This is a continuation of the article Finding the Perfect Sword, Part 1. If you haven't read that one, then we suggest you read it first. Otherwise, you'll be confused and won't be surprised at the crazy plot twists we wrote in and the stunning, shocking conclusion. But if you're one of those people who reads the last page of a book before starting it, then, by all means read on.
Criteria 3: Weight:
Swords in days of yore were heavy. Knights who complained about the weight were laughed at and were not invited to parties at the popular knights' castles. A typical arming sword might have weighed more than three pounds, which may not seem like a lot until you hold it in a full combat pose while a technically challenged person tries to take a digital photo of you.
When considering the weight of a sword, it's good to think about what you're using the sword for. If the sword will be peace-tied at your side at a renaissance festival, or drawn only occasionally at a costume party or on the stage, then you may want to go for a lighter weight sword. But if you're going to be showing the weapon off, bragging about its historical accuracy, practicing some medieval martial arts in a group like ARMAS or doing some stage combat, you might opt for a heavier, tougher, more realistic weapon.
So, how do you find lighter weapons? Well, the blade material is a fairly good indication. Stainless steel blades are almost always lighter than high-carbon blades. 20-gauge high-carbon steel blades are lighter than 18-gauge high carbon steel blades (the higher the gauge number, the thinner the blade). Balsa-wood blades are lighter than everything except rice-paper blades (that's a joke. Please don't e-mail us asking where you can find balsa wood or rice paper blades).
Another good way to make swords lighter is through the use of fullers. Fullers, as you'll remember from your high-school sword-forging classes, are the grooves along the length of a blade. These fullers, in addition to giving the sword more strength (think of the groove as a spine of sorts), also reduce the weight of the sword (the less steel, the less weight). Although many people say the fullers were used as a sort of rain-spout for the blood of impaled enemies, in all honesty, we can't find a single reference proving this or explaining why this would be useful. Please let us know if you do.
Criteria 4: Battle Ready:
This is the subject we get the most questions on. "Are your swords battle ready?" As if the person is two days from hopping on a Viking ship and raiding a nearby village. Or maybe expecting a garrison of hostile English infantry at their door any minute. The truth is, there really is no set guidelines for battle ready swords. All swords can break. In fact, all anything can break. Even, as I found out once, those cheap plastic combs that are advertised as "unbreakable!" at drug stores. (::shaking fist:: Damn you CVS! Damn you to Hell!) When people ask if a sword is battle ready, what they mean is, "Can I hit this against other swords and expect that it won't break very easily?" The answer depends on several factors. But first, a disclaimer:
Strongblade LLC neither condones nor recommends non-professionals using our weapons in a dangerous manner. This may include, but is not limited to, hitting swords against one another, hitting shields held by others, hitting anything near another person, or, for that matter, hitting anything with our swords. Furthermore, we will not sell a weapon to you if we learn that said weapon will be used for any illegal purpose. .
That said, if you are a trained swordsman, and are following all possible safety procedures and using the proper safety equipment, many of our swords will stand up to light contact . The high carbon blades are extremely strong and can withstand some contact. Please be aware any sword can and will break if struck hard enough against another blade. If a sword is considered "battle ready" we will include that information in its description, although we do not take responsibility for anyone using the weapons in an unsafe manner.
Now, about battle ready swords in general: To be used in sparring, a sword should meet three criteria, and it would help if it meets an additional fourth criteria.
In addition to these criteria, Strongblade suggests that -- if you meet our earlier criteria for staged combat (the whole "being a professional and using proper safety guidelines" stuff), -- you should avoid parrying with the edge of the blade. Yes, we realize that it's more dramatic to parry with the blade and that it makes a more satisfying 'ting' sound, but hitting the edge of a very hard object against the edge of another very hard object inevitably leads to the chipping or notching of one or both of the objects. This holds true for just about any sword (except for some poor quality swords which may actually shatter, possibly causing serious injury).
To be perfectly honest, there was really very little parrying done with medieval swords. Knights preferred to either block with their shield or simply get out of the way of a sword than to risk damaging their blade by parrying. Again, we understand that stage combat is different than actual combat, and that spectators want to see parrying. But be warned: Edge parrying damages swords.
There is an absurd number of pommel types in the world. The late Ewart Oakeshott, renowned sword historian, had an extensive classification system for swords. While he listed only about 20 different styles of blades and a dozen styles of crosses in his system, he listed nearly 40 different possible pommel styles that he had seen on historical medieval swords. Obviously pommels were one of the parts of the sword most open to interpretation and creativity. Aside from the aesthetic quality of them, there are only a few things to consider when looking at the pommel of a sword.
A good sheath is built around the sword that it is made for. Swords should fit into their sheathe with no excessive rattling or side to side movement. It is better for a sword to stick a little coming out of the sheath than to have it move slightly (or heck, a lot) in the sheathe. Any movement of the sword in the sheath will take a toll on the blade after a while: the metal will may show scratches or other signs of wear after a while.
Other than this piece of advice, there isn't a lot more to say about sheaths. If you buy a sheath for a very large sword, make sure it has a swing-out attachment that allows the sword to be drawn sideways out of the sheath and not upwards like a normal sword. It's best not to store swords in their sheaths as the wood or leather will start corroding the metal on the blade (this is particularly important for high carbon blades.
Aesthetic qualities tend to come into play quite a bit with the sheath, so look for good craftsmanship. Pay attention to the details, that's where the mistakes are normally made. Look closely at where the metal accents attach to the leather (or wood, or whatever material) of the sheath. Are there visible globs of glue peeking out from underneath? Are the accents on straight? Is the material of the accents of good quality? Is the sheath real leather? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself when looking at sheaths. Its difficult to tell these kinds of details from many online sites, but if you find the sheath (or any part of the sword) doesn't meet your standards, don't be afraid to return it. We have enough crappy craftsmanship to deal with in our life. Why settle for it in our swords?
I could go on and on really. For each of these criteria, there are dozens of additions I could make, but time and space, those eternal foes, are closing in. If you have any questions about swords, buying swords or not being made fun of, please contact me or any of us at strongblade.com. We'd love to help. If you find any inaccuracies in the text above, please, by all means, keep them to yourself. Jokes, of course. If you find inaccuracies, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may have a healthy debate about them. If wrong, I will correct any mistakes. And eat a live worm.