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    From time to time, Jean and I have friendly verbal sparring matches concerning the differing grades of quality in modern cutlery. I still reserve the opinion that the past is not too far removed from the present regarding many aspects of this subject, and cheap tools can still give a lot of mileage if the end user puts a little bit into the tanks. During our last conversation on this subject, I think we generally concluded that the key differences between high-end and low-end arms of the past were fit-and-finish. And today, that is still generally the case. Even cheap modern steels tend to do quite well when given proper care.

    In this thread, perhaps it would be worth looking at some of the low-cost swords and tools on the market, whether as an easy entry-level weapon for someone who cannot wait to save up for an investment-quality sword, a respectable hard-use sword for training or drilling, or if the materials are up for it, a project sword that will eventually turn into something much greater than it started out as. After all, the low-cost of many goods on the market today is often from deferring fit-and-finish work to the customer, if the customer is capable of that work in the first place.

    Below, a chap with an abundance of funds funds and swords does destructive testing on a new Deepeeka Type XV with fuller. Mr. Matthew Jensen, everyone:

    This is quite an interesting mixed-bag of a sword. The most immediate thing to observe is the quality of the castings for the quillons. Or rather, the lack thereof. The casting is shown to be extremely brittle and as such does not inspire much confidence. Now, it should be noted that many, perhaps even most, modern reproduction swords rely on castings for the blade furniture. As someone who once made blade furniture for a sword, I can tell you I understand why the practice is done! Hilt furniture takes a lot of time to fabricate and refine – just pouring some pot metal into a mold makes much more economic sense than hand-finessing parts. That said, seeing the destruction of the quillons did make me start to wonder about the quality of parts issued by other companies. Testing blades is common… crossquards? Not so much.

    The blade of the sword and other fit-and-finish items were also interesting. I think some of the past sparring I referred to at the beginning of this post concerns this item. Modern machining and manufacturing tends to produce rather clean lines, often lines which would not be seen in medieval swords. The most obvious exception to this are the Indian swords I’ve both used and seen in person. While it is easy to get perturbed at such a “lack” in fit and finish today, seems that used to be quite common. For someone looking for a more authentic look… there may be a merit to going for a sword like this, within reason, of course…

    ..Concerning the blade, the major elephant in the room was the failure at the tip. I have heard on many occasions that Deepeeka’s heat treatment tends to be lacking. In this case, I believe Matt proved it to be so. Although we can cringe at beating swords on logs and other wooden fixtures, I did not find his abuse of the sword to be particularly heinous. I would presume the narrow tip got too hot and then was quenched causing it to become far too brittle. The next item might have been that the dynamics of the sword – the harmonics – might have also exasperated this problem, because the blade relies principally on profile taper rather than distal taper. At the same time, for a company aiming for an appropriate looking product at a very low price point, Type XVs are a good choice, as they often have very little distal taper.

    I am with Matt in being quite impressed with the scabbard. There are some questionable attributes to it, but overall he’s absolutely correct that it’s way better than a Windlass scabbard. And while he did not like how hard it was to draw the sword from the scabbard, that would be a major selling point for a large number of others.

    And so here’s my hot take on it: I agree with Matt that this would be a questionable purchase for anyone intending to use the sword. While most would not attempt sparring with a blade like that – therefore putting themselves in peril from crappy cast furniture – they might try cutting some slightly more resistive targets with it. Having the tip break from what seems to be fairly light abuse (not the sort of things I’ve complained about) is a significant safety issue. However, as a costume weapon… it might not be a bad choice!

    Second, what about a project sword (I have too many projects I’m not getting done anyway, darnit!)? The crossguard would be a relatively easy fix if one had some fairly common tools. Having a piece of A36 barstock, grinding, filing, and bending would result in a part that would perform far better and be far safer, even if it wasn’t spring steel. One could spend a few days refinishing and honing the lines on the blade, as well as putting a respectable edge on it, especially if they needed to take the sword apart in order to replace the guard.The hard part in this case might be re-doing the heat-treat, which is currently a subject matter which is above my pay grade. But, if you could do that, it might be a pretty nice sword kit to get into for only $200. Not bad, really.

    That said, you can learn more about this thing over here:

    Castillon Arming Sword

    I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more Deepeeka swords and their reviews. By the looks of them, you can generally tell their quality. At the same time, I have often heard that they can be diamonds in the rough. I think the latter is definitely the case, but it would take quite a bit of skill to cut and set that stone.

    Hans Hellinger

    The quality of swords from say, the 14th-16th Century is much higher than what is available today.


    …I hope nothing I stated was off, and furthermore, I hope mentioning those conversations did constitute a breach of confidence! I feel I learn something every time we discuss such matters, and I hope we can do it again at some point. 🙂

    Here’s another inexpensive sword to consider, and it often is offered through that most reviling of distributors: the BudK Catalog…

    …Horrible advertising which targets… certain Americans!

    …Overly hyped features with underwhelming performances!

    …Small design quirks leading to a mixed presentation!

