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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Bright Side of Darksword: The Guardian


Darksword Armory's Guardian Sword




It was a wedding gift: 



A special request:



An inscribed heirloom presented to me by the best friends I had in the world:







It was a sword I had coveted for so long that it alone was what sustained my actual desire for sharp steel, unquestioningly, before I bought it:


At the time, it was my "Angus Trim," my "Albion." 

I posted blogs about it:


Featured it prominently: 


When I received it, I made montages of it and praised its prowess: 



I even went so far as to swallow some fears, take to YouTube, and create some informational (and hopefully entertaining) cutting videos with it:



Yeah, this 5 lb steel dream-come-true had that look, that feel, you know? 

Touted as "full tang," "hot peen," the works, it was my go-to Euro, and my main cutter. It was the sword I said I would carry into battle if battle ever came down to Midgard.


In short, I loved it.

But then things mysteriously began to unravel.

After light cutting in the yard, the pommel came loose. Nothing too serious, but when you have this picture of reliability in your head, and you expect performance, you're still a little surprised when something goes amiss.

Naturally, I contacted Darksword Armory.

True to form - and living up to their reputation of service - they said for me to send it back and they would handle all the repairs, FREE OF CHARGE.

Nice.

And, though sending back the sword via USPS (and ONLY USPS) across international borders into Canada was a chore, and expensive ($35 one way), this was MY Guardian! Come on, no-brainer right?

I did. It came back. Nothing was loose, everything back to normal.

I kept cutting.

Not too long ago, the pommel loosened again.

THE FUCK is going on here??

I decided then to send it to a friend - an independent bladesmith and mad genius with damaged swords - Wes Beem, instead of sending it back to Canada (and Darksword) one last time.

He made a truly SHOCKING discovery:



I....WAS....FLOORED.

"This can't be," I thought. "These things range in price anywhere from $340 for their basic model swords to $1950 for their "elite" Damascus steel models! How is THIS allowed to happen??!"

Needless to say, when shared on social media, the responses from the intelligent sword owners and smiths within our small community went as expected:

"This thing sells for $1600 and they offer it sharpened? Hope no one tries to cut with theirs..."


"And I used to cut shit with a DSA....scary stuff."


" Built like a brick shit house all on that anorexic threaded tang..." 


"I have the DSA that *** reviewed now and i will only cut bottles with it cause I dont wanna die."

"I own a DSA and I think she`s beautiful. 5160 steel, case hardened and sharp convex grind. However... after reading through this thread and seeing your examples... I think I`ll just leave her up on the wall."

"See, that's why I join this group! A few posts read and already I learned much!" 

I needed more. I needed to take action!

The justified reactions, and my own searing discontent, prompted me to reach out to Darksword Armory PERSONALLY and find some sort of solace, some sort of recourse for the TRAUMA I had just experienced from the utter failure of this weapon:

My Letter to Darksword:

"Hey guys,
One of the swords I received from your forge, the Guardian, broke again recently. I had sent this back to you once before - along with my DSA claymore (which broke twice). 

I decided, this time, to reach out to a smith friend of mine who does custom work and repairs on broken blades. He took the sword apart and needless to say, the tang, pommel, guard, and most of the grip was...um..less than secure. 

Frankly, I was SHOCKED to see hex nuts and glue where there should have been a hot peen, a noodle-like tang where there should have been 2 inches of hard steel in terms of tang width, and a widening crack in the wooden handle underneath the wrap after only some light cutting with backyard water bottles. 
 
My smith friend is doing what he can now to remedy this shoddy construction.

As it is a 2012 model - before your upgraded to the 5160 steel, and before you made improvements to the construction of your swords - I am going to allow you to make this right. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, because in the past, I have been a BIG supporter of your forge. 

Ideally, as this is a wedding gift, as a suggestion in terms of recompense, I would appreciate it if you made me a new Guardian with a FULL, STRONG, WIDE tang, a hot-peened, secured pommel, and the words "PALS" inscribed down the blade, approximately 3 inches down the ricasso (as was the case with the previous one). 

I am anxiously awaiting your response to this proposal and an explanation as to why these "battle ready" swords have such skinny, DANGEROUS tangs attached to 5lbs of sharpened pieces of steel.

Sincerely,
Michael"

Darksword's Reply:

"Hi Mike Terry, 

Looking at the tang we can tell this was a sword that was manufactured and shipped back in 2015 (nope, but go on). At the time we had a new employee that was grinding the tangs down instead of making the handles to fit the width of the tang. 

