A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Windlass Steelcrafts Sword of St. Michael
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
If one looks at medieval artwork, it would appear that the falchion was a weapon that was incredibly popular during its time. This single-edged weapon would have been found with common soldiers as well as wealthy nobles, and could be plain in ornamentation or rich with inlays and decoration.
Blade designs of the falchion varied, but they are typically broad-bladed, single-edged swords that sometimes have a curve to the blade, and other times have a straight spine but a curved edge. Many look at these swords and assume, because of their breadth, that they must be heavy and slow, that they are nothing but big meat cleavers. Like with so many medieval weapons, though, this is not the case. Historical falchions were quick and fast. The weapon was a dedicated cutter, but this should not imply that they were brutish. The fact that so many of the surviving falchions are very ornate shows that it was a weapon that many men of means seemed to prefer.
Museum Replicas Limited (MRL) is a company long known for providing a wide variety of period-inspired swords at a very affordable price. They primarily carry swords created by Windlass Steelcrafts in India.
MRL has chosen to create this sword based on a painting by Antonio del Pallaiolo, circa 1470-1480 of St. Michael. The painting shows St. Michael, armed with a falchion and buckler, fighting a dragon.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
The first thing that struck me about the handling of this sword is that it is actually lightweight and maneuverable. MRL thankfully has not given in to perpetuating the myth of the slow, brutish chopper. The sword has just enough blade presence to make it a formidable cutter, and indeed, it is definitely a sword that wants to cut more than thrust. The sword flows nicely from guard to cut to guard. Even though the sword is geared toward being a cutter, it certainly thrusts well enough, and the clipped point is fine enough to make very effective thrusts that would be reinforced by a wide and very stiff blade. In terms of casual handling alone, I would say that this is a good sword.
The hilt construction, however, is worrisome. The first time I swung the sword I could hear a light squeaking noise from inside the hilt, and could feel something subtly shift inside. It was a very slight shift, but it was there. Based on the noise, it sounds like metal sliding against metal, sometimes hitting it to make a "clack" noise, so this is probably the tang hitting the guard. This is not the first time I've experienced this with MRL swords. In fact, I have experienced this with almost all swords of this brand. Having gone through solo drills with the weapon for several weeks, the loosening has not gotten worse, but it still is a little bit unsettling for me. If I intend to put this to any hard use, I think it will require putting shims in the guard and possibly replacing the grip.
The blade seems to have a good temper to it. It is quite stiff, but when flexed it returned true. The blade comes unsharpened, so no test cutting was done, but I did test the hardness against a few other blunt practice weapons. That testing suggested to me that, while it is slightly on the soft side, it is not unreasonably soft.
Fit and Finish
The blade is quite nice, and in my opinion is the nicest aspect of the entire weapon. The shaping of the clip point and the diamond cross-section is really done well. There is a very faint sign of rippling from grinding, but it is barely noticeable. It is polished to a high finish. Unfortunately, as with all of MRL swords, it is unattractively stamped with the words "Windlass, Made in India" near the base. They also put a holographic sticker advertising "Windlass Steelcrafts" on the other side of the sword. It seems strange that they should do both. I would rather they put only the sticker on, as that can easily be removed.
The grip is acceptable at a casual glance, but a closer inspection will reveal that it is definitely an area where corners were cut to keep down the cost. The leather used is some form of cheap chrome-tanned leather, which makes it shiny and modern-looking. The leather stitching is tight and even, but being on the outside makes it really visible. The ends of the grip are accented with brass wire Turk's head knots. The knots are adequately wrapped, though a little uneven. They are, however, soldered shut, whereas proper knots should be woven seamlessly.
An interesting aspect of this falchion is that it was created to be double-edged. This was an interpretation that MRL chose based on what they perceived in the original painting. According to the sales literature, this was supposedly rare but not unknown. I cannot find a single example of a double-edged falchion and I don't think the sword in the original painting looks double-edged. Regardless, the fact that the sword arrived unsharpened means one could easily treat this as a thin single-edged falchion by sharpening only one side and the last few inches of the false edge.
The scabbard is one of MRL's finer attempts. In the past I have viewed their scabbards as ugly, suitable only for basic transport. This piece actually looks decent. It is made of thick leather, dyed a nice rich mahogany color, and very evenly stitched along the back. The scabbard fittings are made of a different steel than the guard of the sword, though, as they are "whiter" in color than the sword's fittings. This looks odd when examined closely, though this is a minor issue.
The edges of the scabbard are accented with tooled lines that bring out the form nicely. Its steel fittings are decorated with simple but attractive piercing, which really sets the scabbard out from earlier forms by MRL. The scabbard's fit is loose, but I think this acceptable considering the price.
This falchion by Museum Replicas Limited is actually a good buy, even despite the looseness inside the grip. Falchions–especially the more decorative forms–are underrepresented in the modern reproduction market. This particular piece also does justice to the fact that they are not the clumsy and awkward weapons that so many perceive them to be. Due to the hilt looseness, I would recommend the use of shims or having the grip replaced should the sword be used for any hard cutting or any form of martial arts or stage combat use. Considering that the sword is less than $200 US, these types of modifications are fairly trivial, and are well worth the trouble for the added insurance of safety.
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: Bill Grandy