The Truth About Battle Ready Swords

We define the term "Battle Ready" in our FAQ and in a pop up window if you click on the "battle ready" indicator on a weapon's page, but there seems to be a lot of confusion and misconceptions about what this term actually indicates. So read on to understand the truth about battle ready swords.


The term "Battle Ready" as it applies to swords has been in use for a long time. It was already an established term when we founded this website in 2000. However, despite it's long history, many people do not really understand it's exact meaning. To make matters worse, different sites will sometimes use the term in different ways.

In the most basic sense, a Battle Ready sword is a sword made in a similar way to a historic sword. In other words, it can be used as a weapon, as opposed to a decorative sword designed only as a display piece.

What all battle ready swords have in common
There are really only three traits common to all swords worthy of the battle ready listing.
#1) It needs a functional type of steel
#2) It needs to be heat treated
#3) It needs a strong tang construction

That's it. Those are the only three things you can deduce from the battle ready tag. It means that the sword meets the minimum requirements to be considered a functional weapon instead of just a display piece.

#1 The Steel
Typically you will see it said that a battle ready sword will have a carbon steel blade. This is true to an extent, but is a gross over-simplification. All steel has carbon, carbon is what makes the difference between iron and steel. Even the much maligned stainless steel has carbon. In this case, "carbon steel" is being used to differentiate from "stainless steel". Stainless Steel gains it's rust resistance by the inclusion of chromium in the steel alloy, but this also makes the steel somewhat brittle, rendering it a poor choice for a long, sword length blade. Usually, a functional sword blade will have a higher carbon content, aka "High Carbon Steel" as opposed to mild steel with a low carbon content. There are many different types of blade steels in use and it is not as simple as higher carbon content equals "better", there are many other factors involved and lots of trade offs. We'll talk more about different types of steel in another post, but for now it is enough to know that a steel blade with a decent level of carbon is one of the defining characteristics of what makes a sword "Battle Ready".

#2 Heat Treatment
Without the proper heat treatment even the best quality steel would be rather useless as a sword blade. The second aspect of a battle ready blade ensures that it has been heat treated to some degree. The heat treatment is actually two processes, quenching and tempering. Quenching hardens the blade so it will hold a cutting edge, but a hard blade is also a brittle blade. The tempering basically pulls back some of that hardness and allows the blade to gain flexibility, so it will not snap or shatter in a strike.

#3 The Tang
The last part of the battle ready recipe is the blade's tang. Basically the tang is the portion of the blade that extends into the grip. A well tempered blade of good quality, high carbon steel is still not a functional sword if the blade files out of the hilt when you swing it, so the tang and how it is affixed to the hilt are just as important as everything else. Most people will tell you that a battle ready sword needs a "full tang", but this is not actually true. See more about tang types here. What it needs is a "functional tang" and that is what the battle ready tag will indicate. Different types of swords will use different types of tang construction and the battle ready tag does not differentiate between different types of functional tangs. Battle ready simply means that the tang on the sword will be one of the functional types as opposed to a decorative only type.

What Battle Ready is not
You will notice that nothing about these three aspects says anything about the blade being sharp or how strong the blade is. One of the biggest mistakes we see are people adding their own sets of expectations onto the battle ready term.
Here are some common misconceptions

Battle Ready does not mean the blade is sharp.
The sharpness is a separate aspect from a blade's functionality. Yes, logically, if you are ready to go into battle with your sword it will need to be sharp. However, that can not be assumed from the battle ready term. This is an illogical part of the way the term is used, but it is what it is. You will find battle ready swords with both sharp and blunt edges, but a blunt battle ready sword can be sharpened.

Battle ready is only a basic indicator of durability
A sword being battle ready does not mean it is indestructible. In fact it does not even mean it is exceedingly strong. What it literally means is that the sword is functional, nothing more. Some functional swords are going to be more durable than others, so being battle ready should only be considered a starting point. The battle ready term should be used as an indication of minimum acceptable aspects for a weapon quality blade, not as a guarantee of extreme durability. Battle ready swords range in price from around $50 or so to several thousand. Just being "battle ready" does not render those price differences insignificant. There are many factors that go into how durable a swords is, qualifying as battle ready is only the start.

