Despite the perceived popularity of sword and buckler (be it German, I.33 or Bolognese), reviews and discussions of actual bucklers on the market have been relatively rare. The reason is simple – cheap steel, synthetic and partially wooden bucklers that are “good enough” and available all around the world.
The Cold Steel plastic one is quite light, and frankly feels lacking in the hand. Many steel bucklers are overweight (especially for sparring), have flawed and crude handles, and are often made from soft metal so that they eventually look like crumpled paper. Bucklers with a wooden face and metal umbo are better in all those regards, but often can’t handle high intensity sparring for long.
I do have a good buckler with acceptable weight and durability. However, my main gripe is, naturally, with the grip. Most bucklers on the market don’t have a historical grip. One of the key reasons for that is that museums and online image libraries often show just the face of the bucklers, so makers invent something that is less optimal, and less historical. Check out this 3D model of an actual museum piece and its handle, very typical, but rarely seen on modern reproductions:
So, using Minsk 2019 as the occasion, I decided to order myself a buckler that is a tad better than the usual on the market. I wanted full steel, so it can handle anything, a good grip because I’ve become tired of handles being greatly offset to fit steel gauntlets, or those made by just bending a pipe twice.
What I choose was the Malleus Martialis Pro Buckler.
Period: 13th c.- 17th c.
Source: Inspired by period bucklers as taught by Master at Arms like Lutegerus, Talhoffer, Lignitzer, Marozzo and Colombani.
Total diameter: 30 cm
Umbo internal diameter: 13.5 cm
Umbo Depth: 7 cm
Handle: 12 cm
Weight: 1100 gr (actual weight of mine – 1060 gr)
Border: approx. 8mm, rounded.
Materials: Hardened steel and wax treated natural beech wood.
Price: 90.00 €
Malleus Martialis also offer 1 year warranty when there is improper heat treatment and/or loose parts.
That price point is quite something for a buckler – typically they cost around 25-40 EUR.
Ordering from Malleus
I ordered the buckler through their form – just the basic model (like grip color and material, which I don’t think is an option with it). I got a GDPR declaration of some kind to sign and send back, so they can work with my personal data – while it is the first time I’ve encountered anything like that with an EU manufacturer, it wasn’t a huge pain, and I understand why some companies may want to protect themselves from problems with the bureaucracy in Brussels.
I warned them that I needed it for Minsk, and they managed to deliver just in time. The only thing that confused me was the delivery fee – 30 EUR, which seemed a bit high from Italy to Bulgaria, but then again, I asked for a quick delivery, and that is out of the control of the maker.
Communicating with the Italian manufacturer was quick and easy, and clear. They responded at most in 24 hours and were quite thorough in checking up with me to see if the buckler made it on time.
I saw the Malleus buckler for the first time in my taxi to the airport, for about 10 minutes, before I had to put it in the big bag and send it to oversized luggage. My first thought was “what a beautiful piece of machinery”.
While you won’t see the usual amount of marks from pulling, stretching, bending and cutting the steel – they have been cleaned quite nicely – it is still quite clear that the Malleus buckler is not made with a historical method. That is absolutely fine – I honestly don’t get the need to have a handmade training tool. I want it cheap, durable and functional.
But when you invest a bit more, a good finish is expected. The Malleus buckler did not disappoint, with quite a striking look and a very nice, light gray coating over the steel. Matte, not shiny, as it should be.
If you break the Malleus buckler down into its components, you will end up with a handle, 2 pieces of wood, a bunch of peens, the face of the buckler and the umbo. Yes, despite being all steel, this buckler is not single piece, which is understandable in context.
The face of the buckler is rather thin, around 1,4 mm, while the umbo piece is closer to 1,8-2 mm. That is a good way to invest more material in the part that has to be drawn into a spherical shape (which usually thins out the center a bit), while keeping the weight down.
Even more impressive is the rim – it is folded quite cleanly, and to my surprise, even has some space between the end of the fold and the face – so, hypothetically, it has a higher chance of stopping a thrust and thus controlling the opponent’s blade.
But don’t worry – while a blade can potentially enter there (and snap), it is small enough that for it to happen you need a very small angle between the sword and the face of the buckler.
The handle is a solid, good piece of steel that is only slightly elevated from the face (so it can fit bigger gloves like SGs or Red Dragons), but not as much as many reenactment bucklers on the market. The wooden scales are well formed and show a good idea of ergonomics from the maker.
However, I am a bit dissapointed that only two peens on each side hold the handle to the face. For now, that is not a problem at all, but in the future, this will be the first thing to loosen up. A third pin would’ve made it a lot more solid. Historical bucklers usually have a different approach – like spearheards, the handle is a piece of wood that enters two rolled pieces of steel, which are themselves peened to the face.
The wooden scales of the hilt are held together by something closer to pins (i.e. same diameter, no widening), that according to Malleus are properly hammered down (not screwed as I first wrote). That proved to be one of the few weak points in the buckler later on.
Weighing just 1060 grams, this buckler will feel a bit light the first time you wave it around. Yet due to the all-steel design and heavier umbo it feels solid enough and has no problem taking brutal blows.
The handle is offset from the face just a little bit, which brings the center of rotation closer to your hand and allows for much smoother turns of the buckler from left to right.
I like heavier bucklers, but just after some 30 minutes of warm-up I decided I like light bucklers too – if they are made like this one.
You know how people say a good sword “flows”? Well, so does this buckler. It is a combination of weight and balance that make it just appear in the place you want. Unlike people who do only I.33, I work with the sword and buckler together and with separation, so I need to move it more often than just keeping it extended forward.
In play – and after
And we get to the point… the actual use.
While I usually wait for longer with gear reviews, I did that a bit faster for two reasons – first, it is a buckler, so there are less specifics to it’s handling and use. And secondly, this buckler was at Minsk 2019 and faced some of the best in HEMA s&b.
It took thrusts and cuts from fighters such as Evgeniy Volodkov, Kyle Griswold, Lubomir Peciva and many others. It faced sideswords, arming swords, and two different one-handed feders – all of different weight, speed and hardness.
And it took some monstrous hits and survived.
Naturally, despite the hardening of the steel, it took plenty of scratches, and a big visible dent on the boss.
Those are all acceptable given the stress it was subjected to, and I am happy with the results.
Only one thing surprised me – despite being used in just 7 tourney fights and some light sparring, the scales on the handle were loosened. The Malleus team told me they will use some strong glue in the future to prevent this.
I realize the last few pictures and details might give you the wrong impression.
I am not saying this is a bad product or that it has any serious flaws. In fact, I would say it has only very minor details that could be better. It is one of the best bucklers on the market that I’ve handled and a pleasure to use, especially in full contact fighting, where buckler blows happen often and it feels good to be pushing 60% of the usual weight into someone’s mask.
However, I’ve been looking at this buckler in the context of its price, which is quite a bit higher than the usual.
I also spoke to a friend of mine who works in machining, and showed him the buckler, He praised the precision, the peens and their placement, the finish and the overall sturdiness and fit of the pieces. According to him, 90 EUR is definetely not too much to ask for this level of metalwork.
Combined with that and my overall satisfaction with the buckler – the Malleus Martialis Pro Buckler is certainly not cheap, but definitely worth its asking price. It shouldn’t be the first buckler you buy (go and suffer a bit with something heavier, it builds character and sexy forearms), but if you are serious about s&b, it is one of the best high-end choices on the market.