Home Forums Medieval Shiny swords, dull swords and other metallic items

This topic contains 15 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by Katie L Katie L 1 month, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #72802
    Rhoderic
    Rhoderic
    Participant

    I’m posting this in the Medieval board but it goes for many other periods as well. And please have forbearance as I bumble about in matters of military history like a four-year-old in an archaeological dig 

    Lately I’ve come to feel that my painting style doesn’t really capture the differences in appearance between various metallic surfaces in the real world. Most especially, when watching live-action fantasy/historical movies and TV shows recently I’ve been paying particular attention to swords, and I find the differences in the appearance of the metal from sword to sword quite striking.

    Some swords are so reflective and shiny that my ordinary acrylic brush-on metallic paints could never emulate their look well enough, even with gloss varnish on top (but I’ll stick with this method anyway – I’ve never used an airbrush in my life and I expect I never will). Many other swords are so dull that I’d do well to mix some non-metallic grey into my metallic paint, and definitely use matte varnish. In fact, some swords seem to be nearly flat black, although that might just be fantasy (Dothraki swords in Game of Thrones come to mind).

    Now, my problem is, I’m so ignorant of military history that I don’t entirely understand when to paint a sword shiny (to the limited degree that I can manage without resorting to an airbrush) and when to paint one dull. Ignoring fantasy for a moment, which kinds of historical figures should I paint with shiny swords, and which should I paint with dull ones? That’s a morose-sounding question, I know, but I don’t really have a better way to put it. I don’t expect a single answer to account for all of world history from the bronze age to the late 19th century (or even later), but I’m hoping for some tidbits of information with practical applications to painting miniatures, perhaps especially (but not exclusively) centered on the dark and middle ages.

    Insights on other functionalistic metallic items like armour and axeheads are also welcome, although I’m less confused about those as they rarely if ever appear as shiny as the really shiny swords in movies and television.

    It seems to me that most miniatures wargamers paint all metallic items, from jewellery to axeheads, to the same degree of shininess, using perhaps four or five different metallic paints to represent the whole gamut of metals. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a viable aesthetic and miniatures don’t have to look photorealistic, but I am a tad curious as to why differences in shininess/dullness and other visual aspects of metals rarely come up as a topic of conversation in the miniatures wargaming community, when there’s so much attention paid to other similar matters like achieving the right shade of uniform colour, skintone or horse hide.

    #72804
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    First, realise that armour and swords in films are not necessarily made from the same metal as the real thing – aluminium is a lot lighter and cheaper than steel.

    Second, realise that a moving image isn’t going to reflect light in the same way that a static painted figure is.

    Third, realise that film prop function is to be a film prop, not a weapon/armour.

    Fourth, realise that modern metals can be buffed to a high bright sheen with modern abrasives/polishes with machine tools. Older polishing techniques tended to produce a deep sheen that wasn’t as shiny IYSWIM, look at medieval ‘white armours’ as examples.

    Fifth, visit some museums that have weapons and armours.

    Sixth, don’t stress about any of that. 😉

     

    Oh, you can cast an axe head, you forge a sword.

     

     

     

    achieving the right shade of uniform colour, skintone or horse hide.

    That’s mostly bollox too.

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #72810
    Rhoderic
    Rhoderic
    Participant

    Yeah, I get all those things, but it seems to me that different swords in the same film or show, often even in the same shot or scene, will not seldom be different-looking in regard to their metallic surfaces. Such details usually strike me as thought-out by the prop masters, and they have me wondering what the implied background is. For instance, does the one sword’s owner oil his sword regularly, while the other’s comes from another culture where swords are forged in a different way and oiling isn’t an established practice?

    I should point out that when watching movies or TV shows for reference, I often pause to study still frames. I’m not overly much of a stickler for detail, but as I got into this hobby by way of GW, a lot of my old paintjobs are very naive and ignorant (to the point where I didn’t even get the purpose of colour plates in Osprey books – not that I’m saying those are always accurate), so I’m trying to do better now. Even this way, I still make mistakes, but I make fewer of them.

    As for museums, I do visit them a lot, but I’m not sure an item in a museum is going to look the way it looked when it was in use. Anyway, swords in museums often also exhibit a wide range of different metallic appearances.

    Incidentally, not that it was suggested, but Googling pictures of swords doesn’t seem like a good idea either. I mostly get pictures of very clean, shiny display pieces.

