Darkwood Armory Teardrop Pappenheimer Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
The martial arts of Europe have a long history of constant change and evolution. Weapons and methods of use changed to fit the situation, whether for the field of battle or for the personal duel. At the time of the Renaissance, personal dueling rose to a new height, and the weapon of choice for many duelists was the rapier.
Today many fencers are attempting to recreate the martial arts of Renaissance Europe. The Rapier is amongst the most popular weapons being used today, just as they were during the Renaissance period. Rapier techniques, however, were not developed with later period fencing weapons in mind, such as the foil, and therefore in order to fence with the rapier accurately, one must have a fencing sword that handles like an accurate rapier.
Darkwood Armory, run by Scott and Lesley Wilson, is best known for producing affordable and durable rapier hilts fitted to fencing rapier blades manufactured by Del Tin Armi Antiche. Darkwood's major selling point is the ability to make basically any style of rapier hilt you want for a reasonable price. While their fame comes from the Del Tin blades, Darkwood also makes hilts for other types of blades, including those made by Angus Trim, Hanwei, and recently blades of their own making. The blade fitted to this particular review piece is a Del Tin bated blade, which is an unsharpened blade that is slightly stiffer than the Del Tin practice blade but still suitable for use with a partner.
A.V.B. Norman, in his book The Rapier and Small-Sword: 1460-1820, developed a classification that traces the evolution of the rapier hilt. This Pappenheimer falls under A.V.B. Norman's classification of hilt 67, dating between 1620 to the 1640s. Darkwood refers to this as a "teardrop plate" Pappenheimer. It should be noted that the term "Pappenheimer" is not a period term. Modern scholars have coined the termed because this type is thought to have been used by the cavalry of Gottfried Heinrich, Graf Pappenheim, the Imperial general of the Thirty Years War.
Measurements and Specifications:
Hilt created by Darkwood Armory, blade by Del Tin Armi Antiche.
This rapier is quite a joy to handle. It is fast and responsive while still maintaining the weight and feel of a period piece. The balance is close enough to the hand to make tip control quite good, but not so close as to make actions sloppy.
This particular style of hilt also provides near-perfect hand protection against oncoming thrusts, though it does make the sword a little bit heavier. Even with the small addition of weight, though, the sword handles quite nicely.
The type of blade used is the Del Tin bated rapier blade. This type of blade is slightly heavier and stiffer than the Del Tin practice blade, though it is still very flexible for use in fencing. I own multiple rapier simulators, including Darkwood rapiers fitted with the more flexible Del Tin practice blade, and I bought this stiffer blade out of curiosity. I had found that the practice blades were quite safe for use and were not much more "whippy" than many period blades. The thought of a stiffer blade for fencing made me a little bit leery. My concerns went out the window when the blade arrived. It is quite suitable for fencing, providing control is considered the primary tool, and has the extra bit of heft that many period rapiers have.
The practice rapier is by no means inferior, but I do happen to prefer this bated blade based on feel. The practice blades have a small degree of wobbliness, which overall is not enough to affect technique, but the bated blades have even less while still retaining safety.
While I have only used this rapier for a short few months so far, I should note that I have used another Darkwood Armory rapier for about three years now, and it has been used and abused, both in fencing and by my rather lax concept of caring for my equipment. The hilt has held together quite strongly and is still using its original Del Tin practice blade. While that sword shows its mileage, it still has plenty of use left in it.
Fit and Finish
I have handled a number of Darkwood swords over the years, and the hilts keep improving in fit and finish. The standard line of rapier hilts tend to be a little rough around the welds in order to keep the cost down. Scott Wilson is capable of making very beautiful hilts, but this comes at an increase of cost.
Despite the fact that this rapier is part of the standard line, it is surprisingly quite nice. The welds can be seen on the inside of the guard, but are not excessively obvious. The bars are well formed and the ends of the quillons are even decorated with a slightly trefoil-esque shape to them. The bars do not have the subtle shaping of many original pieces, but it would be unfair to equate the sword to a high-end piece. At a base price of $330 US you really get a very nice rapier.
The wire-wrapped guard is of decent quality. It is tight and functional, but there are a few spots where the wood can be seen underneath. The Turk's head knots at the ends are slightly uneven as well. Once again, though, given the price, I would consider the workmanship quite acceptable. Whether Darkwood is able to produce higher quality wire wraps for a higher price, I do not know for certain, but having seen some excellent work done by them, I have reason to believe so.
Darkwood Armory is an often overlooked maker in the custom world. They primarily cater to the rapier fencer and provide an excellent fencing sword for a great price to quality ratio. As stated earlier, they are able to produce higher quality fittings and not just to fencing swords. Whether looking for a blade for using in crossing steel with other practitioners, a blade for stage combat, or even a sharpened sword, Darkwood is able to accommodate a number of price options while maintaining a quality product that is intended for use.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Nathan Robinson