"Early sidesword from s. XVI with side rings, front ricasso ring protector and side hand guard. Best quality construction for hard training, very nice balance and flexibility for a great cut and thrust fencing, maintaining the safety of the nylon material, so we can practice Historical Fencing with full force and intent, with minimal body protection." here
I ordered directly from Blackfencer themselves which was easy via their online ordering service. They were quick to respond to any questions and their customer service was faultless in my experience.
They make to order and it took them just under 2 months from order to shipping to complete. It's an interesting business model following the model of custom steel weapons manufacturing rather than the mass produced easy availability of Rawlings synthetics.
Cost wise they are, in my neck of the woods, approximately the same cost ($150) compared to Rawlings synthetics. Though the postage does up the cost somewhat. They are approximately half the price of the nearest basic quality steel swords such as Hanwei practical types.
Compared to the Rawlings synthetics the Blackfencer is a quantum leap forwards in quality of experience.
Firstly the aesthetic of the weapon is a huge improvement with a hollowed out fuller and general blade profile being more "sword like" than "block of plastic like."
In terms of "in the hand" experience it's lighter, which isn't always a good thing but in this case it is, has a much better presence and more blade awareness. Everyone who has handled my sword has gone "wow" or words to that effect, so it's a really appreciable difference.
For sparring the blade has great flex and can deliver a quite substantial thrust with good safety. It doesn't bind like a steel weapon but clearly some effort has been made to rough up the edge to allow for more gripping. The flex of the blade for thrusting doesn't seem to impair the parry and it's generally acts in a a very sword-like manner for sparring.
The corded grip is simple, robust and unlike some smooth leather type grips is actually grippy in the hand.
Finally the steel guard will last better than the light plastic of the Rawlings and undoubtedly contributes to the better feel of the weapon.
The only minor foible I can think of is that the steel guard could have been improved functionally by some kind of protective covering. Looking after unprotected steel is one of the annoyances of steel weapons that I'd rather not have with ownership of a synthetic weapon. It strikes me that the guard could be galvanized or simply sprayed with a clear coat of enamel.
I find it hard to imagine that I would now recommend to a beginner that they should buy an entry level steel sword when they could afford a Blackfencer. Both in terms of affordability (it's approximately half the price) and in terms of safety, being lighter and with good flex.
Also it worries me, as a lover of steel weapons, that as a "waster" this actually proves superior compared to blunted steel swords in some respects. In terms of feel and presence it feels more accurate as a reflection of a sharp sword than some of the mid to lower quality steel swords on the market. I find myself picking this weapon up more and more often as my first choice for practice and sparring. Very worrying.
On a separate note I wonder now that someone's upped the game how Rawlings synthetics are going to respond? For comparison I remember when Hanwei used to set the bar of both affordability and mid level quality, long gone are those days and I wonder if Rawlings will adapt or if they will simply keep trading on their wide market availability.