Homemade Dusacks

Collegium-in-Armis, the German longsword group I fence with, is branching out into other weapons systems that fall within the German martial tradition. One of the guys has a thing for the dusack so this weapon has become the next in line to be studied.

This wooden or hardened leather weapon was used in two basic ways in the 14th and 15th centuries. First, it was used in the fencing schools as a way of introducing students who have learned the two-handed longsword to single-handed swords. Second, it was used by the town watch, particularly in eastern europe, for crowd control. It delicately balances the advantages of the sword and billy-club for close-in fighting to create a formidable tool for inflicting owwies.

Meyer - Art of Combat - Dussack - Plate DSince the weapons are in short supply in the 21st century, we’ve decided to make our own based on the engravings in our main historical text, Joachim Meier‘s Art of Combat. Here’s how.

First, take a pattern from a reputable source. In this case we used the weapon as shown in the engravings in Meyer’s text. Here’s an example. Once we were happy with our diagrams we made a tracing blank out on 3mm MDF. The template can be used repeatedly to ensure that the school uses dusacks of an identical pattern.

Notice the enclosed hilt of the weapon in the engraving. We theorise that the main purpose of this feature is to prevent you dropping it or someone taking it from you in a close-in fight but it also leads to a bunch of interesting techniques involving flicking the tip of the weapon for extra speed and hitting power.

Dussack template and marked hardwood plankSecond, choose the wood to use. We chose Tasmanian Oak for its durability and this project made five dusacks from a single plank (185mm x 19mm x 2400mm) for a materials cost of under $AU 50. Ensure that the plank has no visible knots and maintains a straight grain all along its length. Otherwise, the dusacks may split and break at these points.

Third, draw out the pattern on the plank fitting as many of them in the plank as you can. The trick here is to make sure that the wood grain runs along the length of the dusack rather than tending to run across it or at an angle.

Five Dussack blanks waiting to be shapedFourth, cut them out and shape them. Find a friend with an electric jigsaw. Don’t do this by hand unless you are a real sucker for punishment. The holes for the handles were cut out using a one inch splayed bit to create a hole at each end of the handle then the jigsaw was used to cut between them.

Shaping is primarily about taking the sharp edges off the weapon and rounding the hilt so that it can slide easily and comfortable around your hand. We also added a large bevel to the long edge of the blade since this appears in several engravings in the works of various authors and in the main commercially available dusack. The main tool used to shape the weapons was an angle grinder with a variety of snading disks ranging from 16 grit to 80 grit and the shaping of the hand holds was done the old-fashioned way with a rasp and a file.

A Completed DusackThe task that takes the most time is the final sanding by hand using 80 grit, 100 grit and 120 grint sandpaper. This is just plain hard work but the resulting finish is actually quite lovely – a very nice wood grain finish.

Finally, oiling the weapon achieve two aims: makes it look good and, more importantly, keeps the wood supple and prevents cracking. The way to do this is dilute pale boiled linseed oil (available at any hardware store) with mineral turpentine in a 50/50 ratio. Coat the dusack liberally with this stuff and allow it to sit for 30 minutes of so. After this time has elapsed, remove any excess oil with a lint-free cloth and sit the dusack aside to dry for one or two days. Repeat this procedure as often as you want to achieve a good finish. Everything I’ve read suggests somewhere between three and five coats of oil is sufficient.

Now your weapon is ready to use.