A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Jody Samson Boarding Cutlass
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
The realm of fantasy has a history as long as the human race itself. The Assyrians told great legends of the King Gilgamesh, Homer told the heroic feats of Odysseus, Chrétien de Troy passed down the tales of the Arthurian legends. There is no culture from any time period that did not develop tales of the fantastic, and so it is no surprise that even today stories of fantasy are still prized and cherished.
Central to the fantasy genre is the concept of the hero: sometimes dashing, sometimes uncouth, sometimes valiant, and at other times unwilling. Regardless of what form the hero takes, a recurring characteristic of the hero is the warrior trait. We often want our hero to be someone who battles all odds to win, and it is no wonder then that the sword plays such a central aspect in our fantasy tales. For many the idea of owning a sword like our mythical heroes can mean a great deal, and thus the area of fantasy swords shares a strong place in the world of collecting arms and armour.
Jody Samson is an artist-turned-sword maker who has been crafting fantasy knives and swords full time since 1974. He is best known for his work in making the Conan weapons, and is currently residing in New Glarus, Wisconsin working alongside Albion Armorers.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Jody Samson of Wisconsin.
When reviewing a sword of a given type one usually needs to put that weapon in the context in which it was historically designed. This criteria proves impossible, however, when reviewing a fantasy piece such as this Boarding Cutlass, since it is born out of the realm of imagination rather than history. That said, most fantasy has some sort of basis on reality in order for people to relate to it, and fantasy swords have a tendency to follow certain realistic principles. Because of this, I will be reviewing this cutlass assuming it to be designed under same principles of the types of seaward weapons used in history, and comparing it to such weapons.
The first impression I had when picking this sword up was that it is very heavy. This largely has to do with the thick stock used in making the blade, which is 1/4 inch thick at the base. When in motion, the sword seems less heavy, as the balance lends the sword a feeling of wanting to do the cutting for you. The balance favors a good degree of blade presence that is common with historical cutlasses and sabers. In fact I once owned an antique Dutch klewang that shared a very similar balance to this cutlass. The Dutch klewang was a type of naval cutlass that used a design common throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, so in this regard the sword does capture the right feel of the type of weapon it is emulating. Despite the good balance though, the weight is a strong deterrence for speed, particularly for a one-handed sword.
A common counterattack in saber and cutlass-like weapons is what is commonly referred to as a stop cut. An example of this would be where my opponent lifted his arm up to cut down at me, and I make a quick slash at the underside of the exposed arm while it was still in preparation to make its cut. This sword is simply too slow to make an effective wound in such an attack, as these quick slices involve primarily the wrist to perform, and thereby removing a very effective method of fencing from one's repertoire.
The grip of the sword is very strange. It is canted, which was a common thing to see on many later cutlasses and sabers. The cant allows for the thumb to be placed on the rear of the grip near the guard, and the blade can be snapped forward with a quick motion of the fingers. Jody Samson seems to have his own variant of the cant, which is seen on other cutlasses that he has made. It is too bulky to allow the type of thumb-on-the-back grip utilized in historic weapons, but when held below the bend of the handle in a more ham-fisted grip I found that I could make good cuts with the wrist. This is not quite the way one would do so with a historic blade, but it seems to work well nonetheless, once you get used to it.
While thrusting is not out of the question with this weapon, the balance clearly favors the cut. Thrusts feel awkward. One method of thrusting with such weapons is to thrust with the edge facing downwards and to squeeze the canted grip, causing the tip to rise. To facilitate such a thrust, the spine of the blade should have some sort of false edge, even if not sharpened, which this cutlass does not have. Consequently one's thrust needs to be spot on with the thick tip for it to be effective.
Fit and Finish
This cutlass seems to appeal greatly to a wide audience in terms of aesthetics. I brought it into my fencing academy, and only the historical swordsmanship practitioners thought it looked a little odd. Everyone else loved it, and thought it was one of the nicer swords I've ever brought in. This shows that it captures a certain element that appeals to the broader collective consciousness, which is a mark of a good artist.
The guard was cast using the lost wax method, and is well shaped. The bluing on the guard is excellent, giving a deep lustrous black. The coloring is not perfectly even, which works well for giving this the appearance of a weapon made for a rugged sea-faring warrior who's weapon sees the corrosive salt water winds every day.
The grip tightly spiral wrapped with ostrich leather. This gives a textured non-slip hold on the grip, and also adds to the rugged sea-warrior look.
The blade is beautifully executed. There are no ripples from grinding, and the bevels look precise and flawless. The single edge is hollow-ground, terminating in a secondary bevel. This allows the blade to lose some of its weight, but also keeps a sturdy edge that will not dull too quickly.
It's hard to say what makes a weapon designed for a fantasy world "good". Since they are based on swords, though, the only criteria we have then is left from historical examples. In this regard, this cutlass is adequate in function, but not necessarily ideal, and the primary reason is the weight. On the other hand, though, is the fact that the sword does clearly appeal to many people as a weapon that riles the imagination. Let's face it, even the collecting of historical weapons is still based on a sense of fantasy, and here Jody Samson seems to excel in being able to capture a certain essence that many makers do not. In this regard Samson's skill is quite a testament to his vision as an artist.
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.
Special thanks to Lance Higgins for loaning out this sword for review.
Photographer: Bill Grandy