Darkwood Armory English Rapier
A hands-on review by Geoff Freeman

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The period from about 1560-1640, to date casually, was a period of rich development in politics, the arts, warfare, and personal honor. If a gentleman felt insulted or suffered reproach from a peer, he was obliged—if he were to keep his status as a man of honor—to engage his social adversary in armed combat. These duels were illegal, condemned by royalty and the Church, and conducted privately. Neither winner nor loser was necessarily decided by the encounter, but by challenging his accuser, the reproached gentleman showed that he was willing and often able to fight for his honor. The weapon of choice for this period was most often the rapier.

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Antique Sword Serving as Inspiration

The rapier was popular all over Europe. Spain, in particular, developed its own unique school of rapier combat, La Verdadera Destreza, "The Art and the Way of Swordsmanship." The weapon's romantic appeal is undeniable, idolized in the works of many, particularly Alexandre Dumas. Dumas' most famous work, The Three Musketeers, begins in the year 1625. It is this time frame that appealed to me when I was searching for pictures of authentic pieces on which to base my custom rapier from Darkwood Armory, a well-known sword-making business in both the western martial arts (WMA) and the SCA communities. Darkwood's primary business is in rapiers, but they also do basket-hilts, smallswords, and 19th century dueling sabers.

After discussing with Darkwood about a custom project, I emailed the maker, Scott Wilson, a picture I had in mind, we agreed on a price point, and the wait began. Communication was done primarily through email, though more because it is my preferred method of communication than Darkwood's. Still, all emails were answered in a timely manner.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:2 pounds, 10 ounces
Overall length:45 1/2 inches
Blade length:39 3/4 inches
Blade width:1/2 inch at base
Grip and pommel length:5 3/4 inches
Guard width:10 inches
Point of Balance:4 1/4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~27 1/2 inches from guard

Hilt created by Darkwood Armory, blade by Del Tin Armi Antiche.

Handling Characteristics
This rapier is not what I would call a lightweight. I don't say that because of the weight, necessarily, but rather because the weapon is just very solid. In my limited WMA rapier experience, I have found this rapier to be quite sturdy in keeping the point in-line following a beat or parry. The control allowed by the balance point allows the point to fall in place like the extension of a four-foot steel finger. I have noticed the slightest amount of difference in handling, however, with the addition of a rubber blunt attached to the point. I would not call this difference in handling a problem, however: just a difference. The point falls into place better, I think, with the blunt attached. This rapier, while not a lightweight, has no trouble moving from one guard to another. The only trouble I've encountered is when you try to use it too much like a foil or an épée and put too much emphasis on using the wrist to control the sword, rather than the arm.

Fit and Finish
Because I wanted this rapier to be used in WMA drilling and a small community renaissance faire of which I am a part, I had asked Scott to add some extra details into the hilt to be "showy" but still functional. Scott had told me early on in the project that he didn't want to create an exact copy of the original rapier. The original, which neither he nor I had ever seen in person, appears to have a floral motif in the fore of the guard where the blade passes through the hilt. I told Scott that I wanted him to put whatever details he wanted into the design; let the artist to the painting, so to speak. The design that Scott came up with was a series of interlaced circles. The engraving done to the hilt to make the circles appear to be interlaced was actually done by Scott's wife, Lesley. There are some other differences in my rapier and the original, mainly having to do with keeping the actual crafting the hilt affordable. In the original, the ends of the cross-guard and at joinings along the hilt appear to be swelled into orbs and joined. Scott opted to swell these joinings, but not to round them. This gives them a "flattened" look, but does not in my opinion detract from the overall beauty of the sword.

The grip was a big surprise to me, as I had really only asked for a simple wire-wrapped grip. But Scott told me that he was going to make the grip with a carved chevron-esgue pattern with a wire-wrap because he felt that a simple wire-wrap would look "off" with a very detailed guard. The grip feels very comfortable in the hand, and when wearing a glove, feels "locked" in place.

The pommel was made slightly undersized compared to the original's. With the extra thickness of the hilt components, Scott told me he didn't want the pommel to add any extra weight which might impede this rapier's excellent balance.

I should also mention that a dagger was made en suite to the rapier, using a matching guard, grip, and pommel pattern.

When I opened the box, my jaw simply fell open. I had had some last-minute worries that this sword was not going to live up to expectations (I think these worries had more to do with this being my first custom project than with any doubt in Scott's skill). Naturally, my worries were totally unfounded. Scott obviously knows what he is doing with regards to balance and steel-craft. I have used this sword several times in drilling and limited free-play, and have not been once disappointed in its performance. This is not limited to my Darkwood Armory rapier alone, as a fellow rapierist I practice with on occasion also uses a Darkwood, and its balance is just as outstanding as mine. In conclusion, if a practitioner desires a rapier that is functional and aesthetically pleasing yet still affordable a Darkwood sword should be given serious consideration.

About the Author
Geoff Freeman is a student at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and has been interested in swords and the cultures that used them since he began fencing in high school. His area of interest runs the gamut from the age of Rome to the Napoleonic Era, leaning heaviest on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Photographer: Geoff Freeman

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