Event Report: The Atlanta Blade Show 2005
An article by Patrick Kelly

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The Lobby

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Harlan Hastings, Patrick Kelly, Mike Sigman, Nathan Robinson

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Aaron Schnatterly with Harlan Hastings

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CAS Iberia / Hanwei

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Hanwei Rapiers

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Atlanta Cutlery

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David Knutzen,
Death Dealer

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Gathering at Albion

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Angus Trim Little
Tigress katana

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Patrick Kelly, Aaron Schnatterly, Chad Arnow

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Kevin Cashen Bowie

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McRae Basket-hilt

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McRae ivory-hilted dirk

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Vince Evans dirks

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Anglo-Saxon sword hilt by Vince Evans

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Albion Sovereign

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Tinker toys

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Hanwei rapier

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Cold Steel katana




Every year one of the largest edged weapons conventions is held in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Appropriately called "The Blade Show," this exposition is one of the largest of its kind in North America. Hosted by the Cobb Galleria Convention Center, this venue allows makers from all over the world to display their wares. The event is not only an opportunity for buying and selling, numerous seminars and lectures that cover the history and techniques of blade smithing are held throughout the show's three-day run.

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.


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European Swords by CAS Iberia

On display were the company's now-familiar version of the sword purported to have once been that of King Edward III of England as well as two new rapier models and accompanying parrying daggers. The Edward III sword had some very nice features for a sword in its price range. While it exhibited an almost complete lack of dynamic handling qualities, the sword did seem solidly constructed, and the detailing of its hilt was quite crisp. The Hanwei Rapiers were also a pleasant surprise. While both of the models presented were mounted with blades that seemed a bit too whippy and short for the type, their hilts featured some nice detailing and workmanship. We were all quite pleased with these two swords and their companion daggers. The general team consensus was that these new products offer a lot of value for the price: slightly over $200 for the rapiers, and just over $100 for the daggers. Several of the new Hanwei Bowie knives were displayed. These also featured a good ratio of cost to quality.

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.

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Harlan and Mike from Albion Armorers

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A rack full of
Albion swords

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Mike Sigman, the
voice of Albion

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David Stokes, Tamara, and the Little Tigress


The sales team from Albion Armorers was in attendance with a large selection of the company's wares. The hugely successful Next Generation line was well represented with many of the models on display, as well as the swords from the Museum Line. Other more eclectic items like Albion's Death Dealer helm and the famous Conan Swords garnered their own share of attention. The first sword in Albion's Hallmark Line, the sword of Svante Nilsson Sture, is now in production, and this one got quite a bit of attention from nearly everyone who stopped at the table. One of the most interesting things for me personally was observing the reaction of many of the show attendees when they first picked up an Albion sword. Many of these people are not only knife makers but also noted figures from other production companies. All of the printed words in the world cannot take the place of one tangible experience, and it was very pleasing to see the light of realization come on in many faces when they handled a quality European sword replica for the first time. I also took the opportunity to inform Albion's Mike Sigman of the trouble he got me into by keeping me out until 4:00am. The sainted Mrs. Kelly is far too understanding, but she does wield an iron rod!

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.

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Kevin Cashen and
Rick Barrett



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Michael McRae



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Vince and Grace Evans

Rick Barrett, Bladesmith was in attendance with several katana blades in various stages of finish. Rick also had an extremely nice sword on display that was very crisp in its detail and which possessed an outstanding aesthetic appeal. In short, it was a typical Barrett piece. Every time I meet Rick I can't help but wonder why he isn't commonly placed in the same rare category as Howard Clark and Michael Bell. Rick may not be an undiscovered treasure but in many circles he is certainly an unheralded one. Rick Barrett's skill is equal to any maker in the custom field and I for one would be proud to own an example of his work.

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.

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John Clements
In spite of the plethora of products on display, shopping opportunities weren't the real benefit of attending the Blade Show this year. We were able to meet figures in the community with whom we had previously only had correspondence. There are so many pitfalls in trying to interact with people in this electronic medium. Having the ability to meet face to face, if only for a few minutes, is an opportunity that cannot be overvalued. One of the individuals we ran into early on happened to be John Clements, director of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA). John is one of the people responsible for really forcing western martial arts (WMA) into the modern consciousness. At times John has been seen as controversial and perhaps even confrontational by other members of the WMA community. We found John to be energetic and highly dedicated to his craft, and I would have liked the opportunity to speak with him at greater length. None of life's endeavors are started by people who are meek and soft-spoken. While John Clements is certainly neither of those things, he is passionate and dedicated, and for that we are all indebted to his efforts.

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.

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Mike, Harlan, Patrick, Chad, and Aaron
On Saturday afternoon we rendezvoused at the Albion booth with the other myArmoury.com members who were in attendance. It was wonderful to finally meet people like Russ Ellis, Bill Duncan, Patrick Jones, David Stokes and others. Not to mention the pleasure of meeting relative newcomers to the community like Aaron Schnatterly. People who had only been computer avatars for years are now personal acquaintances. Many of us spent the evenings after the doors closed at Jocks & Jills, a Sports Bar attached to the Cobb Galleria. We found ourselves discussing swords, armor, Chad Arnow's Wookie impression, why I'm called "Trooper Love," and life in general. After all this time I'm still amazed at how something as arcane as a sword can draw together so many disparate people from far different walks of life, and allow them to meet as old friends. One of the reasons for this year's trip to Atlanta was to visit our daughter and her husband who now live in Georgia. The kids came down on Saturday and had dinner with all of us. After dinner I asked my daughter what she thought of my "crew". She gave me a thumb's up and said "They're a bit quirky, just like you." I don't think I could have put it any better.

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 Information
Additional photos can be viewed in our Atlanta Blade Show 2005 Photo Album.

Acknowledgements
Photographers: Nathan Robinson, Patrick Kelly, Chad Arnow, Aaron Schnatterly

 














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