A brief history of the Sgian Dubh

A brief history of the Sgian Dubh

‘Sgian Dubh’ comes from Scottish Gaelic: ‘sgian’ means knife, dagger or blade and ‘dubh’ means black, literally translating to ‘black knife.’ Black - being the colour of the wood used to carve the handle, and covertly, the concealment of the weapon. 

Clansmen accepting Highland hospitality, as a mark of respect, would hand over to their host all of their weapons except for the Sgian Dubh. As a gesture of goodwill the Sgian Dubh would be taken from its place of concealment, usually from the armpit, and displayed for all to see in the stocking (sock) where it was still close to hand. This is why the Sgian Dubh is traditionally carried in the kilt hose on the same side as the dominant hand today.

The Sgian Dubh has changed considerably from the weapon the Highlanders of the 17th and 18th century would have carried and is now used ceremonially to complete highland dress attire.

Bog oak, jet black in appearance, is a very hard wood from trees that have been buried in peat bogs and preserved from decay by the bog conditions, sometimes for hundreds or even thousands of years and is considered among the materials originally used for carving the handle of the Sgian Dubh.

Today Sgian Dubhs are often embellished with silver metalwork mounts and semi precious stones, this is a tradition born from the Highlander's lack of confidence in paper money. The Highlander would therefore embellish much of his personal apparel with silver and Cairngorm stones which are of value meaning he carried on his person most of his worldly wealth. 

Here at Celtic Art we continue to make our Sgian Dubhs the traditional way. Each one is a handcrafted piece, made form start to finish on our premises, to pass on to future generations. Our Sterling Silver Sgain Dubhs have a choice of a wooden handle carved from Ebony, Mahogany, Walnut or Oak. The scabbards are handmade from wood and leather bound before the Sterling Silver mounts are fitted. The Sterling Silver Sgian Dubhs also come with a choice of Sterling Silver top or a semi-precious Smokey Quartz stone. Cairngorm stones are a type of Smokey Quartz but now the area where this stone is found is, quite rightly, protected by the Cairngorms National Park Authority so we buy these stones from a trusted UK stone supplier and ensure that we are buying ethical gemstones.

Our Pewter Sgain Dubhs are manufactured in the same way as our Sterling Silver options, the only difference being the material the mounts are made form and the Smokey Quartz is replaced with a choice of glass imitation stone along with a wood effect resin handle which is also made here in our workshop.

All metal mounts, both Sterling Silver and Pewter are manufactured from start to finish by us. Raw materials enter our premises and leave as a finished product to pass onto generations to come.