Custom Lutel 15th Century Longsword
A hands-on review by Jeff Hsieh with comments by Chad Arnow
Europe in the year 1500 AD was a hotbed of social and military innovation. Battles of the early Renaissance would have been fought with an astonishing variety of swords, polearms, missiles, and gunpowder weapons. Knightly plate armour was at its peak, but a wide array of lesser armour was worn by poorer knights, mounted men-at-arms, professional infantrymen, archers, crossbowmen and handgunners. In such a varied combat environment, a war sword which could effectively fight against opponents wearing multiple types of armour and wielding disparate weapons was a necessity. It is certainly no coincidence that the Oakeshott Type XVIIIc family of swords falls right into this time period. These swords are categorized as having long grips and long, rigid blades of diamond cross-section. A soldier armed with such a weapon could deliver vicious cuts, jarring blows, and piercing thrusts with equal ease.
This weapon was made by Lutel, a swordmaking company based in the Czech Republic. Over the last 15 years, they have built a reputation for crafting European reenactment swords which are attractive, affordable, and durable. According to them, this sword is of a style common to early 16th century Germany. While Lutel has an extensive lineup of models, the example reviewed here is a one-off custom weapon.
The ordering process was a bit problematic, due to the language barrier. At one point, a misunderstanding in the amount due for payment delayed the sword's arrival for several weeks. To their credit, Lutel's customer service does answer e-mails in a fairly timely fashion. The sword arrived in a large cardboard box, tightly wedged with multiple foam panels on the inside. It would be very difficult for any postal service to accidentally damage the sword.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Lutel of the Czech Republic.
At just over four pounds, this sword is heavy for its size. That said, it is not as ponderous as its weight and forward point of balance might suggest. The drastically waisted handle provides an excellent gripping surface, which contributes greatly to the sword's maneuverability. In a two-handed grip, the sword transitions smoothly from guard to guard (in the Liechtenauer tradition), and the point naturally stays online when shifting from ochs to pflug and vice versa. However, it would take a much stronger man than me to use this weapon one-handed for any extended amount of time. Considering that Lutel calls this an equestrian sword, I would consider the extra weight to be a weakness in the sword’s design.The sword's broad point is not ideal for thrusting, but it should serve well against unarmoured enemies. Point control is sluggish, but once you have the blade pointed in the right direction it tracks fairly well in the thrust. I would have preferred more emphasis on thrusting, since this sword type would have faced heavily armoured opponents in its period.
It is capable of powerful strikes with the long edge, but quick rotating actions like the zwerchhau and krumphau are difficult to accomplish. Mainly, this sword just wants to hit. It exudes a rock-solid feeling, as if you could use it to smash through an armoured melee.
Jatel Zdenek of Lutel tells me that this sword took second place in cutting in a Republic-wide competition for sword makers, and I am inclined to believe him. In my unskilled hands it produced clean, effortless cuts through its heavy cardboard-and-foam shipping box, soaked newspaper rolls, and thick-walled plastic jugs. I felt no discernable shock to my hands and I am confident that harder targets would also present no problem for this blade.
Fellow collector Chad Arnow had the chance to cut with it and made the following observations: "As the stats above indicate, this sword is no lightweight. Based on those stats, I didn't feel it would perform very well. In yet another piece of evidence in the case against stats telling the whole story, this sword did better than I expected. The considerable weight, aided by muscle and gravity, causes the sword to achieve a decent, but not spectacular, speed in overhand cuts. The speed was enough to make the sword relatively effective against foam pool noodles, which require a sword to be up to speed, lest you simply bat the noodle around. Against these light targets, I was usually able to get decent cuts (again, though not spectacular). Underhand cuts were less easy and effective and the weight tired me out more quickly than usual. Cuts were easy to land, but not with the precision I would have preferred.
"Gripping the sword with two hands is really the only option for this sword. Thrusting was not easy for me. The weight of the sword, combined with its point of balance, makes it difficult to control the point. I think this sword could benefit from more distal taper and more careful mass distribution overall. The blade is .23" thick at its base, and maintains that thickness for over half its length. By 2/3 of the way down the blade (traveling from hilt to tip), the blade had only tapered to .22" or so. Within an inch or two of the tip, it was still .18" thick. Its diamond cross-section is quite stout. Managing distal taper better and using more careful mass-distribution would remove some weight and would pull the Point of Balance back toward the hilt, things that would likely make this sword feel livelier and be more precise."
Fit and Finish
The blade finish is a bit brighter and glossier than satin; I can see a blurry reflection of my face in the blade. The cross-section blends cleanly into a good sword edge, with no visible secondary bevel. It is not sharp enough to slice paper perhaps, but sharp enough to make me uneasy about gripping the blade. The tip is slightly asymmetrical and there is a very slight lateral bend in the blade about two-thirds of the way up. Minor scratches are visible here and there along the edge, as well as a small dark blemish halfway up the blade which sandpaper and steel wool could not remove.
The free scabbard and sword belt are sturdy and well-crafted, not cheap throwaway inclusions. The scabbard is stiff leather with a simple steel chape and locket. It holds the blade securely, even when held upside down, but the tip rattles around a bit. The belt is a three-point suspension, allowing adjustment by means of four brass buckles. It feels quite stable when worn.
Chad had these thoughts on the sword's fit and finish, saying, "This sword is quite attractive. The hilt components are cleanly made and well-shaped, being well-defined without looking overly modern. The blade is nicely finished and its center ridge was nice and straight. There is a short flattened triangular area at the blade's base, though, that looks anachronistic compared to the rest of the sword. It was nice to see a good-fitting, attractive free scabbard. While its lack of a wooden core wouldn't pass muster for those with strict historical standards, it would serve well for most other uses."
I feel I got my money's worth on this sword, and then some. Aesthetically, I can't think of anything I would want to change, minor manufacturing imperfections aside. The blade and the hilt components are well matched and produce a visually graceful weapon. The handling of the sword has really grown on me as well. At first I wished for a sword that was a bit lighter and faster, but the more I work with it the more I appreciate the comforting feeling of four pounds of sharp steel in my hands. I wouldn't want to use it for its intended purpose of horseback combat, but for two-handed fighting on foot this weapon is a decent choice. Based on this purchase, I would not hesitate to send more business Lutel's way in the future.
About the Author
Jeff Hsieh is a mild-mannered Purdue business school student by day and a 13th century Hospitaller by night. His first love of swords and swordsmanship came from reading fantasy novels in junior high, but he'll lie about it if you ask him. He also enjoys traditional archery, pipe smoking, camping, film noir, and reading an unhealthy amount of books.
Photographer: Chad Arnow