Battle Ready does not mean that it handles well
I've seen people try to make the argument that a particular sword is not battle ready because it is too heavy or clumsy. Again, this is a different aspect from a sword's general functionality. Yes, if a sword is too heavy to use properly that will impact it's functionality, but that is projecting more onto the term than is intended. A battle ready sword can still be heavy, poorly balanced or clumsy. Just being battle ready does not change that. This is why it is important to consider all of a sword's specs when making a selection. Being able to properly balance weight with durability is one of the aspects that separate good manufacturers from great, and great will usually come at a higher price than good.

Battle Ready replicas vs. historic swords
This is where things can get more complicated. Many people have incorrect assumptions about the durability of historic weapons. This is understandable, as movies, video games and pop culture in general, do not portray historic weapons correctly. They have been elevated to a near mythic level with unrealistic and historically inaccurate levels of strength and durability. In truth, medieval and ancient weapons were damaged and broken in battle frequently. Swords hit edge to edge would chip and need to be reground, some swords could bend and would need to be straightened, others would suffer blade breakage in combat. Modern reproductions are no different in this regard. Not only will they function like their historic counter parts, but they can break like their historic counter parts as well. In most cases, the quality of steel and manufacture on modern replicas far surpasses the originals, but they are still not going to be indestructible. Breaking or damaging a sword does not mean that it is not battle ready. By that logic most weapons throughout history were not battle ready, which is obviously a ridiculous statement.

Where the Battle Ready term falls apart completely
This term is only truly useful for swords, and steel swords at that. What about a bronze sword? That's not carbon steel, and bronze blades were not heat treated, they were work hardened. Can a bronze blade be "battle ready"? Not under the literal meaning of the term. But, bronze swords were battle weapons. What about knives? Strictly speaking a stainless steel knife would not be "battle ready" but can clearly be a fully functional weapon. How about a spear, carbon steel head on a wood shaft? The head may be strong, but the shaft could break rather easily. Wooden club? Does not fit any of the battle ready requirements but is still a fully functional weapon. The point is that this term becomes much, much less important when you are talking about other weapon types. This is because what is needed to make a functional club, mace, spear or knife is far less than what is needed to make a functional sword. The obvious line between decorative and functional swords is not only blurred with some of these weapons, but may be non existent.

When "Battle Ready" is not "Battle Ready"
Although this term is pretty well established and most North American dealers use it in the same way, many European dealers use the term differently. On many European websites a "battle ready sword" refers to a sword used for sport fighting, while a sharp sword is referred to as a "decorative sword" by contrast. While somewhat similar, cutting swords and sport or stage fighting swords have some significant differences. Sport swords are generally thicker with much thicker edges and usually a softer temper. They are not made to be sharpened and typically will not hold a good edge. Also the blade geometry does not lend itself to being sharpened. We refer to these as "Stage Combat" swords as opposed to "Battle Ready": swords.

"Battle Ready" vs. "Stage Combat" vs. "Decorative"
These are the three basic types of swords and what is right for you depends on your intended usage. Pick the type that fits with what you want to do, but understand their limitations.

Decorative
As the name implies these are great for decorating, hanging on the wall, costuming or collecting. They are not suitable for any type of usage. Unless stated otherwise, consider all swords you see offered for sale anywhere as decorative.

Battle Ready
Basically a modern recreation of a historic weapon with the same abilities and weaknesses. The only choice for any type of cutting practice or true weapons usage. Edges are usually too thin for any type of edge to edge contact even when dulled.

Stage Combat
A blunted, safer sword designed with edge to edge contact in mind. Allows for stage or sport fighting will less chance of killing your partner. Not suitable to be sharpened.

So please keep these points in mind when you make sword selections. It is safe to assume that a battle ready sword will survive normal light cutting activities. Better ones can handle heavy cutting or even abuse. But, do not assume that a particular sword will handle whatever you throw at it, simply by nature of it's battle ready construction. And remember that if you manage to break or bend a sword, that does not mean that it is not battle ready. It just means that, barring the possibility of some kind of defect, it was pushed past it's limits. To preserve your sword investment, don't stress it to that point. Stick to normal cutting materials such as water bottles, rice mats, pool noodles, cardboard tubes, etc. Stay away from hard materials and never try to chop wood with a sword.

 


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