Custom Scrimshaw by Mark Thogerson
An ancient craft on natural materials

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Custom Fitted Marine Officer Sword Grips

Several years ago at the request of a customer, I made my first set of custom fitted ivory grips for the Mameluke sword carried by US Marine officers.  Since then, I have completed a number of them in both ivory and Corian, an acrylic used for counter tops.  I am no longer able to either obtain elephant ivory or send it through the mail; all grips from now on will be made of Corian. See prices for replacement grips at the bottom of this page.

Scrimshaw can be done on these grips as well. Just about anything that can fit into the limited spaces between, above and below the star screws and pommel eye are possible, including Acanthus scrollwork designs similar to the blade etching, lettering, Marine Corps logo, sailing ships, aircraft, or other designs.  I will put together a design and send you photos of what it will look like.  Scrimshaw is priced on an hourly basis - inquire if interested.

Assembly / Disassembly

All I need (and want) to produce hand-fitted grips is the brass handle, star screws, and pommel eye screw.  I prefer not to have the blade, and will charge extra for shipping it back to you. I have found the most useful tools for assembling and disassembling the handle are two new pencils.  Their erasers are just the right size to fit into the pommel eye, and they grip the surface without marring. They can also be used to unscrew the star screws. In either case, have someone else hold the handle, and insert or press the erasers onto the screws on both sides, and turn in opposite directions. If the screw is stubborn, you can use some Liquid Wrench to help loosen it. If that doesn't work and the handle is cracked or broken anyway, carefully cut or break away the plastic around each screw until you can grip both screw ends with a pliers, padded with duct tape to prevent damaging the brass.

When replacing screws, rub the threads on a candle before screwing them together. This not only lubricates them so they screw together more easily, but will make them easier to unscrew when you want to polish the brass.  I recommend removing both the ivory and Corian grips before cleaning the brass because the dark residue can possibly stain, the ammonia in Brasso can dull the ivory surface, and any liquid that leaks into the handle center can corrode the screws, making the sword harder to take apart.

Star Screws and Pommel Eye Screw

The grips are held in place by these three screws. The pommel eye screw (shown at right) is pretty straightforward - male and female screw halves, with a shoulder to secure the handle. Use the erasers of two new pencils inserted into the conical holes to tighten or loosen.

The star screws come in several different models, depending on the age and manufacturer of the sword.  The oldest and newest models have a two-piece star screw, similar to the pommel eye screw. The shank of the female side is approximately the size of the hole in the brass handle.

Swords made between about 1960 and 1980 usually have a 4-piece star screw set. The barrel screws together like the above type, but has a screwdriver slot on either side to facilitate tightening. The star screw top resembles a carpet tack, and screws into the barrel.  Replacement sets like this are no longer available. A rare variant on this has a snap-on star cap instead of a screw-on.

The flat ends of two new pencil erasers pressed into the star screws on either side can be used to tighten and loosen either type of star screw in most cases.

If your pommel eye screw or star screws are damaged or can't be removed, I can replace them with the newer model.  They come direct from the present sword manufacturer through the Marine Shop at Quantico.  Their price is $30 for two pairs of star screws, and $15 for a pommel eye screw set. I only charge $6 above these prices to cover their shipment to me.

Comparison of Styrene, Corian and Ivory grips

Original styrene plastic: These look nice to begin with, but are mass-produced and don't fit perfectly. You may catch your glove on the little "ears" on the blade end of the handle, and there may be a noticeable lip along the joint with the brass part of the handle.  In addition, they get brittle and can discolor with age, and seemingly minor impacts can crack or shatter them, because they are hollowed out in back and about 1/8 inch thick.

Ivory is the original material used for sword grips, although grips from the Civil War through WW I were often made from other materials: various woods, buffalo horn, celluloid and bakelite. Fresh elephant ivory is nearly white, but it develops a yellow color with age - faster if it is in the sun or absorbs a lot of skin oils. They also tend to crack, especially if allowance was not made for shrinkage or movement with respect to the brass.

My replacement grips are custom fitted to each handle - there are a number of handle sizes and styles, and each handle is unique.

Corian: This acrylic material is tough, stain-resistant, and used for countertops. Plexiglas and dentures are also acrylic. It will not discolor, and can stand abuse. I use an eggshell (off-white) shade that looks like fresh ivory, but without the grain. It will remain white and will not develop the yellowish cast of older ivory. It should not be scrimshawed if you intend to use the sword regularly; the ink can rub out of the lines and the edges of the etched lines will round, making it difficult to re-ink. I charge $200 plus $10 shipping for handles made of this material. Scrimshaw is extra.

If you send me a complete sword, I charge $30 to disassemble and reassemble it, and an additional $10 for return postage.

If you are interested in having me make a pair of grips for you, please e-mail me (below), or contact me by mail or phone - I won't put it on this web page due to privacy concerns, but my contact information can be found in the December 2009 Leatherneck Magazine on Page 10, where one of my satisfied customers wrote a letter to the editor.

E-mail Mark:


Ivory handle made by me for the sword of
Maj. Gen. Matthew Horner, on display
at the Marine College in Quantico VA.

 


Scrimshawed ivory handles. Acanthus designs to match etchings on blades,
as well as other designs are possible.

 


Corian
handle. Notice that all three of these handles are different shapes and sizes.

 

 


Pommel eye screw halves


Older model two-piece star screw; new star screw sets have a deeper shoulder.


Four-piece star screw sets. Star screw tops screw into the barrel after it is installed.

 

 

 

All text, code and images on these pages are the property of Mark Thogerson 2001-2016