an updated article from The International Routier of 2005 by Wayne Robinson

There is a considerable body of evidence for the use of half-pikes, gaining honourable mention in Barriffe’s The Young Artilleryman, where he comments, “a serviceable Half-pike may be had for 2s.6d. which exceeds not much the price of a Rest.”[1]

The half-pike is a different weapon to a pike, not just a scale model of one. The waist (like on most of us, the thickest point) is still the same distance from the butt as on a pike; (this distance to the waist are dictated by the length of the arm, plus the width across the shoulders of the user) the positions of the hands at the charge are the same with either weapon. The head and langets are the same size as on a pike only the distance from the waist to the head is different, which makes a significant change to move the balance of the weapon towards the head.

There is some argument about the length of the half-pike, Barriffe says “7, 8 feet in length” or “being complete 10 feet”[2], Silver is a bit more scientific about the length. Here’s the Silver section in full:

“To know the perfect length of your short staff, or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage and perfect lengths, you shall stand upright, holding the staff upright close by your body, with your left hand, reaching with your right hand your staff as high as you can, and then allow to that length a space to set both your hands, when you come to fight, wherein you may conveniently strike, thrust, and ward, & that is the just length to be made according to your stature. And this note, that these lengths will commonly fall out to be eight or nine foot long, and will fit, although not just, the statures of all men without any hindrance at all unto them in their fight, because in any weapon wherein the hands may be removed, and at liberty, to make the weapon longer of shorter in fight at his pleasure, a foot of the staff being behind the backmost hand does no harm.”[3]

The perfect length of your half pike… Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, p30

The perfect length of your half pike… Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, p30

Silver discusses the “short staff fight” and “the short staff fight against the long staff” provides a number of principles principles. For example, “Of the short staff fight, being of convenient length, against the like weapon.  The short staff has 4 wards, that is 2 with the point up, & 2 with the point down. …”[4]

He considered the half-pike to be the best weapon of “all other… by reason of its nimbleness swift motions”[5]

Barriffe goes as far as to suggest half-pikes be used in the manner of a rest for muskets mainly so musketeers are able to withstand horse without need of pikemen, dedicating three chapters to the subject.[6] Chapter CXIII begins, “Of the Half-pike, how it may be serviceable on all forms…”. This was one of the Double Armed Man experiments by the Honourable Artillery Company, which eventually lead to the development of the bayonet.

George Hale, writing in 1614 adds a note of caution “…as I have seene upon the publique Stage, a single Rapier most shamefully foyle both Halberd and halfe Pike.”[7]

Construction more or less follows that in Andrew Brew’s excellent DIY pike article from a few years back and reproduced in the 3rd edition Standards Manuel. The advantage in this case is that a half-pike can be made from a commercially available length of wood. We used a 3m length of 35mm diameter Mountain Ash dowel/curtain rod. The shorter length makes using hand tools a more realistic proposition.

Ascertain the centre of the butt end by dead reckoning or some other more scientific or arcane means and draw a circle the same size as the outside diameter as the butt ring (fnarr!).

Plane a step about 400mm from the butt of the pike. Rotate a quarter turn and plane another step, repeat, then take the high points off. When you have removed about 1/3 of the waste (that’s the other kind of waste) timber, move another 400mm down the pike and repeat as before, then a third time, removing timber down to the line. Do the same from the head end, using 800mm steps instead.  You can use more steps, but remember to remove proportionally less timber for each step. Round with rasp, file and sandpaper. Fit the head and butt ring as per pages 26-7 of the Standards Emanuel.

A pike order from 1657 specified “3500 pike to be furnished at 3s 4d a piece; to be made of good ash 16 feet long, bars to be strong and serviceable in length to be 2 feet or 22 inches. The staves to be coloured with Aquafortes.”[8] Aquafortis (nitric acid) is used to dye wood by burning the timber black when heated over a fire. Too much acid will promote rusting of the head and butt.

Why a half-pike?  W. Wood gives one explanation, “…For there is no man there that bears a head, but that bears military arms; even boys of fourteen years of age are practiced with men in military discipline, every three weeks.”[9] Cooke agrees, “Let young men be exercised betimes, for it is readiness gotten by former practice that maketh a Souldier.”[10]

[1] Barriffe, W., Militarie Discipline, or the Young Artillery-Man, London, 5th Ed, 1648, p 148

[2] Barriffe, p145

[3] Silver, G., Paradoxes of Defence, 5.1 On the Length of Weapons

[4] Silver, G., Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence, ch11

[5] Paradoxes, p43

[6] Barriffe, p145–154

[7] Hale, G., The Priuate Schoole of Defence. Or The Defects of Publique Teachers, exactly diſcouered, by way of Obiection and Reſolution. Together VVith the true practiſe of the Science, ſet downe in iudicious Rules and Obſeruances; in a Method neuer before expreſſed, London, 1614.

[8] Military Illustrated Issue 128 p28

[9] Wood, W., New-England’s Prospect, being a true, lively and experimental Description of that part of America commonly called New-England, London 1639

[10] Cooke, E., The Character of Warre, or The Image of Martiall Discipline. London, 1626, Ch III