RandKL's GI Joe Modeling Page
Spears, Javelins, and Pikes
So you want to arm your Romans or Vikings a bit better than with the plastic sword or spear they came from the box with but you don't feel like hand-forging steel? No problem, Hagar! Sit your mail-covered butt down and grab a drinking horn full of root beer and let's build something!
Everyone loves a good spear, right? Well, historically they sure did! Spears, contrary to popular myth and current infatuation, were probably the most common weapon of war that any single man ever went onto the field with.
Romans relied on the spear and javelin as their primary weapon, not the gladius as most folks and all the movies will tell you. Japanese and Chinese spearmen were so far beyond swordsmen on the field that a good spearman was often payed four to five times as much as any sword-swinging samurai. Vikings prized a good spear so highly that thier god was said to carry one. Even in the prime of swordsmanship in Europe, the vaunted "musketeers" were primarily armed with firearms and were masters of the use of the bayonet, not the sword.
Swords as primary weapons never became popular until the Europeans started slaughtering each other with rapiers....but even then the sword was seen as a badge of status and not a primary weapon.
Don't get me wrong....swords and other melee weapons had their place in any historic army....but if it came time to rely on a sword to live or die by, the general in charge of the combat was a failure. Swords are last-ditch weapons that only get used if necessary.
Romans relied on a phalanx of pike-carrying troops as their primary tactical weapon on the battlefield. They would meet the enemy at a distance, toss all the javelins (pylums) they had at the enemy to destroy his shield wall and disrupt his formations, and then advance behind the wall of pikes to engage the enemy. The short sword (gladius) only came into use if the pike formation was broken or to cut the heads from the enemy pikes. A full-scale battle using swords against swords was so bad for eveyone involved that if the pike formation was ever broken they would immediately withdraw from the field to reform rather than try to fight it out with swords.
Vikings went into battle armed with spears, pikes, and throwing axes as primary weapons. They would advance to ranged weapon distance, throw their spears, javelins, arrows, and axes at the enemy to disrupt his lines and kill his troops and then only advance when their ranged weapons were exhausted. The bearded axe was then the most common Viking melee weapon because it was lighter, more deadly, and easier to learn to use than the sword.
Medieval knights' armor was so effective against swords that specialized weaponry like the bec du corbin and the warhammer were designed to defeat nothing but armored opponents. Hammers, picks, maces, and flails were thus so effective against armor that most knights would never bother to sharpen their sword. Many a fine example of medieval swordcraft hangs in a museum today with a rounded edge....not because it got dulled over the years but because it had simply never been sharpened in its life.
Japanese samurai, contrary to what Hollywood would want you to believe, were primarily archers and spearmen....the swords were carried more as a badge of rank and honor than as weapons. As good as some swordsmen were after a lifetime of practice, there are literally dozens of accounts of a single spearman defeating multiples of sword-swingers. The common "samurai armor" that we see in all the movies was actually designed for archers....not swordsmen.
So how do we go about recreating these wonderful but oh so deadly weapons? Well, it's really pretty damned easy. Let's do it exactly like we did the axe.
Let's start off with a simple lashed-head design spear. It was damned common through history, and it really looks great on a D&D/fantasy figure when done right or wrong as the case may be!
The earliest spears were of course tipped with knapped flint, stone chips, basic knife blades, horn, bone, or even antler.
We can recreate a flint blade by using good old plastic....visit your local fleamarkets, garage sales, Goodwill stores etc and look for cheap, broken items made from translucent plastics. My wife found a dark-smoked plastic fishing tackle box that had a large crack down the back that she got for free at a local yard sale. Use your razorsaw, xacto knife, or sandpaper or anything you have handy to shape a shard of the plastic into a basic blade shape....and then wrap a 1/4" diameter dowel or other rod with some 600 grit sandpaper and use that round sanding stick to finish shaping the blade. The rounded sanding grooves will look exactly like knapped flint, and when you polish that shard, it will have the same exact sheen.
Moving up to the next level, we can make a "knife-tipped" spear by hammering a nail into a flat piece of metal that we then file to shape and lash it to a split shaft. Don't go overboard on finishing it....it was meant to be rough-looking.
