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Thread: Demystifying "Distal Taper"

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    Angus Trim is offline Moderator
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    Demystifying "Distal Taper"

    Of late, I've noticed that the way a sword distal tapers, has become a bit mystified, and hyped. Worse, I've noticed that I've kind of added to this with cryptic statements I've made over the last few months.....

    Well, a very wise smith in our midst, believes that these things should be demystified, and that more honesty should be applied to this trade....

    That man is Kevin Cashen, and I tend to believe his views on this are the correct views.....

    Its been noted that many antiques have the degree of distal taper change several times from the base, to right behind the tip.

    This is true, and a few modern smiths and a maker have done this in current products. Kevin Cashen followed the dimensions of an existing Migration Era sword very closely recently. A few other smiths including Peter Johnsson also have closely replicated antiques.

    Without trying to actually replicate antiques, I have followed the distal taper outline of a couple, changing the degree of taper 12 times on one blade {no longer in my lineup}, and 8 times on one still in my lineup.

    But, we can get away from this "micro" a bit, and make it more macro. Everyone by now has heard of "nonlinear distal taper". Reading that one would think that linear distal taper was a bad thing. In actual fact, viewed from a bit of a distance, there are some antiques that have a linear distal taper {even if imperfect when measured closely}.

    In actual fact, looking at things a bit macro, you have convex distal taper, linear distal taper, and concave distal taper. {somewhat of an oversimplification}.

    Well, what did the smiths of auld try and accomplish with some of this?

    Well, in the case of convex distal taper, it might have had to do with mass distribution and rigidity.......

    Well, in the case of linear distal taper, it might have had to do with mass distribution and rigidity.......

    Well, in the case of concave distal taper, it might have had to do with mass distribution and rigidity.......

    *g*

    This is where you have to get away from the part, and look at the whole. You have to look at the whole sword, and what that sword's main function was.

    You also have to look at the base of the blade, and how thick and wide it is.... {yes, when you get away from the micro a bit, and go macro a bit more, profile taper has to be added to this mix}...

    Let's look for just a sec at a couple of antique Xa's. The first, the St Maurice Sword of Turin, is a relatively thin sword at the cross, some .17 inch thick at the base. The distal taper is an imperfect linear taper to just behind the point, something like 25%. The cog is something like 9 inches out from the cross {a measurement that in itself doesn't mean that much, but add other parts of the equation in, becomes more meaningful}. "In the cut", meaning that in its cutting arc, this sword should be fairly rigid.....In this case, the most was made of the material for rigidity, and striking power down the last third of the blade.... A very good design for a horseman's sword.....

    Lets look now at Xa.1 {Records}. This sword starts at a whopping .37 inches thick at the base, and has a whopping 70% distal taper. But this taper is not linear...... The distal taper of this blade is concave, very concave. What this does for this sword is make for a very rigid sword of its type, and also gives this sword more maneuverability, and recovery speed than the previous.... cog is less than 5 inches on this sword....

    Distal taper is manipulated by a sword maker, for cutting performance, for harmonic and dynamic balancing, and for various handling needs......

    When one thinks of the terms a martial artist uses in describing a sword's attributes, things like "displacement", "tracking", "rigidity", well, any of them, the application of distal taper in the finished product likely has something to do with the character one feels.

    There's no magic in this. Its not rocket science. Enough of this can be learned by virtually any sword enthusiast to really begin to understand the inner workings of a sword.... *g* or conversely to be "dangerous", if one only learns a bit of this, then talk like one really knows everything.......

    At the same time, I should point out, that there are still an awful lot of things that "the ancients did", that we today poorly understand. That many of our current rediscoveries are accidents, and once the right accident happens, our understanding ussually grows quite a bit........

    All it takes is an open mind.........

