A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Windlass Steelcrafts Scottish Backsword
A hands-on review by Nathan Robinson
Museum Replicas Limited (MRL) has been in business selling swords since 1985, supplying a vast selection of arms and armour to collectors. When they started, they entered a market that consisted mostly of custom swordsmiths or obscure production companies with a limited number of items. MRL steadily grew to become one of the most prolific manufacturers of modern-day reproduction arms of our time. Since their humble beginnings, they've continued to offer an ever-changing catalog of products to a growing consumer base that is quickly becoming more informed and demanding.
In the early years, MRL swords were very popular amongst enthusiasts of reproduction swords. At that time, very few manufacturers were offering the diverse variety of weapons that they created and consumers simply had limited choices for quality historically accurate pieces at affordable prices.
Things changed in the mid 90s when more makers were entering the scene and the sword community started to become concerned about the accuracy, durability, and functionality of their weapons. It was in these years that MRL's weapons were becoming more and more scrutinized by the ever informed sword-buying public. Stories of splotchy quality control and negative opinions of performance or functionality were common amongst practitioners and re-enactors.
Starting in the late 90s, stories of improved quality of MRL's products were being heard. Suddenly the positive views were becoming just as common as the negative remarks. Informed sword enthusiasts started to take notice. We wondered if a company that offered such a diverse range of affordably priced products mostly created in India could actually obtain a level of quality that would satisfy us.
Like many people in the sword-buying public, I have had my share of experiences with Museum Replicas. While their customer service has always been stellar, I cannot honestly say that I've had the same impression of their products. Of the dozen or so items I purchased in the 90s, I returned many of them because of various quality control problems. It must be said, however, that the pieces that I decided to keep were well worth the prices paid, and perhaps even more. During these years it was shown that they could indeed create a quality item, but suffered from manufacturing problems that prevented them from doing it consistently.
Museum Replicas has always delivered a fantastic full-color printed catalog. Many people, including myself, save each issue regardless of having any intent on purchasing products from it. Now and again, an item would appear that would pique my curiosity and challenge me to make a purchase. Most times I'd win out on this battle of seduction, holding steadily on my knowledge gained from past experiences.
Recently, certain Internet Blowout specials have been advertised. One such item was a Scottish Backsword created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India. It was offered by MRL for nearly half its original price. While I wasn't particularly attracted to this sword as it appeared in the catalog, I decided it was time to take advantage of the sale and see if things had truly changed for MRL. Indeed, it was time for me to decide for myself.
The 16th century saw a variety of sword designs that included a tremendous diversity of complex and specialized hilt forms with just as many types and sizes of blades. Swordmakers entered a phase of intense experimentation that led to a great evolution of both functionality and aesthetic design. Hilts, in particular, became very complex forms that were intended to offer more and more protection to the hand. This trend continued well into the next century.
Inspired by the fashion of the day, the 17th century brought outrageous flamboyance to the hilts of many swords. At the same time, other styles were being created that took quite the opposite path of evolution, developing into a fully utilitarian purpose with adequate but reduced protection in the guards. Many of these swords were used for day-to-day wear or for the purpose of being a secondary weapon on the battlefield.
Museum Replicas decided to reproduce a backsword that does well to serve the purpose of having a simplified hilt design befitting the role of a backup military weapon. Their Scottish backsword is fitted with opposing side rings that offer a good deal of hand protection while keeping the hilt light and easy to wear. The apple-shaped pommel and wide vertically recurved quillons are reminiscent of the style of sword that is now referred to as a Sinclair Hilt. Though obvious differences are present, the influence cannot be overlooked.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
MRL credits the design of this sword as being inspired by one illustrated in Scots Armies of the English Civil Wars by Stuart Reid. This illustration places the sword on the belt of a halberdier at the battle of Dunbar, 1650, but this style of sword would not have necessarily been out of place even a century earlier.
This sword is quite light which lends itself to superb maneuverability. The medium-sized side rings and broad quillons offer a good deal of protection to the hand while not hindering movement or handling in any way. The curved rear quillon slopes upward towards the tip of the blade, further reducing any potential for getting in the way during use. The side ring is large enough to allow a finger to be curled over the crossguard if one desires to do so. A 1.5" ricasso is present to make this position comfortable.
Typical to MRL blades, this sword arrived unsharpened, but not blunt. It appears to be well heat treated, having survived me repeatedly flexing it 40-degrees while always returning true. While quite flexible, it's not whippy in any sense. The spine keeps it rather stiff and able to deliver a solid thrust, though it's certainly intended to be more a cutter than a thruster.
I took the sword out and did a bit of test cutting with it using cardboard boxes and carpet roll tubes with medium-thickness walls. Despite being unsharpened, it cut this medium with ease, demonstrating that a sword's cutting prowess is defined by more than simply edge geometry and just as much by the overall distribution of mass. The slightly tip-forward balance point of this weapon adds a great deal of power to a cut that otherwise might not be present in a sword of this weight.
The thickness of the factory edge certainly came into play upon trying to execute tip cuts. I was not able to get the sword to deliver enough velocity to overcome the unsharpened edge with such cuts into the cardboard tubes. The sword cut the same medium effortlessly at the Center of Percussion (CoP), however.
Fit and Finish
Aesthetically, this sword has an understated appearance that lends itself to its functional purpose. The hilt is comprised of just enough decorative elements to enhance its graceful lines, making for a very attractive piece. The mild steel fittings are finished to a high polish and do not appear to be plated like some older pieces from MRL. In fact, I've seen another example of this particular sword that had been artificially aged, with the hilt developing an attractive overall patina.
I presume the hilt components are cast, though no specific evidence or flaws are present to really indicate this. Subtle details include "filed" elements on each side ring, a central ridge on the quillon block, and a simple flared base on the pommel.
Blade finish is smooth and clean overall with no grinding marks evident. The fullers are executed very cleanly and are evenly positioned on both sides of the blade.
The leather wrap on the grip is quite tight and stitched evenly in a straight line. The finish on the leather components is a bit shiny for my tastes, but that's a subjective criticism. The scabbard is quite nicely done and includes embossed lines and a metal throat and chape. While not being oversized, it doesn't manage to hold the blade in place as would be ideal.
Overall, I'm highly impressed with this Windlass Steelcrafts sword. Aesthetically, I really have little to no complaints. If anything, one might mention that it's too perfect, indicating a modern-day manufacturing process.
I must admit that I'm very surprised by its performance abilities. While it's not going to win any contests with the "big boys" in the sword performance arena, it certainly out-performs the expectations placed upon it for its price class!
Perhaps fueled by controlled expectations upon its order, I am extremely pleased with this purchase. I certainly feel comfortable recommending it at the sale price Museum Replicas is asking. In fact, I'd say it's easily worth twice the price.
About the Author
Nathan Robinson has been interested in history and the hobby of reproduction arms and armour collecting for well over a decade. A professional Web developer in San Francisco, he started myArmoury.com as a resource for like-minded people and hopes to help educate and entertain enthusiasts and consumers alike. He strives to push the sword community forward, helping create a healthy market with functional and historically-researched pieces available for us all.
Photographer: Nathan Robinson