Black Horse Blades: ‘Arbeitspferd’ Workhorse Feder Review

Editor's note: we're still working out our feder review process, and we have some great methodology in progress. Feder reviews can be quite subjective, so one format we're trying out is a multi-person review, so you can get a sense of how different people respond to the same tool.

We're blessed to have Joseph Brassey, Rebecca Glass, and Signmund Werndorf write up a review together of the Black Horse Blades Feder.


What is HEMA without a sword? They are one part symbol, one part tool. As such, people get very particular about their swords. Tiny details take on huge significance, subtle nuances make or break the product and when you add the high level of investment, buying a sword (especially your first) can become a fraught and neurotic process.

Before Sigmund purchased his first sword he exhaustively researched the market, finding every single option available, then creating a spreadsheet with every relevant detail: length, weight, point of balance, pommel type, tip type, country of production, price, on and on. He read everything he could find, and ultimately chose what he thought would be the perfect sword for him.

It turns out he chose wrong.

That’s a different story, about a different sword. But it shaped how we are going to write this review. Every practitioner has idiosyncratic needs.  We all have our preferences (and those preferences are different) so no one is necessarily right or wrong. Because of this, no sword is perfect for everyone.

While we are going to talk about the handling of the sword and the way it fights, that will not be the emphasis. Instead, we will be focusing on the quality of construction, the experience and customer service in getting it, and the kind of sword that it is. It’s up to you to figure out whether this is the sword that will best serve the way you fight.

Review Methodology

Sigmund: I purchased the Dark Horse ‘Arbeitspferd’ Work Horse Feder from Logan Black in the spring of 2016. Logan was unaware of any review when I purchased it. I have used it in two separate tournaments as well as six months of intensive training and sparring. I have been in touch with Logan since purchasing it. I informed him of the review before it went live about any differences between my sword model and what is available for purchase today.

Rebecca: I ordered mine in April, after getting to play with a prototype at Shortpoint. I had no commitment to writing a review until asked by Jayson in December. I have used my feder at Longpoint, PNW, Blood on the River and SERFO, not to mention normal training sessions as well. Logan was quick to respond to all my inquiries and was honest when met with delays. He hand-delivered my feder to me at Longpoint to keep within the four-month window I was originally quoted.

Joseph: I ordered mine on the basis of the review that Jake Norwood gave the sword. I've used it at Longpoint, as well as for several months of intensive training, drilling, and sparring since. Logan was communicative throughout the process, and hand delivering the sword to me at Longpoint. He was extremely professional and personable throughout.

Construction

Stats

  • Length: 50” (127cm) Total; 12.25” (31.1cm) grip; 37.75” (95.9cm) blade
  • Point of Balance: ~2.75 (7cm) from the guard, varies depending on schilt choice.
  • Tip: Lobe tip
  • Weight: ~ 3lb 4oz (1.47kg), varies depending on schilt choice
  • Base Price: $580+S&H

The Black Horse feder comes with a variety of options. The base model gives you a choice between ten different schilt types, thirty different grip options (sixteen different color options in cord wrap and fourteen in a leather wrap), and three different pommels. All are at the base price.

For an up-charge you can change the handle geometry, the cross guard geometry, add cross guard rings or a full cross guard ‘shield’ (like rings but with the gaps filled in). He can customize weight and point of balance as well as cool grip options beyond the staggering array already available at the base model.

There is only one thing he can’t do: Make it longer. Neither the overall length or the blade length is customizable. If you beg and beg he may be able to do it for twice the price. We all decided to make due.

Sigmund: Logan takes a lot of pride in the quality of his blades and it shows. After a six months of heavy use the blade and cross guard have a barely perceptible patina of scuffs and dimples. There are no significant dents, no burrs, nor scratches. The finish is still relatively clean and despite my negligence it has not begun to rust. You can see why they call it the workhorse: it does its job, takes its burden, and doesn’t need a lot of special care afterward. It is made to last.

The only part of my sword that has shown signs of use is my cord wrapped grip. After taking several strikes during sparring it has started to get a little chewed up. Luckily, the Black Horse feder has a hex nut screw in the pommel rather than a peened tang. This allows the grip and cross guard to be replaced (a service Logan provides).

The usual downside to the hex nut arrangement is that over time the nut loosens. There has been no hint of that over the course of my time with the sword. Everything about this sword feels rock solid.

Rebecca: I went with an hour-glass schilt and red and black cord. Like Sigmund says, the cord is the only part of the feder showing noticeable wear at this point.

My one criticism here is that I wish I had gone with a wasted grip. The standard grip is very round, and while fine for solo drills, it makes it hard to maneuver when wearing sparring gloves. This is not Logan’s fault, as the gloves also take part of the blame, but it has taken some getting used to. Keep this in mind when figuring out which grip you prefer.

Joseph: I went with the swept-schilt rather than the standard, and my grip is slightly shorter, as I didn’t want it longer than ten inches. Even in the Koenig gloves I wear, this isn’t much of a hinderance for blade manipulation or maneuverability. The schilt I have doesn’t change the balance much, though it does set the weight a tiny bit further forward. I also went with the leather-wrapped grip, which in addition to being gorgeous, has improved the weapon’s handling capabilities. It’s taken some damage (mostly scuffing) , but shows no signs of failure.

Performance

This section will be brief for two reasons. First, everyone has different standards for what they want in a sword, so we cannot tell you whether this sword handles in a way that you will like. The second is that some of our swords are not the standard model. More on that below.

