About 6 weeks ago I was lucky enough to get my hands on the “Matt Easton” prototype sabre. How did it fare compared to their standard sabre offering? Read on and find out.
At a Glance
Most sabreurs will agree that the ideal sabre is a mythical and elusive beast. The right combination of weight, accessibility, and price, has long seemed like an impossible compromise.
Enter Matt Easton of Scholagladiatoria. After several unsuccessful attempts Matt has recently been working with Kvetun Armoury to create what promises to be an ideal training weapon.
The result is a training tool of excellent quality with some wonderful performance characteristics which will be a welcome addition to the armoury of many sabre fencers; with a few changes this could be the sabre we’ve been looking for.
In this review I compare it to my existing Kvetun “standard” sabre
|Measurement||Standard Sabre||Easton Prototype|
|Blade width (base)||25mm||26mm|
|Blade width (tip)||12mm||16mm|
|Edge width (tip)||1.5mm||3mm|
- Extremely affordable.
- Ideal weight for 19th century British systems.
- Durable “I” beam design (sometimes referred to as a dumbbell cross section)
- Grip designed for Red Dragon style gloves.
- Blade flexes in a pleasant and safe way
- Authoritative in the cut
- The grip is very thick with a noticeable bulge which makes gripping clumsy [Edit: I’m told the production version is thinner in the grip].
- Back strap slips a little on the palm while fencing [Edit: the back strap is optional on the production versions]
- Straighter blade isn’t for everyone [Edit: Kvetun offer straight and two curved blade options in the production versions].
The Full Story
The problem with sabreurs is that we all want a different thing. Italian stylists often voice a desire for a lighter blade, eastern european styles would like better curved options, while the “standard” sabre in many competitions continues to be the somewhat overweight and clumsy Regenyei sabre, which weighs in around the 920 gram mark.
Fencers from the 19th century British school meanwhile have long been searching for a sabre around 800 grams which is both durable and well balanced, generally finding this basis in examples of gymnasium sabres from the period, as well as service weapons of the same era. Matt Easton is perhaps the highest profile practitioner of this style. Matt has previously attempted collaborations with other manufacturers to design the ideal sabre, with mixed results, however his recent collaboration with Kvetun Armoury to create the ideal English gymnasium sabre looks especially promising.
Before going any further I would say that I can’t recommend Kvetun enough. They are a complete delight to deal with and are more than happy to help out in any way they can to make the exact sword you’re looking for. They’ve always been extraordinarily courteous and friendly, and I’ve always been happy with the products I’ve ordered from them. With Kvetun behind the project, this could be the sabre we’ve been seeking.
I’ve been using the Kvetun “Standard” Type 1 sabre for the last year, however thanks to Nelson from Melbourne Messer Club I now have an Easton prototype of my very own, so a considerable part of this review will also show the standard sabre side-by-side with the Easton.
Which Edge has the Edge
Both sabres fall around the 34 inch mark (the standard being a scant 8mm longer at 86.3cm), putting them in the right size for a 19th century gymnasium sabre, with the Point of Balance of the Easton creeping 13mm forward from the Standard.
Length and balance aside, as soon as you pick up the Easton sabre two enormous differences are immediately apparent.
First is the blade cross section. The Standard blade has a V cross section for the lower two thirds of the blade with the spine being 4mm thick and thinning to an edge of just over 1mm. The top third of the blade transitions immediately to an almost flat cross section just over 1mm across, giving the sword excellent strength in the parry but with nice flex in the thrust. The thin edge, however is prone to damage, especially when dealing with excitable opponents, and the thin tip can take a slight set on a well placed thrust.
The Easton by contrast has what I usually call an I beam cross section (also known as a dumbbell cross section). Effectively the blade is concave on both sides so that the edges remain very thick and durable, without making the sword excessively heavy.
The result is a blade which is 5mm thick at the base, and 3mm thick at the end. This means that the blade is not only safer in the strike, but also stands up to edge damage much better. The concave surface means the tip can also be wider; the Standard narrows from 25mm at the base to a 12 mm tip while the Easton narrows from 26mm and maintains 16 mm at the point, making for a broader (and presumably safer) thrusting surface.
