Phoenix Metal Creations Hand-and-a-Half Sword
A hands-on review by Nathan Robinson
One look through my private collection gallery will make it immediately clear that I have a passion for swords of the Renaissance. Truly, this period grabs my attention and makes my imagination soar like no other.
The wild arms race of the Renaissance saw a tremendous evolution of both arms and armour, forcing makers and warriors alike to grasp for new technologies to defeat each successive development.
Perhaps the most influential factor that spurred this fury of advancement was the widespread use of gunpowder; or more specifically, the penetrating power of the lead ball. This single element forced armour to become thicker to defend against this new threat. In turn, armour became heavier and more cumbersome, gradually causing parts of the harness to be discardedfirst the legs, then elements of the arms, and even the steel gauntlets that protected the hands. Maneuverability became a priority over pure protection, yet the need for defense still persisted.
All of these changes radically altered the development of the sword. Hilts evolved into complex forms that included bars, rings, knuckle guards, and other devices that offered protection to the hand previously provided by the gauntlet.
I decided to add to my collection a compound-hilted bastard sword dating from the later part of the 16th centurya period where complex hilt development was becoming highly experimental and unique designs were being explored.
The piece I chose to have replicated is the following sword, found at Lion Gate Arms & Armour and labeled as a "French Hand-and-a-Half-Sword":
The highly unusual aesthetic qualities of this sword are what first grabbed my attention. I hadn't seen a sword quite like this one with its complex chiseled pommel and intricate guard design incorporating a thumb-ring.
LionGate presumably labeled the sword as French due to the inscription found on its blade: Vive Le Roi (long live the king). The existence of the thumb-ring, a feature distinctively Germanic, and the "knobs" at the end of the quillons would suggest a South German/Bavarian style.
A.V.B. Norman, in his book The Rapier and the Small-Sword 1460-1820 identifies the counter-guards as Inner Guard Type 20 and validates its German origins, claiming it to be particularly common on hand-and-a-half hilts.
I chose Erik Stevenson of Phoenix Metal Creations to make a replica based on the antique. Erik is a highly skilled custom maker who works as a cutler, creating swords using blades from various manufacturers. His masterful technique defines him as a craftsman, but his ability to visualize a design in three-dimensions and then to flawlessly execute it is what makes him an artist. Erik is young in his career, and yet already holds a place at the top of his field alongside the big boys.
The original sword has a sturdy hollow-ground blade with a very prominent central ridge. Modern-made blades of this style are difficult to find at affordable prices. For the replica, we chose an Oakeshott Type XIIIa blade from Angus Trim Swords.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Erik Stevenson, Phoenix Metal Creations of Colorado, using a blade by Angus Trim Swords.
Careful examination of the replica versus the antique reveals inevitable differences. Such variances are to be expected when reproducing a piece based solely on photographs. Additionally, artistic alterations were made when it was felt that proportion or detail could be improved over the original.
This is a very substantial sword intended for battle. It's not a civilian weapon nor is it an everyday sword (i.e., a "riding" sword). It has a wide and extremely robust blade capable of generating devastating sheering power.
The elongated shape of the pommel and the grooves filed into it allow the secondary hand to grasp far down at the end of the pommel while providing for a very solid grip.
An impromptu cutting session ensued on the day I received the sword. I ran across the street and gathered up several examples of my preferred cutting medium: thick-walled carpet tubes. The sword quickly chopped through even the thickest tubes with extremely little resistance. This sword is truly an efficient cutter.
Erik put an edge on the blade that isn't fully polished, leaving "micro serrations" along the cutting surface. These no doubt helped slice through the carpet tubes. Wrapping the tubes in heavyweight twill fabric made no noticeable difference in cutting performance when a proper slicing motion was utilized.
Fit and Finish
The hilt components have been given a burnished satin finish throughout and were darkened with a bluing compound. After that, they were all polished with an abrasive rag, giving the raised elements and edges a polished look while keeping the recesses darkened. This has resulted in an extremely pleasing finish that gives it a slightly "worn" look and is really emphasized by all the facets and lines found on the hilt.
Though not visibly obvious, the complex guard with its arms and rings is constructed by welding separate elements together. All welds are immaculately cleaned and each piece is perfectly blended into the adjoining element. One very nice detail is that even the rounded bars of the counter-guards increase in size and change to a squared shape as they attach to the quillon, perfectly matching the part to which it attaches.
Erik went the extra mile and replicated even the finest details found on the original. The small "knobs" at the ends of the quillons each have a carved base on which they rest. The thumb-ring attaches to a circular disc at the center of the adjoining counter-guards and has all its details reproduced.
The blade is finished in a satin finish and is quite pleasing and will be easy to maintain. The fuller is deep, wide, and very even, blending very nicely at its end and matching on both faces of the blade.
The element of the original sword that made me want to have it replicated was its strange and unique characteristics. I tend to like the unusual pieces that history has given to us. Sometimes an odd appearance is all it takes to get me intrigued. While its aesthetics were made obvious by the photos, what was unclear to me was how the sword would handle.
Once the sword was delivered to me and I was able to play with it, I quickly realized there's more to this piece than meets the eye. In fact, it's an extremely functional design with a hilt providing tremendous hand protection while its elements all work together to improve handling. The thumb-ring and textured pommel both add greatly to making this sword extremely easy to wield and maneuver.
I have absolutely no complaints. It has become one of the favorites within my collection and is among my best cutters. Its devastating power combined with unique design elements and flawless execution makes for a fantastic sword.
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.
The author thanks Robert B. Miller at Lion Gate Arms & Armour for the inspiration leading to this replica and for his permission to reproduce his original photographs.
Photographer: Nathan Robinson