What is a real sword?

Here at Arms and Armor we love real swords, and we have some strong opinions on what a real sword really is.  From our perspective a real sword should not only be functional, it should also capture the essence of the original historical weapons that have inspired humanity for centuries or even millennia.  The sword has always been a special weapon.  Difficult and expensive to make, requiring skill to use, and imbued with a subtle and terrifying beauty that has fascinated warriors, dreamers, and makers for untold generations.  

Black Prince Sword

Arms and Armor Black Prince Sword, replica of 14th century original owned by Ewart Oakeshott, handled, measured, and reproduced in fine detail.

We think real swords should work like historical swords worked.  This is more of a challenge than most people realize, not because we lack the techniques and materials to make such swords, but because knowledge of how real swords were actually used, and the tasks they were expected to perform is shrouded by history.  Luckily we do have historical swords, historical fighting manuals, and a plethora of period records that give us some idea of what swords were expected to do.  Some of these sources are complicated though, especially when you consider that most of the stories and artistic depictions of warriors from the past were more interested in conveying how amazing the subjects of the account were rather than honestly conveying how they really fought.  The Sagas, the tales of King Arthur, and even period histories often contain accounts that are frank exaggeration and fantasy.  It takes significant historical knowledge to be able to parse true accounts from fanciful ones.  

schloss erbach original schloss
The original Schloss Erbach sword from the Oakeshott Institute Collection, and the Arms and Armor Schloss Erbach reproduction

Handling lots of original swords is an indispensable part of recreating real swords.  If a maker has not been able to get their hands on a bunch of real historical swords from the times and places they are attempting to recreate they are unlikely to produce something that looks, feels, and behaves like those originals.  Here at Arms and Armor we have spent decades researching original swords and making relationships with curators, collectors, and scholars to educate ourselves and to advance knowledge about swords.  For example, our close relationship with Ewart Oakeshott, arguably the 20th century's most influential scholar of swords, led to the creation of the Oakeshott Institute, our sister non-profit that curates many of the swords that Ewart collected over his lifetime.  

We focus on researching and reproducing actual historical weapons, working hard over decades to build a deep well of knowledge in archeology and history, and to develop relationships with world-renowned experts.  Our goal has been to make pieces that look, feel, and function just like those you can see in museum collections around the world.

An original sword in the Oakeshott Institute Collection, and a reproduction that we make

We think that one of the most important aspects of reproducing historical weapons is staying true to the hand-made aesthetic that was always present in these pieces.  Just as in original antique swords, the hand of the maker is evident in every item we produce.  Each sword, dagger, or weapon we make is a handmade piece of craftsmanship in which we try to express the the qualities and characteristics of the original on which it is based, with all of its quirks and personality.   We like this and see it as a strength.  The subtle asymmetries of a hand-worked blade, cross, or pommel give our products a soul that we think other makers sometimes lack.  Our swords are not geometrically perfect and we think that makes them beautifully imperfect.

7 ring rapier replica side by side with original antique.

An original rapier in the Oakeshott Institute Collection and a reproduction that we made.

To achieve this aesthetic we avoid some forms of modern manufacturing that, while very efficient, lead to a mass-produced, geometrically perfect outcome. This doesn't mean that we avoid all modern techniques.  To the contrary, we utilize state of the art technology like creating 3D models of original swords when appropriate or molten salt heat-treating. But each of our swords also is hand ground, fabricated, and fit to achieve our signature look and feel. 

In sum, we think a real sword is one that could have been picked up and used in period without appearing alien to a warrior of the period.  We would be most flattered if a 14th century knight could have picked up one of our swords and thought to himself "hmmm, nice sword".  To be clear, we don't think everyone has to agree with us, and there are a lot of quality swords out there today.  Making real weapons with this aesthetic, is however, what we try to achieve with every product we make.  


divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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