So, You Want to Buy a Steel Sword

That’s great! Almost everyone I know wants to buy a sword; it’s always a good call. But just quickly, before you go on your grand shopping spree, let me ask you this:

Do you know what you’re looking for?

That’s okay if you don’t! I can say with 100% certainty that no one knows everything there is about swords, they’re a damned complex subject. If this is your first sword, there’s a veritable tonne of potential rights, wrongs, maybes and “I don’t knows” concerning what your “best sword” might be. The dive into the rabbit-hole of sword qualities can be an overwhelming task, even for non-beginners.

This is why we’ve prepared this document for you. It should give you the basic rundown of what you might need in a sword, or at the very least point you in the right direction. We’ll go through some essential sword concepts, the rights and wrongs of manufacturing, and which swords are best suited to which tasks.

(In this guide, $ indicates Australian Dollars)

Sword Anatomy

Sword Anatomy

First, some definitions of what is mentioned in this guide:

Pommel: The stopper at the end of the hilt, usually metal and the style often signifies the era from which the sword originates.

: What you grab with your hands. Self explanatory, really.

Cross Guard:
The wonderful physical barrier between your enemy’s sword and your hands.

The name for all three of the parts above combined.

The negative channel(s) that run down the length of the blade. These remove weight from
the blade without making it weaker.

The way the fuller is made makes the ridges. They are slightly raised, but can be hammered flat. They allow the edge to be thinner.

The Flat of the blade is all the non-edge parts.

Edge: Generally, the edge is what you want to cut your target with. Thin and sharp.

Like the edge, but for stabbing.

Blade: Again, like the hilt, the Blade is just the non-hilt parts altogether. 

Not in the diagram, but still important:

Forte (Strong): The lower half of the blade, towards the crossguard. Mainly used when blocking.

Foible (Weak)
: The upper half of the blade, towards the point. Mainly used when striking.

Furniture: Parts of the sword that can be adjusted or modified without any huge mechanical impact. This includes the crossguard, the pommel, and the scabbard, as well as things like the belt or the hook to which your sword attaches. This obviously extends only so far, i.e. doubling the weight of your pommel will impact the feel of your sword greatly, but engraving, embossing or altering styles won’t cause any noticeable changes.

Non Combat Swords

In general, swords that are for use in non-combat situations, material, budget and aesthetics are the main categories to consider. Worrying about things like balance, steel hardness rating, effectiveness etc. is a waste of time.

  1. Material - Non combat swords should be pretty! They are for hanging on a wall, or displaying in a hobby room. For this reason you should mainly consider Stainless steel blades. They won’t rust, and will keep their lovely polished look with only minimal maintenance required. Hilts and other sword furniture should be plastic, resin, wood or stainless steel too. The less tarnishable parts, the better.

  2. Aesthetics - It’s all about your preference. What do you think looks good? A roman spatha or a highlander’s claymore? Or maybe something from a movie, TV show or game? This is for you to decide.
  3. Budget - Lastly, but probably most importantly, is budget. With swords as with most things, there exists a sword at every price imaginable. With non-combat swords you generally experience harsh diminishing returns the higher you get with prices. That is to say, you get what you pay for a sword between $50 and a $100, but there really isn’t much difference, in terms of material quality, between a $100 and a $250 stainless steel blade.

    Your sword furniture should also be die-cast, if available. Die-casting is a modern and cost-effective way of recreating the look of an artisanal craft or a precision milling. While die-casting isn’t as strong or as sturdy as the other methods, this isn’t of concern for a display piece.

    As a general rule of thumb, because you won’t be whacking it on things, there is less risk by going cheaper.

Swords for use in Combat

Using swords in combat adds a few more things to consider properly. As with non-combat swords, material, aesthetics and budget are main factors, but now we must also explore tang, pommel fit, tempering and safety.  Many may harp on about specific brands and balance, but these factors are almost negligible when considering the ones above.

But, for clarity, we will quickly go over why.

  1. Brands - Modern forging techniques are almost all identical, using machines. Brands can have good and bad products. Brands can also have good and bad prices. Investigating various brands and cross-referencing prices reviews etc. is not only time consuming, but often trivial.

  2. Balance - There are no “perfectly balanced” swords, unlike how some may lead you to believe. Some swords have a higher balance point than others, and vice versa.

    The balance point of a sword does not impede your ability to use it.

    Within reason, of course. If the balance point is near the tip, then you have an axe, not a sword. The fact of the matter is that you will get used to how your weapon handles the more you use it, and there is no point fussing over a 1 cm difference in balance point.

Now, onto what you should dedicate your attention to:

  1. Material -  Combat swords should always be a form of carbon steel. Carbon Steel, or preferably a type of carbon steel called Springsteel, is durable, hard, tough, and has a degree of elasticity that makes it perfect for use in combat. Specifically, this usually equates to a Rockwell Hardness Cone (HRC) value of 42 to 45 on the blade.

    Below 42 is just too soft for proper use in combat, and above 45 is generally a bit too brittle. It probably would be “fine”, but just bear in mind that if others are using 42-45 HRC then a blade greater than 50 would be rather damaging to their blades.

  2. Tang - The tang is the metal part of the sword that is hidden by the hilt. A good sword will be a single piece of metal, with no welding, adhesive or jiggery pokery. Most of that single piece of metal will be the blade, but a little bit on the end will become the spine around which you fit your hilt, or in simpler terms, the tang.

    It is imperative that the sword is a single piece, or full tang, if you intend to use it in combat. Otherwise, breakages will occur.