Once we received a couple of returns, Eyal unassembled the returns and found out what the employee was doing, he was therefore immediately dismissed from Darksword. This was a short temporary issue and we're very sorry you were one of the few. 

We would be glad to replace the Guardian for a proper one AT OUR COST. Please email us at info@darksword-armory.com with your information. Thanks."

Again, true to form, Darksword got back to me promptly and gave me a personalized solution to my issue.

ME:
"That is excellent news and in line with the kind of customer experience that I have come to know from Darksword! I will email you, for sure. 

It does beg the question though, is the happening more often than not? I am hearing from many other people that this is the norm for Darksword Armory weapons, and that is disconcerting to me.

Lack of hot peens? Shoddy guard grips? Hollow handles that don't squeeze the tang tightly? 

Would your company be amenable to a list of defections that might keep people from buying your products and incorporate those fixes (cost effectively?) I am a fan of Darksword, but you cant shake people's faith like that and expect to skate."



Darksword:
"Hi Mike, absolutely not (in response to my "Is the happening more often than not?" question, I think). 

We (Darksword) give 110% when producing our blades and providing optimal assembly. It can happen that with all our daily tasks, things can be missed, unfortunately. But we work hard to get where we want to be everyday and maintaining that can prove to be a challenge sometimes. I hope this doesn’t stir you away from our dedication and support."

A Dose of Reality:

Now, let's be honest about some things. 

All swords, from cheap Pakistani SLOs (sword-like-objects) to master smith dream works can break. They did in live battle back in the Middles Ages, and they do today. 

I know this. We all do. 

Also, to be truthful, the 5160 steel tang never snapped or broke anywhere, just the other hilt components attached to it. The tempering seemed fine.

But there is one thing I would like to focus on in this entire transaction - the bright side of things in this whole expensive shitty mess: Darksword was there for me, as their customer, when I needed them.

Seems to me...:
Whatever you feel about Darksword, no one can take away from the quality of their personalized and prompt service. It's very evident to me that they care about their customers.

That being said, 
  • Does Darksword have fundamental flaws in their sword assembly and hilt components? In my estimation, YES they do
  • Do these flaws seem to influence customers concerning the "battle-tested" promise they were given by the company; causing them to ask themselves: 
"Am I holding a trumped-up wall hanger in my hand, or do I have complete faith in the company's claims of "lasting durability?"

Undoubtedly.



And though that's a big gamble to take - and a lot to ask of common people (mostly untrained) who are swinging around 3-5lb pieces of sharpened steel; just praying for them not to fly apart and potentially take off an appendage - Darksword TRIES.

What does that mean? It means that, unlike Cold Steel who will sue you for using the term San Mai (shhh), Darksword does certain things that EARN your (wary) loyalty.

  • They WILL call you/email you back, promptly and investigate 
  • They WILL accept the responsibility of fixing the flaws in their sword hilt constructions 
  • And they WILL (or at least have for me OVER THE ENTIRE COURSE OF ANY ISSUES IV'E EXPERIENCED) assume the costs for you to make sure things turn out right, in the end. 
Effort Counts:
Does that mean that all is forgiven? In the words of Darksword "absolutely not."

Would I recommend Darksword Armory to someone just starting out and looking for a "high-quality" blade? Yeah, I think I still would, but now with reservations and explanations that this kind of situation COULD happen to them.

But what wouldn't I do?  I would NEVER say that they just didn't give a shit when things go south. Eyal and his crew take the time to respond to their customers, understand their needs, and do their brand of justice for their consumers. They put in the work when something goes wrong, and in my estimation, you HAVE TO respect that.

Whether their swords come from India, China, or Montreal (ive heard China then Montreal), if Darksword could translate that kind of customer service into their assembly, could they be one of the best swordmakers on the market? A big fat "yes." 

Will they? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Marco Polo: The Game of Thrones of the East


Noble house takes on noble house in a no-holds barred blood feud for the control of the realm.

Rebels in a distant court devise intricate plots and schemes to overthrow their mighty ruler and bring an end to his reign, once and for all.

A young foreigner with a mysterious past, and unknown future, takes his place as an unsuspecting hero and rises to the rank of one of the mightiest rulers in all of history.

Sound familiar? One of HBO’s best shows right? Dragons, elf children, resurrections, and strange gods?

Wrong.

It’s historical fiction. It’s as dazzling in its plot twists as anything by Martin, and it’s available to all you Netflix n' Chillers right now.

Its name is “Marco Polo.”


What Is Marco Polo Even About?
We’ve all heard about the intrepid adventures of one of the greatest explorers in history, Marco Polo. But, what this show has done is developed a story around one of his greatest experiences: his time in the court of one of the greatest kings in all of history, the Mongol ruler, Kublai Khan.

