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Old 5th May 2006, 01:00 AM   #1
Emanuel
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Default Opinions on a Takouba

Hello,
This auction just ended on ebay http://cgi.ebay.ca/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1
I think it is a takouba of the "southern variety" due to the rounded pommel. It looks a lot more intricately decorated than most other takoubas I've seen, the hilt and scabbard being covered in brass. Any ideas or opinions on it?

Regards,
Manolo
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Old 5th May 2006, 01:57 PM   #2
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The description mentions repairs to the handle and hand guard. Perhaps these repairs were not done the same as the original? If it is still in the original style, it looks to be a very interesting and decorative Takouba. Presumably the first owner had status within the community.
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Old 5th May 2006, 06:07 PM   #3
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Very difficult to make an assessment of the damage and repairs from these pictures, but it did not cost much, and looks as if it was made for someone of some status. I think some of these are more in the line of dress swords. I have a large brass arm knife with a similar looking blade obiously not as long, which could be used in anger but I am not so sure that was really what it was made for when compered to real fighting arm Knives.
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Old 5th May 2006, 10:13 PM   #4
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Hello Tim and Katana,
So would this type be a fairly new (20th c.) parade/dress piece or an older example representative of traditional practices? The brass on this one looks worn and dirty, and the blade shows some signs of having been sharpened no?
Looking at the takouba serving as logo for this forum, it certainly looks like it saw many a fight, yet it is finely decorated. Would it be specific to noble or vassal tribes or tribal leaders? Is there any literature dealing specifically with takouba and covering decorative patterns?
It would be helpful if the members who own such swords could post them for comparison.

Thanks,
Manolo
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Old 5th May 2006, 11:51 PM   #5
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I have only the one Takouba, and I would say it is the fairly common and of typical style. The blade on this one is well tempered, 'springy' (a technical term , and still fairly sharp even though it has not been sharpened recently. The blade also has the usual 'crescent moon' (2 either side).
The handle and guard, usually are leather covered, and the pommel shape and design is quite common. Here is a pic of my 'common' one below,but I really like the fact that its been 'used'.
Tim, Jim, and others are very knowledgeable about these swords, I am sure you will find their opinions very informative.
..... Ah, one more thing, you're right the Takouba in the Forums banner is something else.
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Old 6th May 2006, 11:27 AM   #6
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Unfortunately I no longer have one of these swords, something I now deeply regret, and I am having great difficulty finding a replacement at the price I am prepared to pay.

I am not saying they were not used in battle. It is just a feeling that many, and very fine ones with a good springy temper, do not seem specially designed for combat. There thrusting ability and the cut are equally weak when in comparison to other weapons. I have seen WW1 parade swords that were given an edge and used in the field.

This arm dagger has a blade very similar to many Takouba blades. It is very beautiful very springy and could carry a very keen edge but I have doubts as to whether it was primarily made for combat. Just in passing if anyone knows anything about the wooden chap used as a stop in the picture please feel free to pass it on.
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Old 7th May 2006, 05:44 AM   #7
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It seems that other than the article by Dr. Lloyd Cabot-Briggs, little has focused specifically as far as typology or identification of Tuareg edged weapons, other than the article written on this site by Dr.Lee Jones.
By the very nomadic nature of the Tuareg tribes themselves, it seems extremely difficult to geographically classify the variations of takouba and especially of the arm daggers (telek).
The Tuareg, as virtually all tribal groups of Saharan regions, are keenly sensitive to symbolism and superstitions of thier folk religious beliefs. The use of either leather, or brass/copper in covering the hilts of thier swords has to do with the concept that the Tuareg must avoid touching iron or white metal which has negative and deadly properties.Presumably the sheath coverings further carry this function, along with decorative motif that is intended to protect the owner from the evil eye.

The circular motif on Manolo's example is extremely interesting and while I have not specifically seen such motif on takoubas, it seems to reflect possibly influence from the east, resembling similar geometric motif designs that appear on weapons that may be Sudanic.

The very nice arm dagger that Tim has carries the geometric design often used in Tuareg material culture known as the Agadez cross and is typically associated with this region of Niger and according to Angela Fisher ("Africa Adorned", N.Y.1984, p.194) by nomads to the west far into Mali.

