With steel prices going up and the group growing, it’s a good time to buy a sword and start getting your gear together. Once you have your kit, you won’t have to worry if the loaner gear will run out or if you’ll get to train with the same gear every week. You’ll just have it, which is a good feeling!
But what exactly do you get? Sword buying can be complicated because you need to get something that works for your type of fencing and is within your budget. Plus, it would be really nice if you can get something you’re happy with since it will be your sword.
So if you’re thinking about getting a sword, or just want to learn more about the intricacies of sword buying, read on! You can also check out Lorcan’s Essentials of Sword-Buying for additional details. But let’s start with my general recommendation
My “Too long, didn’t read” recommendation
If you have no idea what to get, and you just want your own sword in your hand as quick and cheap as possible, I’d tell you to pick up a Complete Economy Rapier with an F2 Flex from Castille Armory.
There are no customization options available. It is what it is. But there are two considerations before you pull the trigger.
- This only comes in 40″ blades. This makes it a long sword, so you’ll need to complete the Long Sword lesson as soon as possible.
- If you’ve got big hands, this may not be the right fit for you. The guard and the handle are smaller so it may be tight. Several of the group’s loaner swords use this guard, so try it out to see.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, have a little more cash, or are willing to wait a little longer, I’d recommend that you just use Castille Armory’s Build Your Own Rapier tool.
Let’s talk Swords
Now if the general recommendations don’t work for you, or you’re willing to dive a little deeper down the rabbit hole, let’s talk swords for a minute. Starting with the armories.
There are three main armories we buy our swords from. Those are Zen Warrior, Castille, and Darkwood. We buy from them because their swords are designed for rapier combat. You can’t just buy any sword off the internet. It has to be something built for the rigors of combat fencing to be safe.
Depending on what armory you go with, will determine the type of information you need to know.
If you visit Zen Warrior’s website, you’ll find that they supply a lot of fencing equipment, including Complete Rapiers and parts. We’re going to focus on complete rapiers because Frankenstiening (buying parts and putting the sword together separately) your sword takes more effort and you’ll need to talk to an Officer before doing that.
The selection of complete rapiers here is pretty limited, but you do get some of your classic swept-hilt designs. All you have to do is look through their site and pick the rapier that looks good to you. Once you’ve picked one, and made sure that it does say “Rapier”, you’ll be presented with some options. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Make sure you select a New Zen Blade or Fiorelli. They come in 30″- 42″ lengths but are often out of stock.
- Add a Blunt Tip, if you want to include the Rubber tip we tape on our swords
- Fill out any extra fields. These will change based on the sword, so if you have questions reach out to an Officer
Zen Warrior swords tend to be cheaper (roughly in the $200-$300 range) and can be a great option for your first sword. The things you miss out on are a certain level of quality and customization, but this may be your first sword. There’s plenty of time to get more swords later.
Castille Armory has become our primary supplier of rapiers. Most of the loaner short swords are from Castille, so you’ve most likely fought with one already. Castille Armory’s website has a lot of cool options because they supply a lot of fighting equipment for different sword-based sports and styles.
If the Economy Rapier doesn’t work for you, you’ll want to go to their Build Your Own Rapier tool and start selecting options to literally build your own rapier based on the various parts they have available. Let’s go through the various options and what they mean so you can be informed on what you’re selecting.
Step 1: Choose a Guard
The first thing will be choosing your guard style. They all work perfectly well and will protect your hand. Pick the one that matches what you’re looking for, based on design and price.
Step 2. Choose Your Quillion Type
Next, you’ll select the type of quillons to have on your sword. This is another preferential choice and so just choose the one you like, considering the price differences.
Step 3: Choose Your Quillion Block
The difference between the Basic Quillion Block and the Standard Quillion Block is the little twist in the metal and the flat or triangular design. This part of the hilt is typically where your pointer finger will wrap around the blade, above your handle. It shouldn’t be an issue either way, but we have noticed that some people don’t like having the Basic Quillion Block because of how the twisted metal edge lines up with their finger. Something to keep in mind because that option is free and the other costs extra.
Step 4. Choose Your Knuckle Bow
This one is nice and simple because it’s whether or not you want to include a knuckle bow. Most of the time I’d say to add one, but removing it can give your hand more room to breathe at the cost of having that protection/point of leverage.
Step 5. Choose Your Finish
You’ve got three options to choose from: Bright, Blued, and Polished. This is the treatment of the metal.
- Bright will look like antiqued metal. Not dull, but not super shiny either.
- Blued heat treats the metal to give it a dark, but not quite a black appearance.
- Polished will shine that metal up to almost a chrome-like finish.
All are perfectly fine. They help with rust prevention. Bright and Polished seem to have the best ability to hide scratches though.
Step 6. Guard Orientation
Choose either right or left-handed. You’ll still be able to fight with it in either hand, but it will adjust the symmetry to one side or the other. Pick the hand you’ll fight in most often.
Step 7. Choose Your Rapier Blade
We’re finally onto the blade. Castille provides several different types. The differences between each type will include price, fuller, width at different points, and other features. If you’re not sure, aim for the Standard Blade, unless price is an issue.
- Basic Rapier Blade: All-purpose economy blade. The forte is .75″ wide and it narrows down to .3″ at the tip. There is no fuller (grove down the center), and it has a diamond-shaped profile.
- Standard Rapier Blade: Benchmark blade. The forte is .875″ wide and narrows down to .3″ at the tip. There is an 8″ fuller or groove running down the forte of the blade to reduce weight and keep the forte stiff.
- Elite Rapier Blade: This is the lightest and narrowest blade. The forte is .625″ wide and it tapers to .3125″ at the tip. There are a series of holes drilled through the blade to help with weight as well. This is designed for Rapier fighting only.
