Event Report: The Atlanta Blade Show 2005
An article by Patrick Kelly
This year, the myArmoury.com Team was able to make a good show of attendance, with Nathan Robinson, Chad Arnow, and myself all being present. This was my first time attending the Blade Show and it turned out to be well worth the effort the Kelly family expended in a lengthy drive to the airport from Southwest Kansas, the wade through airport security, procuring a rental vehicle, getting out of the Atlanta airport, and then finding the Renaissance Waverly Hotel and Cobb Galleria (this last point seemed to be the hardest part to accomplish for almost everyone on the team except for my wife!). In spite of these difficulties we finally found ourselves together late Thursday evening, along with myArmoury.com member Aaron Schnatterly. Before we decided to call it a night the evening had turned into the wee hours of the morning. Never the less we found ourselves in line bright and early Friday morning waiting for the doors to open.
The Blade Show not only displays the work of custom sword and knife makers but also features the latest wares from some of the major production companies in the industry. One of the first exhibits that caught our eye was the CAS Iberia / Hanwei booth, prominently situated within the hall. Most of the items on display were those manufactured by the Hanwei Company of China. Over the last several years, Hanwei has been building a presence in the lower to mid-range section of the production market. While the company's familiar line of katana was well represented it was Hanwei's newest additions to their European line of weapons that caught our interest.
Since the company is based right there in Atlanta it should come as no surprise that Atlanta Cutlery/Museum Replicas Limited was in attendance. Many of the newly licensed replicas of the swords used in the movie The Kingdom of Heaven were on display. Museum Replicas Limited has been steadily increasing their quality over the last several years and these new swords showed evidence of that trend. While all of the ones I examined were lacking in the handling department (the sword of Saladin is a real wrist breaker) they all featured a good level of finish detail for swords in the sub-$300 category.
I have long been familiar with Cold Steel's extensive line of knives but this event was my first experience in examining their line of katana. I found the Cold Steel katana to be solid and workman-like. While the blades do lack the folded construction and hamon of traditionally-made katana, they do feature historically accurate hilt construction. The overall construction of the swords seemed solid and well done for the stated price point. While I do not consider myself an expert in swords of the Japanese style, these swords should be seriously considered by those on a budget who are looking for a sword of this type. Cold Steel's European line of swords has received mixed reviews but their katana seemed far superior to my eye.
This show was also my first introduction to longtime Internet participant David Stokes. David was accompanied by two friends, his girlfriend Tamara and an ATrim katana. Ever since Angus "Gus" Trim announced his entry into the manufacturing of Japanese-style swords, I have been eager to examine one of his katana. I believe this particular model is called the Little Tigress. This sword is mounted with a very light and lively blade that is affixed to production fittings made by Fred Lohman. I found the ATrim katana's handling to be much better than the Cold Steel versions. However, the Little Tigress is designed to be a much lighter sword all-around so this is expected. While the sword's fittings were attractive and well-executed in an austere sort of way, I did find the blade's finish to be a disappointment. While ATrim swords are not known for their aesthetic qualities, they are acceptable for swords in their price niche. The blade of the Little Tigress featured quite a few finishing scratches along its length, and the ridges and lines of the blade could have been crisper. While these features are acceptable in a $300-$400 ATrim sword of European design, customers may expect more in a sword with a $1500 price tag. Unfortunately I found the ATrim katana to be a bit of a disappointment.
Production companies are actually in the minority at the Blade Show and most of the space is devoted to makers of custom knives, and a few swords. This was my first opportunity to meet Kevin Cashen as well as being able to examine his work first-hand. Unfortunately Kevin didn't have a lot on display this year. However, he did have on-hand two extremely nice pattern-welded Bowie knives that exhibited the level of craftsmanship and detail for which Mr. Cashen is famous. Being a long time fan of the Bowie knife, I found both of these pieces quite impressive.
We also experienced another first-time meeting in the person of Michael McRae, owner and proprietor of Scotia Metalwork. Michael had several dirks and knives on hand that all featured a nice rustic quality. Any of these knives would have been right at home on the belt of a Scottish clansman or an American frontiersman of the 18th century. The only exception to this was an elaborate dirk with a hilt fashioned from ivory and silver. Recently Michael has been branching out into swords and he did have a Scottish basket-hilt on display. Nathan and I both considered this sword to be quite nice for an early attempt. While it did feature a few rough edges in its finish, the sword exhibited excellent handling qualities for a light basket-hilt. The most impressive thing about Michael McRae wasn't his work but rather his attitude. While examining the sword, we commented that it probably wasn't for sale, since Michael had made it for himself. He responded "Sure it's for sale. Heck, it's just a sword. It's not one of my kids!" In an industry that typically produces both manufacturers and customers who take themselves far too seriously, Michael's demeanor was a real breath of fresh air.
One of my personal high points during the Show was finally getting to meet Vince Evans and his wife Grace. I'm the proud owner of two Evans pieces and have admired their skill for quite some time. Vince is quite possibly one of the most versatile smiths in the entire industry. His body of work features edged weapons from more time periods and cultures than anyone else I have ever met. Few makers can capture the historic and aesthetic look that Vince achieves in his weapons, and the mechanics of their construction are typically excellent as well. One of Vince's specialties is the Scottish dirk and anyone desiring one of these knives will find none better. Grace Evans is skilled in her own right and carves the dirk hilts herself. The next time you admire the detail work on an Evans dirk, remember it's a team effort.
My favorite piece of the entire Blade Show was a pattern-welded Anglo-Saxon sword made by Vince. This sword featured a beautiful and accurately constructed pattern-welded blade. The hilt was also equally impressive, being fashioned from blued steel and a bone grip as well as silver accents and inlay. The sword's scabbard featured excellent silver mountings and repose work on its leather covering. All of this decoration was flawlessly executed in geometric designs that are accurate for the Anglo-Saxon culture. Apparently I wasn't the only one impressed with this sword because Vince won Best Sword of the 2005 Blade Show with it. It's nice to see one of the most skilled sword smiths in the entire industry get the recognition he deserves. In a venue that is dominated by knife makers and those knowledgeable in their construction alone, the judging of a sword's quality is often a foggy proposition. Perhaps this is a positive sign that our collective attempts at education are having a positive effect.
During my early years of collecting I did most of my business with a collector and importer named Eiler Cook. At that time Mr. Cook was importing replica arms made by Mr. Oscar Kolombatovich, an American living and working in Spain. During the eighties and early nineties these were some of the few high-quality replicas (for the time) that were available on the American market. My very first functional sword was a Kolombatovich piece that I purchased from Mr. Cook, but I had long since lost track of him through the years. Consequently, it was an interesting experience to finally meet him face-to-face at the Blade Show after twenty years. Mr. Cook is getting out of the edged weapons field and was selling off his personal collection. I wound up buying a nice Norwegian Pukko knife from him. Somehow this transaction made me feel as if I was coming full circle in my personal collecting journey.
The collecting of "stuff" alone can only sustain a person for so long. If one does not have personal interaction with people of like mind the passion you may feel for something cannot last. The real value of an event like The Blade Show doesn't come from admiring sharp and shiny things. Instead it lies in the friendships that are sustained and the relationships that are formed because of that interaction. For this reason alone the 2005 Blade Show was worth the price of admission.
About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.
Additional photos can be viewed in our Atlanta Blade Show 2005 Photo Album.
Photographers: Nathan Robinson, Patrick Kelly, Chad Arnow, Aaron Schnatterly