The Shashka is a special kind of sabre, a very sharp single edged, single handed and guardless sword. In appearance the shashka was midway between a full sabre and a straight sword. It had a slightly curved blade with double edges and could be effective for both slashing and thrusting. The blade was either hollowed or fullered. There was no guard, but a large, curved pommel. The hilt was frequently highly decorated. It was carried in a wooden scabbard that enclosed part of the hilt. It was worn with the cutting edge to the rear, opposite to the sabre.
It was a typically Adyghean (Circassian) form of sabre, longer than the Cossack type, in fact the word shashka came from the Adyghe word "Sashkoa" means "long knife". It gradually replaced the sabre in all cavalry units except hussars during the 19th century. Russian troops, having encountered it during their conquest of the Caucasus, preferred it to their issue sabres. It was adopted first by the Russian Caucasian Corps in the 1830s. In the 19th century it was imported from Germany. In 1882, when the cavalry was reorganized, the regular dragoons were armed with the shashka. Cossacks had received this type of sword earlier. Several forms of shashka were carried by Soviet cavalry into the Second World War.
The handle of the sabre was crafted so as to have a built-in pommel and possibly a small guard, which usually extended unto only one side of the hilt. Like most medieval and then imperial Russian weaponry of the time, often the shashka and its scabbard were very orientally decorated, with gold and silver engravings, embedded gems and stones placed into, and figures carved out of or into, the hilts. The blade of the sabre was generally double or triple-fullered, and due to its greater width than that of the European sabre, and its unique styles of tempering, it was much stronger too, able to deal damage to light body armor.
The shashka has the feel of a European (or Mongolian) sabre and was notable for its sharpness. There has been film footage of Tsar Nicholas II (1868–1918) using a Circassian sabre in an overhead twirling motion to horizontally cut pieces from a wooden pole.