History of the Rapier
The Rapier has been known by many names and has many different shapes, blade widths, and styles throughout history. A rapier is defined as a sharp, narrow, double-edged blade used for thrusting, cutting, and slashing. There are many sub categories and specialties for Rapiers that have different uses and styles. Side sword, Epee, Spadroon, Backsword, Bilbo, Swept Hilt, Papenheimer, Schianova, and Espada Ropera are different types of Rapier. This last one in fact, the Espada Ropera, in Spanish means “clothing Sword.” Rapiers were worn as both fashion statements and as self protection.
The most common definition for a Rapier defines the blade. But ironically it is the Hilt, the part of the sword that protects the hand, that is the most distinct and unique portion of the sword. Rapier hilts are usually split up into three different types. I tend to default into the Spanish or Italian definitions. These types are; Espada Ropera de Lazo, or Ring Hilt; Espada Ropera de Conchas, or Shell Hilt; and Espada Ropera de Taza, or Cup Hilt.
Parts of the Sword
In order to begin in Rapier Fencing you must have or have access to not only a sword, but also all of the protective gear required for the sport. This can be very expensive to start from scratch. Often we lose potential rapier fighters for this very reason. The sword is truly the most expensive and highly detailed tool that you must have to get started. The blades were easy to purchase by themselves but rapier hilts were anywhere from one hundred to four hundred dollars! But I wondered if it was possible to make this less expensive? I was not terribly pleased with my first rapier I had purchased. it was very heavy and not well balanced. it had a sabre guard and nowhere to loop my finger over a quillon or ricasso for more control. I decided to try to make my own sword hilt. I enlisted a friend with a forge to help me make a quillon and found a silver bowl to use for hand protection. It was a sorry sight, but it did the job. Soon I became tired of that hilt and began to cold bend metal bars and turned to our local makers space to learn how to weld these into a hilt. I found others who make sword hilts and asked way too many questions. I began to research different styles and types of sword hilts. I purchased my own forge and welding torch and with each new rapier hilt I learned new skills and processes. I’m still learning and I love the challenge of figuring out each new skill.
Sword Hilt 1:
This sword dates around 1600 made in France.
This hilt is a type 69 from the AVB Norman pages 141. The overall design is both compact and effective. The S curve quillons create a knuckle guard and there is adequate hand protection from the diagonal ring and front side ring. The rings have a single lozenge carved into each of the side rings and a triangular quillon block. The inner guard is a simple forward loop. This does not provide much protection for the fingers, so the user must be on guard for attacks to the inner guard.
Why I chose this sword
I really liked the simplicity of this hilt. I prefer light weight and versatile guards which allow for movement and changing grip for different attacks or defense. This hilt offered a challenge of shaping the lozenges in the side rings and the triangular quillon block. I had limited time to make this hilt, so having a simple design was a bonus.
The final weight of the hilt was 8.7 oz.
I always begin creating a sword hilt by drawing what I want it to look like. I draw each piece and work out the dimension and scale. Next I cut the basic parts from stock metal and begin to shape each piece in the forge. The block, quillons, forward arms, and knuckle guard are the first parts that come together. All other pieces will build off of these. These all vary with each individual rapier hilt but are basically similar in design. The main difference is the block itself. I had not built a triangular block at this point. I drifted the hole for the tang to insure the perfect fit. Previously, I would form the block by drilling out from a single quillon or welding the quillons to a flat bar with a rectangular hole drilled in it. this Triangular block is much more appealing to the eye and closer to how it was done in period. The rings were shaped and tapered in the forge and carved with a dremel for the lozenges. there were some shaping adventures once everything was welded and lots of filing and grinding to remove excess material from the welds.
This was a relatively easy build. everything came together well and I was able to built this hilt quickly and over all I am very happy with it.
I had planned to put a brass finish on the hilt to give it a more polished look but I have not figured out how to succesfully create this process at this time.