     

    Oh, you can cast an axe head, you forge a sword.

    That’s kind of what I’m on about. In reality, a sword blade and an axe head will often (though I guess not always) have radically different-looking surfaces because they’ve been made in entirely different ways. On wargaming miniatures, they’ve both often just been painted in the same bog-standard, medium-grey, steely shade of metallic (you know, the one many of us still identify by that old Citadel moniker “Chainmail”). Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s other ways to do it, too.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by Rhoderic Rhoderic.
    #72814
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Well, yes, and then again, no. I use Vallejo steel drybrushed with  silver for swords, and Vallejo gunmetal for axes – with steel for the cutty part, it would have been honed to an edge after all. Gunmetal for mail, drybrushed with steel. Steel for plate armour. But I’m buggered if I’m going to fret over correct ‘shades’ of steel.

    Consider: A length of hot drawn steel will be metallic grey because it has oxidised as it was drawn, until it oxidises some more and starts to rust. If you saw it in half it will be silvery bright. It’s still the same piece of steel. BUT!!! before modern metallurgy a metal smith was pretty much guessing at the quality of the raw material he had to work with. It was much more of an art then, an art that might not return exactly the same result every time.

    Don’t even get me started on non-ferrous metals 🙂

     

    I was trying to avoid this, because it looks like I’m attempting to argue from authority, but as you raised it.

    For instance, does the one sword’s owner oil his sword regularly, while the other’s comes from another culture where swords are forged in a different way and oiling isn’t an established practice?

    I own a katana, from my kendo/iaido days, which lives in its saya these days in a centrally heated room. It still needs cleaning and oiling periodically (see link below for the traditional method), and touching the blade with your fingers is not a good idea. I would assume that the same is true of other bladed weapons.

    http://toyamaryu.org/katana_cleaning.htm

     

    Just throwing things out while I drink this rather cheeky Chardonny from Lidl 🙂

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #72826
    William Harley
    William Harley
    Participant

    I use black undercoat on all metal surfaces, then Vallejo oily steel for swords and armour.  If I feel the need to paint a shiner metal I highlight with Vallejo silver, as Not Conrad Sage says don’t stress out about these things.  When painting metal, metal is metal, when all said and done and it sheen depends on how it was made and how it is cleaned.

    If you are painting metal figures an other way to do swords and armour is to lightly ink wash black over a well wire brushed sword or armour part, when dry, wire brush and rub the edge of a pin over the metal.  this will shine the metal, an other light black ink wash may be needed, when dry gloss varnish.  This method is very time consuming for weapons and armour, look on military modelling sites for images on this method.

     

     

    #72827
    Rhoderic
    Rhoderic
    Participant

    Whether all swords of all cultures have always needed oiling is one of the things I was trying circumspectly to ask in this thread, without laying bare my ignorance all too much 

    I mean, I do get that historical swords were hardly made of stainless steel like modern wallhangers are. I’m just unclear as to how vital it was to prevent rust before a functional sword that saw regular use needed to be scrapped for other reasons, anyway. And if all swords needed oiling, was the same true of all knives, speartips, even arrowheads?

    I’m aware that in the living, unbroken tradition of Nipponto, oiling is pretty much a sacrament. The problem is that when I try to Google the oiling of swords, the Nipponto tradition is mostly just what I keep getting, which tells me little about the bigger picture outside of the Japanese context.

     

    But I’m buggered if I’m going to fret over correct ‘shades’ of steel.

    I’m not saying I want you to, I’m saying I may want to. Within reason.

    Specifically, I may want to dull down most metallics by mixing them with non-metallic paints, keeping the pure metallics for the shiniest few items. I may also want to use different varnishes. I’d have to partially or wholly repaint some previously finished figures to maintain aesthetic consistency, but my compulsion to strip old paintjobs is a whole other topic.

    It might be worth pointing out that of the figures I paint in the larger scales, many – perhaps most – are individualistic character figures, so I don’t much go for factory-line rationalisations like limiting the number of paints I use. Many figures are for fantasy, but even then I often find history a useful point of reference. Right now for instance I’m painting a vaguely fantastical-looking 28mm medieval Mongol warrior. The fact that I’m going to use the figure for swords-and-sorcery doesn’t mean I’m not looking at historical Mongols for reference (although, admittedly, cinematic bastardisations of the same are also in the equation).

