In the last few years, producers of HEMA equipment have been popping up left and right. Our hobby is growing, and more and more people are investing the time and effort to make equipment specifically for it.
This year I went on the search for a rapier – my first rapier. I had tested and tried a few of the options on the market – Regenyei Armory, Fabri Armorum, Danelli (which is not an option anymore), Kvetun and others. One thing I noticed – while many of those rapiers were very nice weapons, not too expensive and people were happy with them, they all lacked a little bit of blade presence. Modern rapier trainers are in some ways closer to foils, which is good for full-speed sparring, but not perfect for an accurate representation of the weapon type.
I asked around a bit and got a recommendation to try out Pike Armory, a Russian smithy that does a classic line of budget trainers – feders, sabers, sideswords, montantes and… rapiers. They were described as more durable than the Kvetuns, while being even cheaper.
Two months of training, sparring, and one tournament, and I am ready to review it. Is that a bit short? Perhaps. But I am brutal with training equipment.
Specs and price
This particular model from Pike Armory was 162 EUR. But he has a cheaper one – for around 145 EUR. Yes, it’s not EU, and we have to pay taxes, but with that price the rapier is still significantly cheaper than any other on the market, even with taxes.
Overall length – 119 cm
Blade length – 106 cm (from the cross)
Blade width at the forte – 22 mm
Overall weight – 1100 g
Ordering the rapier
You might think buying from Russia is complicated, with all the sanctions that half the civilized world have slapped on them and gotten slapped back. Well, these sanctions thankfully affect mostly very big business deals. Ordering 2 rapiers (one for a Serbian friend who heard about them from me) is not really something international powers care about.
Contacting and talking to Mihail Danshin, the smith of Pike Armory (and an awesome HEMAist himself) was really easy. Even though he has a hard time with English, Mihail knows what we do very well and accepts small changes to his base models without a problem.
I went for a basic size, as it was exactly what I wanted – a shorter rapier, not one of those giant shish-kebabs that you can’t draw from a scabbard. I asked if he could get it faster than the 1 month he initially told me he would need – I wanted to train with it as much as possible before Swordplay 2018. He said “I’ll try”.
Easy bank transfer, fast delivery, and it was exactly 20 days from the moment I paid to the moment I took it from customs. It was even more impressive, because during that time Mihail had to travel and compete in Tyrnhaw 2018.
Customs promised to be painful, but it all went over really quick, I paid VAT and some small tax, and went home with the rapiers. How much you would pay depends on your jurisdiction. In the end, with taxes and delivery, the sword cost me a bit under 200 EUR.
I have to be honest – when I first got the rapiers out of the package (which was solid, and they were taped and protected well) I thought they looked beautiful.
I am not a big fan of blackening, because it wears off when used really quickly. But for hilt components it really does help against rust (for a time). And it looks cool. Really cool.
The blade is roughly finished – grind marks are visible, although they are polished over. I am not complaining – if I want a perfect finish, I can do one myself. For a rapier at that price I would feel guilty if it had a perfect finish.
But when I grabbed it at first I was confused. The handling was weird – compared to all the other rapiers I have held, especially the really long Kvetun I used in Hemathlon 2018. It had more blade presence and it felt strange. However, a couple of hours of solo drilling later (it’s a new sword, I spent half a day alone in my living room), I was in love.
The pommel is not peened! Yes, nothing new on the rapier market, where blades break more easily, but it seems no one told Regenyei that.
If the blade breaks, I do not need to order a whole new sword – just a blade. In fact, I can order one or two, of different lengths, to have them just in case.
The pommel is screwed, with clear threads, easily removed (not quickly enough for a pommel throw, no), and that also allows you to modify the handle as you want. It is not too long, and there is also a spherical one as an option.
The handle is plain wood – Mihail says that he prefers to leave his customers to add whatever they want to it. I went with a pytograph and a file to put some grooves into mine. I also sanded it down a little bit, as it was a bit thick for my meaty hands. That took about half an hour, and I am not complaining when it comes to a budget rapier.
Unlike Regenyei’s rapiers, it is not too long. At the same time, there is space for two fingers over the cross – a grip I sometimes use and some Destreza guys enjoy as well.
The hilt is, as I said, beautiful – the specific design here is somewhat Pappenheimer inspired, but I don’t actually know enough about rapiers to get more specific. It is not a cup hilt and a thrust may reach your hand – but it is still much more protective than typical swept hilts. The guard is thick, but not overly heavy, it has some edges, but they are rounded, so nothing is sharp.