    And all-the-while, nothing seems really bad…

    The first time I saw the sword above, I thought it looked a bit like the hero sword they gave Sean Bean when he played Boromir. Of course, that’s not really the case. The sword features a stylized, asymmetric scent stopper pommel and a ludicrously chunky cast guard. All of the parts are threaded and they come apart with common tools – and they go back together with common tools as well. Of course, you could actually just watch a reasonable review on the sword, complete with its own… issues:

    …If you could endure that video, complete with bad volume mixing and late 80s / early 90s musical intermissions, you would have found that the non-goon presenter gave some really decent reports on the weapon. Cutting performance implies some less-than-ideal blade geometry, which is to be expected from such a low price point. The scabbard is not fancy but it does seem to do almost everything you would want a proper scabbard to do; work on your own fittings and you probably wouldn’t be too upset with it. I found the most interesting feature to be the construction – not because I like the screwed-in construction, but because if you bought this sword as a project sword, you’d not need to destroy anything first in order to put it back together according to your own liking!

    While I would actually like to see a Matthew Jensen destruction-for-science presentation on this sword (especially on the guard – don’t trust your castings!), I think a person legitimately attracted to this weapon would not be looking to replace that $200 investment right after making it. The Honshu actually does look to be a very reasonable first sword, and I assume it would be more reliable than the Deepeeka featured in the first post. If not a first sword, it would probably make for a good “beater” which would not cause the user to grieve too much if something were to happen to it. However, as you have likely guessed, I feel this weapon would be a very good candidate as a project sword. With a tight-fitting scabbard, seemingly reasonable blade which could be refinished however the user so-chooses, and rapid disassembly for reconstruction… the only real question is if it would be more worth your while to just buy a Hanwei-Tinker bare blade if you’re intent on replacing all of the hilt furniture anyway. Still… not a terrible package, and it surprises me that I say as much!

    I’d like to conclude with the following: aside from all of the other things swirling around in the world at the moment which seem to be driving it into a bleak place, the general state of commercial swordmaking seems to be improving at all levels. There is no way, a decade and a half ago, you would have found something as good as that Honshu at the same price. There are still tons of crappy, cheap swords out there, but there also seems to be an influx of just cheap swords as well. I would like to think that the crappy segment of the market is going to start going away…

    Hans Hellinger

    I’m a fan of Landsknecht Emporium, they do messers and bauernwehr. Not ass cheap as Deepka or their ilk, but I think a lot more reliable and predictable in terms of what you get, and actually not too expensive. Like this little messer, which you could get for about $250

    Hans Hellinger

    And also… historically based, not just generic pseudo historical / fantasy


    I have to agree that those are really nice looking! I do also want to say that if you actually kit those messers out properly, they start to go up in costing pretty quickly!

    …I’m surprised they don’t carry katzbalgers, being an emporium for Landsknechts and what have you… 😛

    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.

    Hans Hellinger

    Getting back to my original point though, there is nothing wrong, by the way, with keeping a sword just to look at and wave around once in a while. I have a couple of antiques and that is all I do with them, and these days my sharps are pretty much just to look at and occasionally hold and dream warrior dreams…

    My hesitation on a “good” $100-$200 sword would only be if you were going to use it for test cutting, training, or if you planned to give it some emergency self defense role.


    Great points!

    I want to state, for the record, that I myself never really had anything in the super-low price range, save for a “katana” I once bought from a visit to the New York Chinatown (have since parted with it as well). Instead, I have wound up with a few good things that I am quite pleased with.

    That said, my interest in this thread is looking for what might be out there that’s actually worth half a damn, either for budget use OR as a low-cost hobby project. As someone who much more easily imagines having hobbies than actually engaging in them, it’s a fun mental exercise. After all, if you can manage to turn that sub-$200 sword into the equivalent of a $500 sword, that’s a win! And if you like the sword, even better!

    …Of course, the biggest problem that you brought to light was the quality of the steel. Cutlery-type tasks, or just finishing the steel, is an artist’s and patient man’s game. Heat treatment, to me, is more akin to magic. I don’t know what it might possibly take to refine the grain structure you saw on that Deepeeka, but it’s certainly beyond my meager capabilities as of this writing. If you could do that, however, you could certainly evolve that lackluster sword into a really nice one, and I find the concept of doing things like that very interesting indeed.

    The point on maintenance is brilliant – the more things you have, the more things you have to take care of. At the same time, I think there are things you can do to make your life easier. One of those things is to get into the habit of waxing your swords and knives. Set up a regular interval in which you inspect them and just wipe them down with oil. Know when it’s appropriate to use certain “oils” and when it’s not to. For instance, avoid using Ballistol when there’s copper alloys in or on your sword. Wall fixtures don’t like WD40. If you don’t want to take any chances, just use food-grade mineral oil even that old bottle of baby oil you find under the bathroom sink. But, putting a layer of wax to polish and protect your sword is going to hold up far better than just a coat of oil. And if you add oil afterwards, it’s just another layer of protection. In fact, I wonder if they used wax for this sort of thing way-back-when. It almost seems it would have been more available than oil for protecting tools!

    Hans Hellinger

    Yeah the exact number of blades you can effectively maintain varies by the individual. I find i get a little lost when I’m spread too thin, but for some people they could handle far more.

    And certainly, I think you can probably find some ‘diamonds in the rough’ out there. I like to look for them in the smaller workshops though with the true believers rather than the big outfits which mostly cater to the non-fencers and people only superficially interested in history (which after all, is a much bigger market).

    Hans Hellinger

    For mid-range, a lot of HEMA people I know highly recommend these guys

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