I don’t want to ruin anything for you (in fact, there is so much packed into two seasons, I actually couldn’t) but after Marco’s father displeases the Great Khan, Marco is given as tribute and recompense (unbeknownst to Marco) and things kick off from there.

Having just finished their second season (of which I have watched and loved every episode), I can confidently say that Marco Polo is every bit as intriguing as Game of Thrones, and offers just as many incredible characters, plots, cruelties, battles, duels, weapons, love scenes, and of course, what we all look for in a cable show now….

“BEEEEEEWWWWWBBBSSS”

Who Are the Main Characters of Marco Polo?:
Ever seen “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” There’s some of that in there!

Ever wanted to watch two enormous grizzly bears fight to the death with curved Mongolian sabers? You got it!

Ever thought, “Jesus, it’s all a bunch of white people on TV, with no people of color calling the shots!” Well, I think there are MAY BE TWO white people on the whole show, and they play minor (yes, I’m talking to you, Marco) roles.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a brief look at some of the best players this masterpiece has to offer and see if we can change your mind:

Marco Polo:


Alright, let’s get ½ of the white guys out of the way right off the bat (Marco's dad is the other). Marco Polo goes from Venetian delivery boy to Hand of the King (or Hand of the Kublai) in quick order. 

He is trained by a bad ass Chinese blind monk (we’ll get to him in a moment) named 100 Eyes, and, in proper interloper fashion, dips his Italian pen in some restricted Mongol ink which gets him into some serious trouble.

Will white people never learn?

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
John Snow (of course) and Robb Stark

Kublai Khan:



Warrior, philosopher, husband, father, ruler, family man, comedian – Kublai, even after doing some DESPICABLE things, is one character on this show you can’t help but LOVE. Even when you’re not rooting for him, you kind of are in the back of your mind b/c he takes ZERO shit and mans up – even on the battlefield (even though he’s kind of a big fella).

I won’t go into it too much, but, SPOILER ALERT, in the course of carving out and expanding his kingdom he takes out MOST of his family members. I mean, who wouldn’t right?

Take a look:


If nothing else, you should love Kublai Khan for little lines, like:

“Your skin brings to mind fine parchment, or the rose petals I use to clean my ass.”

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
Robert Baratheon (young and old), The Mountain, Tywinn Lannister, and Varys. 

100 Eyes:


100 Eyes could be one of the biggest draws of this show. Shaolin Monk-turned-Mongol-servant, 100 Eyes learns the hard way that disobedience has its price, and loyalty – at least in the court of Kublai – has a future. His fighting prowess is unmatched. His temple (that’s right, Kublai builds him his own temple in his court) is incredibly intricate and totally boss, and his help to the military is invaluable.

Again, I don't won’t give too much away about his exploits, but let’s just say he’s the fucking Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He’s “El Duche” from Boondock Saints. He’s the guy you want – even though he’s blind – when things just HAVE TO go your way.

Aside from Kublai, he’s easily the best character on the show, which is why Netflix gave him his own spin off special, aptly named "100 Eyes."

Take a look:

"100 EYES"

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Thoros of Mir and The Red Viper of Dorne

Ahmad:

He’s the snake in the court. The schemer. With safety, you cannot take him with you or leave him behind. He is the foil to all the great plans of the Khan of Khans, and just a terrific villain all around.

His origins are tragic. His exploits are completely sordid, and he puts some actions in motion that almost topples the whole thing. And, all the while, you just can’t look away!

Without Ahmad, and his SERIOUS family issues, this show loses almost all of its intrigue and some of the most amazing plot twists there are in any series on television.

Game of Thrones Counterpart:
Littlefinger, Cersei Lannister, and Qyburn   

Empress Chabi:
In a brutal man’s world like the medieval court of the Great Kublai Khan, Empress Chabi ABSOLUTELY holds her own. She is the wolf mother you just don’t see coming but you have to respect. She – like most unsung great women of history – controls the court of the Khan, and makes him PAY when he doesn’t listen to her.

She too takes ZERO shit, and will not hesitate to kill ANYONE who stands in the way of her happiness, her family, and her Khan’s power. She is the goddess of all things domestic in the empire of the Khan, and to cross her means a big scary Mongol coming to your yert in the middle of the night to utterly end your crap.

Game of Thrones Counterpart: 
The Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell, Margery Tyrell, and Cersei Lannister

Lotus: 
Remember at the very beginning of this post I promised you some Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? 

Well, I’ll have no one say I can’t deliver!















