Will just any WOODEN SWORDS do?
Tips on choosing the most DURABLE
and BEST VALUE for money.

Not all wooden swords are up to the mark. Check out this guide for what to look for in a waster before you go comparison shopping.


Let's say you have just decided you will learn to sword fight. You are probably very excited and can hardly wait to get started. You decide the best equipment to begin with is a waster. Where do you look for one and how do you know what you need? Let's answer a few questions before deciding:

What will you use it for?

  • Forms
  • Strength training
  • Training in basic cuts
  • Partner drills
  • Freeplay
If it is only for forms you might consider weight, balance general appearance. It will need to be a shape compatible with the style you are learning. You don't do a jian form with a sabre, for example. If you are training in the basic cuts of your style, it might need to be a little stronger, depending on how hard you plan to hit your training targets. Think about how much training you plan to do. Do you need a light sword until your ligaments are strong enough for a heavier one? If it is for partner drills or freeplay, it will need to be strong and safely built. I'll go into those aspects further down.

How strong does it need to be?
My first wooden sword was one of those you can buy at any shop selling tai chi equipment. My husband picked it up at a garage sale and it took me through 100,000 basic cuts practises, as well as learning the Michuan Jian Form. It broke at my first Swordsmanship Camp on its first hard strike. This was just as well since it had a pointed tip and wasn't safe for freeplay. A good strong hardwood sword is essential for any partner training.

wooden swords by Tony Mosen of Australia

Other, much stronger wooden swords have broken during the course of my training. Blocking, rather than deflecting, will break your sword. Chinese swordsmanship uses taiji principles. There are no hard blocks, only deflections. In a perfect world we'd all be so good at it that a barely felt deflection would guide the duifang's sword offline, as we took the centre.... but none of us are that good yet, so we break our training swords from time to time. The more freeplay you do, the more likely this is to happen. In all of my training though, I have never broken a Raven Studios sword.

The swords in the picture above are made by Tony Mosen of Perth, Australia.

How heavy should it be?
A first sword should be quite light. This is to gradually train and strengthen the ligaments. I will give you some good exercises to help this along in another page. A student who does too much, too soon, with a heavy sword, can damage wrist, elbow, or shoulder ligaments. Women are particularly prone to this and I will have a whole section for women in this guide. We have many differences to consider, especially when most of us train in predominantly male groups.

Your first wooden sword will not be your last one. It is a good idea to move up to real weight before training with your first steel sword. You will certainly need to be training with real weight by the time you are ready for cutting. If a steel sword is still too heavy, you will not control it well. This causes incorrect cuts and it is very dangerous. Stick to wood until you are strong enough and have very good control.

I like my wooden swords to be a similar weight to an antique jian - somewhere between 750 - 1100 grams. I do most of my training with a lighter one (around 750g) because I'm a woman and I can't seem to grow muscles like the men. I don't want to either..... A man might prefer a heavier sword.

Another thing to consider is tournament weight. If you are training for a tournament, there is probably going to be a specified weight for the sword you must use. There will also be specifications for length, the tip shape, and the edge width. If competition is the main reason for buying your next waster, check the rules first.

Is it good value for money?
Most good quality hand made wooden swords will cost $90 - $120, depending on whether we are talking American or Australian dollars. If you are ordering from overseas, the shipping cost needs to be factored in as well. It isn't a bargain if you got it overseas for $85 and then had to pay another $45 to ship it. A locally made sword may be better value.

If that sounds like a lot of money, think of it this way. If your wooden sword costs $90 and lasts a month, while you train with it every day, it adds $3 per day to the cost of your training. If that same $90, daily use sword, lasts three months, your training has cost $1 a day. If it lasts for six months to a year, or even longer, as most of mine do, a $90 wooden sword is extremely good value and owes you nothing. Don't begrudge the money to buy a new one. Think of all the wonderful training it took you through.

Since wooden swords don't last forever, and there is often a waiting list to have one made, it is a very good idea to save that $1 a day towards your next one, and order early. Some of my training swords are five years old. I look after them though - more on that below.

