Scottish Swords: Cold Steel And CAS Iberia’s Tartan Edge

Scottish Swords: Cold Steel And CAS Iberia’s Tartan Edge
The Cold Steel Scottish Baskethilt Sword (top) and CAS Iberia Scottish Baskethilt Backsword (bottom) on the facing page make an impressive twosome and are not unlike some of the swords used by the Scots in the Battle of Culloden.

Swords with a Scottish pedigree get two impressive reproductions.

People tend to look at the past quite romantically, and, in no uncertain terms, seem to have a love for those who died while living passionately, even if it meant the end of their way of life. This type of Shakespearean melodrama played out across the world over the centuries, especially when one industrialized nation defeated and subjugated people with a decentralized clan system. The scenario transpired time and again in Europe, America, the Orient and more. The idea of what might have been in a traditional, seemingly carefree society is something many cling to today as progress inevitably marches on toward an unknown, uncharted destination.

For the traditional Scottish clans, the quest for self-determination ended on April 16, 1746, in the Battle of Culloden. A significant reason for their defeat came not just from their tactics but also the weapons that were used. Meanwhile, along with their defeat went their widespread ownership of swords and guns.

CAS Iberia sword has an incredibly comfortable grip
According to the author, the CAS Iberia sword has an incredibly comfortable grip assembly.

The Scots, especially the Highlanders, were tartan-clad savages capable of easily overwhelming and annihilating the British by use of ambush at extremely close range. In particular, the Highlanders were adept at destroying British formations using a tactic called the Highland Charge. The tactic involved what is essentially a human wave attack with sword and shield wherein the Highlanders charged at full sprint directly into the enemy, often before the latter could fire a shot. When attacked with such speed, the British soldiers were at best able to get one, maybe two shots out of their muskets before they were completely overcome and cut down. Knowing this, the British commander, the Duke of Cumberland, trained his soldiers to repel this devastating attack.

Traditionally, the Scottish warrior carried a sword and a targe. A small shield held in the weak hand, the targe was used to deflect bayonets and swords while the Highlander brought his blade down on his enemy’s exposed neck and head. This was an incredibly effective tactic; it rendered the musket nearly useless and prevented the British soldier from being able to fight by simple bayonet thrust. The British commander instructed his men to not fight the Highlander directly in front of them, as they would surely be cut down in a heartbeat. Instead, he had each British soldier focus on one Highlander over; when the Highlander raised his targe to deflect a bayonet, the soldier would stab the Highlander’s exposed under arm. The simple change in tactics resulted in a devastating loss for the Highlanders, who, for decades, had fought proudly with their bold method. The resulting battle would see thousands of clansmen dead and a complete British victory.

Scottish EDC

The two blades sport different finishes
The two blades sport different finishes: the Cold Steel (on bottom) has a mirror polished surface while the CAS Iberia (on top) has an etched, antiqued finish. The author indicated the latter is a bit less functional in that it has a slightly rough texture. On the other hand, some may prefer the low-glare look.

The Scots revered the steel and often swore their oath on it. Like many traditional cultures, the Scottish clans held their swords as sacred and a substantial majority of men carried them every day. Unlike the Japanese and their feudal system, where only samurai could carry swords, the average Scot could carry one if he could afford it. It was not a small purchase, and to have a sword was a display of wealth. The swords were often passed down, though it should be noted that at the time of the Battle of Culloden, there was a significant number of in-fashion designs that existed among the Highlanders, meaning that new blades were being purchased regularly.

Among these was the backsword, a fashionable sword that featured a triangular cross-section with a single-edge blade. This type of blade was common throughout Europe and saw favor among the Highlanders, as it was a weight reduction over the double-edge broadsword. The double-edge broadsword could accomplish virtually all its tasks with its tip and lower edge; its upper edge was something of an accessory in that it was not typically used for reverse cuts. The broadsword’s hilt was completely engulfed by a protective basket. Upward swings with this type of sword are awkward and do not lend themselves to significant leverage. The backsword remedied this by shaving over a pound off the sword’s weight while reducing none of its function on the battlefield.

Culloden Types

baskethilt of the Cold Steel sword
The author stated he’d like to see the baskethilt of the Cold Steel slightly lighter in construction and the grip a half to 3/4 of an inch shorter.

