Patrick Hand

Breaking the tip off knives

11 posts in this topic

I read that some Captains made their crew break the tip off of their knives. Does anyone know if this was done durring the GAoP ?

If a Captain made their crew do this, I don't think someone would throw away a knife just because it no longer has it's tip when they went Pyrate.

I'm thinking that it might be a nice extra touch to my gear... (if it is period...) B)

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I wonder why. To make the knife more tool than weapon? You can still cut with the knife but not stab a crewman?

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That's precisely the reason.

I've run across this several times, usually a bit pre-GAoP, but I've never seen substantial evidence for it actually being done. In fairness though, I've never really looked.

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:ph34r: From some of the reading I have done - the reason may be that with any bladed weapon the cut or slashing you would get from a knife or sword was less likely to be fatal than a thrust or stab. I have always heard that the roman soldiers were taught to thrust " the thrust kills - hacking just cuts off ears" While there are true hacking weapons in some of the more stout swords of earlier periods the thrust had become a more prominently taught at the time of the GAoP. Holliwood makes all the long arching cuts look great - but the quick thrust is what did your apponent in in short order.

I may be way off in this - just based on some of the reading I have done over the years. If there are others who might have better knowledge please feel free to add to this.

In short - the Captain may have known his choir boys might still fight but they were less likely to kill the other without being able to stab to a vital organ. Cuts could be stitched up for the most part. Seems like an idea that was hit or miss depending on the enthusiasm of the combatants but it was better than nothing.

Willie the rumrunner :ph34r:

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I belive this was later than GOP but didn't the working knife change to one with no real point later on. (Forgot the name of the blade type )

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One of the references that I found was Rev. War era... (this is from memory... so I may have to look it up again..) it said that most of the American Captains did not make thier crew do it because they worked so close to port that the crews didn't get so "frustrated" so they wouldn't get into knife fights....

I can't see where it would make that much difference with a knife.... even with the tip broken off, its going to go into a body if you stab them hard enough....

But I'm not sure breaking the tip was to stop fighting, or to make the knife safer on ship....

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This is what Gilkerson's Boarders Away has to say on this subject.

"...the very few early surviving specimens of sailor's sheath Knives have straight blades with squared off or sometimes rounded tips. While there was little or no use for a pointed knife in a sailor's ordiary work, a wide-bladed knife with a flat tip made a useful scraper. Hence, the elimination of a silor's option to stab a shipmate did not particularly hindwe his knife's usefulness. According to a traditional story, aboard some 1812-period warships the knives of all new handsentering the shipe were inspected by theMaster at Arms, and any found with sharp points got their tips broken off. No documentary confirmation of this procedure could be found, but the account seems plausable in light of later formalization of square-tipped knives in most navies."

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And in a world that didn't throw things away as quickly and mindlessly as we do today, I can imagine that all of those little broken off knife points could have become wicked shrapnel for cannons.

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Not sure of any historical accuracy, but being one who works a lot with sharp pointy things I can attest to the fact that any knife used as a tool will more often than not end up with it's tip broken anyway, since tempered steel can be brittle. If these knives were used as tools it would make more sense for it to have more of a 'chisel' tip than a pointed one. Of course I am just making this assumption and have no real 'proof' this is why, if it was factual at all that knives were de-pointed. It just seems like a more logical reason than to prevent stab wounds.

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Makes sense - dive knives are made without points for that very reason - they are often used to pry things, so the tip would inevitably break off. It's a tool, not a stabbing device.

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It has to be remembered that this de-tipping of knives takes place in the context of Navy vessels, where the danger of mutiny was always present. allowing sailors to carry anything weapon shaped was considered to be a bad idea.

Cutlasses and firearms were kept safely locked away, and were only issued immediately before a conflict.

In the chapter on knives in Boarders away, Gilkerson makes several references to knives being used in mutinies and shipboard murders.

"He carried a knife, which he was very ready to produce in terrorem. He was in the habit of sticking it in the deck, and looking significantly at such of his messmates as he wished to cow"

the above is a quote from a court martial for murder in 1778, and clearly refers to a knife with point intact.

the original message in this thread asked

"I read that some Captains made their crew break the tip off of their knives. Does anyone know if this was done durring the GAoP ?"

since there are a number references to stabbing, and the use of knives in mutinies thoroughout the 18th century, and the account of de-tipping knives dates from the 1812 period, which post dates the Golden age of Pirates by about 100 years, I would say that the answer is probably no.

That is not to say that individual Captains throughout the age of sail may not have used this practice in the interests of protecting his ship, or tat knives that had the tips broken off in the course of their use would not have been re-ground as un-pointed knives rather than been thrown away.

Paul.

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