Windlass Steelcrafts "Type IV" Sword
A hands-on review by Joseph Fults
Within the collecting community there is often debate about Windlass Steelcrafts and their products. The company offers decent products at a price point that makes a piece of the Medieval world accessible to a wider audience than most other vendors. However, Windlass sometimes has to make production decisions to achieve target prices that can reduce the appeal of the firm's products to more serious collectors and students of the sword.
Type XIV swords, as defined by Ewart Oakeshott, are a very distinctive sword type than can be placed very precisely in artwork from the period between 1275 and 1340 AD (Oakeshott, 1991). Swords of this type are described as being relatively short in blade and hilt, with a strong blade taper and sometimes acute point. The blade of a Type XIV sword is said to normally be flat in section with a fuller in the upper half. Sometimes the lower half of the blade may exhibit a mid rib, but this is not always the case. Crosses are long and arched and the pommels are often of Type K.
Notable examples of this type of sword are displayed in collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The The Royal Armouries, Leeds, The Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, and a specimen that is "nearly perfect" according to Oakeshott in The Musée de l' Armée, Paris. All of these swords are described by Oakeshott as being knightly, or kingly, in appearance. To this author they appear in photos as elegant and attractive battlefield tools, with subtle lines that blend well visually to create a unified whole.
The Windlass "Type IV" (so-named in their catalog and Web site, though it is an Oakeshott Type XIV blade) examined in this review represents one of the firm's better efforts; it is a nice sword. Still there are compromises in the design. It is less elegant in line than specimens about which Oakeshott wrote, a change that is almost certainly necessary for Windlass to achieve the aggressive retail price point.
Windlass Steelcrafts was founded in 1943 by Mr. V. P. Windlass as a manufacturing plant in India charged with supplying Gurkha Regiments in the British Army with Kukris as combat side arms. In 1979 the company began to export products to the US. Not long after that, the firm began to expand into the production of military swords, sabers, and regalia, reproductions of medieval products, and licensed replicas for European and American export markets.
Today Windlass Group operates internationally with interests in sharp weapons and clothing, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, real estate and hotels. In the United States Windlass is best known for its sharp weapons and clothing, which can be acquired through an array of resellers and distributors such as Museum Replicas Limited.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
The Windlass "Type IV" is light in the hand, but it is not whippy. Like any good tool, it feels well balanced, and rests in the hand with purposeful intent.
I am more accustomed to using longswords. During test cutting I had to make some adjustments to my distance due to the shorter blade length of the "Type IV" in order to cut effectively with it. If I start from my familiar longsword position and spacing, I tend to miss striking the target with the blade's center of percussion (CoP). When that spot is missed, unless I maintain good blade alignment, I often ended up with a botched cut attempt (not helped by the fact the sword is unsharpened). On the bright side, when making poorly executed cuts with this sword, the amount of vibration felt in the hand is not too bad.
When I make good cuts with this sword, I find that I often end up slightly closer to my target after the cut than I normally would without a bind when using a longsword. I tend to cut with an array of swords when I'm in the cutting mood. Once I adjust to the "Type IV", it cuts light targets acceptably. I have not tried it against heavy cutting materials.
When used with a single-handed grip the sword is fun and lively, but not quite as fast and responsive as some other Type XIVs currently on the market from other vendors. Perhaps because the Windlass is unsharpened, it seems like it is not as alive from a starting guard. Once brought to speed it changes direction just fine. This is as likely an artifact of my technique as it is a limit of the blade. Interestingly when using the blade one-handed, I have an acute need to use my off hand for something. Based on my play so far, I think this sword almost begs for a buckler or shield as a companion.
Two-handed use is not the designed intent of the Windlass "Type IV" but the issue can be forced. The grip is fairly short but comfortable for one of my hands. If I want to use a second hand, I have to grip the pommel. Round pommels like the one on this sword are good for this. However, for me, using both hands seems to overpower the blade.
Fit and Finish
Thankfully this Windlass product is exceptional compared to many of the other Windlass swords I've seen and handled over the years.
The blade is evenly formed and cleanly ground. It swells gently but noticeably near the guard like some period examples do, an easy-to-overlook detail for many budget sword makers. There are no noticeable grind marks on the blade surface and the finish is decent on all surfaces. The fullers are straight but they are not as crisply executed, especially at their ends, as fullers on many higher-end products available in the market today. The Windlass holographic logo on the blade and the made in India tag are present as usual. The stickers are cheap-looking and annoying. I would like to see Windlass use a maker's mark on the blade like almost every other sword making firm does today, which is, incidentally, much more historically accurate than a sticker.
There is some pitting on the pommel, but it is not severe and does not appear to be out of character with the piece. Component assembly is very tight, very clean, and most impressive to me, perfectly or almost perfectly aligned. This is a noteworthy departure from my typical Windlass experience. So far components have remained secure during what I would describe as light to moderate use.
The tang is peened over the pommel and the peen itself is well finished but noticeable on inspection. The guard looks somewhat blocky on close inspection, not a surprise as it is essentially square in shape. It curves gently downward toward the blade. It is not as elegant as some designs I've seen recently, but it looks acceptable and does its job properly.
Included in the price of the sword is a scabbard. It is a standard utilitarian Windlass offering and it does not fit the blade particularly well, which could cause frustration to some collectors. Still it's something that often costs as much as the sword in higher-end offerings, when a scabbard option is even available. It is a nice extra to have the scabbard included at this price point, and far from the worst I've ever seen.
This purchase, for me, was an experiment. Windlass Steelcrafts has always been an enigma in my experience. Some of their pieces are decent, some surprisingly good, others are not so good. It's always been hard for me to know what to expect when buying from them. The sword looked decent in a photo, even though Windlass insisted on calling it a "Type IV" instead of a Type XIV (not a good sign), but photos can be deceiving.
My expectation was low and, fortunately, so was the price. I hedged my risk by purchasing from Kult of Athena, an Internet retailer that has established a reputation for doing an extra quality inspection on Windlass products before shipping them.
Perhaps because my expectation was low at the start, this sword has been a very pleasant surprise. For something that was less than $200 US shipped (including a scabbard), it is aesthetically pleasing with few noteworthy flaws. The "Type IV" exhibits decent handling, and it has thus far shown good durability. Although it fails to incorporate some nice finish details often present in higher-end replicas that add a touch of elegance, and its handling could probably be tweaked somewhat, it is a solid workman-like piece. The only negative I have found with this sword is that it tends to develop surface rust faster than my higher-end pieces do. Nevertheless, its qualities viewed in aggregate, in this reviewer's opinion, make the Windlass "Type IV" one of the best sword values available in the market today at an entry level price point.
About the Author
Joseph Fults is a technology manager in the Columbus metropolitan area. For all intents and purposes a career student as long as he can remember, Joseph has been intrigued by history and tales of adventure. Long driven to learn about anything that intrigued him, over the last few years Joseph has nurtured a growing appetite for information about the medieval period of European history. Today his curiosity draws him to the people, items, and regional events of the Rhine basin in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.
Sword in the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Records of the Medieval Sword, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Chad Arnow