Hickory Arms’s Maine-Made Swords Are Keeping Chivalry Alive
Trent and Colleen Schriefer craft highly precise wooden training swords at their North Berwick studio.
Trent and Colleen Schriefer, in the Hickory Arms workshop.
By Adrienne Perron Photographed by Jeff Roberts
Trent and Colleen Schriefer were administrators at the University of New Hampshire in 2013, when Trent, a sword fanatic and collector since childhood, was invited to train with a master craftsman of wooden practice swords. Known as wasters (when used in European-style swordsmanship) and bokken (when used in Eastern forms of martial arts), the swords are meticulously shaped, balanced, and weighted to mimic the experience of fighting with their metal counterparts. In 2015, after an apprenticeship, Trent quit his day job to go full-time with Hickory Arms, and Colleen followed a year later. Today, Trent is a master waster maker and Colleen handles the swords’ computer-aided design, finishing, and shipping.
In their studio, across the driveway from their home, the Schriefers make all their swords from hickory boards from Sanford’s Seacoast Hardwood Lumber and Plywood. A dense and rugged wood, hickory nicely replicates the feeling of a metal sword. The Schriefers select boards with a long straight grain so that, Trent says, “if you took the sword and bashed it against something hard, it won’t snap or shatter, making for safer training.” A single waster takes about three weeks to complete. After Trent cuts a blank using a bandsaw, he lets it rest for a week or so, allowing the wood to acclimate to the workshop’s humidity level, which prevents the wood from splitting or tearing. Trent does most of the sword shaping using a router, then grinds and sands the wood to finish it. A sword’s balance is affected by its length and width, as well as the size and shape of its ricasso (the unsharpened length above the guard), its fuller (the groove down the center of the sword), and the pommel (the knob on the hilt).
Hickory Arms’s clientele includes martial artists, cosplayers, and stage-combat artists, but no matter who’s buying or why, each sword comes ready for sparring. The Schriefers have made models of Chinese broadswords, tai chi swords, and historically accurate European longswords and two-handed great swords, among others. Less historically accurate: elven daggers, hobbit swords, lightsaber bokkens, and other weapons inspired by fantasy books and pop culture. A laser engraving machine can inscribe words and emblems, and Colleen also uses it to make colorful, custom shields, popular with kids.
Most Hickory Arms sparring swords cost $50 to $80. “We could charge way more — it’s a sword, a lot is associated with it,” Trent says. “But if you think about it, when it comes to the virtues of chivalry, why would we sell a sword, a symbol of tradition and culture, for more?” Mentioning their swords are made in Maine has long been a useful marketing tool. “People literally think we take a tree and an axe, and a sword just pops out,” Trent says. “People can’t get over the fact that our swords come from the rugged north.”