Reply To: Econo-Swords

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Hans Hellinger

My overall perception about low cost swords is basically this:

It comes down to what you want to do with it.

If you want to hang it on the wall, wave it around once in a while, and maybe occasionally do some very light test-cutting, a $100-$200 sword is probably fine, so long as you do a little homework. The cheaper swords HAVE gotten much better since I first started buying them 20 years ago, we no longer have so many welded tangs, many more are actual carbon steel rather than stainless steel, they LOOK a lot more like actual antiques (there aren’t so many bat wings, stingers, horns etc. on the hilt or strange barbs and lightning shapes on the blades)

But I’ve noticed over the years, having been to something like 30 HEMA events, and maybe 15 or 20 test-cutting parties and the like, that the cheaper replicas often fail even the easiest kind of tests. Like test cutting plastic water bottles, pool noodles, cheap straw mats and so on. Even just waving them around.

I’ve seen blades break, bend, turn at the edge, chip.. I’ve seen tangs and hilts break multiple times. I have seen injuries result!

One factor which took me a while to realize, is once you start getting into carbon steel swords (and please, don’t get a stainless steel sword, SS is far too brittle for a long blade and the risk of a blade snapping goes way up) there is a certain level of maintenance. If you live east of the Rockies in the US, humidity is going to be an issue. For me, counting both large knives and swords, replicas and antiques, I think about half a dozen is as much as i can handle. That includes both sharps and fencing swords.

As I start to surpass that number, I find I’m starting to end up with blades that are getting rusty and that is another major problem you don’t want to have as it can weaken blades and make them more susceptible to breaking.

From my various fencing / HEMA / sparring swords, I can say that your point about the quillions is another important one. If there was any chance you were planning to use your sword for sparring or (God forbid) in any kind of real life situation, and if it’s anything like a longsword, a late medieval arming sword, or anything in the sidesword / rapier family, you are going to rely HEAVILY on the quillions to save your fingers.

Now this might be a bit different if you are using an earlier type of sword where the default scenario is to rely heavily on the shield to protect your hand. But I can tell you for sure, all of my training weapons including relatively small knife-sized ones (like my Bauernwehr) have taken a huge amount of abuse on the quillions, which are HEAVILY bent, scored, dented, scratched etc. (i’ll post a pic on the Discord if I get around to it). All that damage would have been to my hand if the quillions had failed.

Finally, the quality of mid-range swords has also gone up quite a bit. Albion or some of the very high end replica makers in Europe are getting into the thousands of dollars now. But there are also many European and some American makers with a good reputation for quality who are making swords in the 400-600 range which have been tested by a lot of people and have well established reputations among HEMA folks and others who are very well informed.

So given that I don’t want 10-15 swords laying around, and the quality of a $500 sword that is made by somebody who really did their research, loved these kind of weapons and has a verified reputation for good quality and reliable workmanship, as opposed to a company (Hanwei, DEEPKA, CAS-IBERIA, Windlass) that is churning out large numbers of more or less identical swords for $100 or $200… but with who knows what going on under the surface…

I’d rather stick with the mid range, from an outfit I trust like Regenyei, Ensifer, Krieger, Chlebowski, Darkwood, Kvetun etc. where i might not be able to impulse buy a sword these days, it’s worth it to me to save a little longer and get something I can feel more confident about and that (in terms of a training weapon) I can be sure will last longer.

A lot of the Windlass, Hanwei, Cold Steel etc. swords I or guys in my club bought over the years promptly broke or failed in some other way (edge turned etc.) as soon as we started testing them. A couple did hold up I’ll admit but had other problems (the Windlass 15th Century longsword cut pretty well and never broke, but it was too ‘floppy’ to remain in a strait line if you held it out, it would always ‘droop’). Whereas by contrast, my Albion and Regenyei, Ensifer etc. seemed to hold up really well. I have some that have gone through multiple tournaments or tons of abuse test-cutting for example.

So while I wouldn’t rule out a cheapy one, and there are some that at least seem like a good basis for something you could customize (like that Windlass qama) I’d really do your research and not just go by one or two reviews. People pay reviewers. For me I’d rather get something I’m confident I can rely on.