This cross section has been fairly normal on some feder designs, though is rarely seen on sabres. In the image below you can see the damage difference, and while the Standard has seen use for much longer, the Easton has also seen heavy testing with no appreciable damage.
The second striking difference between the swords is the blade curvature. Most of us are used to a noticeable curve in our sabres, and the Standard conforms to this stereotype, curving up by about 14mm on the spine at its highest point. By contrast the Easton is effectively straight. This absence of curvature is actually quite consistent with many historical examples of gymnasium sabres.
Readers should note that Kvetun does offer additional options for the blade curvature in their productions models, so there is a blade to match most users.
With these significant blade differences it’s hardly surprising that the swords handle in slightly different ways.
While slightly heavier, the Standard has a closer point of balance and at times feels handier in point-work (though I suspect that may be the grip, see later). The straight blade of the Easton leads to some nice thrusts, though, and both of them are a match to most of the options currently on the market.
On the other hand the blade of the Easton is wonderful in defence and attack with parries being effortless and firm, and the edge easily absorbing even heavy impacts from other weapons it’s been tested against (including some pretty excitable side-swords). The cuts fall nicely on target, and the whole thing feels very authoritative. The blade flex is quite wonderful and the I beam design gives excellent flexibility on thrusts.
As an added bonus the Easton produces a delightful tuning-fork “PING” when it glances off of the opponent’s blade, which is a nice unintentional difference from the thunk of regular blades.
Both are excellent weapons and are among the best I’ve seen from manufacturers, and personally I have a hard time choosing a favourite just on blade characteristics, but overall I edge toward the Easton in this category.
Changing of the Guard
The shell on the two swords is very similar. My own Standard sabre has the Matt Easton modification to allow for use of Red Dragon gloves, so this is entirely expected. Both have a rolled edge with reinforcing ring at the front to prevent wear from the blade.
The shell of the Easton prototype does form a more vertical surface perpendicular to the blade, where the Standard forms a slight “ship’s prow”, and the sides of the Easton also curve around slightly more, though the overall guard is narrower than that of the Standard. The result is a slightly more protective guard on the Easton with less room for a probing point to slip in on the fingers, with the Standard having a wider face that is a little harder to pass. The difference is relatively minor, however, so there is no clear winner here.
I would point out that the Standard version of the Standard shell is much more protective than either the Easton or my Standard, though doesn’t fit a Red Dragon gloves comfortably.
Getting to Grips
Having a fantastic blade is all well and good, but a surprising amount of difference between sabres comes from the grip. Personally I like a narrower more controllable grip, and this is where I think the Easton sabre is really quite weak.
Both secure with a nut at the rear, though the Easton has a slightly more complex assembly owing to the back-strap. I do find the nut on the Standard works itself loose over time (easily solved with a little loctite), though the Easton doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem.
The Standard sabre grip is 14.8cm long and curves significantly down from the line of the blade allowing for a natural grip which can move back to a “pistol like” grip at the base. The all leather covering is pleasant to hold and narrows nicely in the middle, giving excellent precision and control.
The Easton, on the other hand 14 cm and lines up with the blade, allowing for a less natural wrist position. The grip itself swells noticeably in the middle, and the result is fairly unpleasant and uncontrollable, feeling like a thick backsword more than a sabre. This is where the Easton loses all of its benefits from that wonderful blade as the grip rapidly fatigues the hand and leads to cuts which swing through rather than ending crisply in the guard.
Couple this with the backstrap on the grip, which is aesthetically appealing, but actually makes the fat grip even more difficult to hold, and the Standard sabre comes out as a clear winner here.
I honestly believe that this is the grip on this sword is the one thing which makes it less user-friendly than the standard version. I found myself getting fatigued more quickly and having to work harder to keep the sword in my hand (even being disarmed at one point while using it).
I’ve been told that the production versions have a slightly modified grip, and buyers can opt for no back-strap, so I look forward to seeing the result.
★★★★★★★★☆☆ – 8/10
The Easton sabre is a great addition to the market; a few tweaks and it could be perfect.
Both the Standard and Easton are practical fencing tools and I would recommend both sabres to stylists from the British school (or compatible styles).
If the grip were improved I’d marginally prefer the Easton, and in fact have ordered another from the first run of “production” sabres from Kvetun to add to the collection.