    Auld Dawg

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    It makes you wonder if some of the specific functionality of some of the swords with nonlinear distal taper were initially the result of a happy mistake when the sword was made. "Hey, I didn't mean to do this exactly, but it sure seems to work nicely. I think I'll do that on the next sword and see what happens."

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    Angus Trim is offline Moderator
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    Originally posted by Dennis Boas
    Gus;

    Just to be sure we are all on the same page would you give us some quick definitions:

    Distal Taper =

    Profile taper =

    Thanks
    Hi Dennis

    Distal Taper = the change in thickness from the base of the blade, to just behind the point, or as its put sometimes, "where it curves to the point".

    Profile Taper = the change in width of the blade.... A blade might be 2 inches wide at the base, and taper to "where it curves to the point", and be roughly 1 inch there.......

    Distal Taper is sometimes referenced as a percentage. In other words, certain swords are sometimes said to have, lets say 50% distal taper.

    Well, that would be meaningful if all swords had a linear distal taper. But many if not most historical swords do not. I would say some level of concavity in the distal taper is at least as common as a roughly linear taper..........

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    Originally posted by Ashley Bishop
    and can you define (or better yet, illustrate) the difference between "concave, convex and linear" tapers?

    I know what those words mean in and of themselves, and I *think* I know what you are saying when you apply this to distal taper, but I'd like to know fer sher.

    many thanks!

    ash
    Hi Lady Ash

    Well, I wish I was more computer literate, and could use this tool to illustrate what I mean, but unfortunately I can't.....

    However, maybe I can explain this better....

    A true linear distal taper, would be a straight line from the cross to "where it curves to the point". However, handwork kinda makes a true straight line difficult, so most of what I consider "linear distal tapers" aren't perfect. Looking on profile, the lines might have small dips in them, or very slight rises..... However, taking the whole thing in perspective, macro like, what you have is in effect, a linear distal taper.

    Some antiques distal taper exceedingly quick from the base of the blade, for a couple of inches, then straighten out. On swords like this, I like to think of what the "effect" is. A couple of these that I've had the opportunity to view up close, I've thought of as linear distal tapers, because the blade's taper was fairly straight from a couple of inches from the base, to "where it curves to the point".

    I haven't seen enough antiques to judge this accurately, but I haven't seen the convex distal taper on too many antiques. Two rapiers owned by Tom Leoni, and the rapier that Craig Johnson allowed me to inspect closely while we were at WMAW last year, but I can't really think of any others. I'm sure though it was used more than just on civilian thrusting swords. However this is very common amongst modern made swords.

    This kind of distal taper, starts slow {maybe no distal taper to start with}, and as one gets closer to the tip, the taper angle steepens. This makes for a rigid blade based on the length of the blade, and the initial thickness........

    Concave distal taper means a fast distal taper, where the degree of taper "flattens out" as one approaches the tip area. Some extreme examples flatten out fairly early.... One example I can think of, is Oakeshott's favorite sword Moonbrand. Most of the distal taper is in by the time you "clear the fullers". It still distal tapers some, but its a real gradual taper after that.

    On many antiques that one would see today, the distal taper would vary every couple of inches. What I like to do is step back, and see what the effect of this is. In my opinion today, we sometimes tend to overanalyze. Its ok to do that to start with, but eventually one needs to step back and see what the overall effect is.............at least that's my $.02 on this.........

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    Originally posted by Ashley Bishop
    and can you define (or better yet, illustrate) the difference between "concave, convex and linear" tapers?

    I know what those words mean in and of themselves, and I *think* I know what you are saying when you apply this to distal taper, but I'd like to know fer sher.

    many thanks!

    ash
    If I may butt in, here is an exagerated diagram of the distal taper types. Starting on the left Concave taper, Linear taper, and Convex taper. This would be veiwing the blades edge on.
    Attached Images Attached Images  
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    You can also Check out this Article for even more information and illustrations.

    Cheers.

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    Don't forget that really big...