Sigmund: There are three features that dominate the handling of the Black Horse Feder. First, it is one of the shorter feders on the market. Second, it has a double fuller which provides a wide blade edge with a low weight. Finally, it has a unique distal taper that allows for significant flex on the last third section of the blade close to the tip, but stiffness in the first two thirds.

Compared to a standard Regenyei it has a more powerful presence in the bind. It does not hit as hard as a Chlebowski but it has a similar bold presence against your opponent’s sword. Its petite size makes it feel more maneuverable than the larger European swords like Pavel Moc, Victor Berbekucz, or Einsifer Heavy but this comes at the cost of anywhere from two to four inches in reach. In quality it feels much like an Albion but with a very different aesthetic.

Ed. Note - Look at the edge damage...or, the lack of it.

Ed. Note - Look at the edge damage...or, the lack of it.

 

Rebecca: The double fuller means that when doing practice cuts in the air, this is one of the loudest feders you’ll find (ed. the loudest is in regards to sword wind). For someone like me who struggles with cutting, this is enormously helpful.

The real benefit is that I can feel a bind presence with this that I couldn’t with my light Chlebowski or Regenyei. When you’re comparatively small and light and in an open steel tournament, you’ll want whatever advantage you can get. When my opponent’s structure is poor, I can control the bind in a way I couldn’t with my previous feders. Plus, it’s shorter length means that I can maintain more control of the tip than I could if it was longer.

 

Joseph: I can’t reiterate enough how good this sword feels in the bind. Using it in freeplay, I’ve been able to do things that I simply couldn’t with other feders. Something about the combination of the weight given by the double fullers, the mass-distribution, and the overall balance makes for a relatively small feder that possesses tremendous presence without sacrificing maneuvering or tip-control. I think Sigmund hit on it best above by saying it’s rather like a beefier Albion, except I actually prefer it to the Meyers I’ve trained with.

 

Customer Service

Sigmund: If you order a Black Horse Feder, the sword that shows up on your doorstep in two to five months will not be the sword that I use.

Logan hand delivered my Work Horse at a tournament. I went on to use it over the course of the weekend. At the end I noticed that it had taken a faint but visible set near the tip. I showed Logan -- he was mortified. I was content to live with it and he unhappily let me keep the sword on the assurance that I would contact him if it showed any other signs of failure.

A week later he called and begged me to send it back to him so that he could swap out the blade. He had found out that the batch of swords mine came from had been a victim of a miscommunication during the heat treatment process. He assured me that it was still safe and would probably show little to no effect from this,but that he would still really much prefer that I let him put a new blade on (at no extra cost to me). It was obvious to me that Logan was distressed by the very idea that his swords could have any kind of flaw and only fixing it would provide him relief.

I acquiesced and he switched out the blade. I have been completely satisfied with the end result. Since then, Logan has checked in twice with how my sword is doing and made sure that I am still happy with it.

I tell this anecdote because it demonstrates the integrity with which Logan approaches his sword making. Human error exists so the fact that there was a small mistake in my first sword does not phase me at all. What impresses me is how quickly, and without hesitation, Logan moved to fix the problem.

In the period of time between my order and my receiving of the sword he was always responsive, usually replying within a day or so. The simple truth is this: Logan is a good guy who will do everything he can to treat you well and make the best sword he can for you.

Rebecca:  See what Sigmund wrote? Read it, and read it again. Logan has been one of the best vendors I have had the pleasure of dealing with in terms of customer service. Given that the community has occasionally had problems in the past with unresponsive vendors, this is not something to gloss over. Ordering a second feder from him (and, possibly at some point, a sharp) is a question of “when”, not “if’s”.

Joseph: Logan replaced the blade on mine as well, when an error with the same heat-treat resulted in a break. The new blade (which I have been using for approximately four months with no problems and barely even any visible damage) contains slight upgrades from his initial version, but the handling is no less excellent, and its durability is singularly impressive.

His customer service throughout was really awesome. I never went more than a day without a question being answered, always professionally and patiently. I’ve known a number of swordmakers over the years, and Logan is the real deal. He’s attentive to his craft, devoted to making his product the best it can be, and serves his customers honorably. You won’t regret going to him.

Conclusion

The Black Horse Feder is not a cheap sword. At $580 before shipping, it is one of the more expensive Feders on the market. It is also not a universal sword. It is of a particular style. But once you hold it, you know where that money goes.

If you like the way it feels in your hand and against an opponent’s sword, then you will have no regrets about owning one. We know we haven’t.


Vendor Response

(Ed. note - we give vendors the opportunity to respond to a review in any way they see fit. Logan has asked if he could add some additional context for purchasing options. His response is below..)

Regarding Rebecca’s feedback about the roundness of the handle for the standard option, we’ve heard that from others after Rebecca got her feder and now our standard handles are more oval. I don’t know if Rebecca has been able to try the standard grip since we made the change, but it is more oval so I’m hopeful she would be happy with the change since others have been.

Regarding length, 50” is the most we can do without a ‘significant upcharge.’ It isn’t quite twice the price and we’re working to reduce it. Right now though it is closer to 1.5x the price.. No one needs to beg to get this, though we do usually give a disclosure along the lines of ‘due to price no one has gone this route so far.’ I personally feel the up-charge isn’t worth the usually 2-4 inches the customer might want added to their feder, but if someone is willing to pay the up-charge I’d be happy to do this for them.