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Real Fallbeil-Model 1854 Model Fallbeil

The photo on the left shows the Bavarian execution team just before, or during, World War I. Franz Xaver Reichhart, standing in the middle, was the uncle of Johann Reichhart whose picture is on the Fallbeil page. The old Reichhart was forced into retirement in 1919 when Bavaria instituted firing squads as the method of capital punishment. The fallbeil was re-introduced in 1924 but, by then, Franz Xaver was too old to return to the job and his nephew took over.
The model on the right is a 1/6th scale replica of the Munich machine. The model is about 19" tall and made of oak and steel. The machine is quite heavy because of the amount of steel used in the construction. The blade, for example, is 1/4" thick solid steel. The model is built from both photographs of the real machine and an original 1854 drawing of it. Some details were changed from the drawing by the builder. Very noticeable is the height of the pulley support frame, which I scaled from the drawing for the model. The picture shows a much taller assembly. The model blade shape, with the indented edges, is from a pre-1900 picture of the Munich machine, where such a blade was used in lieu of the straight-edge blade seen in this picture. The curved edge blade seemed the more interesting visually. The indentations are designed as handholds to get a better grasp on the blade during removal. Although I do not like the German fallbeil design as much as the more elegant French Berger guillotine, this model grew on me as I was building it. It was quite challenging from a technical standpoint and has some impressive design features. To learn more about the German guillotines visit the fallbeil page here.

1854 Fallbeil Replica These photos of the back side of the 1854 fallbeil shows the fabric shield that surrounded the head of the condemned. The shield had a fabric bottom that hung right under the face. Contrary to the French design, on the fallbeil the head was already "inside" the catch-basin before the blade was released so it barely dropped and spills were mostly contained inside the basin. The machine was installed on a scaffold and a large pile of sawdust or sand was placed under the front to absorb spills. The head strap isn't visible in this shot as it is located inside the fabric shield. It was used to hold the head of the condemned up and minimize his lateral movement. The fabric used on the model is canvas soaked in brown paint to emulate the wax-coated fabric of the original shield. Below the shield a metal gutter/spout is visible. Since the condemned was strapped to the bascule there was no quick way to drop the body into a zinc-lined basket as the French did, in order to minimize spills. 1854 Fallbeil Replica

With the heart still beating, the decapitated body would empty itself of blood in a few minutes. It poured through the funnel-shaped opening in the bascule plank and support table, running out the spout under the lower lunette half and unto the sawdust/sand pile. The headless body was left on the machine for a time and then carried away in a coffin.
Also visible in this picture are the shock absorbers. On the fallbeil, these consisted of square steel tubes attached to the base of each post. On the 1854 model these tubes were packed with leather and felt. The legs of the "sledge" would drop into the tubes and land on the dampening material absorbing the impact energy. On the model, I used three layers of 1/4" rubber in each tube, creating a very soft impact with just a few rebound cycles, which is more in line with some of the Nazi-era fallbeils that used rubber shock absorbers.
The photo on the right shows the details of the lunette and head-strap. The catch basin has been removed so you can clearly see the adjustable strap made of thin leather, supported by two slotted metal posts extending from the frame. On the model, I made both ends of the strap adjustable but on the real machine one end was looped around the post and the other end was adjustable. It held the condemned's head up for a clean cut (he could not tuck his chin against the lunette). To a certain degree this strap replaced the function of the photographer on the French execution team.
1854 Fallbeil Replica

1854 Fallbeil Replica These photos show the pulley and rope system used to raise the blade-sledge assembly. The rope was wound on a winch attached to the lower part of the right post and passed over a pulley mounted on a bracket extending from the top of the frame. The pulley had a semi-circular cover plate to prevent the rope from jumping the track. A pivoting hook at the end of the rope was engaged into the eyebolt on the sledge. The hook stayed firmly engaged as long as there was tension on the rope but as soon as the blade pendulum engaged and the rope was allowed to slack, the counterbalanced hook pivoted out of the eyebolt and released the rope from the sledge, leaving it free to drop when the pendulum hook was tilted outward by the executioner. 1854 Fallbeil Replica

The photo on the right shows the hook released from the eyebolt and the pendulum hook, visible through the opening at the center of the blade. The pulley, used on this model, is a sliding glass door caster. A custom fabricated pulley in the exact shape of the original may, some day, replace this commercially available version if the interest in this model warrants it. The sledge and blade are lazer-cut from 6mm steel, then hand finished. All the other metal parts seen on the pictures are hand cut and shaped from plate steel.

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The photo above-left, shows the closed lunette and the inside of the fabric tub. The front of the bascule with the curved, funnel-shaped cut-out and the two lifting handles rests against the lower lunette. The lunette boards are guided by metal extensions, along both edges, that slide in secondary grooves in the steel posts.
The bascule plank, above-center, is a mixed design from the vintage photographs and the 1854 design drawing: On one hand I made it heavily concave as the photos show, while the drawing shows a flat plank. On the other hand I did incorporate the slots for the straps, which were on the drawing but were omitted on the actual machine, probably due to the difficulty in making them. The wooden handles and curved cut-out at the head of the bascule closely match the pictures of the real machine. The leather straps are custom made from 1/2" natural leather bands sanded down to a a proper scale thickness. The buckles are hand made from steel wire. The belt slots are cut transversally in the back of the bascule plank before closing them by gluing on a second piece of oak board. The upper belt can be installed in either of three slots depending on the height of the condemned.
Visible on the photo above-right, is the "pendulum-type" release handle that tilted the big hook at the top of the machine and released the blade. The hook was not solidly attached to the pendulum shaft but was free to rotate outward to lock into the blade without requiring the handle to move. The handle was solidly connected to the pendulum shaft and caused it to rotate while a small key on the shaft immediately caught the big hook and lifted it out of the blade catch opening.

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The three photographs above show further details of the fallbeil model construction.
On the left, a close-up of the winch with the ratchet system and the removable crank handle. On the model the ratchet and pawl are mounted behind the winch drum while on the real machine they were between the drum and the crank handle. All the parts are machined from steel except for the brass crank handle.
In the middle, a close-up of the shock absorber tube, the ratchet and the cloth tub attachment hardware.
On the right, the heavy timber framing that supports the massive table and the steel posts.
Photos below show additional views, including underneath of head catch basin, a side view of the lunette and back side of the blade.

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