     

    If you are painting metal figures an other way to do swords and armour is to lightly ink wash black over a well wire brushed sword or armour part, when dry, wire brush and rub the edge of a pin over the metal. this will shine the metal, an other light black ink wash may be needed, when dry gloss varnish. This method is very time consuming for weapons and armour, look on military modelling sites for images on this method.

    I’ve come across the odd tutorial or two for burnishing, but like airbrushing it’s definitely outside my comfort zone. Besides, I do paint plastics as well. Thanks for the suggestion, though.

    I do recall having seen some new brand of supposedly superior acrylic brush-on metallic paints for miniatures recently. I may hunt it down, but it’s probably nothing revolutionary.

    #72828
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    …and there’s Rub ‘n’ Buff metallic medium, which gives a ‘proper’ metal finish, with varying hues and sheen depending how much you, er, buff it. Humbrol used to do an enamel based version called Metal Cote (edit, still do – see vid below) which gave good results, but was a ballache to use on minis unless you enjoy getting in the nooks and crannies with a cotton bud.

    http://www.amaco.com/t/mixed-media/metallic-finishes/rub-n-buff

    Chardonnay’s still going down nicely.

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #72830
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    And if all swords needed oiling, was the same true of all knives, speartips, even arrowheads?

    Swords were expensive, owned by nobles, and keeping them in good condition would be a priority. Knives were utilitarian, so perhaps didn’t deserve quite so much care.

    Speartips were equally utilitarian and fairly disposable. Arrowheads were even more disposable, you certainly didn’t want them coming back 🙂

    All of the above had different techniques of manufacture, using different quality raw materials. A sword could take a swordsmith weeks or months to make, 10000 arrowheads took probably less time to turn out by the average village blacksmith

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #72855
    William Harley
    William Harley
    Participant

    …and there’s Rub ‘n’ Buff metallic medium, which gives a ‘proper’ metal finish, with varying hues and sheen depending how much you, er, buff it. Humbrol used to do an enamel based version called Metal Cote (edit, still do – see vid below) which gave good results, but was a ballache to use on minis unless you enjoy getting in the nooks and crannies with a cotton bud. http://www.amaco.com/t/mixed-media/metallic-finishes/rub-n-buff

    I did not realise they still did this product, I used it when painting 54mm knights in the late 80’s.  I thought it worked great, as said you have to be patient with the cotton buds.  I have used it on 28mm figures works best if they are in full armour, I found the wash and polish method quicker (as explained in the previous post).

    #72937
    Cerdic
    Cerdic
    Participant

    Well, having worked with modern steel on car restorations, and a bit of reproduction armour making, this is what I think….

    Since the end of the Bronze Age, all edged weaponry has used steel. Before industrial processes were developed in the late 19th Century, steel was difficult and expensive to produce. The thing that all steel does, irrespective of its quality or how it was made, is rust.

    Rust is the big enemy of steel. So you have to protect it by sealing the surface against contact with air. Paint can do this very effectively , which is why your car is painted in a nice shiny colour! This is not so useful for an edged weapon which needs regular sharpening to maintain its effectiveness. The answer here is regular polishing and oiling.

    So any steel weapon that receives any basic maintenance is going to be at least a bit more shiny than flat grey steel. How shiny, you ask? Depends on the enthusiasm of the user’s servant…

    #72980
    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    I have a 11 swords, 5 are modern reproductions and 6 are authentic period pieces.  Allow my observations if you will.

    My 3 modern rapiers are all shiny level 4 (out of 5) as they are spring steel and combat ready reproductions and are a little flashy (as well as pointy and sharp!).  My period rapier is comparably less shiny, maybe level 3.25, quite grey in contrast to the silver bright of the moderns, but is of really high grade German steel (comparable to Krupp 805 I think, or 883?).  it has a slight occlusion (dark spot) down at the base by the guard where it as slightly exposed due to the scabbard (wood and leather with oilcloth within) shrinking over the centuries.  This occlusion is a zinc color (a warm grey) though it is not rust.  Oiling and light polishing did not remove it, it would need to be lightly ground and heavily polished to go away.

    My Irish period sword is the second “darkest” sword I own, it is not shiny, probably a 2, and is very grey compared to the rapiers.

