Lutel Customized 13001 Early 16th Century Katzbalger
A hands-on review by Björn Hellqvist
The Katzbalger was the sword of choice among the German Landsknecht mercenaries when it came to close-quarter combat. The distinct looks, with the rather short, broad blade, "S"-shaped guard and flaring grip, make it instantly recognizable. There's a common myth that the name is derived from the use of cat skin for the scabbards, and that the name means "cat-gutter". Actually, the name is a combination of the German words Katze (cat) and balgen (to brawl), referring to the vicious close-quarter fighting where the Katzbalger excelled. I had wanted a Katzbalger for a long time, and given that there are few production swords of that type about, I picked one of Lutel's offerings.
Lutel, based in Opava in the Czech Republic, is a small company run by former reenactment/stage combat fighters, and one of the foremost European makers of stout, affordable swords. I had ordered from them before, and knew that the service is reliable. The delivery time was little more than three months from the day the order was placed and the payment made. Thanks to a constantly updated list on Lutel's Web site, the customer is able to track the progress of his order. Everything went smooth, and the sword arrived packed in a stout cardboard box and cutout Styrofoam.
There aren't that many surviving Katzbalgers, and quite a few fakes around, but the sword looks quite a bit like a Katzbalger kept in the Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin. The style is typical of the Katzbalgers made in Southern Germany in the first quarter of the 16th century.
The reviewed sword differs from the standard 13001 by having the guard of the Lutel 13002 Katzbalger, so instead of the "S"-shaped guard with spherical finials, it has a closed figure-8 shaped guard. I wanted the twisted bars of the 13002, but failed to notice that it wasn't "S"-shapedmy mistake. The figure-8 guards are less common, but can be found on a few surviving specimens. I don't think the different guard affects the statistics below in any significant way.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Lutel of the Czech Republic.
The sword was ordered sharp, and will need just a light honing to become really sharp. The blade sports three narrow, blackened fullers, plus an additional two short fullers at the base of the blade. The point is almost square, which appears to have been common among Katzbalgers, and makes me think of executioners' swords. I've filed it to a more spatulate shape.
The heavy, sculpted pommel and figure-8 guard are made of steel, apparently cast and finished by hand. The grip is black-dyed hardwood (perhaps oak), perfectly scored to match the scores in the pommel, and providing a comfortable grip.
The sword comes with a black heavy leather scabbard, well made and with a rather elaborate steel chape (end piece). The simple suspension is rather authentic, as far as I can tell, and made for horizontal carry, just as in many contemporary illustrations. The belt on my scabbard was let down by a modern buckle, which I replaced.
It handles well when used with one hand, but is a bit on the sluggish side. It doesn't feel like a close quarters weapon, if you know what I mean. I guess that a hollow pommel and slightly smaller guard, combined with a shorter blade, would lessen the weight and actually improve the handling. I tried a few swings at water-filled plastic bottles, but it failed to make an impression (but so did an older Angus Trim swordwith a few exceptionsused at the same occasion; probably an edge profile thing).
Fit and Finish
The fit and finish is good with no rattling or gaps or any noticeable grind marks. The quality of the hilt is high, considering the moderate price. Lutel swords come with welded, threaded tangs, but unlike those of inferior brands, Lutel makes a very stout and reliable tang. On other Lutel swords, I've seen that the threads are about 0.35" (9mm) in diameter; well above the maximum requirements. I'm not sure how the Katzbalger's pommel is attached, as it refuses to turn when twisted. The whole assembly feels very reliable.
As with many Lutel weaponsat least to a jaded eye accustomed to custom and antique swordsthe looks are almost but not quite authentic. I know I'm picky, but as with many reproduction swords, there's this "modern" feel that makes it feel like a reproduction, not an original. This isn't an issue for a great many sword enthusiasts, but only a "problem" for those of us fortunate to have handled 500 year old originals.
I will order from Lutel again. Their products are well made and reliable, as is their service. The overall quality is on par with Del Tin Armi Antiche, and when it comes to the hilt, it is even better. The scabbard is a nice touch; not the cheap junk thrown in as an afterthought when one buys less expensive swords, but something that compliments the weapon perfectly. Despite all this, I have a rather unsentimental attitude to my collection, and I considered selling my Katzbalger for a while. But it has grown on me, and now it's a keeper. Well done, Lutel!
About the Author
Björn Hellqvist is a Swedish optometrist with an interest in historical European swords.
Photographer: Björn Hellqvist