Michelle Yeoh – Yu Shu Lien from CTHD, and one of the top ladies on my “Broadswords” list – stars on Marco Polo as “Lotus,” the beautiful and deadly love interest to 100 Eyes, and absolutely poisonous thorn in the side of the power-hungry Khan.

She wants to see China freed of the yolk of Kublai and the Mongols, and will do ANYTHING to make that happen. Is she the deadly force that will topple Marco’s ambition? His Khan’s power? And everything the Mongols have worked for? Possibly. But maybe she's something more.

Watch the show. You will not – I promise – be disappointed with anything she does (except 1 thing, sorry).

Game of Thrones Counterpart: Arya Stark, Berric Dondarion, and Brienne of Tarth.

Final Thoughts:
Whether you’re a fan of history, a fan of cinema, a fan of the sword and battles, or just struggling to find GREAT television, you should totally give Marco Polo the binge watching it deserves. HBO and mainstream cable might have Game of Thrones to help them collect their laurels, but epics like this show you that human struggles are not confined to one race, one kingdom, or one timeline.

I would put Marco Polo up against any period piece on the market, and would be completely confident that anyone would rate it the Khan of Khans of TV.









Friday, July 8, 2016

Land Rover Sword Commercial



LOL

This is excellent, and yes, would be my ideal work place (without the whole "take them down" bit):



Also, to be fair, the guy is wearing the katana the wrong way in his belt, so I am not sure he's qualified to have all of those beautiful, functional pieces of steel hanging on his wall.

But, we can all dream. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Modern Experience with Ancient Forge

The Draw:
Have you ever seen something you simply had to have? Like there was a time for you when something could have cost $10k and you were already Googling “how to second mortgage?”

Back in June 2015, it happened to me.

As a member of many of the sword communities on Facebook, I happened upon a newcomer; peddling his wares from somewhere in sunny Soria, Spain. Javier Sole from Ancient Forge seemed enthusiastic, friendly (a must for a lot of sword groups out there), and his work, at first glance, was BEAUTIFUL.

But the one piece that caught my eye almost immediately was the William Wallace Greatsword from 1995’s “Braveheart.” And, while the movie version itself IS NOT true to the actual sword in the museum at Sterling, Scotland, there have been countless reproductions – Ritter Steel, Del Tin, even Albion – that have done collectors true justice.







This one simply captivated me in a way that no other sword really ever had (except maybe for the DSA Guardian. Ok, the DSA 10TH Century Viking, too).



The point is I made enquires.

Shipping to the US? Yep. Sharp? Yep (enough). Price? Less than $500?! Sign me up.

Then came the offer, from Javier, for complete customization:

You can customize?,” said I. Like how? Can you do a bear’s head pommel?
“Sure thing!”
Wait, what? You mean I can have a roaring bear head at the resting end of my sword, so I can name it Mathghamhain (Mahon, “Bear” in Gaelic, representing the famous warrior brother of High King Brian Boru)?”

The price was now hovering somewhere around $600.

Shut up and take my money this instant!


The Wife:
I set to writing. “These are all the reasons and justifications why I need this blade, hun.” Sound familiar? I haven’t purchased a sword in 2 years…It’s not that expensive if you compare it to others…I deserve this because it’s my birthday…You know I love Braveheart.

The list went on.

And so, on a quite night in August, I put PayPal to work. My money was gone. My heart was elated. My anticipation was peaked.

The Wait:
7-12 weeks. Not bad. I accepted that. Maybe even a few more for the customization? For this piece? No problem. I knew hand forged, hand cast materials take time. This isn’t Forged in Fire. I’m a patient man.  So I waited…

And waited…

And waited…

Come November 2015, I sent a few quick messages to Javier to confirm that we were still on schedule.

We weren’t.

The caster had destroyed the mold for the pommel, but Javier neglected to inform me. More time passed. The caster needed to be spoken to, AGAIN.

More time…

February came. Half way through, dejectedly, I told him: “Scrap the pommel project. Return to the original and send me the weapon.” The dream was dead.

Or so I thought…

The Follow Through:
True to the spirit of great customer service, Javier pushed through and DEMANDED the caster fulfill his promise. He saved the sword! More than that, he offered his sincerest apologies, AND made me a gift of a custom Scottish Dirk for my trouble! Wow, was I impressed. 

After much fanfare, and exchange of “in-progress” photos, the weapon was finished and on its way! I received shipping numbers, dates to expect her, everything you need to really get excited about a sword.

She arrived. I wasn’t home.

Fuck.

She was delivered the next day, and my mother in law snagged her up and settled her neatly against the wall of the foyer inside the door.

