Del Tin 5149 14th Century Sword
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly, with contributions by Russ Ellis
During the 14th century, new sword designs began to appear on the battlefields of medieval Europe, necessitated by improvements in body armour. Additional plate defenses began to be incorporated into the mail armour that had for centuries served as the standard. As a result, swords that featured broad and flat cutting surfaces began to lose their effectiveness. While these sword types were capable of delivering powerful shearing blows they proved to be less than optimal against this improving type of armour. The thrust was shown to be much more effective against these emerging plate and reinforced mail defenses, and sword design once again began to evolve to meet the needs of the day.
New designs began to appear that featured a blade that was much more acutely tapered than the older types. Blades also began to feature strong hexagonal and diamond cross-sections rather than the flat lenticular ones of previous designs. The result was a sword with a blade that was far more rigid and with a much more acute point. In his well-known typology of the medieval sword, Ewart Oakeshott designated one of these designs as the Type XVIa. This type was far more capable in the thrust, yet still retained a great deal of cutting capability.
The Type XVIa is a subtype of Type XVI, according to Oakeshott's classification. The Type XVI is part of Oakeshott's "Group II," comprised of swords which were designed to defeat plate armour and possessed strong thrusting abilities. It is generally believed that Type XVI was developed because of the increasing prevalence of reinforced-mail on the battlefields of the 14th century. The Type XVIa is distinguished from the XVI primarily by its longer grip and blade length as well as a blade that is hexagonal in cross-section rather than diamond-shaped.
Since the 1960s Del Tin Armi Antiche has been creating affordable replica arms for the re-enacting and collecting community. Today the company operates under the ownership and guidance of Fulvio Del Tin in Maniago, Italy. In the early 1980s Del Tin swords began to be imported into the United States. Since that time the company's product has been very popular with American sword lovers, many of whom consider Del Tin swords to be the baseline for quality in a functional replica.
The sword that is the subject of this review is a particularly complex example of the type. It is designated by Del Tin as the DT5149. Mr. Del Tin could not remember where he had seen the original but believed that it was probably in The Royal Armouries, Leeds, something which was confirmed by pictorial evidence. Mr. Del Tin first produced this sword around 1990, and has recently returned it to production. This particular sword has a complex cross-section consisting of a well-defined central fuller running approximately one-third of the blade's length. On either side of the central fuller are two additional fullers that are deeply hollow-ground and run the entire length of the blade. This rather unusual blade geometry leads to the creation of a replica of rather striking appearance.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy.
The weakest part of the sword's handling lies in its point control. It does a fair amount of wandering during the thrust and does not follow the point as well as it should. This is a disappointing feature since swords of this type should have more thrusting ability. While the sword's distribution of mass provides for a fairly lively feel, it also results in a lesser sense of point control than one would expect to find in a sword of this type.
The DT5149's blade, which is .192 inches thick, also exhibits a bit too much flexibility for a sword that is intended for hard thrusting. The thickness of the blade's thinner-than-optimal stock material is the obvious culprit in this issue. The effect of a deeply hollow-ground surface is very attractive and visually striking, however, a great deal of material is removed in the stock removal process. Consequently, if this design is to be accurately executed, thicker steel stock must be used in order to maintain the proper rigidity and distribution of mass. This has not been done in the case of the DT5149. The result is a visually pleasing sword that lacks some of the fundamental requirements of its design.
The sword's primary node of vibration seems to be placed a bit farther back into the grip than is optimal. This causes the sword to vibrate excessively during the cut. A slight shifting of the sword's components was felt within the hilt during dynamic handling maneuvers. In spite of the components remaining tight there seemed to be a shifting of the blade's tang within the grip, just below the guard, during these activities.
Fit and Finish
The DT5149's guard and pommel have been investment cast from mild steel. These components are rather plain and lack significant detailing. This is actually an interesting aesthetic choice as the visual focus is then focused on the blade's nice fullering. These fittings also feature the same slightly soft appearance common in Del Tin swords. They are not as crisp as those found on more expensive swords, yet they effect is pleasing to the eye in this case and is perfectly acceptable at this price point.
The sword's grip has been tightly wound with two-strand twisted mild steel wire. The wire is tightly and evenly bound and no shifting was felt during handling. The wire has also been slightly flattened on its exterior. The result is a gripping surface that is attractive and secure, yet is not overly abrasive to the hand. The blade's tang has been peened over the top of the pommel using the cold-peening method. This is obvious because of numerous small peening marks around the top of the pommel.
The DT5149 is one of the most visually pleasing swords in the Del Tin product line. The blade's complex fullering gives the sword a distinctive appearance. The blade actually has a more striking appearance than one would expect to find in a sword being sold at this price point. The sword's rather utilitarian hilt components do not detract from this effect, but instead contribute to it by placing the visual emphasis on the blade. While the sword's appearance may be a pleasant surprise, its handling qualities are not. In this regard, the sword is a bit of a disappointment. This really can't be seen as a fault of the sword or its maker, however.
As with all Del Tin swords, the DT5149 is full of compromises in its design and manufacture. Del Tin swords are made to appeal to a wide audience, from collectors to stage combatants and historic re-enactors. Consequently, due to issues of safety and affordability, compromises are made in terms of design and construction. The disappointment lies in the fact that the DT5149 comes close to being a very nice sword in terms of handling. The compromises necessary in its manufacture keep it from reaching its full potential. Unfortunately, the fine points of construction needed to reach that potential would increase the sword's cost to the point where it may be out of reach of those in Del Tin's primary market.
In the end, while the DT5149 is a bit of a disappointment, it should not be judged as a failure. Del Tin Armi Antiche has achieved a level of aesthetic detail and function in the DT5149 that is very acceptable for this price range. The DT5149 is an attractive sword that would look right at home in the hand of a living historian and would also give acceptable service to the casual practitioner.
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.
Photographer: Patrick Kelly