Designing the Grayson Sword (by Robert Graham)

[Post updated with another image.]

As part of the process of compiling House of Steel, the first Honorverse Companion, BuNine compared existing Honoverse artwork with the text descriptions in the books. During that comparison, Tom Pope, Scott Bell, and myself noticed a problem with the depictions of Grayson swords. They look good, but they simply don’t match the text evidence.

The Grayson swords as presented in the artwork—not only the book covers, but collateral art such as navy crests and the like—are European-style straight blades, of varying lengths. The Grayson swords in the books, on the other hand, are katanas. Here’s a description of a typical Grayson sword from chapter six of Flag in Exile:

King’s College had sent along a description of the traditional swords of ancient Japan, and the Grayson weapon bore a pronounced resemblance to the katana, the longer of the two swords which had identified the samurai. It was a bit longer—about the same length as something the records called a tachi—with a more “Western-style” guard and a spine that was sharpened for a third of its length, which the katana’s hadn’t been, yet its ancestry was evident.

Tom decided this was worth asking David about, so he asked me to put together a packet detailing the problems with the swords as depicted (including comparisons of Japanese and western swords and sword-making), and possible solutions. As part of this I used both my own existing references (I am already a blade fanatic), plus some from Scott and the web. This packet then went to David.

You’ll note that we put together the packet before Tom ever mentioned to David our misgivings about the sword designs. This is standard for the way we interact with David, for two reasons. First, David’s schedule is insane, and hence “David time” is a precious resource, not to be squandered. Presenting him all the info up front generally makes it easier for him. Second, David often works through the night, so email is usually the best way to communicate with him for something like this. As a result of these two factors, it’s generally best to provide David with a complete packet describing the problem and the possible solutions; if we’re lucky, we’ve anticipated his questions and he can say (for instance) “I like option C—run with it!”

In this case, we didn’t have to convince David of the inconsistency. He quickly responded that he knew the illustrations were wrong, and asked us to redesign it. This started a rather fast and yet in-depth redesign of what Tom Pope has described as “the platonic ideal of a Grayson katana,” which would lay down the template for the depiction of every other Steadholder blade.

To start, Tom did a rough sketch of several ideas he and David discussed. Those sketches and my own research were used to create a very rough 3D ‘blank’ showing both the general shape and form of the blade. To this Lightwave 3D model I added features from David’s descriptions, such as the double edge not usually found on historical katanas.

GraysonbladeWIP1_Page_03 straight-blank

Once we settled on the general form and shape, the generic model was taken in to Zbrush and given a high detail pass, adding ornamentation and other details. This turned the rough model into something which could be used by other artists for final images, as well as allowing us to do renders of how the blade itself would look if produced in real life.

The images displayed below were shown first to Tom and other BuNine personnel, then handed to David for review. After a couple of minor changes (e.g, thickening the more European-style cross guard), David passed off on the blade after two revisions and a total of just over 5 days of work.

grayson-v02-side detail-fronton2


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13 Responses to Designing the Grayson Sword (by Robert Graham)

  1. Daryl says:

    Excellent. Just as I had pictured it. I’m tempted to make a real copy. My last project was a bastard sword (1 & a half hand) double edged straight 1.2mtr. Relatively easy nowadays as modern spring steel is actually better quality than much that the ancients had.

  2. O.o’

    Some of those just look like plain old sabers, for the most part. I wonder if it is a reference scale issue?

  3. John Neitz says:

    I take it the top sword in the “Blades of Honor” illo (as well as the scabbard) is an RMN officer’s Mess Dress sword? Looks veeeery familiar!

    • Rob says:

      John, Sorry for taking so long, Yes and yes it has it’s roots in the Nelson though it is not a ‘exact’ replica… You may get more details soon(tm) (you know the soon trademark, maybe, if i’m allowed 😉 )

  4. Coffee Haze says:

    Color me curious, but why does the guard on your design extend to the sides rather than from the front and back? Your design seems like it would be a bit awkward to carry and use.

    • Rob says:

      This was answered on the forums, but i’ll do a quick response here.. The Sword is over a meter in length … it’s not designed to be carried flush at the hip etc.. And on use no.. it’s technique and the way it’s designed is to protect against a ‘slide’ attack.. in this case.

      I’d refer you to and have a look there.

      • Robert Harbin says:

        It may have been answered by someone who is not familiar with fighting- I fight both European and Asian, and have for several years- not SCA, but fight-book styles and kendo which is a sport style. The sliding attack isn’t a threat, but those side spikes are… Make a mock up of it- and play for a while, and you’ll see~ You’ll hit yourself again and again in the face, eye, mouth… heck even the ear- with most any guard in either style. The for-and-aft quillions work, and work VERY well for defense against both direct attacks and slides- what we call “the bind” in European fighting. The sideways ones will be a problem in the defense, in fact, and are far more likely to end up causing a hang-up to the defender than stopping an attack~

        I will go to the DW forums, but I fear this is an issue that stems both from a lack of actual fighting skill/experience in the silly weapons swords are, and the way people THINK swords are used versus how they actually are.