She was safe (the sword) and she waited for my hand.   

The Look:
I can’t do this weapon justice in words. It’s simply magnificent. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

  • The Process:















·   
  •     The Pommel:




·
  •     The Blade:













The Feel:
Handling this sword, I can honestly say it lives up to its BEASTLY name. At a little over 3 pounds, and approximately 49 inches, it feels like a great sword should. It sings through the air with immense power behind it, and generally just jumps when you half sword.

There is no fuller on the blade, but I’m not sure I would want one. Form is tough with this blade b/c it is so long, but I am sure a more experienced swordsman than myself, better trained in Fiore or Talhoffer, could pull it off.   

Now, being made of mild 1045 carbon steel, I’m not sure how it would react steel on steel, but I know that Javier knows his craft and knows what his clients expect. He explained to me, in great detail, how his heat treat went, and it seemed (again, I am no expert) to be up to the standards of the industry.  

As for the balance, it is exceptional for so much blade. It’s about half way up the quarter-length wrap, and is not too heavy like some other weapons I could name (again looking at you DSA Guardian)

The Video:
Ok, enough talk. Let’s see this thing in action, hmm?



The Experience:
The experience with Ancient Forge has to be taken in context. I was excited about the fabulous Celt-inspired design and the custom fabrication of the sword and bear’s head pommel (maybe too much so). I put Javier through the ringer in terms of design of said pommel as well, and because I was paying a high price for my first custom, I made sure that it was turning out my way.







In prefacing all of this, I am going to give you the pros and cons, and let you decide for yourself based on the look of his work from his site, ANCIENT FORGE, and his Facebook Page

Pros:
Aside from the stunning works of art that his swords actually are, Javier offered incredible customer service and live updates (when asked for). He was in contact with me constantly via Facebook Messenger for responses, made payment easy and efficient through PayPal, and converted everything for me from Euros to Dollars, to give me a clear indication of what the upfront costs would be.

More than that, he pushed his caster to get the bear’s head done even at a cost to himself. I am sure when he told me his conversations with his caster were “difficult” and “angry,” he wasn’t lying. He made a promise, I paid him, and he delivered. That is not lost on me.

Even MORE than that, as recompense for my waiting so long, he MADE ME a knife! Who does that? No one gets anything for free in this life, but, for this one instance, I did:






Javier guided me through the process, let me know when things were amiss, and made amends. That’s all you can really ask of a blacksmith/business. Right?

The peen is solid, the sword looks great, and the blade, even semi-sharpened (as international law allows) cuts through water bottles/jugs/my brother in law’s hand with the right swing. I dig it.

Cons:
Even with so much high praise, things were rocky throughout the entire, almost year-long process with Ancient Forge. 

Starting in November 2015, as I mentioned, I needed to initiate contact with Javier about the progress of the sword. It seemed, at times, that no progress was even being made on the sword, like my project was being ignored in favor of other ones. Of course, this could be due to him making up to 20 different weapons at one time, mine included. I never thought I was special (and that’s ok).

The bear’s head pommel was a disaster. It was on again. It was off again. The caster was not working out. It was cancelled. It wasn’t cancelled. No updates at all as he outsourced it to someone else. Things happen, but that was rough. If you say you can do custom work, by God, make sure you have someone who can deliver in a timely fashion.

The wait was torturous. Almost a full year to make one sword? That is too long. I was never worried that he would run off with my money, but when 2015 turned into 2016, I started to get a little nervous.

Finally, from a construction and durability standpoint, the sword is "journeyman" at best. Recently, the crossguard began to rattle and move. I had to make minor repairs to it myself and, to remedy the situation with Javier (which he offered to do), I would have to send it back to Spain. I also learned that Javier is “still perfecting his craft” (which, again, I can understand), so he was more than a little aware things might come loose. 

Bottom line is if I pay $600 for something, especially something that is designed to withstand impact, it better hold up for the longer than half a year (with only sparse use for backyard cutting).

Overall:
While my sword is amazing, and I love the look of it, I would not, personally, do business with Javier’s forge in the future. I am very aware of the capabilities of his forge, his customer service, and the final product. For that price, and that type of headache (worth it, I guess), I will keep my money and my commissions Stateside. 

Perhaps when he has more experience, better materials (5160 steel+), and a solid process to ensure nothing moves, rattles, or falls apart, I may revisit.

Would I recommend him to others? Not before they read this post, and understand what they may be getting into.

Does that make me smart? A bad person? Too particular? A total asshole?

I’ve been called worse…but it's all the truth.

You can decide for yourself.