The earliest spears and polearms and by far the most common were simply farming implements lashed to the ends of poles by working men. A good butcher knife became a glaive....an axe became a bardiche, a voulge, or a poleaxe....a pruning hook became a voulge or a guisarme etc.
Don't be afraid to experiment!
Tip: Some types of summer sausages and bolognas come wrapped in a brown skin casing....you can use that casing to recreate rawhide and skin lashings by cutting it into strips and then boiling it for a few minutes. When hot, the stuff is very flexible and can be used to carefully lash your spearhead to its shaft. When it cools, it dries and shrinks and hardens just like rawhide and skin. Don't use the bright red stuff, please! That same brown summersausage casing can be doubled by boiling a large piece for a few minutes, spreading a thin layer of Elmer's glue on one side, and then folding it over itself. Squeeze all the bubbles and extra glue out and then press it under ten pounds or so of books for a day or two. When dried, it makes great belts, straps, sandal lacings, sheaths etc. If you use it for a sheath, make your sheath, then dip it into some boiling water for a few seconds and leave it on the blade until it dries....when dry, the sheath is tight to the blade, looks great, and is *very* durable since it's now held together with glue, too.
Next step up....let's make a basic reinforcement for that blade. Start off by making a rough blade from a nail or sheet metal as before and then split/notch a dowel shaft to accept it. Tack glue it into place with some cyanoacrylate and then cut a length of brass or nickle-silver tubing to force down over the blade and socket.
That type of "reinforced socket" spear was common up until the late Roman era and even saw use as late as the 1400's in northern Europe. The last time I know of it being used was WW2 in which US and Brit pilots were issued a quick-built survival knife with a metal tubed wooden grip. The idea was that if needed, the knife could be used as a spear with the tube reinforcing. It takes literally minutes to convert the knife to a strong spear.
In real life, socketed spears are tough to make....but flat blades and tubes of metal are relatively easy for any smith. That type of spear is just as strong and durable as any later socketed spear but it takes less than half as long to make.
Again, don't be afraid to experiment!
Next step up is a basic "socketed spear". We've probably received more emails asking how to make sockets than all the other weapons combined so here goes!
Simplest way....as in not having to make the socket....is to use a cheapo paintbrush ferrule as the socket. Buy a few from Walmart but make sure they're the solid type and not the rolled type! Rolled types are just rolled around the brush bristles and handles and not welded or closed....avoid those! To that solid paintbrush ferrule, we add a piece of wire-type welding rod, a length of coathanger wire, a nail shaft etc. Make sure your wire is the same basic size as the hole in your ferrule, of course. Use your hammer and anvil to forge the wire into a blade but leave a rounded section at the end to fit your ferrule. Once your blade is satisfactory, just insert it into your ferrule and cyanoacrylate them to your shaft. When done properly, it's identical to a "socketed spear".
If you want a different metal or different look, hit your local craft store and check out their "jewelry findings". They sell brass, nickle-silver, and often steel cones of the right type as "bolo tie ends", and "leather thong ends". The great part about these is that they are most often engraved! Use a brass ferrule and a brass blade and you can recreate a bronze spear or blackened to recreate forged iron....nickle-silver ferrules and blades can be mirror polished to recreate steel etc.
If you can't find a pre-made ferrule that suits you, you can make one of your own by using brass or nickle-silver tubing (craft store again). Buy three to four sizes of tubing that telescope smoothly inside each other and one size of solid rod that fits the inside of the smallest tube....then cut 1/2" lengths of each of the tubes and start soldering. Make your socket by soldering the tubes together in a staggered formation and then top it off with the solid rod center that you then forge into a blade. Use your files and sandpaper to smooth the ferrule down and you're done. If you plan to add lugs for rivets, this is the easiest one to work with....all you have to do is make the outer tube an inch long instead of 1/2" and then file-cut your lugs.
Someone said pylum?
Same old ferrule....add a longer wire neck and then forge the end flat and file-cut your barbs.
Having trouble forging those wire heads correctly? Try laying your wire on your anvil and place the square back edge of an old knife blade at an angle on the wire and hammer it. The back edge of the knife blade will flatten the wire at an angle....reverse it and do the same angle from the other side and you have a perfect forge job that you then finish filing to shape.