- Flamberge Rapier Blade: This blade is very similar to the Standard, except it has a hand-ground wave pattern through the length of the blade. This means it is not a straight blade. The forte is still .875″ wide and tapers to .3″ at the tip. The flamberge pattern may have some small affects on performance, but nothing major to speak of.
All of these blades are perfectly fine and will serve you well. We have seen that the Basic Rapier Blade tend to bend more if you’re a hard hitter, so if you fall into that category, make sure you get at least a Standard Blade or stop hitting so hard.
Step 8. Choose Your Blade Length
Castille offers blades from 35″ to 45″ long. In the Order of the Rose, anything 40″ or more is considered a Long Sword and you would need to take that class before using your sword. But we highly recommend that fencers aim for something between 36″ and 39″, depending on your height. If you are shorter, getting a shorter blade (36″ or 37″) will often feel better but it will sacrifice some of your range. If you’re taller and get something longer (38″ or 39″), it will feel more natural in your hands, but you’ll have to be aware of your range and throwing hard shots.
In the end though, length is completely preferential. Aim for the middle until you know what you like.
Step 9. Choose Your Fighting Discipline
Just select SCA. You’ll know if you should select HEMA
Step 10. Choose Your Tip Type
There are two options to choose from: Normal Tip or Spatulated. The only difference is that Spatulated adds some extra material on the front to help prevent the tip from cutting through the Rubber Blunts. Totally up to you. If you want to save some money, just leave it as Normal.
Step 11. Choose Your Blade Flex
Another A/B option. You can get your blade in either an F2 or F3 flex, which determines the overall stiffness of your blade. Both are rated for Rapier combat. The only difference is the F3 allows you to cross over from Rapier fencing into Cut & Thrust. In most situations, you’re not going to feel a difference so feel free to just select F2.
Step 12. Choose Your Grip Style
The grip style is the handle of the sword and it’s essentially an aesthetic choice of wood type and color, along with price. Just pick the one you like.
Step 13. Choose Your Pommel
The Pommel is the counter-weight to your sword and helps balance out your blade, so you’re looking for something that looks good and weighs nicely. When it comes to weight, most of these are within .5 lbs of each other, so we’re dealing in ounces here. A good idea is the longer your blade is, the heavier your pommel should be. Here’s a break down of each style’s weight:
- Small Ball: .36 lbs | 160 grams
- Large Ball: .92 lbs | 420 grams
- Large Acorn: .87 lbs | 400 grams
- Large Scent Stopper: .74 lbs | 360 grams
- Large Barrel: .91 lbs | 410 grams
- Medium Acorn: .55 lbs | 250 grams
- Medium Scent Stopper: .47 lbs | 220 grams
- Medium Barrel: .53 lbs | 240 grams
- Medium Flame: .32 lbs | 150 grams
- Mushroom: .26 lbs | 140 grams
You can always purchase additional pommels later, so don’t stress too much right now.
And that’s all the options going through Castille’s Build Your Own Rapier tool. Lots of customization options, but depending on what you choose the price will vary greatly. I went through tool and choose the cheapest and most expensive options and so you’re sword will fall somewhere in this range, before shipping.
- Cheap: $341
- Expensive: $1,040
You can also go completely custom with Castille, but then it will all depend on what you’re looking for and willing to pay.
These guys have been around for quite awhile and have a high reputation in the fencing community. All of their weapons are made to order and they also offer complete custom pieces. Visiting the Darkwood Armory website, you just have to visit their shop page for Made to Order Rapiers. At first glance, it will look like they don’t have many options, but don’t be deceived. Most of their options are hidden inside each of the individual rapier types, so let’s look at the Economy Rapier.
Step 1. Choose Your Guard
The first thing you’ll select is the guard. Just choose the style you like from the options available. At the moment they have the following styles:
Step 2: Choose Your Pommel
Similar to Castille, you’ve got a couple options of pommels and depending on the length of your sword or how heavy you want your sword to be will influence your choice. Here’s the break down:
- Acorn: 8.7 oz | 262 grams
- Cylindrical: 10.3 oz | 310 grams
- Round: 9.3 oz | 280 grams
- Scent Stopper: 10 oz | 300 grams
Step 3: Choose Your Handle or Grip
Feel free to choose the type of wood you’d like for your handle. Currently they are offering Cherry, Maple, Oak, and Walnut
Step 4: Choose Your Blade
Like Castille, Darkwood offers blades at various lengths and stiffnesses. They just use different terminology. The first is the Practice Blade and the Bated Blade. The Bated blade will be a little stiffer and heavier. You should be fine with either.
After that, choose between 37″, 39″, 42″, and 45″ for the length. I’d recommend sticking with either 37″ or 39″.
Then finally, Darkwood offers some additional detailing for their blades in the form of fullers (grooves) and piercings (holes drilled in the blade to reduce weight). These details can affect price, but in most cases won’t affect the overall feel of the blade, so choose the one that matches your aesthetic preference and your wallet.
What I will say with the Darkwood Armory site, is that it will take some exploring to find out all the options available. If you’re interested in a Darkwood sword, I’d recommend just clicking around until you find something and then confirm your choices with an Officer.
I went through the same exercise and tried to find the cheapest and most expensive options on their site so you can see what your sword might cost, before shipping.
- Cheap: $320
- Expensive: $1,070
And that’s about it! I know it’s a lot, but gaining a working knowledge of swords, their parts, costs, and how they all come together into the weapons we hold can be really beneficial. It’s something that everyone should try to do at some point on their fencing journey.
Hope that helps!