    I have a period match forged pair of Tachi and Kodachi (forerunners of the Katana and Wakizashi).  Both are slightly pitted with some aging to the fittings though very shiny (probably level 4.6) mostly, though more so along the ground sharp edge.  Really excellent condition for being 500 years old!

    The period English “arming” sword is mid range as far as coloration and shiny level goes.  A very basic sword, pretty much what you think a sword looks like when you say the word out loud. Nothing fancy.  It had it’s pommel reworked sometime in the 1700’s (apparently something of the mark said so, I am not knowledgeable in this respect and could only guess that someone had it done to match a display sword for a family crest of shield decoration) though the rest is authentic.  I am told that it was once painted a burnt red-orange when in storage way back when, as the color was found beneath the pommel wraps.

    I have a modern “archers sword” from Museum Replicas LTD as well as one of their Irish repros.  The archers sword is badly rusted and occluded, despite having been oiled.  I chose poorly for it’s scabbard, believing that it was something it was not.  Oddly, the Irish repro has barely been taken care of and is in the exact condition in which they delivered it.  The Archers sword was once “bright” shiny, very white/silver, the repro Irish is very dark grey with it’s fuller even darker (was probably black treated).

    And last and prettiest, I have a period Damascus Scottish basket-hilt claymore which is in secure storage because it is worth too much to have hanging around for me to look at 🙁  It is apparently quite rare and is very very dark in coloration, the striation making it appear slightly purple.  The hilt work in of silvered steel, and “wadding”/fabric inside the guard is modern crushed velvet, (red, of course!).

    So as you can see, all of these swords are completely different in color and character, all due to the nature of their creation.  If you’ve ever watched “Forged In Fire” you’ll see all sorts of results from the various items they use as sources of their steel.  In the past I have painted many many 28mm knights, and did vary the color of their swords but based on faction rather than material I supposed they were made out of.  Back then I generally had the edge brighter for one faction and darker for the other sort of thing.  Looking back I don’t think it really matters other than how it looks with the mini.  What might look good on a bare chested barbarian might look really shabby with a High Fantasy Paladin.  And that doesn’t even cover exotics like what you might consider a Hell-Knight to carry….  Just go with what looks good to you with that particular fig is my advice.  Save ya some mental wear and tear!

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #72981
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    Since the end of the Bronze Age, all edged weaponry has used steel.

     

    Not in the Americas 😉

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #72985
    Not Connard Sage
    Not Connard Sage
    Participant

    I wrote an exposition of of katana/tachi nihonto and the forum software logged me out when I tried to post it 🙁

    Never mind, it wasn’t really on topic.

     

    I have a period match forged pair of Tachi and Kodachi (forerunners of the Katana and Wakizashi). Both are slightly pitted with some aging to the fittings though very shiny (probably level 4.6) mostly, though more so along the ground sharp edge. Really excellent condition for being 500 years old!

    One point I will repeat is that one of the aesthetic  values of a Japanese blade is that the hada, grain in the metal,  could produce subtly different sheens from blade to blade and smith to smith. Although if you’re going to worry about reproducing that in miniature you’re probably overthinking it 🙂

    "I go online sometimes, but everyone's spelling is really bad. It's... depressing."

    #73016
    Patrice
    Patrice
    Participant

    Edges could also be somewhat more shiny than the rest of the blade; because they are often sharpened, and also because (at least for tools and axes, perhaps for some other weapons as well) the blade edges were made in the best steel then available, the rest of the blade could be cheaper iron.

    http://www.argad-bzh.fr/argad/en.html
    http://argad.forumculture.net/

    #73218
    Rhoderic
    Rhoderic
    Participant

    Thanks for the replies, everyone. They’ve filled in some blank spots on my map. I think I’ll go ahead with revising my painting style to account for differing levels of sheen in metallics, but in a way that’s rationalised so as not to complicate the painting process all too much.

    #73325
    Katie L
    Katie L
    Participant

    The shiniest metal finish I’ve managed to get with brush painting is using W&N Silver Ink.

    Both of them need shaking for a good few minutes before use and you can SEE the colour particles separating out of the carrier the minute you stop waving it about. It has lousy coverage — it takes several coats and it needs to be over an already metallic base. But when you want a weapon to look like it has an edge

    They do a gold as well which is just AWESOME for buttons and the like.

     

     

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