Archive General | archaeometallurgy
Sep 29 2021

Danzig handgonne

Bastian Asmus

Wiltu ein puchsn gießn sei sy gros oder klayn – if you want to cast a gun be it big or small

The Danzig handgonne is an unusual very early form of a firearm. The handgonne is unusual because it shows a three-faced representation at the muzzle. It is interpreted by some colleagues as a representation of the Slavic god Triglav .

How old is the handgonne from Danzig?

Unfortunately, the Danzig handgonne cannot be dated precisely because the circumstances of its discovery are unclear. We know the approximate find date: around the 1920s. There are two competing statements with regards to its find location (Petri, 2017, 222):

  1. It is from the area of Schwedt, from a pond on an estate.
  2. It is from near the city of Gdansk, and turned up during dredging operations

The Danzig handgonne was privately owned for a long time, and was auctioned at Christies in 2014. Today it is in the collections of the Royal Armouries in England. Based on stylistic features, the handgonne is believed to have been made between the mid-14th and early 15th centuries AD.

In this video, I show you how I would have cast the Danzig handgonne in the late Middle Ages using the lost wax process. I first modelled an original wax. Then I made a mould out of a refractory material: moulding loam. When the mould is fired, the wax issues from the mould, leaving the mould cavity in the hardened loam. The bronze can be poured into this. For demoulding, I have to break the mould: the mould is now lost, so each casting is unique….

I will also show you how to finish the Danzig handgonne barrel. Burrs have to be removed by chisel, the surface has to be finished in some places with the file and the scraper. Finally, I make the ash stock for hand rifle. It is a simple bar stock, as we know it for example from the Landshut Zeugausinventar.

Which material?

Unfortunately, there are no exact composition analyses of the handgonne available until today. It is definitely a copper alloy, brass is ruled out for the period and region. That leaves copper and tin bronze. Strong copper rich alloys are an unsuitable material, but these were actually used as recent investigations on another firearm show (Asmus & Homann, in prep). In addition, the numerous accounts on the bombards from the Teutonic Order area show that copper was apparently used for gun casting . Still, for this project I chose the safe option and used a 90/10 tin bronze alloy, an alloy often employed for firearms.

As an archaeometallurgist from the Laboratory for Archaeometallurgy, I study the metallurgy of our ancestors. For this I use my craft as an art founder, the historical and archaeological disciplines, as well as the material science disciplines of the natural sciences.


Nov 23 2017

Handgonnes: A health and safety issue?

Bastian Asmus

Detail from the Bellifortis manuscript by Conradius Kyeser (ca. 1430).  Source: Bayersiche Staatsbibliothek. License:  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Handgonnes: A health and safety issue?

Surprisingly health and safety issues are not as new as many might suspect. At least for German speaking people they actually originate at least in medieval times. Of all things this health and safety rule is from the earliest published technical treatise in German language and deals with: Guns and how to use them. Interestingly enough there is a section that underscores the danger of these things.  In my recent research on early breech loaded bronze guns and my experiments on how to make them one of the original questions is how safe are they to use. Apparently not as safe as one might hope for. 

The Feuerwerkbuch, Freiburger manuscript Ms 362

Just how safe to use were they? Chapter 223 in the Feuerwerkbuch underscores the general modern perception that these where as dangerous to the wielder as to the enemy. The earliest version of the Feuerwerkbuch was transscribed to high German by Ferdinand Nibler .  The complete work is available online. This very early technical treatise authored in German provides invaluable insights for the understanding of the matter of early firearm usage. And the following health and safety instruction caught my eye. It is only present in two of the surviving copies. In the Freiburger Manuscript (Freiburg Ms 362 from 1432)  it reads:

In transliterated form chapter 223 as follows (Nibler 2005, 85):

Das man kainer büchß si sye groß oder si sye klain trwen sol sunnder sich daruor hüten als denne dise nächgeschribne lere dich wyset.
Aber ain lere dem der vß der büchß schiessen will er sol kainer büchß nit viel trwen si sye klain oder groß si sye Ibel oder wol geladen wie die büchß ist so hüt dich nütz dester minnder dauor ouch lçg wenn si du ladest das kain ysen das annder rüre wann das puluer möchte dauon ennzündet werden.

