Armour Class has been around in the re-enactment and HEMA communities for at least a couple of decades. Their swords have an excellent name and reputation in re-enactment circles, although they haven’t always been so popular in HEMA clubs: the blunt swords are designed for re-enactment purposes, and are usually too heavy and unbalanced for historical fencing. However, they do make custom swords, and their sharp and semi-sharp blades are perfectly suitable for HEMA.
I bought my Armour Class sharp longsword (model MS6T on their website, perhaps more fully named their “14th Century Hand & a Half Medieval sword with thirty five inch blade”) several years ago, and have been using it for cutting practice ever since.
Update: this post has been updated on the 21st of October 2019 to reflect my discovery that the sword IS in fact able to cut tatami once it is made exceptionally sharp. When it is sharp enough to overcome its flexibility and lack of mass, it can function well as a cutting tool for tatami mats. When it is not quite sharp enough, however, it simply doesn’t go through tatami due to the flexibility and lack of mass.
This review: motivation and transparency
I bought this sword for my own use in 2014 or 2015. I have been using it for test cutting since then, and I still use it for this purpose. I want to share my thoughts about a sword that has served me well for several years.
Update: I feel that it is important to update this review to reflect my recent realisations that the sword can in fact go through tatami when it is made exceptionally sharp. An incomplete review that misses new information is not quite good enough!
The dimensions are as follows:
- total length: 101.5 cm
- blade length: 88 cm
- weight: around 1.17 kg
- point of balance: around 9 cm in front of the hilt
Needless to say, with an 88cm blade and a 23.5 cm hilt, the sword is very short for a longsword, and is much more reminiscent of a 14th century “hand and a half” than it is a 15th or 16th century longsword.
Weight, rigidity & handling
The weight is just 1.17 grams, making it a very light sword to use. This makes it ideal for someone who is not particularly strong yet, or who has an injury that makes working with heavy swords a painful experience.
It is also exceptionally flexible, and the blade wobbles quite significantly. This lack of rigidy, combined with the lack of mass, means that the sword suffers when trying to cut through thicker target mediums such as tatami mats (unless the sword is made exceptionally sharp).
Neither Mark Wilkie nor I were able to cut tatami with it, and in fact, the sword blade bent a little near the tip during an attempted Zwerhaw, because it became stuck in the tatami and simply didn’t have the mass or rigidity to free itself or maintain its shape. We were both able to perform these same cuts successfully with another sword with a stiffer, heavier blade, so the issue was not with our cutting technique, but that the choice of tool really did affect our performance.
However, it must be said that this sword can cut through cardboard mailing tubes without a problem, presumably because tubes don’t have anything inside them to cause the blade to bend further in the cut. It can also go through plastic bottles with ease. Targets that don’t have too much mass themselves are perfectly usable with this sword, and it is quite possible to train several different techniques to a high degree of competency with this sword – just remember that it doesn’t handle a massy target such as tatami very well unless the sword is made exceptionally sharp.
Edge & sharpness
The edge comes reasonably sharp, probably polished to around 800 grit. This means it can go through plastic bottles easily, although it does present a little more difficulty for cutting cardboard mailing tubes. It is not a particularly sharp blade in the grand scheme of things, so it would benefit greatly from some additional sharpening.
Worth noting is that sharp blades from Armour Class do tend to come a bit sharper than the supposedly sharp swords from Albion, which have a factory edge that is not very sharp at all. Whenever you buy a “sharp” sword, if you want to use it for cutting, you probably do need to give it some additional sharpening.
Update: although I had sharpened the sword further, perhaps to 1400 grit, it still struggled with tatami due to the flexibility and lack of mass. However, upon sharpening it up to 2000 grit, using polish on the belts, and finishing the job with a leather stropping belt, the sword has become able to cut through tatami without too much problem.
The typical price for one of these swords (sharp, 89 cm blade, tapering from 5 cm at bottom to 2.5 cm at tip) on the Armour Class website is £230. I believe a fee for postage is charged on top of this price.
Additionally, a leather scabbard is available for £40, that will be made to fit the sword you order. The leather is 3-4 mm thick and the sewing is exceptionally good; these scabbards are built to last. They will protect your sword from the environment, and they will also protect you and the environment from your sharp sword while in transit or storage. I would strongly recommend buying one of these scabbards with the sword.
This is an excellent option for a budget sharp sword, for personal or club use. It will let you practise cutting with plastic milk bottles filled with water, with plastic water bottles filled with water, with rolled and soaked newspaper, and with cardboard mailing tubes. It is also not very expensive, making it a good choice for a club “loaner” sword.
It is not really suitable for anyone wanting to work with tatami, because quite simply it lacks the rigidity and the mass necessary to take the blade through tatami without getting stuck and potentially bending (unless the sword is made exceptionally sharp). Be prepared to invest in a belt sander and plenty of polishing belts if you want to make this sword ready for use with tatami.
I don’t imagine it would work very well with clay either; after my experience of trying to use this with tatami, I haven’t been interested in trying it with clay!
It is probably also not entirely suitable if you want to practise more advanced techniques or sequences, because the flex and the lack of weight will make the practice so much more difficult than it really needs to be. For more advanced practice, you probably need a more advanced (and more expensive) sword. But for doing the basics, this sword is a good option.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.