One of the most interesting features that seem consistant on the takoubas' blades is the rounded tip, which interestingly is much the same as the 'kattara' from Oman. I have often wondered if this type point reflected possibly a preference for slashing in combat rather than thrusting.
While the takouba is still worn today as an element of traditional costume, I think that the AK-47 is pretty much the weapon of choice (as Lee Jones can well attest!).

Best regards,
Jim

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Old 7th May 2006, 06:19 AM   #8
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Quote:
The use of either leather, or brass/copper in covering the hilts of thier swords has to do with the concept that the Tuareg must avoid touching iron or white metal which has negative and deadly properties.Presumably the sheath coverings further carry this function, along with decorative motif that is intended to protect the owner from the evil eye.


Jim, I have a takouba with a hilt, encased in white metal, except for the crossguard, which is covered in leather, some of which is missing unfortunately. I do not have the scabbard, and I think the sword is from the 60s the earliest - the blade is extremely flexible, and I guess it was made from a recycle car spring or who knows what. The motif on the hilt is a common serpentine, which would probably serve to repel the evil eye, but why would the encasing be of white metal? Would that signify a sword made for the tourist market?

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Old 7th May 2006, 03:50 PM   #9
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Hello Jim,

The aversion to touching metal is also seen amongst the Masai is it not? As I understand it, the whole cult associated with smiths and metal craftsmen was relegated to magic and sorcery among the Tuareg. I hadn't thought this extended to weapons, as some of their spears are entirely made of metal -iron or steel- including shafts.
I have tried looking for the circular motifs in Tuareg jewellery, but I haven't found any. The cross of Agades on Tim's telek is omni-present in jewellery of all kinds, as are some of the criss-crossing patterns and rombic figures. I will try to post some pictures of these soon. By western influence do you mean the western world or still within Africa?
The takouba I posted seems to have a thick blade, so I wonder how springy it is. I've never handled such swords, are they heavy? well balanced? About the rounded tip, why restrict fighting styles to such an extent? It would not be difficult to make a functional point and thereby provide more versatility. Wouldn't thrusting be more effective against the hide shields?

Many thanks for your responses,
Manolo
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Old 7th May 2006, 04:51 PM   #10
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Some pictures of Tuareg/Hausa decoration on leather work. How much carries symbolic or talisman value is hard to say, as you can see this is the same type of work as on weapons. It could just be decorative? Taken with flash on.
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Old 7th May 2006, 08:09 PM   #11
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Hi Manolo,
Actually when I referred to Sudanic influences, I meant from the east (I edited the post accordingly my sense of direction always gets me lost!
Interesting note on the superstitions on iron extending to the Maasai, which I am not certain of as you ask. It does seem possible as these people's ancestry is actually Nilotic and perhaps certain elements of the folk religion do extend from there. I think the perception of blacksmiths throughout many, if not most, cultures, maintains certain distrust and exclusive concerns toward these individuals due to the extremely arcane nature of thier work.
Since most folk religion is followed nominally as diffused through nomadic tribes and groups, it would be difficult to say to what degree certain applications of specific beliefs or superstitions prevail.

It does seem that the occult properties of certain metals are somewhat observed in the construction of weapon elements, primarily that iron and steel associate with death and negativity, while copper and brass represent life and fertility. Perhaps the presence of brass or copper simply counteracts the properties of the white metal, not necessarily meaning it cannot be touched literally. As noted, the degree of application is unclear. With the Maasai, I have seen illustrations of warriors holding thier spears by the long steel blades, so this may indicate the superstition not necessarily consistant.

With the rounded blades, again, I am wondering if this might simply be a traditional following of style not necessarily addressing practical application. It seems that most thrusting was confined to spears in native warfare, while the sword was used in close combat for hitting and slashing. I find it very interesting that the rounded point, as mentioned, was typically found on the Omani kattara, often found in trade centers such as Zanzibar and clearly its influence carried through trans Saharan trade.

TVV- I cannot say I have seen many, if actually any examples like this with metal hilts. While I am tempted to suggest it may have lost its leather covering, that would not explain the obviously intended decoration on the metal. The serpentine motif seems unusual as well.Perhaps it was applied for its talismanic symbolism alone rather than decorative, and was once covered with leather? Interesting example, and I would think still intended for native wear, probably refurbished, as is usual, but possibly done in less traditional manner because of the decoration applied. Maybe it seemed more appealing for sale to a tourist market, even though not specially made for it.