Transcription to high German (Nibler 2005, 40):

Dass man keiner Büchse, sie sei groß oder sie sei klein, trauen soll sondern sich vor ihr hüten, wie diese nachgeschriebene Anweisung weist.
Aber eine Belehrung für den, der aus der Büchse schießen will: Er soll einer Büchse auf keinen Fall vertrauen, sie sei klein oder groß, sie sei schlecht oder gut geladen. Wie die Büchse auch ist – hüte Dich nichtsdestoweniger davor! Sieh‘ auch zu, dass wenn Du sie ladest kein Eisen ein anderes Eisen berühre, denn das Pulver könnte davon entzündet werden!
Translation to English
That you should not trust any gonne be it small or large, but beware of it as the following instructions advise.

But a lesson to whom wants to shoot from a gonne. He shall not trust the gonne under any circumstances, be it small or large, be it badly or well loaded. In whatever state the gonne is, beware of it nonetheless. Make sure when you you load it that no iron touches another iron, as the powder may be ignited upon this.

3d reconstruction of an early breech loaded handgonne.

3d reconstruction of an early breech loaded handgonne.


Bellifortis, BSB Hss Clm 30150

The second copy of the Feuerwerkbuch is preserved in the Bellifortis by Korad Kyeser . I included it here, as it is one of the few chapters that deviates from the above mentioned original.

Transliteration by the author

Das ma je kainer büchs tzündn ssol wie sy ist Aber ain lere dem der uß der büchsn schießßn wil Er sol si kainer büchs nicht zu getruwe si sye klain oder groß sy sy beschossn oder nit sy si übel oder wolgeladn wie die buchs iist so hut dich nichtzt deß mind dauor Ouch lüg wen Du sy ladest das kain ysen das ander rür wan das puluer möcht villicht dauo entzund werdn.

Transcription to high German

Daß man bloß keine Büchse zünden soll wie sie ist Aber eine Lehre dem der aus der Büchse schießen will. Er soll keiner Büchse trauen, sei sie klein oder groß. Sei sie beschossen oder nicht, sei sie schlecht oder gut geladen. Wie die Büchse ist, so hüte dich nichtsdestoweniger davor. Auch sieh zu, wenn Du sie lädst, dass kein Eisen ein anderes (Eisen) , denn das Pluver möchte vielleicht davon entzündet werden.


That you should not ignite a gonne as it is. But a lesson to whom wants to shoot  from a gonne. He shall not trust a gonne, be it small or large. Be it that the gonne was fired or not, be it that it is badly or well charged. Whatever the state of the gonne, beware of the gonne nonetheless. Also make sure, when loading it, that no iron touches another (iron), as the powder might possibly ignited upon this this

Interestingly this warning is not in the printed version of the Feuerwerkbuch from 1529. As to whether this is due to higher manufacturing standards, that led to safer gonnes, or to totally different circumstances must for the moment remain open.


Nibler, F. (2005). Das Feurwerkbuch in synoptischer Darstellung zweier anonymer Originaltexte. Transkription und Textvergleich des  Freiburger Manuskriptes Ms 362 von 1432  und des so genannten    Feuerwerkbuches von 1420  (gedruckt 1529 bei Stainer, Augsburg)  mit erklärenden Anmerkungen zu den Texten.
Kyeser, C. (1430). Bellifortis - BSB-Hss  Clm 30150.

Oct 25 2017

Short documentary – favourite tool of a tap maker

Bastian Asmus

A conical reamer for the tap maker

In Nuremberg the tap makers belonged to the redsmiths. This article is about a simple question of how the conical opening of a late medieval tap was dressed. Although you can do this completely manually, as I have shown in the short documentary, it is highly unlikely that it was actually done this way by the Nuremberg Red smiths or tap makers. Grinding the stop cocks into the tap takes several hours, even if the casts had a good fit to  begin with. Of course, it is not the spent labour time that has caused me to investigate the grinding of the stop cocks in more detail, it was rather the pictorial evidence that I found in Weigels book of trades and in the Nürnberger Hausbücher of the Zwölfbrüderstiftung.

Tap maker Hans Zeuller

Redsmith and tap maker Hans Zeuller

Redsmith Hans Zeuller with conus reamer. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The tool with which Hans Zeuller uses is clearly visible inside of the tap We can assume that it is a kind of conical reamer; i. e. a tool used in a scraping rather than a cutting fashion. Metals are very dense and can hardly be cut by hand. Continue reading