What I learned
correcting and aligning everything after it is all assembled is very difficult process. If you move the Arms the front ring moves off kilter. to fix, that the forward arms move ofline. It is a painstaking process of small alterations that takes time and experience…
Sword Hilt 2:
This is a double ring hilt with the forward ring closed type 43 from the A.V.B. Norman page 111. It dates about 1550 to 1630. The quillons are twisted to give it some added flare with coined finials. the inner guard is crossed for excellent hand protection and allows the fencer to adjust their grip to add the thumb to the inner guard for more controlled back cuts. The grip is lathed to shape and grooved to fit the fingers for the index finger over the riccasso.
The final weight of the hilt was 13.7 oz.
Why I chose this sword
This sword is a Commission piece for a local fencer and designed to his specifications. Once I had his list of wants, I realized it was very similar to the Italian Grandmaster Jean de Valette’s rapier. This sword is a modified version of that sword.
As always, I began with a drawing of what I wanted this sword to look like and basic dimensions.
This sword brought many of the skills I have been working on together to make an amazing hilt. It is probably my best work so far.
Trying to weld the forward ring port was a lesson in patience that I was not prepared for. Time management was also an issue. it took me a lot of hours to get everything symmetrical but it was worth it in the end.
What I learned
When building for someone other than yourself, you have to let go of your own preferences, (even if they are WRONG!) and go with what they ask for as long as it is safe to do so and within the rules. When you are building for someone else you must listen to what they want…
Sword Hilt 3:
This rapier is a type 52 hilt from A.V.B Norman pages 122 with a swept inner guard. It has a rear quillion and knuckle guard supporting forward arms with a side ring outside the hand. the end of the rear arm is linked the the knuckle guard by a long loop guard. the inner guard is swept with three eighth inch bars which connect high to the knuckle guard. The forward arms are kept wide to allow for one or two fingers over the ricasso for added strenght and control.
The final weight of this hilt was 11.2 oz.
This hilt is based directly from the drawing in the A.V.B. norman book of the rapier
Why I chose this sword
This is my own personal sword with my preferences in mind. I prefer a very light rapier with both style and grace. I fight Verada Destreza and this hilt is easy to hold horizontal for long periods of time. It has excellent balance and the grip is made of Padoak lathed to the shape of my hand. I prefer a longer handle to allow me to change my grip for offence or defense.
This is the first hilt formed and shaped in my forge.The rear quillon and knuckle guard are forged from one piece and the tang hole was drifted on the anvil and each piece was shaped and welded in place while still hot from the forge. Welding hot allowed for much easier cleanup once everything was assembled. the downside was it had to be timed well and was much more difficult to maneuver. The final touch was to chemical blue the entire hilt. This will help to prevent rust and gives a wonderful black finish to the sword.
This rapier is one that I am very proud of! Being able to forge and shape each piece and assemble them exactly as I had planned was an awesome experience.
Welding the hilt while hot from the forge was a suggestion from one of the other sword hilt makers to reduce flux and get better welds without using a gas accelerant. While it did help with cleaner welds, it also was much more difficult to work with as I could not directly touch the hilt with my hands.
What I learned
Planning and timing is key when working with hot metal! whether I am forging or welding, time and heat management is a must!
- Doug. Doug’s Rapier Hilt Making Page, users.netonecom.net/~swordman/SwordMaking/HiltPage.htm.
- “A Fine Gilded Rapier,France, Ca. 1600.” Czernys Auctions, www.czernys.com/auctions_lot.php?oggetto=46502&asta=38.
- Norman, A. Vesey B. The Rapier and Small-Sword, 1460-1820. Ken Trotman Publishing, 2019.
- “Rapier Sword.” Aceros De Hispania. Knives, Swords and Sabers, www.aceros-de-hispania.com/rapier-sword.htm.
- Vettius. “The ‘De Valette’ 16th Century Sword.” Ακαδημία Ιστορικών Ευρωπαϊκών Πολεμικών Τεχνών, 21 June 2013, medievalswordmanship.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/the-de-valette-16th-century-sword/.