The two featured reproductions of Scottish swords, one from Cold Steel and the other from CAS Iberia, are exceptionally well-constructed, functional swords made of modern materials and blade steels. There are, of course, custom swords out there, but expect to pay well into the thousands to get one from a top maker. They are not easy swords to make, and the fact the two companies sell them for the stated price points is a great deal—if nothing else, a steal.

The two are variations of swords that would have been present at Culloden. Cold Steel’s is reminiscent of the traditional double-edge Scottish broadsword. The CAS Iberia repro is of a single-edge backsword, something quite common for the time, and arguably the last evolution of the combat sword before guns took over. These are functional repros; they arrive sharp and the blades are very capable of delivering cuts and slashes. As with any real sword, they aren’t meant for chopping lumber or taking down brush. They are fine conversation pieces and, at worst, attractive wall hangers.

a triple fuller that helps reduce weight
The Cold Steel blade features a triple fuller that helps reduce weight.

Being versed in some swordplay, I put the swords through their paces. For cutting ability, the Cold Steel version is an absolute beast. The blade is tough and can chop and stab through cloth, leather and even light metal. A wide range of objects were cut, from heavy cardboard tubes to deer carcasses. The Cold Steel showed no edge deformation and the finish was hardly scuffed. The only downside is that the hilt and basket area are very large, and I have large hands at that. Ideally, a baskethilt will contain the hand while not allowing a great degree of front-to-back play; this heavy-bladed piece wants to pull out of the hand on hard strokes. I’d like to see the basket be slightly lighter in construction and the grip a half to 3/4 of an inch shorter.

The CAS Iberia backsword has an antiqued etched finish and, at least for my purposes, just about the most perfect grip size possible. The Cold Steel sword is impressive and powerful but lacks some refinement. The CAS Iberia sword is elegant, light and supremely easy to wield. It’s not as sharp or heavy as the Cold Steel but capable of lightning-fast slashes and deep stabs. The top of the tip has a false edge that could easily be sharpened, and the narrow, diamond-shaped cross-section allows for effortless punctures through most materials. It is hard to even feel it go through most materials, from fabric to flesh. The downside is the blade finish. While it is interesting and adds character, it is also a trap for moisture and needs to be kept well-oiled.

Both swords come with very nice leather scabbards
Both swords come with very nice leather scabbards. They match the swords’ fixtures and should be compatible with a wide range of hangers or sword belts.

Both swords come with very nice leather scabbards. They match the swords’ fixtures and should be compatible with a wide range of hangers or sword belts. The scabbards are also very close to how the originals were made, though like most things today there are some liberties taken with internal construction.

Duly Impressed

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with the featured swords. If it were up to me, I’d take the blade from the Cold Steel and fit it to the basket and grip of the CAS Iberia, making a sword fit to my hand that can deal hard, deep strokes.

For what it’s worth, you can’t really go wrong with either sword. They are cool and should make conversation starters at your next viewing of Rob Roy, Outlander or any other applicable Scottish-themed flick.

STYLE: 18th-century Scottish baskethilt broadsword
COMPANY: Cold Steel
BLADE MATERIAL: 1055 carbon steel
HANDLE MATERIAL: Blued-steel baskethilt; handle is wood wrapped in rayskin and wire.
WEIGHT: 53 ozs.
SCABBARD: Black leather w/blued fittings
MSRP: $299.99
AUTHOR’S NOTES: An authentic, functional replica; a bit heavy overall, but solid and well-constructed

    STYLE: 18th-century Scottish baskethilt backsword
    COMPANY: CAS Iberia
    BLADE MATERIAL: 65Mn carbon spring steel
    BLADE FINISH: Antique
    HANDLE MATERIAL: Blackened steel baskethilt with “beastie” plaques; handle wrapped in rayskin and wire
    WEIGHT: 50 ozs.
    SCABBARD: Tan leather w/blackened steel fittings
    MSRP: $565
    AUTHOR’S NOTES: Period correct to the Battle of Culloden and based on a sword in the United Kingdom’s Royal Armouries. While more costly than the featured Cold Steel repro, it has the feel of a more balanced and elegant sword.

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