  5. non says:

    The Grayson sword, as far as the blade goes, looks very much like a late Austrian cavalry sabre (though I’ve always found that that particular saber to look a lot like a katana).

    For some reason I thought that the RMN used light sabres, not spadroons. However, shouldn’t there be a sculpted manticore on the handle, in the same way as some sabres used to feature a lion’s head?

  6. Karl says:

    I have been looking at the Grayson sword and one thing struck me as off about the design. When I look at it, the sword looks to me like it has a Japanese style guard with a pair of prongs added to it positioned 90 degrees to the cutting edge.

    However Grayson swords are explicitly stated to have a western, as in European, style guards. Just about all of the European swords that I have seen have the primary cross guard in line with the swords cutting edge.

  7. LordSunhawk says:

    Two comments on the sword. The pillions being the orientation they are would actually interfere with most standard lines of attack and render close guards impossible. Two, the pommel is too small in comparison to the blade, for a tachi length sword you’d need a more robust pommel to balance it in order to permit the maximum flexibility, as it is the sword is excessively point heavy. In addition, the hilt itself is too smooth and would be difficult to grip in use. I’d recommend looking up some of the Oakeshott reference pommels/hilts and crossguards to correct the issues.

  8. John Neitz says:

    Not related to the Grayson sword, but LordSunhawk mentioned the work of the late Ewart Oakeshott, Earth’s foremost authority on medieval European swords. It so happens that Professor Oakeshott bequeathed his extensive collection of ancient, medieval, and early modern swords to a friend of mine, who lives in my neighborhood. I have gotten to handle these swords on many occasions.

    Just posting that to make y’all envious 🙂

  9. Hackenslash says:

    The grayson sword is very similar to what is known as a kreigsmesser, a german weapon from the middle ages/rennaisance era

  10. John Fairbairn says:

    As a professional technical writer and a subject matter expert on the foundry aspects of swordsmithing, I have to take exception to this design on a number of bases. Please hear me out.

    A – The persons who have made comments above regarding the guard design for the katana-style sword are correct. First off, if the Grayson swords are indeed based upon then-ancient Japanese designs, having these pins sticking out the sides is nonsense. Katanas have a rounded or rectangular or oval shape for the guard, never a cross-shape of *any* kind. Go look on line at both modern and ancient ones. The Minneapolis Art Museum (for instance) has a collection of more than 100 katana, and not one of them has this addition. Any of them, other than those ‘inspired’ by fantasy artwork, hold true to the ancient (as in 2,000 + years Antidiaspora) Japanese base design.

    B – My son both teaches and competes with bladed weapons. He owns a number of them, both oriental and European. *None* of them have a sideways cross-guard. I also own several, all European, none of them with a sideways cross-guard. My daughter owns several swords, both oriental and European, not one of them with a sideways cross-guard. Ditto for my grandson.

    C – In fact, I never have seen such a real-world design for what is described as a serviceable fighting instrument *anywhere* else. Hmmm. Must be some reason(s) for that. Maybe, as one poster pointed out, it is because such a guard renders the sword extremely awkward in use. It also is very threatening to the well-being of the user since, as another person pointed out, you keep hitting yourself with those sideways elements. All an opponent has to do to end a match is knock the sword hand upward toward the wielder’s face, and that cross-guard would poke out an eye or rip off an ear or knock out teeth. In fact, pushed against any part of the wielder’s body it would do extensive damage. By the way, I also fence, both for practice and competition, so I have first-hand personal knowledge. Maybe it is because even when carried in the hand, inserted in its sheath, that sideways cross-guard makes the instrument handle awkwardly. Maybe it is because carrying a sword tht large is rather tiring. However, the wielder has not choice but to do so, because it can not be worn at the side or on the back without presenting the very real danger of interfering with a person’s natural movements.

    D – I have several personal friends who are sword-smiths. One of them is the owner of Swords ‘n Armor, Inc, a smithing company that has been in the retail arms business for almost 60 years. Not one of his swords ( has a side-projecting cross-guard of such a design. I have watched several smiths work the metal to make serviceable combat swords, both of their own and for sale. **None** of them would waste their time or materials to make such a design. It is too awkward and unwieldy.

    If you want to put extended guard pins on a katana-design guard, that’s fine. But at least orient them such that they do not make you appear to be a laughingstock in the personal weapons industry. Also, do not make then so spindly that the first blow against them would bend them around the wielder’s fingers or cut right through it. Other than to say that the weapon bears a resemblance to the katana, there is no description in Mr. Weber’s books that describes the cross-guard design. Nor do any of the illustrations (including cover art) show any such frill. Please, I beg of you, revise this design.

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