    Let’s be clear here: when we say full tang we mean full. It needs to be thick, run the entirety of the hilt and be capable of handling the stress of use. A welded tang or a thin one called a rat-tail tang is of no use, and is basically equivalent to having nothing there at all.
  3. Tang Types
  4. Pommel Fit - The pommel is the veritable “keystone” of
    the sword; it binds everything in its spot. And as such, it needs to be fitted correctly. There are three main ways to do this:

      1. Peening is when the pommel is fitted, and a little bit of the tang hangs out of the hole at the end. This extra bit is then hammered so it flattens, and forms a “cap” of sorts, locking the pommel in place.
      2. Pinning is when the pommel is put over the tang, and a hole is drilled through both. A metal pin is then hammered through the hole, binding the two together.
      3. Threading is also a good approach, when the end of the tang is specifically threaded to support a similarly threaded pommel.

    Never accept a pommel that has been glued. Adhesive will never stand up as strongly as the physical binding methods.
  5. Tempering - is a metallurgic process that, in theory, gives the metal blade the balance between springiness and durability. Too much tempering, and when struck the blade will crack or fracture. Too little, and the metal will deform (bend) without bouncing back to shape. A well tempered edge will lose small chips and chunks when struck, but will never crack or bend.

    A well tempered flat will wobble when struck, but be otherwise unaffected. Too much tempering will cause it to break or snap, too little will make it deform without returning to its original shape.
  6. Safety

    Swords are not toys. This cannot be stressed enough. It’s perfectly fine to want to fight with one, but it must be under supervision and guidance of a qualified teacher.  The safest way to use a sword is to learn from an instructor, but there are some things you can look out for when purchasing one.

    1. Space for Hand Protection. When you fight, you’re going to be wearing some gauntlet or glove as armour. Does the sword have enough space on the hilt for your gauntlet? If you’re lucky enough to hold it before you buy it, try with your favourite gauntlet equipped. If it doesn’t feel right or doesn’t fit, then it might not be the sword for you.
    2. Edge and Point. Different clubs have different minimum safety standards, but on the whole, no one should sniff at a sword that has a 2.0 mm edge and a point rounded to a 5 cent piece (20 mm diameter circle). I.e. you shouldn’t be able to see the coin when it’s put underneath the point.
    3. How does the Sword feel? It might sound like a phoney psychic trick, but just ask yourself how the sword feels. Does it feel weak? If I were to strike it at the hilt, would it break? Does it rattle? Even without expert knowledge, if a sword feels weak, chances are it probably is.

      Reduce the risk to yourself and others. Don’t use it.

  7. Aesthetics - Generally, it’s a good idea to fight with a sword that matches. A Roman, with a roman gladius and a roman scutum looks much better than a Roman with a 16thC duelist’s rapier. Same applies vice versa.

    However, matching perfect historical accuracy isn’t the be all and end all. So what if your Viking sword’s crossguard is slightly too wide? It’s not going to stop you from having fun. If people have a problem with something like that, then they aren’t worth listening to.

    If you and your club you fight with aren’t fussed with HA, then go for your life. Do what looks the best to you.
  8. Budget - Often the toughest category to broach when it comes to combat swords. A pristine, historically accurate sword with absolutely no faults can put another mortgage on your house. That being said, generally above $400, the steel itself doesn’t get much better. You’re paying for prettiness or accuracy at that point.

    Strictly in regards to combat readiness, a sound sword should be about $100 - $200, a quality sword will be about $200 - $400, but beyond that there’s no difference in function.

    (Just remember that you shouldn’t just use price as a guide. Not everyone is honest in their pricing, and sometimes a good sword can be over or undervalued by its seller.)

Just a gentle reminder that steel weapons are NOT toys. They do require proper guidance and instruction to use safely and effectively. Youtube videos and your friends do not count.

Medieval Fight Club and its employees assume no responsibility for injury, damage, or loss incurred by use of steel swords. We cannot stress too strongly that, without exception, the user of a steel sword must get the proper training to insure their own safety and the safety of others.

Extra, General Sword Advice

Sword Type: You need the right tool for the right job! You can’t exactly rock up to a Dark Ages reenactment event with a 14thC longsword, just like how you can’t exactly do a cutting test using a blunt edge blade! Common types of swords are:

  1. Historically Accurate (HA) swords. These are swords that, for better or worse, are faithful recreations of real swords from history. Generally speaking, they are not typically suited for use in re-enactment combat from the get go, as they would have edges that need blunting (potentially ruining the sword), would probably be too pretty for being punished in combat, and usually too expensive.

    That being said, it’s not like there aren’t HA swords that are perfect for combat, but in general, if you’ve gone to the effort of making it HA, it’s best not to smash it up.

  2. Beater Swords. These are the swords designed, first and foremost, for combat. They should have all the properties of tang, pommel fit etc. mentioned above, and a suitably rounded point and flat edge. Beaters will be in the style of an HA sword, with the added benefit of being perfectly suited for combat. The main feature of a Beater is their rounded, blunt edges and point.

    They’re really the perfect sword if you just want to have a hit, and are not really concerned with the minutiae of historical accuracy.

  3. Sharp Swords. Sharp swords are never used in reenactment combat. They are, however, fun for cutting practice on water bottles, for a ceremony, for display, or perhaps for a film or video shoot. A seller should always disclose the sharpness of their sword.
  4. Sharp swords are generally also HA swords, but not always.

Too Long, Didn't Read

When buying a sword,

A good Wall Hanger (Non Combat Sword) is:

  1. Made of stainless steel
  2. Very, very pretty. 
  3. Made with die-cast furniture.

A good Combat Sword is:

  1. Carbon Steel (HRC 42 - 45)
  2. Full tang. No other type of tang is suitable.
  3. Featuring a pommel that is peened, pinned or threaded but never glued.
  4. Tempered enough so that when struck on the edge it chips, when struck on the flat it wobbles.
  5. Safe. It feels strong, has space for hand armour, and has no edge or point.