Wasters - Not Just Any Wooden Sword

Starting off with a good waster will make a difference in both your skill development and enjoyment of historical fencing. Believe it or not, there is more to choosing the right waster than just picking up a wooden sword and swinging it.

Several Companies make wasters commercially, but buyer beware! Different companies run the gamut from wonderful to pathetic, both in waster quality and in customer service. We have found a few companies that make fencing quality wasters for a good price with world-class service. Here is a listing of our recommended suppliers.

Sword Length - One size does not fit all! Longswords and bastard swords (both large swords designed to be used with one or both hands) need to be fitted to the person. Ideally, the sword should extend from the ground to breast level, with shorter being better than longer. If the sword is too long, it will hit the ground during techniques, while a waster six inches shorter than ideal will work fine.

Sword Weight - Remember "Conan the Destroyer" where the princess tries to pick up Conan's sword but can't because it is too heavy? That is utter nonsense! The actual hand and a half swords used in the Renaissance with a 40"- 48" blade weighed between 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 pounds. Remember, you are talking about a weapon that you might have to use all day in battle!

Weighted Weapons - Some students have asked about using heavier weapons (even double or triple weight) to improve their performance and speed in swordplay. Our answer is this: work first on learning the techniques properly with a standard weight waster. Then, and only then, and only if you still feel it would be beneficial to practice with a heavier weapon, do you want to try it. The reason is this; the heavier waster will cause your swordplay to be sloppy, and if sloppy is the way you learn to fence, you will have to unlearn your bad habits and then relearn the techniques properly.

Waster Materials - This is extremely important. Your waster will be subjected to all forms of abuse during practice. Make sure that your waster is made of impact-grade hickory! Some companies are selling wasters made of softer woods like butterwood, which will literally disintegrate during practice. This can lead to huge splinters (read: shrapnel) flying across the classroom.

A Note On Pine - Pine is a brittle softwood, but even worse, most of the pine available today is Ponderosa pine, a fast-growing variety that until the mid-80's was considered useless because it created such weak lumber. A pine waster or dowel rod may shatter just from the force of swinging it, even without striking another object. Again, this would lead to dangerous shrapnel flying across the classroom.

Using a Wooden Dowel as an Alternative - If you are unable to acquire a waster, you may start out using a 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" diameter wooden dowel rod, cut to the proper length as described above. Make certain, though, that:

  • the dowel is one piece of wood, not sections that have been cut and glued together
  • that it is made of a hardwood like hickory or oak, and not a softwood like poplar or pine.