behind the guard

Grip – The handle, usually made of leather, wire, wood, bone, horn, or ivory (also, a term for the method of holding the sword).

Pommel – The counter-weight which secures the hilt to the blade and allows the hand to either rest on it or grip it.  On some Medieval swords the pommel may be partly or fully gripped and handled.  Was often used to bludgeon an unlucky foe.

Tang – (not pictured)– The “tongue” of a blade which runs through the handle and to which the pommel is attached. The place where the tang connects to the blade is called the “shoulder.” A sword’s tang is sometimes of a different temper than the blade itself.

Chappe – Also called a rain guard, the chappe was a flap of leather attached to a sword’s crossguard, which served to protect the mouth of the scabbard and prevent water from entering.

Basket or basket hilt – An arrangement of steel bars, and panels that form a basket-like cage around the grip and the wielder’s hand to protect it from blows. These are most commonly found on Scottish basket-hilted swords, and European rapiers.

Swept hilt– An ornate knuckleguard on later period sword hilts that sweeps over the hand, but which does not cover or protect the hand as fully as a Basket Hilt

Guard – The section of the sword hilt whose purpose is to protect the wielder’s hand. It may take of the shape of a simple bar, a steel basket, a flat disc, or any of several other forms.


Blade Parts

Point – The tip of the sword’s blade.

Central Ridge –The line that runs down the length of the blade

Edge – The sharp part of the blade

Knife Edge – A secondary bevel cut into the edge to increase sharpness without sacrificing strength

Back Edge – Unsharpened edge on a single-edged sword

False Edge – Sharpened section of a back edged blade near the point.

Fuller – Some refer to this as a “blood-run” or a “blood-groove” but it has nothing to with blood or preventing the blade from sticking in a body.  The fuller is a shallow central groove that lightens the sword but improves the strength and flex.   A narrow deep fuller is sometimes referred to as a fluke.  A sword might have one, none, or several fullers running a portion of its length, on either one or both sides.

Riser – the opposite of a fuller, the riser is a stiff raised section on the blade to improve strength and rigidity.

Strong – The portion of the blade that is less flexible, better for crushing blows.

Weak – Refers to the flexible tip of the sword and is used for piercing strikes.

Ricasso – An area at the base of the blade next to the guard that remains unsharpened.  This increases the user’s ability to loop a finger over the guard (called fingering), or grasp the blade (Half-swording) to increase control of the point.  Not all sword forms had ricasso. They can be found on many bastard swords, most cut & thrust swords and later rapiers. Those on two-Handed swords are sometimes called a “false-grip”, and usually allow the entire second-hand to grip and hold on.


Now your challenge!

Here are some famous swords, let’s see what you have learned.

Thanks to Michael Knudsen for reminding me of Anduril, Flame of the West, this post wouldn’t be complete without it!

Other resources:

Sword Terminology @Albion Swords.com

More advanced vocabulary and usage @georgehernandez.com


Want to see the answers? Go here!


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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20 Responses to Sword Anatomy 101

  1. C. N. Nevets says:

    Thanks for putting this together so concisely!

  2. oldancestor says:

    I never fail to learn something when I click on My Literary Quest.

    I’m not quite ready for the quiz, but I will confess to having thought the hilt was merely the part that separates the blade from the grip.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I learned a ton researching for this post, the most interesting thing I didn’t know about was the ricasso – I might have to use it somewhere.

      • oldancestor says:

        You’re way ahead of me talking about ricassos.

        When my grandfather passed away many years ago, I came into possession of his cavalry sword. The scabbard (thanks) is a bit oxidized, but the sword itself is shiny as the day it was new.

        Now I know what the parts are called.

  3. Hmm. Swords. I get the point. )

  4. Michael Knudsen says:

    Aw, you should have a picture of Aragorn wielding Narsil, Flame of the West, the Sword that was Forged Anew, and however many other names it has.

    Great, useful info on swords! I wonder if my dearth of knowledge about the weapon is what led me to arm the soldiers in my current WIP with truncheons and pikes?

    • tsuchigari says:

      Akk – knew I was forgetting something important! I’ll add it now so at least it will be there.

      • Michael Knudsen says:

        actually I made an error in naming Aragorn’s sword Narsil. That was the name of the sword broken by Sauron, which cut the ring from his hand. The sword reforged from its shards was renamed Anduril, Flame of the West. Man, I feel like a geek.

  5. nrhatch says:

    While this knowledge is beyond my need
    It still makes for an impressive read

    Thanks, Jo.

  6. What a well researched post. I learned a lot about swords and I especially loved the “challenge” section.

  7. Pingback: Medieval Castle Anatomy 101 « My Literary Quest

  8. Pingback: Sword Anatomy 101 Challenge Answers « My Literary Quest

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