Polearms - The Swiss Voulge:

Date completed: June 01, 2003

     Voulge is the term for a specific type of polearm used by infantry in the 14th century. A polearm is just that, a pole (or stick) with arms (or a weapon if you prefer) affixed to one or both of its ends. Infantry primarily used these weapons, though some mounted warriors were known to use a few varieties (enter the lance). The intent of a polearm was to extend the reach of it’s wielder to a point where he could take down his foe before that foe could get close enough to do the same. Polearms were developed for two-handed use and originally introduced as spears and pikes to give infantry an effective weapon against the armored knight. These weapons were very effective when set against a mounted charge, however they quickly became useless at close range. And the broad group pole cleavers was born.

     During the middle ages, hundreds of specialized polearms were developed, each with its an individual function. The nomenclature for this great mass of weapons has been lacking to say the least. One source calls the topic of this study a voulge, another a Guisarme-voulge, a third an ‘early’ halberd. Indeed several conflicting categorizations can be simultaneously correct. Here are a few examples. Despite its name and designation as a poleaxe, the Lochaber axe actually more resembles “single long, curving blade” of the Glaive. Yes, there is most often a hook on the blade backing or the tip of the blade, but when a spike is added to the “traditional” voulge; it is sometimes referred to as a Guisarme-voulge. The Halberd is considered a poleaxe despite possessing the traits of the Guisarme-voulge itself. Another form of polearm, Bills, are multi-function weapons that include a cutting surface, a dagger or spear like spike, and hooks or curved blades on the back for dismounting riders. As you can see the version of the voulge I have chosen to fabricate could fall into this category as well. As I researched, I began to feel the designations simply depended on which way the wind was blowing at the time the materials were written!

     As a good deal of authors have labeled the voulge as a poleaxe, and just as many have disagreed, I have chosen to begin defining my study on this topic. I have used George Cameron Stone and the grouping method he uses in “A Glossary of the Construction Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times Together with Some Closely Related Subjects”. Using a strict interpretation of a poleaxe would narrow the category to those weapons retaining an axe head, be it single or double bitted, backed by a spike or topped by a point. This category is also characterized by maintaining a heft attributed to a true axe. The voulge does not do this. If one were to remove the end point and back spike the remaining instrument would resemble a meat cleaver more then an axe. Although related to the axe family, it truly belongs up one level, directly under the pole cleaver family.

     Voulges are characterized by their broad cleaver-like blade with a spike protrusion at the top. The head is typically attached to a wood pole by steel bands off the blade backing. These rings are then nailed to the pole to secure the head. There is a very fine line of nomenclature that is approached when back spike is added to the back of the blade. The terms begin to cloud and the Guisarme-voulge begins to be used. In truth, to be a true Guisarme-voulge the back spike (or recently adopted hook) is formed from the blade of the weapon itself, not added separately.

     If this was indeed the case, then a third theory comes into play involving the addition of a dagger or spear-like point to the end of the bladed end to allow a user to thrust as well as slash with the weapon. Regardless of how it came to be, the voulge was widely used in the British Isles and Europe for several centuries.

     There were few weapons of the Middle Ages that were not derived from either agricultural or hunting origins. As time and wars progressed, these simple tools evolved into instruments whose sole use was the killing of men. There are three main theories of how the voulge originated. The first is that it came from a plowshare-type tool, the second from the pruning-bill, (a tool used for trimming trees) or the third as the result of an individual fastening a meat cleaver to pole or staff to defend his person or family. There is also debate as to whether the voulge evolved into the Lochaber axe (Hammer of Kai) or if they simultaneous evolved. The simultaneous theory states Europe (the continental region) developed the pole arm as the voulge, while the Scottish of the British Isles defined the Lochaber axe. The Lochaber axe possesses a hook either as it’s tip or at the butt of the blade that, whether by lack of surviving, datable examples or documentation, I have not noted on the voulges I have crossed in my research. Either way these weapons came to be, the concept of development was the same; to deliver a powerful cleaving blow, as it’s brethren the poleaxe. Their distinction was the secondary function to dismount enemies or keep infantry at a distance.

General Fabrication:

The polearm before you, a (Swiss) voulge, is the result of research from several sources. It is very closely modeled after a period find as shown in George Cameron Stone’s “A Glossary of the Construction Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times Together with Some Closely Related Subjects”.

Swiss voulge, end of the 14th-century –“A Glossary of the Construction Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor…”

As all the tools I possess are for use on stainless steel armor, I chose to make this piece in stainless as well to avoid contamination of my tools. In period, iron would have been used to forge this weapon. The pole is ash and although it would have been polished with oil such as linseed in period, I chose to use a polyurethane lacquer for it’s protective properties. The lacquer also minimizes the chance of getting splinters with handling.

     This weapon was fabricated using modern tools, as the drum forge I possess is not near large enough to forge something of this size. The tools I used are as follows:

A cold chisel

Various armoring hammers (for shaping and edge finishing)

Oxy-acetylene torch (to heat and work the metal)

TIG welder (for fusing and backfilling air pockets in folded joints)

1-1/4” Steel bar (as a shaping form)

A grinding stone

Various files

Sand paper

A buffing wheel


  1. A Glossary of the Construction Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times Together with Some Closely Related Subjectsby George Cameron Stone.

  2. Armor and Weaponsby Paul Martin

  3. Arms & Armor – Art Institute of Chicagoby Bulfinch

  4. Arms & Armor – Cleveland Museum of Artby Stephen N. Fliegel

  5. Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knightby David Edge (Saturn Books)

  6. Arms and Armourby Vasey Norman

  7. Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era, 1050-1350: Western Europe and the Crusader Statesby David Nicolle

  8. European Armor, Circa 1066 - Circa 1700by Claude Blair

  9. European Arms & Armorby Charles Ashdown

  10. Men at Arms Series: #166; German Medieval Armies 1300-1500

  11. Treasures from the tower of London: An Exhibition of Arms and ArmourCompiled by A.V.B. Norman and G.B. Wilson

* Special thanks to Mr. Bechmann (who has personally handled Honnecout’s trebuchet sketch(s) in his studies) for his recommendations on which of his works, with specific pages, would best suit my research goals.


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