Design & Geometry « Peter Johnsson | Swordsmith

Design & Geometry

A swordsmith owns three boxes.

A black chest with iron hinges for his skill with the tools of the trade and experience with materials and their proper treatment.

A red coffer with silver hinges for his insights to the properties of balance, the nature of sharp edges and the character of different sword types.

A white casket with gold hinges for his sense of proportions and the beauty of lines.

In the making of a sword treasures from all three chests will be melded together into a purposeful whole. But long before the hammer ever strikes the hot steel, the sword has already been made numerous times in the mind, until a solution is found where everything rests in its proper place.

To design a sword is to balance mutually opposing qualities like hardness and toughness, flexibility and stiffness, agility and power.

In the words of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, around 1200:

Let the mind´s interior compass first circle the whole extent of the material. Let a definite order chart in advance at what point the pen will take up its course. As a prudent workman, construct the whole fabric within the mind´s citadel; let it exist in the mind before it is on the lips.”

In my designs I strive to emulate the work of the old masters so that swords from my smithy will share the finest qualities of historical blades. The sword is an object made for motion, timing and precision. Important factors for its functional properties are the size and overall weight, the proportions of blade-to-hilt, the distribution of mass over its length, edge angle and cross section and finally the placing of pivot points and vibration nodes.

Geometry may have played an important role in the design of the medieval sword. This is something I have learned from analysis of the many swords I have documented over the years. The functional aspects of blade form, dynamic balance and edge geometry are given a shape that is defined by geometric proportions. This is to ensure that the sword is true to both the function and feel as well as the unmistakeable aesthetic character of the medieval sword.


The work of medieval artists, artisans and architects show a fascination for beauty that went further than merely striving for what was pleasing to the eye. Beauty was a way to express ideas of religious and philosophical nature. Medieval art is a language rich with symbols and meaning.


During excavations at Søborg castle a number of swords have been unearthed. Many of these are preserved in the National Museum in Copenhagen. One of them (inventory number D 8801) is an especially fine example of a long bladed knightly sword from the high medieval period. It has a typical straight guard and a well formed brazil nut pommel.