    ...cutting swords often went to extremes on distal taper. A large sword, such as a Claidheam da Lamh,which has a blade 40 + " by 2 or more wide, with no or little taper, will basically wobble all over in use. Unless you make the whole thing so thick you can't use it. This happens because in changing a guard position or moving a sword to a different position for a strike, if you have a non-tapered blade, the combination of the mass and the moment caused by the blade length will literally " pull the sword over" making it more trouble to control. I found this out making my first big pieces from 1/4" stock. Now I forge down from 5/16 or 3/8 thick.
    Lessons learned, lessons learned. There's a big Scots two-hander in the Royal Ontario Museum which goes in my estimate from 3/8 thick at the root to something less than an eighth of an inch before the tip.

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    Very definitely...

    Originally posted by Einar Drønnesund
    Al, would that mean that two blades of equal weight, one 1/4", with minor distal taper, one 3/8" with lots of distal taper, the 3/8" blade would be less wobbly, even though it would be a lot thinner towards the tip than the other blade?

    That was a horrible sentance. I hope it makes sense...
    ,,,the one 1/4" more or less throughout will be far more "wobbly" in use, especially where we are talking big swords, ie, over the 3 foot mark in blade length, than a piece which starts off thicker and ends thinner. If you have to move the blade laterally very quickly, the former will have lots of momentum and try and keep going. Changing guards quickly and then trying to make a cut, this will be especially noticeable. The latter blade will not have nearly as much momentum near the tip, and be far crisper in action.
    Now, when you are talking thrusting swords, it's a bit of a different situation, as many of these blades start off relatively thick, especially in relation to width, and tend to stay rather thick. The extreme example of this was the old armour-piercing estoc, which for all intents and purposes was a BBQ spit with a fancy grip. I've seen pics of one which in cross-section was exactly like a spit, rectangular with absolutely nothing that could be thought of as a cutting edge. Of course, this was a speciallised weapon made essentially for going between joints in armour and not much else.

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    Originally posted by Einar Drønnesund
    Al, would that mean that two blades of equal weight, one 1/4", with minor distal taper, one 3/8" with lots of distal taper, the 3/8" blade would be less wobbly, even though it would be a lot thinner towards the tip than the other blade?

    That was a horrible sentance. I hope it makes sense...

    I understood it and Yep thats what he is saying. It may sound odd at first but if you have some examples or make some you will see it quite clear. The longer the blade gets the more useul distal taper becomes. while you can find swords without distal taper all the antique large war swords i have seen start out very substantial and get relativly thinner the farther towards the tip you look. When you flex a blade that is of uniform thickness most of its length you will find the most acute portion of the arc that is formed will be roughly mid length. depending on how you apply the distal taper you can skew that arc center farther out the blade. If you put the arc center roughly over the COP you can maintian or even impove cutting performance while getting a lighter and much more agile sword.
    Patrick Hastings
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    Lets see if I have this correct.

    Sword handling characteristics including rigidity, balance, speed and harmonic balance are a function of the distribution of mass along the blade. The distribution of mass is controlled by distal and profile taper. Which explains why simply adding a lighter or heavier pommel to a sword is not an effective way to change its handling characteristics.

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    Re: Don't forget that really big...

    Originally posted by Al Massey
    ...cutting swords often went to extremes on distal taper. A large sword, such as a Claidheam da Lamh,which has a blade 40 + " by 2 or more wide, with no or little taper, will basically wobble all over in use. Unless you make the whole thing so thick you can't use it. This happens because in changing a guard position or moving a sword to a different position for a strike, if you have a non-tapered blade, the combination of the mass and the moment caused by the blade length will literally " pull the sword over" making it more trouble to control. I found this out making my first big pieces from 1/4" stock. Now I forge down from 5/16 or 3/8 thick.
    Lessons learned, lessons learned. There's a big Scots two-hander in the Royal Ontario Museum which goes in my estimate from 3/8 thick at the root to something less than an eighth of an inch before the tip.
    Hi Al

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the largish Zhweihanders, some of which start at roughly 1/2 inch at the ricasso, and distal taper down from there........

