Missing the fightlife? Committed to furthering your training in stage combat? You may want to invest in a sword so that you can do some solo work at home (if you get a companion to it, you might just interest someone nearby, too!). It’s one way you can keep your skills up, even when you may not have someone to work with at all times.
Buying your own sword (or knives, shield, staff, bow…) for stage combat practice can be an expensive affair. I suggest investing in something that will last you a long time. You could buy a “wall-hanger” which is unusable for performance except for carrying around and solo drills where you don’t hit anything, but there are drawbacks. You can’t use it in actual scenes, the balance is often incorrect so you will be conditioning muscles that won’t quite help you with stage combat. Depending on the quality, they can actually be rather dangerous, as they can be prone to falling apart at inconvenient times. That said, something is better than nothing, so if your budget only allows you to spend a small amount of money, then it may be your only option. However, if you’re going to buy a “sword-like object” rather than a sword, consider grabbing some dowelling from the hardware store, set your savings goal for the sword you really want. As they say, “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Can you tell I’m biased towards getting a particular level of quality? If you’re going to invest your time and money, I strongly advocate saving up for a significant purchase, and use decent substitutes in the meanwhile.
Which sword you buy is a very personal choice. I’ll list a few things to consider, with some advice on some of the North American makers (sorry, I don’t know enough about the European manufacturers to make specific recommendations), and a link to the spreadsheet I use to help figure out how much duty and HST will add to the purchase price.
Which sword to buy: what’s my purpose?
This article assumes that you are buying a sword for your own use, that is solo drills and teaching a partner or two happen to be interested in training with you. You might also use this sword for on-camera and live performance projects. Your criteria will be different if you are buying swords for classes that you teach, or that will specifically used by other people.
For your own use you can buy something that is perhaps more aesthetically pleasing to you. Maybe it’s from a particular period or in a style that you like. Perhaps it takes a bit more skill to handle because the edges are finer, and won’t take well to cuts and parries that are heavy and stiff. When you are buying swords to teach with or to rent out, your swords are most often needed for learning the basics, and so they have to withstand the growing pains of unskilled attacks and defences. In those cases you’ll need to buy something a little heartier, probably with thicker edges. A lower price so that you can buy a large quantity is, of course, attractive.
Which sword to buy: sharp or blunt?
I tend to buy sharp swords and then blunt them, especially broadswords. They tend to be better balanced that way. However, it does mean that they’ll take burrs more easily, so it’s important to put a high priority on targeting and proper parries so that you don’t meet blades with too much force. When broadswords are made specifically for stage, I often find them to be too heavy. However, they are a bit heartier, and may be your best bet if you’re not yet confident with your blade handling.
For the thinner blades, like smallswords and rapiers, blunted for stage tends to suit stage combat purposes well.
You could base your decision on any of the following:
- What are you going to get the most use out of? If there’s a festival or a show coming up in which you’ll use the sword, you may want to base your purchase on what is suitable to that purpose.
- What’s your favourite discipline? Barring any mishaps you’ll have this for a while, so what’s your favourite? Go with that.
- What’s coming up in your certifications? If you’re going the certification route, you may want to select a sword for the next set of certifications you expect to do. Don’t forget to look into the companions, too.
Myself, I will always choose steel. Having handled artifacts, actual weapons that were used for self-defence, I have yet to find a substitute material that moves like steel does or has the same weight distribution. If you are buying a sword so that you can build your attributes and train your body to move competently with a sword, buy steel. In my experience, the tools you are using inform your movement, so particularly at the beginning stages, having good tools makes your learning more efficient.
That said, if you are doing any work on set, you’ll encounter other materials (aluminum, rubber…) and you’ll need to make them look like they’re steel. In that case, you may want to buy a second item and practice doing that. Once you instinctively understand how to move steel, then you’ll be able to move in that style with other materials. If you are intending to do a lot of filming with your new purchase, it may be best to purchase aluminum and the like. Even theatres are starting to use aluminum in their shows, so you may find them useful there.
Figuring Out Your Price
Remember that there will be a shipping charge on top of your initial cost. Most manufacturers’ websites will calculate your shipping costs before your finalize your order.
Here’s a link to the spreadsheet I use to help me figure out how much duty and HST will cost. This is set up for Canadians in Ontario at the moment, so pop in the correct values for your location.
USA: Kult of Athena www.kultofathena.com is a distributor, based in Chicago. We’ve always had great customer service from them, and they tend to ship quickly.
Canada: Reliks www.reliks.com is a distributor based in London, Ontario.
USA: By The Sword www.bytheswordinc.com
Makers and companies
Everyone has their favourites, and here’s a few of mine:
- Hanwei/Paul Chen. www.paulchenhanweiswords.com. I have loved every sword from them, particularly the Tinker Pierce line. We have or have used numerous weapons from them and have almost always been happy with them.
Rogue Steel. http://roguesteel.com. We have several of their rapiers, daggers and bucklers from as early as 2004, and they’re still in excellent condition. They’re built by a fight director, so you can be well assured that they are suitable for stage. Works with both steel and aluminum
Badger Blades. www.badgerblades.com. Extremely durable, a little bit heavy, but moves very well. We have had a pair since 2004 and they’re still in excellent condition!
Macdonald Armouries. www.macdonaldarms.com/armoury from Scotland. Paul Macdonald makes some of the best weapons out there that I know of. Expensive, and well worth the price and any wait time you might experience. Custom built. Paul is also a Master Martial Artist and antiques restorer, so you know he knows how these are meant to move.
- Arms and Armor. armor.com Also pricey, but beautifully made and worth the money. More decorative and posh-looking than some of the other companies, and still practical.
