A fluid-filled weapon: has it happened?
April 28, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

In Gene Wolfe's Book of The New Sun, the sword Terminus Est is filled with some type of fluid, possibly mercury, that makes its weight shift depending on how it's being held. Have any real historical weapons been constructed in such a way, by filling them with fluids or ball bearings or something?
posted by Greg Nog to Technology (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ben Pearson Mercury Marauder hunting bow had mercury in the riser. This was for balance and shock absorption. Freaky. P. 4 of this pdf mentions it briefly. I have held one and it feels a bit slippery.
posted by oflinkey at 10:12 AM on April 28, 2010

There were some baseball bats made with some kind of fluid inside that would start in the handle and go towards the end as you swing with the idea that they would hit like a heavier bat and swing like a lighter one or something.
posted by callmejay at 10:14 AM on April 28, 2010

I don't know about weapons, but I have a Dead Blow Hammer that is plastic and filled with loose lead shot.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:15 AM on April 28, 2010

Here's a document that refers to such a blade, although I have not researched it further to verify the authors claim, it should give you a starting point for your own research:

Swords from the Dresden Armory
Stephen V. Grancsay

posted by zueod at 10:34 AM on April 28, 2010

Ah. I neglected to mention that there is also a tradition of swords that use cut outs filled with weights or ball bearings. These are referred to as "tears of the wounded" or "tears of the afflicted."

Here is a link to a thread on Sword Forum International that discusses such practices, and displays some photos of the weapons so equipped.

posted by zueod at 10:56 AM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to play with these weapons when I was a kid. Not so much anymore, but I'd love to stage a battle this summer.

...probably not what you are asking about, but hey.
posted by not_on_display at 11:26 AM on April 28, 2010

Mods will delete if this is a hijack, but I'd be curious about the physics of these weapons. Would they have been practically useful?

My guess is that the extra complexity (you try welding a sword shut around a pound of flowing, dripping, vaporizing mercury) would outweigh any possible benefit from the moment-of-inertia weirdness of having the center of mass slide outwards midswing.

Ball-bearings are more practical, and apparently they actually existed but I still doubt they have any real use other than looking unspeakably cool (thanks for the link, zueod!).
posted by d. z. wang at 11:41 AM on April 28, 2010

Not an answer to your question, but a note on the utility of having such a feature in a sword. It would make the sword a more capable swinging weapon at the expense of feints, thrusts and slashing capabilities. So, great as an executioner's weapon, not so much for battling or dueling.
posted by forforf at 11:42 AM on April 28, 2010

Mods will delete if this is a hijack, but I'd be curious about the physics of these weapons. Would they have been practically useful?

For the record, this is the sort of underarching reason for my question; I wondered if, in real life, such a sword would actually be useful in any kind of battle. So yes, more physics-of-swordplay answers would be very much appreciated!
posted by Greg Nog at 11:52 AM on April 28, 2010

For the purpose for which Severian uses it, a heavy chop, a mercury-filled blade would probably work fine. As Master Palaemon says: "Light to raise, weighty to descend." As an executioner's weapon, it would work very well.

In a stuation where one would have to move the sword around quckly, though many angles, like a swordfight, I suspect it would be very, very sub-optimal. Most of the weight would be at the end of the blade if the tip was below your hands. The balace would be like swinging a big axe and much harder on the wrists than a regular sword.

Just a guess based on the physics of it.

Btw, there are patents on mercury-filled golf clubs as well.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2010

Another link for you: mercury in sporting goods.
posted by bonehead at 12:22 PM on April 28, 2010

bonehead has it: Terminus Est is not a weapon intended for dueling or, really, battle. It was a headsman's weapon, to be used in place of a headsman's axe. Given how difficult it is to decapitate someone with one blow of a sword (or even an axe) I can see how it might help.

Good luck fighting with it though.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2010

Oh, I would like to revise and extend my remarks. That Terminus Est would be terrible for individual combat is not a unique property of its construction. Any oversized two-handed weapon of this type would be no good for that sort of combat regardless of construction. Big blades like that are mostly useful when fighting in formation where they can be raised up and hacked down on enemies with the weight of the blade itself causing damage even if blocked, much the way a big mace or something might. Good luck swinging it like that for very long.

The end of the movie Rob Roy illustrated this pretty well, actually, and was one of the few realistic sword fights I've seen on film. Rob Roy was trying to duel with a scottish claymore and the other guy was using a rapier or something and absolutely demolished him by poking at him and easily avoiding Roy's slow, cumbersome swings until Roy was completely spent, which took very little time.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 PM on April 28, 2010

This is rather far afield from your question, but maybe of interest: in William S. Burroughs The Western Lands there is the use of mercury-filled bullets that splatter on impact, causing more damage to the victim.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:28 AM on April 29, 2010

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