Dark Age 2.0: Melee Weapons – Part 3, by Dr. Joseph

(Continued from Part 2.)

I will return to the question of swords below, but to make the discussion more systematic, let us outline some criteria for melee weapon choice. Some points are:

(1) Availability and accessibility, one should have access to the weapons, and be able to acquire backups in case of breakage, or extra people in one’s team, even if this means improvisation, or making them first hand.

(2) Versatility: the weapon should be able to cover the bases, so that a bladed weapon should be ideally suitable for both stabbing and slashing/chopping, and even a stick should still be able to be used to thrust, so its geometry should permit this.

(3) Durability: as already mentioned, in the post-apocalyptic scenario, there will be vastly reduced resources, and weapons that are high maintenance would be a disadvantage.

(4) Ease of use: melee weapons should be relatively easy to use, and not require vast quantities of time training; most flexible weapons such as whips and chain weapons, would not be suitable compared to other weapons such as sticks.

(5) Portability, and ease of carry: in the post-apocalyptic wastelands, as in pre-modernity, melee weapons will usually need to be carried on the person, so weight and size could be issues. For example, the wood chopping axe and sledge hammer are heavy, and not easy to carry on one’s person. But one would certainly not want to get hit in the head by either.

(6) Cost/economics: this criterion is often not discussed in weapons selection, with the writers simply assuming that people have plenty of money and are not in a cost-of-ling crisis. It will be a key consideration in the discussion to follow, as the melee weapons literature does not consider the economics factor seriously enough.

Blunt Impact Weapons: Sticks, Clubs, Hammers

Blunt impact weapons are probably the first weapons used by primitive man, and indeed chimpanzees have used sticks as tools, and even weapons. Sticks are ubiquitous [64], and in a pinch can be harvested from trees, or picked up from the ground. The modern hardware shop has a good supply of such dual-purpose tools and weapons, such as hardwood dowels that can be cut to size, long-handed spade/shovel handles, pick and mattock handles, and even axe handles. While much ado is made about baseball bats (and some interest in cricket bat in the UK), the baseball bat is far inferior to the pick and mattock handle; sometimes the baseball bat breaks during play, let alone over a head! [65] Compared to the mattock handle, which is longer, heavier and more robust, the baseball bat is much more expensive, so many mattock handles could be had for the price of one bat.

Blunt impact weapons can be divided into rigid body weapons and flexible weapons. Flexible weapons include whips and chains. There are some semi-flexible weapons such as the South African sjambok (Cold Steel has a synthetic version), which are primarily used for snakes, with lesser relevance to human self-defense situations. The flail, a striking head attached by rope or chain to a pole of various lengths, were used to attack armor; there are safer weapons for this such as the war hammer and mace, discussed below. In general, unless one has trained with flexible weapons, I do not recommend them as a choice, as one is likely to do more harm to oneself than the enemy, which is not to say that one would not grab a hunk of chain if that was all that was available. We need to ensure that such a situation is not the case.

Sticks have been used in warfare, in the special form of clubs, such as by the ancient Germanic club wielders. [66] In general a disarmed people, such as the Irish, turned to sticks such as the shillelagh for self-protection. Shepherds in pre-modern times, as in Europe, defended their flocks of sheep with quarterstaffs [67] And today, there are flourishing self-defense schools teaching stick defense in the form of the cane and walking stick. [68] Thus, acquiring sticks, taken from hardwood trees, or simply from hardware shops, is an economical way of getting to first base in melee weapon prepping. I suggest getting a number of sticks; both walking stick length, and bo and jo staff length to use the Japanese terms; the bo staff being like the European quarterstaff of 6-9 feet in length, and the jo staff/stick, shorter, about 4-5 feet in length, both about one inch in diameter. Traditionally, these weapons are blunt tipped; however, like primitive man, there is no reason why a pointy tip cannot be ground onto the sticks, like a giant pencil. The stick becomes a primitive spear.

As for stick training, there are online tutorials conducted by Matt Pasquinilli of Quantum Martial Arts on YouTube, including instructions about making one’s own fighting stick for a few dollars. One could fruitfully work through all the videos to beef up on stick fighting.

One of the advantages of stick training is that it can be used as a form of upper body strength training. A larger than normal club, hunk of steel, or large thick pipe can be used to do stick techniques under extra resistance. Back in the day I often lifted a piece of railway iron, thick pipe, or small tree trunk. Who needs a barbell? Well, a barbell can be lifted for stick training as well, with weights added at one end.

There are many other blunt impact weapons that can be put into use if necessary. Wrecking bars are not expensive, can be carried with some irritation, they are easy to use (primary just swing it at the target), are highly durable, since the bars are made for wrecking things, and readily available at hardware shops. They have no maintenance, unlike swords and machetes, and rust is not much of a problem, unlike with bladed weapons. They are somewhat heavy if a large bar is chosen, but one just man-ups to that.