Tim- thank you for the excellent photos of the leatherwork on these mounts.
I think the geometric forms selected for protection from the evil eye are often a matter of personal preference rather than dictated style. It seems that with native application of markings, symbols or designs, especially those with talismanic meanings, the concept of repitition graduating the power of the symbolism is typical. The aesthetics of such motif gains popularity, even aside from its original intent as other craftsmen copy such work.


I'd like to know more about the concepts of the uses of copper/brass and iron/steel in hilt components also, and how these superstitions apply. What I have noted here is only overview from misc. notes and previous research. Perhaps other sources might have more data? Why are blacksmiths always treated as outcasts, yet they make the items most precious to the people.
Why are takouba points always rounded, and those of kaskaras pointed, yet these two sword forms have existed in parallel for hundreds of years without being assimilated by each other in form.
These are the questions I would like very much to find answers for .
Hopefully we can keep the discussion going and find them together!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 7th May 2006, 08:44 PM   #12
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The decorative motifs used on these swords across this belt of the south Sahara are indeed mystifying and enchanting. The last two pictures are of more modern work and on the circular piece, the motifs are used to form an almost floral design. The other pictures contain the mystery.

What we have to take into consideration is the influence of Islam in the region and the suppression of any obvious pagan imagery. So the history and full understanding and the meaning of the designs may even be lost to the craftsmen, all they know is that they are auspicious.
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Old 7th May 2006, 09:16 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manolo
Hello Jim,

The aversion to touching metal is also seen amongst the Masai is it not? As I understand it, the whole cult associated with smiths and metal craftsmen ,


Before selecting a sword or spear from the smith Maasai men must first grease their hands. Also, traditionally the smithing races - Chagga and debased Maasai groups who lost their cattle during the rinderpest epidemic were historically kept in a state of near slavery. For payment they were given bad animal, which the Maasai raised for them and kept until they were needed for slaughter.

Many of the smithing groups also were not allowed to circumcise their males because it was believed that they were unclean due to the metal work but also because it was thought that they contained both a male and female essence.

You also see the fear of the blacksmith in the old Mali epic the Sundiata and it goes into great detail about this.
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Old 7th May 2006, 09:40 PM   #14
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It is more than possible that there was is a caste system at work with the taboo on touching iron, I think we all know that. Take the all metal spears, I am lucky to have two examples. They often have another material around the haft as a grip usually brass or leather. I have one which is rather fine with brass sheet wrap as a grip. The other spear of lesser quality has no grip material, there is no sign that even a leather one had been there. So the more ardent attempt to follow any taboo may have only applied to the higher caste. The lower caste being nearly or in fact slaves as I believe is still the case today in some of the more inaccessible region of the Sahara.
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Old 7th May 2006, 11:28 PM   #15
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Hello,

I have just found an informative (to me) French article on the Touareg, and it offers some good insights on these issues. Fr. de Zeltner. "Les Touareg Du Sud" The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 44. (Jul. - Dec., 1914), pp. 351-375.

On social organization it says "Touareg society is divided into four castes: the nobles Imocher; the vassals Imrad; the captives Iklan; the craftsmen Inadan. This division is the same from west to east, but it varies in importance from place to place." In some areas vassals and captives may be "rich" while in others they are poor. While in the west captives may be oppressed and living in terrible conditions of poverty, in the east they may benefit of considerable trust from the nobles, dressing like them and even wearing arms. Here there is a distinction between the types of spears used: "...instead of the Allar, the great iron spear, they only have the Tarda, whose haft is wooden..."

Further on, the articles touches upon armament, and once again presents a distinction between the types of spears. "...the Allar, made in one single piece, in iron, ornamented by a brass section; the tip is thin and leaf shaped with two barbs...it is never thrown...The captives wear the Tarda, whose tip is very large(wide), without barbs, the haft is wooden, and the lower extremity is ornamented with a talon widening in a spatula."
The brass decoration on the nobles's spear may be to avoid touching the iron, but in absence of pictures I do not know where it would be placed.

The article also gives basic descriptions of the Arrer shield, the Takouba and the Telek, and barbed javellins.

It also covers crafts, giving examples of jewellery and leather containers like those posted by Tim. Apparently eastern crafts are far more delicate and intricate than western, possibly due to influences from the Haussa. While the Touarg generally follow Islam, it seems they kept a lot of their pre-Islam superstitions. The evil eye motif is very common, and everything is decorated in geometric patterns. As regards to metal objects, jewellery may be copper, brass or silver and gold, and I haven't founs any mention of iron and steel.

