I've used ZWA for a number of years now, as have many of the people in Trinovantia Nova. While I agree the quality has been dropping over the years, they are still in my opinion a good economical solution for getting started in SCA Rapier.
ZWA's armour is well made, though not the prettiest. If you're planning to make some pretty garb, definitely opt for the short sleeve style and fence in a T-tunic until you get the sewing done. (I'm still working on the sewing after 10 years...) There are few people in the Kingdom that have done this. They have a few options for weapon styles at reasonable prices and have been willing to customize in the past (notably at Pennsic).
Your reference to the tang breaking on the R6 model is correct - this has happened on nearly every one, unless you do some modifications after receiving the blade. This breakage is due to the fact that ZWA grind down the tangs of their blades to fit their hilts, which are primarily designed for Epee blades used in Light Rapier, and the fact the R6 hilt design allows the tang to flex between the top of the hilt and the finger cross guard. If you insert a piece of doweling in between the cross bar and the top of the hilt. Doing this doesn't guarantee that a break won't happen, it just reduces the chance quite significantly. The dowel must have a small diameter hole - just enough to fit the tang through it. The dowel itself should also be a tight fit in the space, and not fall out when the blade is not inserted. Besides being a bit more comfortable on any fingers inserted into the space, it provides some reinforcement around the tang. I did
this and had no problems. If you use a different hilt design, they don't have any more incidents of breakage than other suppliers in my experience.
As ZWA grind down their blades to fit their hilts, they are not all that compatible with other manufacturer's hilts and vice versa. Other manufacturers have wider tangs with hilts designed to match. This isn't to say you couldn't make a swap later (I have), it's just not all that easy and involves a grinder and/or shimming. (In case you're wondering why ZWA grinds down their tangs, I can't speak for them, but I assume it has something to do with their origins as a combined sport and SCA fencing equipment supplier, and their lingering focus on Light Rapier products).
Eyrny's suggestion of going out to practices and Events,and seeing what's out there is great advice. The feel of the weapon in your hand is vey important. Another factor is getting settled into your style of fencing before picking a weapon - this takes much longer and you are likely have this change over the years. I started out with a hilt similar to the R6 - loved it, did well, but after picking up a ZWA Italian Fencing Foil model at Pennsic I've been a fan of minimalistic hilts ever since. This second factor of getting to know your fencing style is why I recommend ZWA for your starting set of equipment: They have a bit of selection at reasonable pricing, and equipment that will last you a couple of years until you get settled. When you've settled into how you want to look, and your fencing style, that is the time to start investing in higher quality equipment like Darkwood, etc.
These are just my opinions - use or discard at your whim. Hope to cross swords with you one day,
Mateo de Merida
From: krieghund78 <neil.a.mccallum@...
Sent: Friday, May 3, 2013 10:39 PM
Subject: [E_Rapier] Starter kit?
Greetings unto the List!
Looking for input on starter gear. Coming back out to play and getting serious about rapier.
I have almost no gear at this time. Looking to buy my first rapier and need pretty much everything else: mask, & gorget particularly. I have a a serviceable pair of gloves for now & fencing coat in construction but seem to have misplaced my seamstress.
The Darkwood economy has been strongly recommended. I quite like it but have also been looking at Zen Warrior Armories. In particular they have a starter kit that includes Jacket, Mask, Gloves, and Sword for a discount price. If I can manage the kit for the same price as the Darkwood with the gear included I'm tempted to take this route. The question is spend the money on a better blade & wait to get the rest, or get the set first & save my pennies for a better blade down the road?
The set can also be upgraded to switch out the blade/hilt & the jacket. One option I'm considering is upgrading to the spectra.
I like the idea of the spectra because I have a need to be the prettiest peacock on the field & want to fence in garb. Also, it'll be a while if I have to wait until I can finish sewing my coat to get really stuck in. Frankly, I'd rather practice fencing than sewing.
The sticking point is the blade/hilt really. I'm looking for the benefit of experience out there with Zen blades/hilts.
I'm not a fan of their basic blade/hilt so I've been looking at the R13 with a 40" T03 Rapier blade. This is the hilt choice I'm considering based on the fact that it can be worked both hands easily. One concern that has been pointed out to me is the construction of the R13. The pictures on the site & one example I've seen in person have the ricasso(sp?) ending at the top of the guard & an exposed 2" of narrow tang between the guard & the handle. The one I've seen has been repaired because of a break in this spot. Is this common with these? What kind of options are there to address/counter this? What kind of options are there for possibly swapping blades/hilts down the road for something preferred? How interchangeable are they with other manufacturers? Or am I barking up the wrong tree all together?
Any thoughts on this option or others at ZWA that could be subbed in would be appreciated. As well as any other input on starter gear.
Grateful for your time & thoughts,
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