- Albion Swords. www.albion-swords.com Among the most expensive options out there, and for a good reason: This is a sword. Gorgeous. Um, you may not even want to fight with these. I haven’t tried any of their “Skirmish Line” for stage combat and reenactment, so I can’t comment on those. “For both sharps and blunts, these are by FAR the closest modern reproduction weapons to the actual antique swords that I’ve been able to examine. The look is perfect, the weight is accurate, the weight displacement is flawless.” (Allen Johnson)
- Zombie Tools. www.zombietools.net Hearty. Excellent. Met these guys at CombatCon. We weren’t looking for the kinds of blades they had to offer, but I would definitely go to them when the time comes.
And now, recommendations I have received from others (all are American unless otherwise noted):
- Darksword Armoury. http://www.darksword-armory.com. From Montreal, therefore no import fees. I’ve handled only a few of their weapons, but have been tremendously pleased with them.
- Fiocchi Sword. http://www.fiocchisword.com. “I’ve been in business since 1988, building one of a kind, stage combat worthy swords for customers. I specialize in swept hilted rapiers and smallswords but do all sorts of weapons. My day job is as the Props Tech ath the Ohio University School of Theater, so pretty much anything is possible.”
- Lewis Shaw. http://lewisshaw.com. Steel and aluminum. Generally recommended for beautiful, stylish and functional personal weapons. Everyone I know with a personalized Shaw or Fiocchi smallsword is nuts about it!
- Cold Steel. http://www.coldsteel.com
- Baltimore Knife and Sword. http://baltimoreknife.com. Very hearty. Lifetime guarantee.
- E.B. Erickson for custom baskethilt broadswords, http://eljay.myarmoury.com (http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=7929…)
- Paul Binns. http://www.paul-binns-swords.co.uk from the UK. Viking-era swords. “Once you pick one up, you´ll know what I mean – balance, simplicity, super durability” (Kristoffer Jørgensen)
- Dennis Graves of No Quarter Arms “He makes beautiful swords, is trained as a sculptural metal artist as well as as swordsmith, I’ve puttered around his workshop a few times, and he’s done custom pieces for many WMA/Sword masters. If he’s still making swords he’s worth checking out.” (Earl Kim)
- Darkwood Armory darkwoodarmory.com
- Dave Baker. www.hollywoodcombatcenter.com. Steel and aluminum. Noted for custom reproductions. Also does a lot of work for films in LA.
- JT Pälikkö http://www.kp-art.fi/jt/index_eng.html from Finland. Makes amazing swords!
Note that the rest of these are from people whose product I have not seen and have not fully researched. Please look into them and confirm whether they make swords specific to your own purposes
- Vince Evans (http://www.picturetrail.com/vevans)
- Jake Powning Swords (http://powning.com/jake/swords/#1)
- Jesse Belsky. www.jessebelsky.com/stageswords. www.facebook.com/JesseBelskyStageswords. Steel and aluminum
- Lightning Heart Armoury, Jake Guinn and Richard Bennett, Co-Owners, knives and tomahawks, sometimes machete. 318-278-0423, LightningHeartArmory@gmail.com “LightningHeart Armory is where knives are designed with the fighter in mind! It began with a desire to make affordable, high quality training knives for both the stage and the dojo. LHA also specializes in the production of stage ready tomahawk and knife sets because everyone needs some savagery when they decide to take the stage!” (Jake Guinn)
- Starfire Swords www.starfireswords.com “We create swords and arms for staged combat and costume use. We welcome custom orders!” (from their website) “Excellent for both price and durability. I always recommend them to new fighters because they make awesome starter blades that will last forever with proper care” (Carlos MacRican).
- Odin Blades by John Lundemo www.odinblades.com “He is pricey, but you will get exactly what you want and it is excellent quality. I consider him my Steel God.” (Carlos MacRican)
- Longship Armoury http://www.longshiparmoury.com
- Joel Mason at Jacob’s Armoury www.jacobsarmoury.com from the UK “for the most beautiful smallswords you’ll ever see.” (Janet Lawson)
- Patrick Barta http://www.templ.net/english/patrick_barta_and_contact.php from Czech Republic
- Salamander Armoury, Jim Hrisoulas http://atar.com/joomla/
- Sterling Armory, Chris Fields www.sterlingarmory.com
- Fable Blades, Brendan Olszowy, www.fableblades.com from Western Australia
- Valiant Armory www.valiant-armoury.com, Medieval Swords, Axes and Flails
- Sword and Stone. http://www.swordandstone.com/shop/weapons Specializing in rentals and commissions
- Christian Fletcher. http://www.christianfletcher.com/Christian_Fletcher/Welcome.html
additional WMA recommendations
- http://ensifer.carbonmade.com/ – Best sparring swords I have used to date. (so far) http://www.szymonchlebowski.pl/ – also very good, http://www.woodenswords.com/ for wasters. (Lee Smit)
I’ll keep expanding the list of craftspersons, but this should give you lots to choose from. If this list seems daunting and gives you too many choices, ask around. Feel free to drop comments in the comments section, or if we’re friends on facebook, send me a note there.
Your first sword purchase probably won’t be your last. Select a piece that serves your needs for the moment. If there’s no upcoming event or certification you’re preparing for, select a piece that captures your attention and imagination. Ideally, it’s something that you are itching to work with every day. If you can, grab two of the same sword so that you have an item of the same material and weight to use with it when you have someone to practice with. There’s no substitute for time and practice. Selecting a sword and other equipment that feels right to you will help you along the way.