Hammers are another choice, and there is an entertaining YouTube video where Icy Mike of Hard 2 Hurt, puts the case that hammers may be a better home protection melee weapon than machetes: “Which is Better for Self Defense? Hammer vs. Machete?” is the title. There is no fixed answer to these sorts of questions, since context decides; a normal adversary with no body armor may be dealt with by the thin-bladed machete, but some sort of body armor may defeat a machete, but not the blunt force impact of a hammer.

As for hammers, the traditional war hammer devised to dispatch knights in armor can be had relatively cheaply from Cold Steel, and various medieval shops across the West are likely to stock the head, which can be placed on the pole of one’s choice. The sledge hammer, unless especially small and light, is not going to be a practical weapon to lug around; it has its uses at the sustainable autonomous base, the survival shelter, as a tool. But for personal carry, the choice in hammers from our friendly neighborhood hardware shop comes down to claw hammers, ball pein hammers, framing hammers (with the straight claw) and steel brick hammers. These hammers may have a synthetic, wood or steel handle. In general, while the top-of-the line framing hammers may be around the same price of a mid-range folding knives, made in China hammers can be had very cheaply, especially claw hammers. All are reasonable weapons, cheap and durable.

A personal story: when I was around 5-years-old, I lived on a family mixed farm that had pigs. My mother’s beloved boar was always getting out, and when he did one of his tasks was to try to eat me. Thus, I armed myself with a claw hammer (nothing special) and large woodwork chisel. One day the boar tried his usual stunt, and I hit him with the claw hammer right between the eyes, with all my force. He dropped to the ground, momentarily losing consciousness. When he came to, he tried to walk, but found that he could only go a short distance before collapsing. At other times he would go around in circles until falling down. I called him “Dopey,” and he was soon taken out to the abattoirs to be slaughtered. Moral, if a 5-year-old could take down such a monster, in adult hands, the hammer would be more than adequate, come-what-may, for most adults.

A hammer is a cheap, reliable, durable weapon that requires no maintenance, and can simply be slid into one’s belt. Get several of them, as apart from weapons use, hammers are important working tools. And, as discussed later, the hammer can be used with the improvised shield to go up against most other melee weapons.

The mace is another medieval weapon devised to attack armor. It consists of a striking head, often with spikes (morningstar), on a pole of various lengths, but usually about two feet, as the weapon is heavy. These can be found on eBay, but can easily be banged up by coiling up some thick chain into a ball, and welding it, then welding it to a piece of thick steel pipe abut 12 inches in length, and attaching this to a pole/stick. Sharpened bolts can be added to taste, welded to the chain. Strictly for WROL. For fighting against plate armor, the mace could be worth having on hand, just in case, but it is unlikely in the post-apocalyptic ruins, that one will have to contend with men in such armor, coming to one’s retreat, since gas-driven cars would have ground to a halt long ago, and horse transportation will be limited for moving such weight. But you never know.

In summary, blunt impact weapons in the form of sticks of various lengths, the club, wrecking bars, and hammers and the like, are weapons that can be acquired by those even on a limited budget, and should be acquired at present before civilizational collapse.

Polearms and Spears

Polearms, such as spears, were the primary melee weapons for most of human history, not swords, which were backup weapons in both Europe and Asia. Polearms include such things as the halberd (pike spike plus axe blade, plus a hook); partisan (pike with axe blades); glaive (long blade with small parrying hook; early glaives were knife or sword blades attached to a wooden shaft); the English bill (spear point, spur and curved axe head); spontoon (leaf-shaped blade and a single crossbar for parrying); guisarme (spear point, parrying hook, and longer curved hook to hamstring horses); bardiche (long axe with a thrusting spike) and the poleaxe (hammerhead, plus and axe and a steel spike for thrusting). [69]

The Dane axe of the Vikings can also be added to this list. Cold Steel makes an impressive Dane axe (it may be too pricey for some), and medieval shops tend to stock most of these weapons. As well, the heads can usually be purchased separately, which reduces cost, especially if the weapon is bought online, keeping postage costs down. In general, it could prove useful to have some polearms just in case one has to deal with attackers on horseback (even without plate armor), or just for sheer intimidation power. I have seen videos of homeowners being attacked by multiple home invaders who were armed with short, cheap machetes and kitchen knives; certainly, facing them in an open space with a polearm would be, to say the least, interesting.

If one is on a very restrictive budget, one option is to use long-handed spades, to sharpen all edges to make a poor man’s battle axe. The ideal would be to have a spade with a blade that is not too “bent” as is usually the case to aid in digging. Manure spades, with a stainless-steel blade are generally flat, but are on short handles. The stud/bolt can be cut with an angle grinder and that handle replaced with a long spade handle. The spade has been used in trench warfare, especially in World War I, as described in the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), as in the trenches, the bayonet tended to get stuck in opponents, while the sharpened spade did the job.

From the hardware shop as well, the pitch fork and manure fork are cheap pole weapons, serving the dual purpose of a weapon and agricultural implement. The curve of the prongs may limit thrusting potential and subsequent penetration; an option is to get a garden folk without the curve, sharpen up the prongs, and put the handle of the fork on a longer pole. I have used such a weapon on my farm against a large feral dog who was attacking my sheep. He did not like the sharp jab in his guts, and while the dog was at first keen to tear me apart, it lost interest after only one jab.

