A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Swordcrafts Aluminum Longsword Wasters
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Finding training gear for use in sword arts has often dealt with striking a balance between safety and realism. There are many forms of training, from slow and controlled drills with steel weapons to full speed bouting with safety weapons, along with a myriad of other forms of training in between those and beyond. Because the revival of historical European swordsmanship is still in its infancy, many practitioners are still experimenting with ways to come up with better training methods, and with this, more realistic training tools. Every form of training tool is unrealistic in some manner, and one needs to train in multiple methods to gain a full understanding of their martial art. Among the many tools being used by today's practitioner are training swords made from aluminum.
Historically, it was common to practice with wooden swords, referred to as "wasters" (which could be used up and easily replaced unlike an expensive steel weapon), but wooden wasters can have several drawbacks: For one, they warp and break after extensive use; they also don't entirely feel realistic. Since wood is lighter than steel, this can often lead to inaccurate weight, balance and mass distribution. Wood also feels different when striking another wooden blade than steel does when striking a steel blade.
On the other hand, the majority of rebated steel swords have their shares of problems as well. In order to have a nice wide edge for safety the blade needs to be thicker, thereby giving the weapon more weight than a historical piece. It is possible to create a steel sword that overcomes this issue, but this requires more engineering and handwork, which in turn raises the cost of the tool dramatically.
Aluminum "wasters" provide an intermediary step between wooden swords and steel ones. If made correctly they will feel much more realistic than the typical wooden waster, both in handling as well as when the blades make contact. Because aluminum is lighter than steel, it can be made with a very thick blade, equaling a safer edge. On top of this, they are generally much cheaper than steel swords, making them a very appealing option for many students of the sword.
The two training swords reviewed here are made by Charles Jevons, founder of Swordcrafts and are made of 7075-t651 aircraft aluminum. Charles Jevons began making aluminum swords to aid in his longsword training with the Canadian martial arts group AEMMA (Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts).
There are two longswords that Swordcrafts produces, one called the Liberi and a longer version called the Liechtenauer. The Liberi was the first model created, and Charles Jevons designed the dimensions by creating something that was the average of every 14th century sword shown in Ewart Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword. The Liechtenauer was created when there turned out to be a demand for a larger waster. While the names of these swords are inspired by two historical fencing masters, I do feel the need to point out that neither one is necessarily more suited to a particular style than the other. It is easy for a practitioner to say, "I practice the Liechtenauer style, therefore the Liberi will not work," but this is not true: I, as a practitioner of Liechtenauer's art, happen to have a personal preference for the Liberi. It simply comes down to which one the user likes more.
Liechtenauer Measurements and Specifications:
Liberi Measurements and Specifications:
Replicas created by Swordcrafts of Canada.
There was a time when I did not care for aluminum swords. The ones that I'd handled did not feel like swords at all, as they were generally too light and had a balance point too far back into the grip. Getting to hold one of the Swordcrafts aluminum wasters completely changed my mind.
Both swords handle fairly similarly. The Liechtenauer has both a longer grip and longer blade, but both feel very natural in cuts and thrusts. If you are not accustomed to longer grips, the Liechtenauer may be a little more difficult to get the hang of using. Many prefer such long grips and would be very pleased with this sword. I prefer the slightly shorter Liberi, whose shorter blade makes it easier to "twitch" a thrust to the other side of a blade when my own is set aside. The guard of the Liechtenauer is also longer than my personal preference, though it is not outside of historical parameters, and many happen to like longer guards. If I ever made a custom order on an aluminum longsword, I would actually like something right in the middle of the Liberi and the Liechtenauer in terms of size, but as far as having only two models go, I think Swordcrafts has done well to use these two particular designs.
The blades have rounded tips, and they do not have much flex in the thrust, unlike other aluminum swords I have handled, which means that proper judgment of force needs to be exercised by partners. The wide edges are much safer than the majority of steel blunts, though users need to understand that these are still the equivalent of aluminum baseball bats if used carelessly. Protective gear is certainly necessary for any use at speed, but what is necessary above all else is common sense and control that is only attained with practice.
Because aluminum is softer than steel, the edges do not knick up as badly as most steel blunts do after heavy use. They simply develop divots that are fairly smooth, so maintaining the edge is much easier than on steel swords. The edges also come rounded, which makes them less prone to damage. The steel guards do get nicks that cause sharp burrs more often, though, so these need to be filed or sanded down from time to time. The hilt construction overall is rock solid, and after a lot of serious use neither sword has shown the slightest sign of loosening.
A mostly irrelevant side note, but these swords really sing when struck together. The blades make a beautiful sound that keeps ringing like a tuning fork, though this can actually can be distracting if you immediately come to a guard where the sword is next to your ear: I find that when holding the sword next to my ear in vom tag (the "roof" guard, with the swords held tip up and slightly back) I've developed the habit of resting the sword on my shoulder purely to quickly silence the sound!
Fit and Finish
The fittings come with multiple options for the level of finish desired. The Web site lists "unfinished" and "finished" as options, with the difference being that the unfinished version shows evidence of welding and rivets holding the guard in place. One member of my group has an unfinished longsword, and the guard appears to be made of two long pieces welded together around the tang, leaving a gap between them that is not there on the "finished" pieces. There is also another finish option that is not on the Web site, which is the satin finish. The satin finish does not have an exposed gap in the guard, nor are the welds and rivets blatantly obvious, but is not quite as polished as the standard finished option. The swords pictured for this review have the satin polish.
For the Liberi one can order the grip to be waisted, as the piece in this review has. The waisting is a comfortable option that fits the hands very nicely, and adds a nice touch visually. It ultimately is more cosmetic than functional, because even though it feels good in the hand, the difference between it and the standard grip is minimal. The swords can also come with different pommel options, and I chose the option for pommel 5, a generic scent-stopper shape. This pommel is very comfortable to hold for a person who likes to grip the pommel, though one member of my group owns a sword with pommel 2, a wheel variant, which is still comfortable to grasp, and its beveled edges make for an attractive hilt option.
As far as training longswords go, I couldn't be happier with these swords. They are a fantastic value, balancing the needs of a longsword practitioner quite nicely. I will not give up training with a steel sword, which I feel all students of the sword need to do. But cross training with different tools can allow a person to gain new insights into the art, as every tool creates different distortions to the art. A potential buyer does need to keep in mind that aluminum wasters must be used with other aluminum wasters: they will destroy wood, and will be torn up by steel. These Swordcrafts aluminum wasters have proven to be an excellent buy, and I highly recommend them. I originally bought these two to test out, and many of my students liked them enough to immediately purchase their own.
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