I'm a fan of fantasy film amongst other genres. I make no excuses for this. But one of the things that consistently irritates me is when you see a character with a battle-axe, and he goes all Paul Bunyan with it. Since most people are unfamiliar with archaic combat, I'll brief you a bit.
There are a large number of axes out there. The modern axe is more of a jack-of-all-trades master of none system. Formerly, you had an axe for each specific job. There were a large number of them solely dedicated to wood for felling and shaping the trees into lumber, and utilitarian items.
Those aren't what I'm going to sit and blog about though. I'm blogging about combat weapons, axes to be precise. The axe is a both a lever and a wedge. Mostly in movies it is being used as a sharp club. Or as a hammer with a sharp edge. While there are times when using it as such is useful, mostly it was used differently.
Against a steel plate, it will similar to a flanged mace edge and buckle the metal, and doing significant blunt trauma force injury. The problem occurring with that is if if does penetrate the metal. It will tend to get stuck in your opponent. That may not be a particular problem if you only have a single opponent AND you manage to kill him with that blow. If you fail to kill him, he is going to do you some damage with his weapon. He may die, and you may not, but would you bet your life on that being the case consistently. If he has friends, you'd best have alternative weapons, as you'll be dead from their weapons by the time you wrest the axe out of your opponent. That is why flanged maces were clubs that had metal heads and unsharpened flanges to keep from cutting into and getting caught on the armor. Against an unarmored opponent, the problem gets worse. Instead of being caught on the armor, it tends to get caught on and in the bones.
This brings us to how one does fight with an axe. Well first forget most fantasy axes. Generally they have, at best, the right profile. They are generally to thick in the blade. It needs to be light to preserve your strength in a long fight, and relatively thin, like a spear or a longsword. The blade is designed to shear through your opponent, not hack through them. To shear you want to use the outer top edge of the blade, and you want it to only cut a couple or three inches deep.
If you need an experiment to show you how this works, do the following. Take a piece of 18 gauge steel. Take a chisel to represent the axe. Clamp the metal firmly to a heavy immovable base. Put on safety equipment, a face shield at the very least. Place the chisel 90 degrees to plate. Hammer the chisel as hard as you can without slipping off it and taking out the hand holding the chisel. You've now dulled the edge a bit, and have made a dent. Now if you Take the same chisel near the edge so it can bite into the metal, and hold it at a good angle, it will do significantly more damage. You've sheared the metal. That's how metal snips, beverly shears, and other physical metal cutting equipment cuts.
I've seen it done well once on film. The citation is below. It is well worth watching for the battle scene. F. Braun McAsh sword was the swordmaster, and with his background with HACA (Historical Armed Combat Association) I believe it was mostly his accomplishment. On the other hand, I also have to give it to Richard A. Buswell for fight choreography, as it came out amazingly well even though axe fighting isn't on his resume, however his dealings with The Nordic Stage Fight Society amongst others couldn't have hurt.
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