    *g*

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    Angus Trim is offline Moderator
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    Originally posted by Dennis Boas
    Lets see if I have this correct.

    Sword handling characteristics including rigidity, balance, speed and harmonic balance are a function of the distribution of mass along the blade. The distribution of mass is controlled by distal and profile taper. Which explains why simply adding a lighter or heavier pommel to a sword is not an effective way to change its handling characteristics.
    Hi Dennis

    You know, I started this thinking strictly in terms of the Western double edged straight sword. But then after reading Patrick Hastings' post, it struck me that almost all of the antiques I've seen distal taper a lot, and most of them that I have had the opportunity to flex, its just the last third of the blade towards the tip, that "arcs".... well, not just the last third, but that's where it becomes noticeable.

    Antique gims of course, but they share an awful lot with their European cousins.

    Sabers........ of course....

    But daos, Indian tulwars, Turkish scimitars, etc, all start thick at the base, and distal taper a bunch....In fact one of the talwars, and one of the daos I've seen, seemed to be roughly 3/8 inch thick, and distal tapered real rapid for the first three inches, where the taper leveled out some, and resembled more of what I'm used to.

    Back to what I'm used to and make, the western sword. Distal taper here sets up the "balance", both harmonic balance, and dynamic balance.

    Before I get to mounting a sword, I ussually handle the rough blade with the bare tang. The blade will tell me what character I am looking for once I've mounted the blade.......

    But before that, I have to have it all considered, what the sword is supposed to do......

    Is it purely a cutting sword? Does it need to handle a particular way for a particular "fencing style"? How about "recovery", does it need to recover quickly and easily, or is it a large, ponderous horse sword? Maybe thrusting needs to be important, and following the point naturally.........

    Profile taper is a part of this, true..... But the character of distal taper is more important yet.........

    An example of this would be the DD1404 on Lee Reeves site. This sword was designed to be a large sword that cut very well, but maneuvered, recovered, and handled like a much lighter sword.

    It is a type XIV, but is a very cut biased sword, just like the sword that was its inspiration {Oakeshott's Moonbrand}.

    The key elements I wanted in this sword were good cutting, better than average recovery, great change of direction, and reasonable thrusting ability...

    A sword and shield sword, where the sword would also be superb for single sword........

    To get the tracking I wanted, it helped to start with a wide base, give it some decent profile taper, but still be wide in the "cutting areas of the blade". The key though is the distal taper. The distal taper is concave.... But its concave such that the angle of taper is flattening out as it travels towards the tip.....

    This distal taper scheme will not work in all applications, but it "made this sword". Harmonically, dynamically, and cutting performance.........All the pommel did was "tune" it........

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    For what I've seen, sometimes distal taper is just plain due to sword shape.
    Diamond cross section swords need distal taper to keep the planes, well... planar.
    If you take a triangular shaped blade, like XV or XVa and you make te blade the same thickness from ricasso to point, you notice that the generatrix of the plane has to rotate and, well, the plane is no more a plane at all.
    While, with an appropriate distal taper, the plane remains a plane...
    In green the section of the sword at ricasso, in red the same section near the point if you don't have DT, and in green the same section with DT.
    In this case this is linear distal taper.
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    Originally posted by Sam S.
    There is a lot more to this then I thought. I always thought that you could change the balance and handling of a sword by adding or subtracting weight from the pommel
    You can- but doing so improperly has effects that are detrimental to other areas of the swords performance. Arbitrarily changing the COG with a heavier or lighter pommel can shift the nodes of rotation in the sword- ie adversely effecting the 'harmonic balance.' This can result in a sword that is unpleasant to use as it transmits shock into the grip- or worse to a vulnerable portion of the sword such as the join of blade and tang or near the base of the pommel. I know this is getting into a whole other area, but it all ties together.