The article provides a very interesting aside, introducing rock carvings apparently pre-dating modern Touaregs or at least parallel to their culture. These include writing and depiction of people and animals of all kinds, rendered either schematically or in great lifelike detail. Apparently modern Touaregs believe these were carved by a giant named Anegoura.. This may provide some clues as to thier attraction to stylized geometric representations.

This article dates from 1914, so it is old information and possible prone to error. I will try to find a copy of the article of Dr. Lloyd Cabot-Briggs you suggested Jim, as well as some newer sources.

I find this thread excellent, and I'm learning many new things. I hope the article is of some use to others.
Regards,
Emanuel
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Old 8th May 2006, 03:46 AM   #16
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Nicely done Manolo!!
Thank you for posting that article, I had not heard of it before. Is it in French or English?
You're right, we keep learning together here. I think it's most important to discover and share as much data as possible.
All best regards,
Jim
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Old 9th May 2006, 02:34 AM   #17
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Hello Jim,

This article is in french, but I've found many others in english as well. It will take me a while to read them all, but the french one confirmed Tim's observations about the wraps on the spears and the caste differentiation, and your own about Sudanic influences. About the takouba, all I've found so far is that they could be worn by nobles, vassals and captives/slaves alike. I'll see what further info I can find about the brass and decoration styles.

RomaRana, thanks for the clarification on the Maasai. It seems to me I've also heard talk of the avoidance of iron on religious principles, something to do with its inherent strength and its transmutation from ore to metal, and liquid to solid. Also, why did they regard smiths as containing a female essence as well? Could the unclean attribute be due to the oxidation of iron? Magic link between red rust and blood?
Sorry, I'm throwing a lot of questions and thoughts...

Warm regards,
Emanuel
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Old 11th May 2006, 02:34 AM   #18
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Hello,

I've found some more information that generally answers the question of the use of brass on the takouba:
Aspects of the Use of Copper in Pre-Colonial West Africa
Eugenia W. Herbert
The Journal of African History, Vol. 14, No. 2. (1973), pp. 179-194

The author argues for the use of copper among African peoples as a rare, prized, magical metal. "...aside from its ornamental and status value, copper was also considered to have amuletic or magical properties, in the first case encouraging fertility, in the second warding off danger...copper and brass decoration is applied to Tuareg swords, both hilt and blade...Its purpose is to enable the sword to penetrate the magical defenses of the enemy [who is also wearing copper/brass as a protective measure], and at the same time to protect the bearer from the offensive charms of his adversary: 'A sword without copper on the hilt is destined for the demons of solitude. Sooner or later it breaks, if the owner does not loose it first.'...the Tuareg and Moors consider iron an impure metal, and neutralize it by encrusting copper and brass on [tools]"
For me this definitely clarifies the brass hilts, but I still do not understand why iron is regarded as an impure metal. I'll guess that active rust has something to do with it.

The takouba I posted really takes the concept to overkill.

I hope this is as useful to others as it was to me,
Emanuel
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Old 11th May 2006, 03:36 AM   #19
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Emanuel,
Brilliant research!!! That is exactly what I always hope for... well supported, cited and detailed references to answer the questions we ask on particular elements on certain weapons. That will definitely go in the files!!!!
Thank you for researching that and posting it.
Well done!
All the best,
Jim
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Old 11th May 2006, 09:50 AM   #20
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The use of non ferrous metals (brass and copper) as a magical Talisman to ward off evil or to counteract the 'unclean' iron/steel is indeed interesting.
Aluminium found its way into many African cultures in the early 20C. Was this metal seen in the same light.... I wonder. Logically, the answer is surely yes, its silvery colour, its corrosion resistance and its workability must have made an impact.
I have never seen a Takouba with aluminium covered hilts or handles, but I have seen examples of weapons both ceremonial and 'useable' that are adorned or embellished with aluminium.
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Old 11th May 2006, 10:24 AM   #21
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Perhaps in the interest of practicality, as long as a weapon/artifact has the appropriate markings/decoration and amount of magic metals Brass/Copper for the local. Then actually touching the iron is made safe.
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Old 11th May 2006, 03:14 PM   #22
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Hi Jim,
I'm glad these articles are of help.

