Editor's note: Especially since St. James became a sponsor of the HEMAA, people have been wondering about the quality of their work. Mathew Korteum was gracious enough to provide us a review of their montante - while I've personally been able to use one that a student of mine purchased, I thought it was a great opportunity to get a review from someone outside of my circle, especially since as the HEMAA president I also have a working relationship with St. James.
Saint James’ Armory is a new california-based manufacturer of HEMA training weapons. I was in the market for a steel montante, and decided to try them out. I have no connection to Saint James, and did not inform them that I intended to write a review. I received no discounts, and paid full price.
I intended to use this for solo training, and if the opportunity arose, some light and slow free play with a trusted fencing partner. Also, I am not a montante expert.
I’ve been doing longsword for about two years, and messer for about one. I’ve handled different manufacturer’s modern products, and a few real antique swords ranging from the Bronze Age to the Renaissance. But I’m really not any sort of authority. I’m an enthusiastic hobbyist who does HEMA for fun.
This doesn’t feel like a longsword. I’ve handled held a friend’s Arms and Armor montante before, and a Pavel Moc federschwert (insert joke about how big pavel's standard feders are here), and it felt rather similar to those. It didn’t feel cheap, it didn’t feel under or over constructed, and it rang like a finely-tuned bell. It arrived with no rust or pits, and with a nice thin layer of oil.
Design and Construction
Put your ear muffs on, because the entire design and construction of this screams utilitarian. It’s a tool, and there are no bones about it. Three particularities stand out, however.
One, the pommel.
The pommel is a flattened pear shape, and is actually constructed from five pieces of steel. It seems that the same piece of steel forms the blade and center of the pommel, the meat of the sandwich. On the sides of the tang, there are two separate pieces of steel, much like lettuce and tomato. Then, two pieces of steel are laid on top and bottom like bread. Finally, all five of these pieces are peened together with steel rivets, much like the steel rivets found in my father’s sandwiches he made for us as children. It’s all solid though.
Two, the grip. The outer grip is thick cord, but with some sort of bonding agent. It provides a grippy ... but not too grippy ... surface without being too abrasive, and it’s rock solid. It’s tapered rather nicely, which I am a huge fan of. It is a little uneven towards the bottom, however. You can slightly feel it in your hands while it is not in motion.
Third, the curves. Particularly, the curves of the parrying hooks, and the curves of the point. The point has a nice swelled tip. The parrying hooks also have nice squared/rounded points. I’ve accidentally driven these parrying hooks into my back and across my scalp while practicing some de Viedma, and boy, am I a fan of those curves.
“Dance with it”, “It’s not a longsword”. -Montante Swordsmanship comments under a thread about what you wish that you could tell your past self in regards to practicing the montante.
Yeah, all of that. x100. It handles well, it flows nicely, but if I don’t move it how the treatises say to move it, it fights me. With an aligned edge, it provides a nice sword wind that even my cell phone camera can pick up while outdoors.
And yes, I did have the chance to do something incredibly stupid. Slow and controlled free play, montante-a-montante. This wasn’t planned, but it (and I, and he), held up. The blade did not get chewed up, and the swelled point performed rather well at a slow speed as I landed some thrusts on a friend while he was wearing a HEMA fencing jacket.
Saint James’ Armory is an entirely Facebook-based operation - despite this, it was extremely easy to get a hold of them. On February 26th, I asked if I could pay half of the full $395+Shipping now, and half later. I paid half that day. They said it would take “about 2 months”.
On March 26th, the blade had been heat treated. On April 7th, they said it would be 2-3 more weeks, and shipping from California to Minnesota would be $30. I paid the remainder at that time.
On April 27th, I was sent a photo of my completed montante. On April 30th, I had a new montante sitting on my doorstep - within the approximate range they gave me. The whole experience way above my expectations going in blind to a new manufacturer, and with quality easily matching the price.
I wasn’t provided a choice of grip color, but honestly I don’t care - It could’ve been un-dyed, hot pink, black, green, or some weird goofy transparent stuff, and I would’ve been fine with it. Also, according to their Facebook page, all their products have a one year warranty.
It’s functional, well proportioned, well weighted, and it’s probably the cheapest steel montante trainer that's still worth its salt. It’s not a nuanced thing, but it has a beautiful simplicity to it. It does what it is supposed to. For someone looking for a basic trainer, and doesn’t want to use a wooden stick or a synthetic montante, I would not hesitate to recommend it. I’ve been shoving this to anyone who had a pair of hands to grip it.