Darkwood Armory Side Sword
A hands-on review by William "Bill" Goodwin
The Venetian/Italian side sword (spada da lato) was one of many hilt designs created during the late 15th century, and it saw continued use until the early 17th century. The side sword functioned mainly as a civilian weapon, but was also used in the military to some degree. Renaissance fencing masters, including Achille Marozzo, produced fight manuals dealing with the cut-and-thrust swords that were lethal in their own right. Side swords and other similar designs can be seen as precursors to the more complex hilts of the deadly rapier. The sword reviewed here is categorized as a quarter-hilt Type D by the late sword researcher Ewart Oakeshott in his work European Weapons and Armour.
The hilt was created by Darkwood Armory located in Panama City, Florida. A Del Tin Armi Antiche backsword blade has been mounted to the hilt to complete the piece. Darkwood Armory operators Scott and Leslie Wilson are well-known within the historical fencing community for making trustworthy, functional rapier hilts of many styles. The side sword and English basket-hilt are other styles in their standard line. Aside from the rapiers, custom work is also available.
A.V.B. Norman's book The Rapier and Smallsword: 1460-1820 is used as a reference to classify and label their work. This particular sword is listed as an "AVBN #41 Arms and Sidering" sword. Darkwood also offers different options as far as blade, quillon, grip, and pommel styles to create a personal touch to the standard line.
Measurements and Specifications:
Hilt created by Darkwood Armory, blade by Del Tin Armi Antiche.
The sword feels a bit tip-heavy, but otherwise handles well. The Del Tin blade is very flexible, but not whippy, though visually it would appear to be a little stiff. After doing a few variations of basic guards and stances, it became apparent why such swords were popular (or widely used). It is very responsive to quick changes. The finger notch in the forte of the blade greatly contributes to the control.
The backsword blade is designed primarily as a cutter, yet thrusting could be achieved with little effort after becoming more acquainted with the sword as a whole. I've attempted no test cutting, due to the fact that the Del Tin blade is unsharpened.
In the hands of a well-trained swordsman, by itself or paired with a buckler or dagger, a sword such as this would have been very effective in dispatching an opponent. The design of the slightly S-curved quillons, side ring, and lower arms provide ample protection to the hand.
Fit and Finish
The only real aesthetic flaws are a few grind marks on the quillons and knuckle-bow. The walnut grip is tight and smooth; however, I may wrap it in leather just for protection and personal comfort.
I chose an acorn-shaped pommel because, in my opinion, it adds to the overall aesthetic flow of the sword. The example shown on the Darkwood Web site has a square pommel. Photos of reproductions and originals I have seen show either a square or disk pommel.
The quillons, side ring, lower arms, knuckle-guard and three-lobed tips are evenly proportioned and nicely executed. The sword features a nice distal taper, finger notch, matching twin fullers on both sides, and an evenly applied satin finish on the Del Tin blade. These details make for a really fine looking sword.
From my own first-hand experience and the testimony of others, I can now see why Scott Wilson and the wares of Darkwood Armory receive such praise. For those in the market for a good quality, functional sword of this type and price range ($295 US base), they are definitely a place worth a look. I'm very impressed by this side sword in all respects. It met my expectations and then some.
About the Author
Bill Goodwin has been interested in swords for well over 15 years. He became a more serious collector of 17th century swords sometime in 2002, gathering data primarily on mortuary swords and other sword types used during the English Civil War period. He is also strongly interested in the art of historical European swordsmanship, especially German longsword.
Photographer: Bron Duncan