The Essentials of Sword-Buying

Okay everyone, Black Friday is here! Tis the season for murdering each other for 40% off deals, and here at Terrasylvae, if we can’t believe in capitalism, we can’t believe in anything. So, let’s get to it. You may not have known this, but armories, where we get our swords and other gear, also have Black Friday deals on their wares. Now is the perfect time to get the perfect pointy metal rod of death for the whole family. This is going to be a short, rudimentary guide for how to look for the perfect sword to buy for yourself. A much more informative, updated one will come later, so don’t worry, we plan on giving you all the information possible. But for now, let’s give you the essentials, so you can make a more informed decision when buying a rapier.

What are Armories? How many are there?

Armories are like your favorite Ye Olde Blacksmiths, people who forge armor, swords, and tools for those that want to study and practice the ancient arts of combat. They have skilled blacksmiths who personally handmake each and every sword out there. Every rapier, dagger, and longsword you’ve seen at practice was made by a blacksmith at an armory. Each armory has a place, usually a website, where you can contact them and order a sword or sword parts. They’ll forge it for you, according to your specifications, make it strong and durable enough to pre-set standards for combat, and ship it to you. More on the process later.

So, for the Order of the RoseOrder of the Rose The Order of the Rose is a Company within Terrasylvae that focuses on rapier-style fencing., we usually buy from three armories: ZEN WARRIOR ARMORY, CASTILLE ARMORY, and DARKWOOD ARMORY. Each of these armories have had business from us and from fencing/medieval combat groups (usually the SCA) for many many years, so their work is tried and true. They each have several advantages, and perhaps a few disadvantages, which will be explained here.

What are my options for which swords I can buy?

There are certain terms that we use for the kinds of swords we buy. We call these CUSTOM, COMPLETE, or FRANKENSWORDS. On each website for the three armories, they will usually offer the first two (we made up the third one, and you’ll see why).

Complete Swords

COMPLETE swords are swords that have no modifications made to them. They are made in a certain style, have pre-set lengths and parts, and will be shipped to you like that. They are a desirable choice because they often reflect a certain fighting style, and were adapted to that. And, you don’t have to muddle about, worrying which pieces to get and assemble. Like I said though, if customization and specifications on sword weight, style, and handling (not to mention looks) is what you want, don’t get a COMPLETE sword.

Custom Swords

CUSTOM swords are just that. Each website will have a variety of parts available, all of which can be mixed and matched to your liking to make the perfect sword for you. The parts will be detailed down below. You can choose the parts of your sword depending on the quality of steel you want, the weight (and weight distribution), the handling, and the overall coolness of the blade you want to slay your friends with.

Frankenswords

A FRANKENSWORD is the term we’ve come up with to describe a sword that you’ve assembled from parts bought from two or more armories. For example, let’s say you buy a blade from DARKWOOD ARMORY, a guard and quillions from CASTILLE ARMORY, and a pommel from ZEN WARRIOR ARMORY. Maybe you liked the quality of DARKWOOD ARMORY, but could get a similar quality and better price from the other two. The mixing and matching of CUSTOM swords doesn’t have to be limited to one armory website. If you feel it would be more cost effective to buy from more than one armory to make your sword, that is totally acceptable.

BE CAREFUL though, while most armories standardize the sizes of their various sword parts so they can be assembled easily (and are getting better at their standardization), some swords may not yet have those conveniences. The last thing you want is to drop a couple hundred dollars on the perfect assembled sword, only to realize that the pommel doesn’t screw on the bottom.

What are the parts of the sword I should know about?

If you look at a diagram of a rapier, there are a bunch of terms and vocabulary to know. However, for sword buying, there are only a couple things you need to know. When selecting which pieces to add to your sword (assuming you aren’t buying a complete sword), know that there are different sizes, weights, and levels of quality. Each of these things should be considered as you put together your sword. Consider your fighting style, your footing, and your balance. Which pieces you choose can either hinder those, or improve upon them. Here they are:

The Blade

BLADE: The blade usually ranges from 34-45 inches. A “short” sword is usually considered to be 34-39ish inches. The average blade (like the loaner swords at practice) range from 37-40ish. A longsword is 40+ inches long. To help decide which sword length is good for you, measure from your bellybutton to your toes. That measurement should be about the length of blade you get. That isn’t a requirement though. Also, if you have a longer sword, the better your range will be, but the less control you have with it. Vice versa with shorter blades.

Each armory usually offers an Economy/Basic Blade, a Standard Blade, and an Elite blade. The biggest difference between blades is quality and its ability to last longer. The elite blade looks like it has holes punched in it- don’t worry, it isn’t weaker, just faster. REMEMBER, you get what you pay for. A lot of the time, the stuff you put your sword together with comes down to preference. **Newcomers, as you buy your sword, don’t go for a longer blade. You won’t be trained on the longsword until much later in your training, and by that time, you may not even like longsword.

The Guard/Quillions

GUARD/QUILLIONS: Now the guard and quillions is the metal (likely bell-shaped) that covers your hand and makes sure you don’t go home with bruised fingers. The quillions are the bits that stick out from the edges of the blade, and are meant to catch your opponent’s blade. Choose whatever guard and quillions you like. Remember though, thicker or more enveloping guards will add weight to the lower end of your sword and will make it more bottom heavy. That can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your style. As for the quillions, don’t feel obligated to get claw-shaped quillions over straight ones; they catch blades just the same.

The Handle

HANDLE: Not super important, as for choices. Can be made of metal, or wood, whatever will last. Make it stylish too, while you’re at it.

The Pommel

POMMEL: The bottom part of your sword that screws into the bottom of your blade and keeps the handle, blade, and guard together. Pommels are what carry the majority of the sword’s weight. They can weigh anywhere from 5oz-1 lb. The heavier your pommel, the more control you’ll have up close in a fight, when you’re clashing and maneuvering blades. Lighter pommels give you more “tip-in” fighting, making you more able to stab and move quickly, especially taking advantage of range. Feel free to buy a few pommels (they aren’t terribly expensive) and try out different weights, see what works for you. Also, check something called the “threading” on your pommel. Make sure it matches that of the Blade you buy. If they don’t match, the pommel won’t screw on and you could end up doing damage to both.

Who should I buy from?

Each of the armories we buy from has different pros and cons. Let’s see if we can simplify it for you. Assembly applies only to Custom and Frankenswords. Also, for you buying your first or second sword, don’t worry about perfect customization for your sword, just get something you like that works. Wait until your 3rd or 4th sword before you really sweat over the details.

ArmoryReachabilityContact ExperienceEase of AssemblyPricesQualityVariety
Zen WarriorWebsite, EmailA little slow, but friendly and helpful
(they do group discounts)
Pick pieces one by one and assemble it yourself.Cheapest by far.Less quality in welding and rapier blades.Not excellent variety.
CastilleEmail, Call, Website, FacebookVery quick, very helpful, amazing
customization options. (Talk to manufacturers for customization.
Sword assembly module on website, very easy to use.Depends how fancy you want to be, but comparable with Darkwood, though typically more expensive, and slow to get to you.You get what you pay for.Excellent variety and customization options.
DarkwoodEmail, Website (best of the three),
watch social media
Very capable and quick to respond.Step by step process, decent customization.Depends on what you buy, but typically very good prices, and done reasonably quickly.You get what you pay for.Decent variety.

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