Katana, it seems that each metal has some link to religion and mythology, not only in Africa, but the rest of the world as well. In Africa, specific metals may represent specific concepts and divine powers. The article above provides numerous examples from different peoples to this respect, and to answer your question about aluminium: "...aluminium, which has only been in use since the end of the nineteenth century, has not...made its way into myth and oral tradition, although it is often used now even in cult jewellery." Its rarity would probably account for its popularity.

Tim, the iron tools encrusted with copper/brass in the article, did indeed have it only on small areas. Even a small amount was apparently enough to counter the iron's negative properties.

It's interesting that such a simple and common (nowadays) material such as copper and its various forms was and still is so appealing to certain cultures. Its diversity -colour, form, proeprties- and its rarity on the African continent seem to have made it more desirable than gold. This really brings home the point that one culture's trash may be another's treasure.

Regards,
Emanuel
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Old 11th May 2006, 06:21 PM   #23
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Many Europeans, men and women wear small copper bracelets. They are plain and not really decorative like jewellery. I was told they were to ward of arthritis, does anyone know more?
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Old 11th May 2006, 06:33 PM   #24
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Hi Tim,
I've used copper bracelets for many years, they have been effective, for me anyway, in easing the symptoms of Rheumatism. Some people find added benefit when magnets are also incorporated in a copper bracelet.
Traces of copper salts penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. In fact copper, as a dietary supplement, is often used, in conjunction with other vitamins and minerals to ease Arthritis and Rheumatism.
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Old 2nd June 2006, 08:41 PM   #25
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Default How to clean a takouba??

Hello,

I've just received the takouba that started the thread, and now I'm faced with the problem of cleaning it and bringing it to a descent state. The blade itself has little rust along the fuller, and I won't touch the scabbard as it is fragile. The guard area is the problem. There is a lot of gunk/glue and whatnot inside the large wound/opening, and the brass/copper shows considerable oxydation. I will attempt some gentle cleaning with lemon/lime juice and a brush, but can you suggest some more effective cleaning and preservation techniques? There is also a sort of disk under the guard which has been bent back towards the pommel, and which hinders the grip. Should I try to bend it back on the guard?

Thanks and regards,
Emanuel
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Old 3rd June 2006, 08:28 PM   #26
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Repairs to crumpled sheet metal and hollow forms can be quite difficult especially sealed hollow forms. The only thing you can do where you have access is to make your own wood tools to push the metal back to its original position or as near as possible. This is how brass musical instruments are repaired after being badly dented, wood rollers are used to reform the shape. A bit like some car body work only with more finesse.
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Old 3rd June 2006, 08:52 PM   #27
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Sheet metals, especially those of the softer metals like copper are notorious for breaking when straightening a piece that is creased, (such as the disc fitted behind the guard.) If you do attempt this, my advice would be slowly and gently, perhaps using pliers to grip and lever the piece, this will give you more control. Ensure that the jaws of the pliers are protected by thickish cardboard (not corrugated), this will help prevent marking the softer metal of the 'disc.' It won't be a perfect repair, but will give a more acceptable appearance..... Hope this helps
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Old 4th June 2006, 04:30 PM   #28
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Tim, Katana, thanks for the suggestions. It looks like the guard is one piece of metal, whitish in colour, then covered in brass. Oddly enough it looks melted, as if it was squeezed by hot tongs or something. The disk makes no sense to me, and looks like a later addition, perhaps the "repair" mentioned by the seller. I imagine that an owner at some point tried to repair or change the guard in some way and, after removing it tried to glue it back on -explaining all the ugly gunk. Do any of you have info on how takoubas were traditionally constructed? How is the guard made and attached?
The disk is indeed britle and I think it will snap if I try to bend it too much. Would heating it a bit help?
The scabbard is made of thin planks of wood, covered in leather and two decorative brass pieces at the mouth and foot. The lower part is broken or is just leather, as it's limp and looks like it could get ripped off...
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Old 4th June 2006, 04:42 PM   #29
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Heating would make the metal more pliable. In fact heating most metals to a dull red heat and the quenching in water, makes the metal softer and more maulable ( annealing ). Obviously, if the disc is not removable, I would not recommend this at all, the heat , by conduction would surely cause problems with any soldered joints nearby.
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Old 4th June 2006, 06:20 PM   #30
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Could you recommend some sort of solvent that would disolve the excessive glue/epoxy? I'm thinking about removing the guard -if possible- cleaning everything and putting it back together.
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