Shashkas

Shashka

Here are some comments of my experiences with various types of shashkas (see attached images). Click on any picture for a larger view.

1. Images 1,2,10,11 show the proper blade curvature. Images #5,6 also show proper curvature, and also show the blade smith's marks generally attributed to Gurda, whose works are highly prized. (The Russian description of these marks is "zubchataya dushka" - meaning a "serrated arc". The person of Gurda has never been identified!

Gurda Marks

Shashka hilt2. Hilt in shashka #1 remains outside the scabbard when blade is fully sheathed. Detail of such a hilt is shown in #3 and #4. This style is generally not used in the Caucasus, although the work itself is Caucasian (from Kubachi, no doubt).

3. Hilt in shashka #2 buries up to the pommel when blade is fully sheathed. A 2-3" portion of the back of the scabbard, as shown in #8, is open in order to accommodate for the blade curvature when inserting/withdrawing the blade. This style is used universally in the Caucasus.

Shashka hilt4. Image #4 shows the 'split' pommel form found on virtually every shashka. This feature probably derives from the Turkish Yatagan.

Armory Shashka5. Shashka #12 is all armory made, has heavier blade, is less well balanced, but is very rugged. I have had little interest in this style.

There were blades made at the Zlatoust armory (for the Kuban Cossack Regiments - and so etched) which were flat, unfullered, and which balanced rather well. Some of these were also mounted by Kubachi silversmiths in the style shown in #10,#11 - but the majoriy were with horn hilts, probably installed at Zatoust. On many shashkas, a 3-inch length from the tip of the blade is sharpened at the back, giving the blade a double edge in that area.

Good shashka blades can be flexed a great deal and will spring back without taking on any permanent deformation. In one case, where I straightened the somewhat bent shashka blade of high quality, belonging to a friend, I had to give it a 90-degree bend before any strengtening occured. I had clamped the blade in a heavy bench vise (with jaws padded with heavy felt) in the appropriate spot(s) on the blade, and flexed the blade at ever- increasing angles. I was amazed that I had to go as far as 90 degrees before any effect was evident. We supposed that the original bending took place when the owner fell on it from his horse, bearing his entre weight on the blade!

Shashka hilt6. Fig 7,8,9 show details of a top quality shashka where the hilt fits fully inside the scabbard, up to the pommel. (The blade is an old Solingen blade, with typical Solingen etchings of the sun and moon and other features). The indicated area in the back is an open slot to accommodate blade curvature. (The Turks used a similar design for their deeply curved shamshirs and kyliges.)

7. Non-metallic hilts were usually made of what looks like 2 slabs of water buffalo horn (black or very dark brown), attached to the tang with 2 steel pins, peened over. Ivory is used, but rarely, because it is brittle Now comes the interesting part:

8. The metal hilt, such as shown in #10,11 is of sheet silver, completely hollow on the inside. I had restored several such pieces that had been badly damaged - so am well acquainted with the inner onstruction.

Shashka hiltThe tang, shown in RED outline, has two rough shaped slabs of soft wood (looks like whte pine) attached to it with two steel pins. The tang and the two slabs is a Very loose fit into the hollow hilt. These are inserted into the hilt and, while the two are held in place, a melt of Alum composition (Potassium aluminum sulfate?) - with a possible admixture of finely ground stone is poured into the cavity, filling all the vacant space in the pommel and hilt. As it cools, it solidifies into a hard stone-like material that not only holds the tang and its 2 slabs in place, but also backs up the sheet silver to prevent it being dented. The material seems to be deliquescent (absorbs moisture) and recrystallizes and expands as it dries - splitting the silver at the soldered seams. This is the great weakness of thie material.

The reason I identify the filling material as alum (like used in styptic pencils) is that I tasted it. No mistakes here. By the way, the Italians are using the same type of hot casting material to make small art stauettes that look for all the world like they were made of marble. Nice looking pieces, usually.

On some of the hilts I have restored, moisture had gotten into the cavity and the material had expanded and split the silver at the joints. I had to get in there with a thin chisel and skewer to chip the material out of there with a small hammer. When it was all removed, I reinserted the tang, filled the cavity wuth US Gypsum Co. Ultracal-30 gypsum cement in some and with US Gypsum Hydrostone in others. Both of these have fantastic strength, but the Hydrostone is a bit tricky to use. Before pouring the gypsum, one must tape up any openngs in the silver shell, so the stuff does not seep out.

To achieve the high mechanical strength of these gypsum cements, exact gypsum/water proportions must be maintained. (These specially formulated gypsum cements are very much stronger than the common 'plaster of Paris' that one can get in a hardware store, and have a longer, gradual setting time. For instance, they are used in naval architecture for making the 'master plugs' used in the fabrication of fiberglass yacht hulls. They are also used similarly in the auto industry.

There is one step that remains a mystey to me: When the original maker of the silver style hilt has filled the cavity, how does he silver-solder the forward end of the hilt to the rest of the hilt? Any ideas?

Regards,
George

Comments concerning these pages can be addressed to george@arco-iris.com

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