Speaking of jabs, the king of melee weapons has been said to be the spear. The spear is one of man’s oldest weapons, with the sharpened stick being use in the Stone Age, and provably before. It was used against both man and beast, to kill everything from the mammoth (in hunting parties), bears (the bear spear was used in pre-modern Russia), down to every other animal in North America. The spear features in all pre-modern warfare, across all cultures, being the principal melee weapon of the ancient Greeks, Spartans, Romans, Vikings, Japanese samurai (the katana was a secondary backup weapon), and in Africa.

In Africa both the Maasai and Samburu warriors killed lions with their respective spears. Shaka (died 1828), was a Zulu military leader who founded the Zulu empire in southern Africa. Part of his success in battle came from revising spear fighting techniques, so that the long spear and its clumsy method of use with the shield, was replaced by a short spear, the assegai, enabling closer range and faster combat. A modern incarnation of the assegai spear is sold by Cold Steel, and is as deadly today as it was back in Shaka’s day. As well, Cold Steel has a range of affordable hunting spears that can be used for self-defense, such as the boar spear, American hunting spear, Samburu spear, and Maasai spear. There is a good YouTube video featuring Lynn Thompson, former owner of Cold Steel cutting meat targets with the Maasai spear: “Why You Should Buy a Maasai Spear from Cold Steel.”

At a pinch, the spear can be improvised readily by duct-taping a straight bladed, straight handle knife, like a Bowie, to a pole; a chipper hoe is one option for a closer-range weapon. The thicker head can be shaped so that the knife guard slots in to prevent rolling.

The spear has been shown to be better in one-on-one combat than the sword of whatever type, providing here is adequate space for movement and footwork: YouTube, Lindybeige, “Spears are Better than Swords: Scientific Proof.” The swordsman needs to have a shield to even the odds.


The axe has also been used since ancient times, as both a tool and a weapon. The first axes were stone, then bronze in the Bronze Age, then iron, and steel. The hand axe was a favored weapon of the Vikings, some hypothesize because even the poor could own one, as swords were expensive. Yet, even the Viking kings usually had a hand axe on their belt, and the Viking Sagas made clear that the axe was regarded as superior to the sword, provided a shield was used. The advantage of the axe is that while it has limited stabbing power (some fighting axes has cusps that could be used to stab; other axes had no such points, like the Viking bearded axe, which was devised to pull down shields), the axe delivers more chopping power than the thinner-bladed sword, pound-for-pound, as its mass is concentrated in a smaller head, with a smaller blade. The sword has a longer blade with its mass more spread out along its longer cutting surface.

Some have criticized the axe as a weapon, as the wooden handles can break. Indeed, that can happen; so too can spear shafts and sword blades as well in the clash of combat. But one could usually carry two fighting axes without much problem on one’s belt if one was paranoid about this. Wood chopping axes sometimes get broken handles from over-strike, but that is not a problem against human opponents, only against trees. Repeated strikes of the axe handle by a sword in combat could in principle damage the axe handle, but one way of preventing this, as is done with the war hammer, is to have a steel guard (languette) placed around the axe handle near the head, to reduce impact damage potential. Even putting PVC /duct tape would help.

There are many types of small hand axes, tomahawks (“hawks”), available from firms such as American Tomahawk Company, Benchmade Knife Company, Cold Steel, Estwing, SOG Specialty Knives, Gerber Legendary Blades, and one from South Melbourne, Australia, Half Breed Blades. [70] There is an impressive YouTube video by Choir Boyz Outdoors, “Breaching Axe! … Half Breed Blades 2BA-01,” where their breaching axe is put through the paces, smashing cinder blocks with the spike, no seeming damage. One issue I have with hawks is that the very good ones tend to be somewhat pricey now, but you get what you pay for. Certainly, the hawk is durable and relatively low maintenance. My only other concern with the standard hawk with an axe blade and spike, is that with spiked weapons in history, the spike sometimes got caught up in the opponent, and may get pulled from one’s hand when the opponent falls; this was an issue with the spike on the war hammer in medieval and Renaissance times, so the hammer head was mainly used.

My personal preference for axes is to get Viking-style axe heads from medieval shops, or reenactment societies (most universities have them) where they still are reasonably priced. I have found that since the popularity of the television show Vikings, the prices of hand axes as weapons has increased a fair bit, so I would recommend getting the axe head and attaching it to a hardwood shaft. In this way one can have a highly effective, but cheap close-range weapon. As well, in a pinch, if two axes are carried, one axe could be thrown at the opponent, if the circumstances were right, but I am not generally a fan of throwing axes. Yes, it can be done, and was done by the Vikings, but if one misses in the stress of combat, there goes a weapon, which could in principle be picked up and tossed back at you. It is much better to fire an arrow, or maybe in a pinch, use a slingshot, or toss a rock.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 4.)