    Quick and Dirty primer on Nodes of Rotation- skip this if you are already familiar: When the sword vibrates it wobbles back and forth- it oscillates or wobbles. When the middle of the sword (or whatever) goes one way the tips go the opposite direction. This means that there is a point at either end of the sword where the body of the sword stops going one way and starts going the other. These are called the Nodes of Rotation. If the node at the handle end of the sword is located where you grip the sword then you will percieve very little shock when the sword strikes a target. It also means that all other things being equal the sword will cut better as it doesn't waste a lot of energy shaking you. The location of this node is subject to about oogeldy bajillion variables, but the short version is that it's location is determined byt he overall distribution of mass in the sword. When this node is properly located we say that the sword is 'Harmonically Balanced,' a term that I originally heard from a swordmaker named Chuck Sweet (Steelwolf Swords, now OOB.) Again, this is the simple version- this subject gets way, WAY more complicated...

    Now, shifting the COG on a sword by changing the weight of the pommel can move the Node of Rotation to a bad place. This can have effects as mild as making the sword uncomfortable to cut with to actually causing a wooden handle to split or even burst apart (saw this happen once... owie.)
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    I have made this rough sketch over three of the most common types of efforts that swords suffer.
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    1- is when you brandish laterally as said by AL in a previous post.
    Thats a probable reason to make concave distal taper.
    Also you must take into account the fact that a poor heat treatment in the recazo area may be solved this way (note that many M swords have guards covering the shoulders of the blade also, you can easily see it in a hand and a half sword by PJ in albions site)
    Adding this to a sustancial pommel youll have a sword that under the "waggle" test performs as portrayed in the lower sketch.


    2- this effort is made due to improper technique while cutting. You dont neen to be completely stupid to have this kind of deformation. In most cases lateral deformation while cutting occurs in a very important grade but we fail to see it (remember a passed post whith pictures of AT and Tinker cutting where the blades could be seen bending a lot, Angus said that he was even amazed because the blades didnt bend permatently)
    To solve this you can make lighter or stiffer the region over the cop.

    3- is the direct load deformation. Some have said that a blade that bend uniformely can sustain more effort that those deforming only in the weak zone. But I think they are rong because the thinner the blade the more deformation they can take. The degree of efffort is a factor of deformation and the thickness of the blade.


    I made sketches of the vibration nodes more common to those kinds of dt. (at least in my own swords)

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    So if I understand thinks correctly the primary node or COP is the point that when used to strike a target transmits the least shock to the hand and as a result transfers the most energy tot the target. Like the sweet spot on a baseball bat. Even is a strike is made off of the COP if the secondary node is located correctly is will still minimize the amount of shock delivered to the hand.

    Is that correct?
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    I think that we must agree that the definition of the cop is not a completed thing.


    The George turner article in the arma site may have several mistakes and biased points but I think is enough proven that armonics is not only the location of vibration nodes and COP is not simply the first node of vibration.


    GT proposes the "waggle test" which is simply to hold the sword by the place it rotates when striking (he says "the cross" but I think he fails to study properly the nature of the movement of cutting) and move the hand to the sides to see a fixed point usually placed between the point and the first 1/3 of the blade.

    The "side slap" test is affected by the distribution of mass and relative rigidity of the blade

    the "waggle test" is affected only by the distribution of mass.

    The nature of the "shock in the hand" also must be definied properly.

    There is a shock that derives from the lateral vibration
    there is another that derives from the moment of inertia of the different parts of the blade.

    In this second case GT identifies a cop that (when struck)produces a rotation in the sword with an axis in the hand


    Another may be that point where the inertia is the same before and after the point of the colision

    there is a thread where this have been discussed
    here:

    http://forums.swordforum.com/showthr...r&pagenumber=2

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    I realize that the mathematical model required to fully describe this is complex. I was just looking for a simple and practical explanation.

