Conversation With Peter Johnsson

Sword expert and designer Peter Johnsson examines the properties of a medieval artifact in a recent collaborative project with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There is a special place in heroic lore for those who deal in the craft of weapons – specifically, for the smiths who make swords. Far from being just a “big ol’ knife,” the sword – in legends – becomes an extension of the personality of the hero (or the villain), and as such, the man or woman who crafts such a weapon has a great deal of influence over the ideals and principles that these archetypal characters, from Roland and King Arthur, to Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter, embody in the cultures they come from.

But a sword isn’t just a mythical symbol – real swords were carried by real knights and men-at-arms, who fought in real battles throughout the Middle Ages. Like those swords of legend, the weapons put to use by medieval knights reflected – in some manner – the ideals of chivalry they admired, and (at least tried to) live by.

Only a small fraction of the swords carried by warriors in the Middle Ages still survive today, locked away in cabinets and display cases in both museums and private collections all over the world. And there are serious craftsmen who put their skills at the forge and anvil to use trying, as much as possible, to create modern replicas of these medieval military treasures – and certainly one of the best in that field is Swedish sword-maker Peter Johnsson (pictured, examining a medieval sword during a recent collaboration with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Peter started his love of swords and sword making at the age of 8, when he got his first anvil and (with the help of his dad) hammered out his first blade. He has been studying metallurgy, design, and the art of the forge ever since, and has been fortunate enough to get up-close encounters with of hundreds of surviving medieval and Renaissance swords, in places like the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Royal Armoury in Stockholm, and Imperial Treasury in Vienna. In 1999 Peter worked as part of a team of experts creating an exact reconstruction of an early 16th century sword that was once carried by the Regent of Sweden.

Sword collectors today may know Peter as the designer behind many of the sword available in the Museum, Next Generation, and Maestro Collections from Albion Swords – which are painstakingly crafted to emulate the technical specifications as well as the handling qualities of existing medieval swords. And, in January of 2017 a lucky few students of the sword will be traveling to Tannery Pond Forge in New Hampshire to take part in a 7-day workshop called Sword Reflections, coordinated by forge owner Zach Jonas, to learn the fine points of replicating a sword worthy of a prince, or a king … or a knight.

Like any good craftsman, Peter Johnsson sees more than the mere use and utility of his products – he recognizes the cultural significance and the ideological symbolism behind the swords he studies, and the swords he makes. Peter joins host Scott Farrell in a conversation about the mythology and realities of medieval swords, and their use – and how the design and function of the sword reflects the philosophy of the code of chivalry.

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  • Peter Johnsson’s Sword Reflections workshop will be held at Tannery Pond Forge in New Hampshire, Jan. 14-20, 2017. For information about reserving a spot at the forge, check out the details on Peter’s Facebook Event Page: Sword Reflections.

COMING SOON: Peter Johnsson and podcast host Scott Farrell share some thoughts on the form and function of medieval swords (and modern reproductions) in a podcast extra “for sword nerds only.”

Video Extra: Below, Peter Johnsson gives a practical demonstration of how sword design leads to sword performance, in his 2016 presentation “The Use of Geometery in Sword Design,” given before the New England Bladsmiths’ Guild at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, New York.