The guard is twisted, but the twist is not like the one on Regenyei’s sidesword – painful for your fingers and ergonomically terrible. There are no sharp edges here, everything is comfortable.
The blade is basic – Pike Armory offers other options, including hollow blades, which can be seen in museums, but I decided to go for the simpler and more durable one. It is hardened to around 49 HRC – I would like more, but I am pampered by Albion, and I have learned from rapier guys that it is better to go for softer steel for this. It starts hexagonal in cross-section and continues to a simple square shape.
It flexes less than a Kvetun, but still plenty for full-speed sparring. I have not heard a single painful gasp from an opponent in sparring or in tourneys. I would say the flex is at a good balance – the sword doesn’t feel floppy and it wouldn’t feel floppy even with 10 cm (4 inches) more length.
The tip is rolled, but, before you scream in terror, it is rolled quite well and I don’t see a big chance of it snapping of. I just taped it – simple problem, simple solution.
The ricasso is narrow – narrower than many other rapiers on the market, which simply are the same width as the forte, but it is well-rounded and it feels nice. If you want to thicken it, you can just put a leather or textile tube. With gloves and without I didn’t see a problem.
The sword is solid, blades can be changed (anything can be changed, really), and when you screw it together, it doesn’t get loose, unlike the Kvetuns, which tend to loosen up from a lot of cutting.
As I said, the rapier felt strange at first. It has more blade presence and feels heavier than 1100 grams. And I am used to arming swords around that weight and more.
Of course, I immediately brought it to my instructor – Miroslav Lesichkov. He is not a rapier man, but he has a lot of experience with antiques and swords in general. Just recently he was at the exhibition of the Solinger Klingenmuseum in Germany and he had a chance to handle some awesome historical rapiers.
He said that the Pike Armory one handles closer to originals than the Kvetuns other people in our school have. Not like originals – it is still lighter, more flexible, and not as dynamic – but closer.
That doesn’t mean the Pike Armory is some sort of sidesword-rapier, or “sword-rapier”, or whatever weird term you want to use. It is a rapier. It just has more blade – mass, presence, everything.
Cuts are not much easier or more responsive than with a lighter Kvetun or Fabri rapier – in fact, some cuts are harder. But it is usually the bad cuts that may give you a point in a tourney if the judges suck – tappy cuts that would not actually deliver any damage with a sharp. You don’t want that, right?
The Pike Armory rapier flows well, it has that “alive” feeling, a dynamic balance and a need to move, to explode forward, be it for a cut or a thrust. There is stability in the bind against lighter rapiers that is very nice to feel when you are more used to the authority of a longsword, sidesword or an arming sword. That helps it against heavier weapons too.
In sparring and tournaments
Okay, enough poetry. A sword is measured by how it behaves in stressful conditions – sparring and tournaments. I did do a lot of solo work, and a lot of cutting against a pell (and it performed without a problem), but we all need to know how it does in a fight, right?
Well, sparring against Kvetuns showed that Mihail does a better heat treatment – the rapiers from the other Russians needed sanding, the Pike Armory didn’t.
At Swordplay 2018 I managed to use it in 6 fights before I got eliminated, but that was not the end of the day for the rapier. My friend and schoolmate Viktor Kachovski managed to reach the final and his Kvetun broke right in the middle of it. So he finished the fight (and lost, but hey, silver) with the Pike Armory.
One of my bouts with the Pike Armory rapier at Swordplay. I am the blue fighter. Not very good with a rapier, I know.
Despite many people going hard on the cuts, me included, there were no deep nicks, no serious damage to the hilt, and the blade stayed perfectly straight even after some hard thrusts. The black finish was quite scratched, but that is to be expected, and also easy to fix – I can put a new one on, and easily, since I can take the rapier apart.
Personally, at that point the weapon was a part of my body. I did not feel it dragging me down, or slowing me, or confusing my senses, which are more used to shorter cutting swords. It simply became an extension of my arm. Engaging and disengaging felt easy, my wrist and forearm were not struggling, and at the end of the day, when I wanted to do a ton of sparring despite being really tired (three tourneys in three days), it was still easy to move around and fence with.
I am more than happy with this purchase. Easy to order, quick to produce, quick to deliver. A cheap, durable, solid rapier. What more could you want?
A sidesword! I am planning to order one from Mihail Danshin next year. I think that says enough about how satisfied I am with his work.