    Some swords transmit a lot of energy to the hand regardless of where on the blade the target is struck. I view these as poorly balanced. Other swords transmit very little energy to the hand regardless of the blade is impacted. I would consider these well balanced. There is also a point along the length of the blade that if a target is struck at that point the amount of energy transmitted to the hand is minimized.

    These are simply objective observations that are easily repeatable. The model described by Tinker and Gus explains these observations.

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    Yes, Dennis- your illustrated post was good. As for GT's article, I would tend to think that ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL the more rigid sword will tend to cut better- this assumes equally good edge geometry, same cross section at the point of impact, same velocity at the point of impact etc. I'm not going to argue the 'Harmonics' thing again- It was intended to be a simple illustration to explain one of the problems of using the weight of the pommel to arbitrarily shift the COG. The Harmonics thing has been talked to death, so I'm not going any further into it. I will say that we do have ample evidence that the story isn't finished when it comes to harmonics in swords- we are constantly learning new facets of this phenomonen. Just about the time we get complacent, usually...
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    Angus Trim is offline Moderator
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    Convex Distal Taper

    Tink and I got the opportunity to discuss this stuff a bit last nite, and it was pointed out, that I kinda short shrifted convex distal taper.

    And Tink also pointed out, that both he and I will make sword blades where it'll start out, concave, go linear, and end up convex.....

    What I am really trying to do here though, is take a broad overview, and look at what the final effect is on the blade.....

    Since I missed this mentioning this before, its my belief that period sword makers at times would use convex distal taper, for certain key characteristics of the finished sword. Harmonic things for the most part..... but also rigidity....

    I've mentioned the rapiers I've seen..... Though I haven't seen one "in the flesh", I do believe that several 15th century cut and thrust swords {type XVIII} intentionally had convex distal tapers. I have specs on two that are that way, and incomplete specs that are likely that way on a third sword blade.....

    Since various armors could be encountered during this time, everything from plate, to maille, to cloth armors, It makes sense that a blade be rigid, very rigid, to have a chance to thrust thru the latter two, and not be damaged during an attack on the first.

    If the convex taper, is just "thus and so", then its also very possible to get certain harmonic things going for you too, that really reduce the shock to the hilt. This latter does not necessarily improve cutting performance over the more basic harmonic stuff discussed over the last five years, but it definitly reduces shock coming back the hilt, and it definitly has to do with the way a blade is distal tapered...... This latter from experience, Tinker's primarily, and mine to a lesser degree...

    Consequently, I generally think that the way a "period" sword is distal tapered, was intentional...... not just the way it came out because of the way of manufacture.....

    Auld Dawg

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    Another point...

    ...someone, I believe Gus, has made is that adding a heavy pommel to "adjust the balance" often caused more problems than it solved. Granted, there are some sword designs which do need a substantial pommel.
    But whenever possible, the sword should feel decent before any real pommel weight is added. This can be accomplished by having decent distal taper, a tang that is a good thickness or fairly wide, or all three. Hard to tell which is more important, but I will say that if your tang does not have a decent mass of metal, not only will your balance be off but throwing a heavy pommel onto it is asking for disaster.
    I broke one of my first swords I made by trying to put on too much weight for the pommel, trying to get it to balance closer at the cross. Of course, the first time I struck something with that massive chunk of brass stuck on the tang, the weight caused it to crack the tang there. The original balance point had nothing wrong with it, but the customer thought a cross-hilted longsword should have the same balance as his bloody SCA fencing "rapier".
    This was before I had read enough to be able to say nix to certain custom modifications.

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    Adding weight to the pommel will change the COG but will it also effect the primary and secondary nodes. It seems like the position of the nodes will be determined by the distribution of mass in the blade itself.

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    (Editor's Note: this thread has been copied from an original discussion in the General Forum. Some pruning has been done.)

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