How authentic should it be?
Obviously there is nothing authentic about a wooden sword.The best they can do is imitate the correct weight, balance and appearance of a steel sword. Look at the photo below. It shows how Tony Mosen, of Australia, has done his best to imitate the look, shape, size and balance of an antique jian. This is the actual sword he used for his wooden sword pattern. He has copied genuine antique fittings by drawing around them to make the pattern for his wooden jian. There are brass inserts in the blade, Tony's signature design to imitate the seven stars in the antique blade. The shape and length are similar. The handle is a little longer to achieve an accurate balance, since steel is heavier than wood.

comparing wooden swords

How safe is it?
Firstly, training in swordsmanship is never safe. It isn't a sport, and even those are not safe. If you are training in real techniques, and especially at full speed, there will be injuries, even if you don't use full power. Those of us who choose to train in swordsmanship, know there is danger and don't blame anyone else when injuries happen. We have chosen to train and to accept the consequences of our choice. If you do not think like this - if you think injuries are someone else's fault, I urge you NOT to train in swordsmanship. There are lots of safe things for you to do instead.

That said, there are some safety issues we can control. If the sword is for partner drills or freeplay, make sure it has a blunt tip. I once drove a a sharp tipped wooden blade right through a thick, hardened leather shield. Think how easily a sharp tip might drive into soft human flesh, and don't ever be tempted to use the wrong sword for the wrong purpose.There should be no sharp edges at all, and the blunt edges should be at least 1cm wide. Jian are not known for protective guards, but at least some guard protection can be built in by making them wider than the blade. The blade and handle should be made of one length of wood rather than glued or screwed together.There should be no external metal parts.

As well as that, the better students get at swordsmanship, the more protection they will need. Padded gloves and safety glasses should be in place from the beginning of training. Fingers break easily and eyesight cannot be replaced. If you don't mind a few bruises and can avoid headshots, that might be enough protection for the early stages. A helmet will soon need to follow because genuine swordsmanship does not avoid the head. As you speed up, you will need arm and elbow protection, perhaps knee and shin protection, even a gambeson - all this to protect you from a wooden training sword.

How do I look after it?
Most manufacturers of wooden swords recommend that you oil them with tung oil or boiled linseed oil, once a day for the first week, once a week for the first month, once a month for the first year, and whenever they need it after that. If you fail to care for your wooden sword in this manner, please don't blame the maker if it dries out too quickly, becomes brittle, splinters, or breaks before its time. Some will break anyway because they are made of the wrong wood, or there is a fault in the timber. By oiling the sword, you have done your part to care for it.

If a training sword does begin to develop splinters, it is important to shave them off, sand down the wood, and oil the sword. If your only sword begins to splinter in the middle of a training session, you could wrap it with masking tape and do the maintenance after the session. Don't use a cracked sword though. If it breaks during partner training, the jagged edge could harm your training partner.

Where can I get one?
If you live in Australia, contact me. Tony Mosen from Perth makes the best wooden swords I've seen in this country. Americans might like to try Raven Studios. There is a bit of a wait for Carina's swords, but they are excellent. Raivo, from Estonia, makes very good wooden swords as well.

Graham Cave sparring sword
Alt Text--wooden sword custom design
Graham Cave of Tiger's Den swords, from Scotland, makes excellent quality wooden swords. Check out the page linked here to the Featured Artisans section for a full review. He's recently opened for public production and his swords have been very well tested and stood up to the test. The sword pictured here has customisations to the basic design - grip wrap done by its owner and guard pattern.

Graham is always updating his designs. As I write this, it is March 2024 and he has several new designs on the go. Follow this link for an explanation of the TCSL Beginners Tournament prize jian and look here for pictures of one of his newer designs.

If you know of someone from another country who makes good, proven wasters, please let me know. I'll try one for myself first, and then add the information to this guide.

There will be more on specific wooden swords in my featured artisan section as this guide progresses.

three wooden swords to compare

Three excellent wooden swords. From the top:
  • Raven Studios jian - hickory with purpleheart custom hilt
  • Tony Mosen Qing jian - jarrah
  • Raivo's GRTC jian - you'll have to ask him what wood he used.

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Sword For Sale

Viking Sword for Sale

This sword is used but in excellent condition. Del Tin forged full-tang blade, peened pommel, lambswool lined wood scabbard with hand-sewn leather outer.


Private Lessons Available  in Katoomba, NSW, Australia
by arrangement
Phone Linda (02)47826593

$20 per hour