Introduction: How to Make a Sword: a Comprehensive Guide
I wrote most of this while I worked on the project. This intro will serve as an overall reflection and analysis of the process, as well as a full introduction as expected.
Well here it is. Have you ever wanted to build your own sword? And I don't just mean a knife or dagger. I mean a full scale, full functioning, full danger sword. Much of this sword uses old techniques, honed by the generations. Others are more modern. I learned so many new things on this build. Skills from blacksmithing to drilling, to lathe work. I simply couldn't count the variety of tools I used. Some I wasn't even familiar with. It was the first time I had ever tackled a project of this scale.
Let that be my warning. It is not an inherently challenging creation for someone familiar with their hands, but it takes patience, and requires focus. I set this down for even months at a time. It was something that took a new frame of mind again and again. I would spend so many hours thinking, daydreaming, trying to tackle the next step, the best way. I hope that with this guide, anyone can make such a tool in a much more timely manner then I did.
All that aside, this was the most rewarding thing I have ever made. When everything came together there was almost a sense of euphoria. I have made axes, knives, and spears, and nothing compared to the joy from this product.
Another point worth making. Almost every step along the way can be substituted, or done in a different way. I will cover what I know, and leave the remaining to you guys.
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Step 1: Materials
Full blacksmithing tools consisting of:
Required: forge, anvil, hammer, tongs
Optional but recommended: power hammer, air hammer, induction heater
Cutting torch, angel grinder, bench grinder, belt grinder
Steel finishing tools:
Belt grinder, belt sander, drill press, wire wheel, angel grinder, steel files, variety of sand paper, drill bits
Wood working tools:
Saw: table/hand, sandpaper, drawknife, files, linseed oil, utility knife
Safety: Use proper discretion- Make sure you are familiar with all the tools you use
Step 2: Designing and Dreaming
First you have to figure out what you want your sword to look like. It is crucial to have a plan prior to production. Simplicity is key. Stick to simple geometric designs, instead of complicated fantasy-like ideas. Make a design on paper, and transfer it to something like cardboard or something else sturdy.
Drawing inspiration from history is always a good idea. Do some research on what they used to actually look like. See what current sword-smiths are producing as well.
Initially this was going to be a replica of a sword from a video game I've played. During production, it wasn't really fitting the design any more so I quickly shifted focus. As stated, fantasy designs are fantasy for a reason. It's highly unlikely.
I decided to instead make it into a Viking style sword because of my Scandinavian heritage.
Step 3: Finding the Steel
The steel used for a sword is very crucial. I recommend using high carbon steels. Only certain steels can be hardened. Unless you only plan on having the piece as a decoration, you need to find a good piece of steel.
You can get a good idea of what kind of steel it is based on the sparks produced. High carbon steel will produce sparks that separate off into several branches.
I have included some charts to help identify unknown steels.
I used a truck leaf spring for this project. I am unaware of what steel it actually is, I just know that it makes good swords and knives as this is my third one.
If you don't have access to a forge, then make one. If not get a piece of steel about the size of your sword and skip ahead past the forging.
Step 4: Starting Off
In order to start forging, I needed to get it to the proper size and shape. I cut the back end off of the piece, since the end of the spring tapered more then I wanted. I cut the other side prior to the hole in the steel.
Since I had the correct length, all I had to do was cut the back end for the tang. I used a cutting torch to cut the sides off. I made it about 10 inches long.
At this point, the piece was about two feet long, four inches wide, and less then half an inch thick.
Time for the fire!
Step 5: Becoming a Blade
The proportions of the leaf spring are quite different from my desired blade style. The blade was too wide, and not long enough.
To start, I wanted to reduced the width of the piece. This all can be done by hand, but because off the mass of the steel I chose to use a power hammer.
I heated the whole section with a five burner gas forge to a yellow heat. At the hammer I carefully applied blows consistently along the length of the piece.
After several heats, it started reduce in width, and increase in length and thickness. During this part, the sides of the steel began to thicken up more then the middle. To counteract this, I started hammering it on the flat side of the blade.
The whole process is quite a lot of back and forth work. By using hand tools, it is much easier to not mess anything up.
The overall desire was to stretch out the blade by compressing the width and decreasing the thickness that resulted.
I switched over to a pneumatic hammer, when I needed to do finer work. I hit both the side, and the flat of the blade to make it look more like a sword.
After reaching proper width, length, and thickness I started to square up the piece as a whole. The desire was to get the sides parallel, match the curves of the tip, and achieve a uniform thickness of the blade.
At this point, the blade has it's proper profile, and is ready for the next step.
Step 6: Grinding the Proper Profile
After achieving a uniform thickness on the steel, the next step is to grind it to the desired profile.
I trust my skills with a hammer less than my ability to simply grind away the steel.
The first step is to mark out what you want the blade to look like. Make sure the areas you mark, have thick enough steel. That is also part of the planning process. You must be sure that the blade has enough material.
Start the profiling with an angle grinder using a thin cut off disc. Get as close as you can to the actual shape without risking the blade. I prefer to leave excess material and finish up with a grinder.
The tang can be designed in a variety of ways, but it needs to follow the simple concept of mine, curving on both sides with a tapering tang.
After using the angle grinder, finish up the profile with either a belt sander/grinder, a angle grinder with a grinding wheel, or a bench grinder.
Before grinding the bevels can start, all the slag on the steel must be off, because it dulls the belts very quickly.
To get the surface slag off you can use a variety of things,
-wire wheel on bench grinder
-wire cup on angle grinder
-flap sander on angle grinder
I recommend just using the wire wheel unless it proves to be too strong. If that is the case, then use the cup brush or the flap disc. Make sure to only take off the slag, and protect the steel.
Step 7: Making the Bevels
At this point, the steel will finally start to look like a sword. Now the question is to what you want your blade cross section to look like.
The cross section is what the blade would look like if it were to be sliced in half perpendicular to the blade.
The main thing, when planning your cross section is to consider is what kind of grind you want. The three main types of grind are as follows: concave, flat, and convex.These grinds all have their own pro's and con's
Concave grinds curve inward toward the cutting edge. These are the sharpest of the grinds, with the best cutting edge, but they are the weakest edge as well. Such factors need to be considered. I also find the concave grind to be the hardest to make. I have yet to make a blade with a concave grind I was content with.
Flat grinds are as simple as they sound. The grind is one angle across the whole surface of the blade. It is duller then a concave grind, given that it has more material. This grind can be easily sharpened in the "field". Still a strong style, but not the toughest.
Convex grinds are what you generally find on axes. The edges round off smoothly. This gives the blade the best strength of the three. A convex grind, however, will give you the dullest edge, with the least cutting power. This style is considered the easiest to cut.
The other aspects of the cross section is the fuller, sometimes incorrectly dubbed a blood groove. The fuller allows for a lighter weight without sacrificing any strength. The properties are similar to that of a construction I-beam.
With this sword I chose to go with the convex grind because I didn't think I'd be able to maintain a consistency across such a large surface. I did not make any fullers, as I made the blade too thin.
When starting the convex grind, first make sure the blade is hammered, and ground perfectly flat. When you are content with that, move on to a belt grinder or bench grinder. Start by cutting off material at about a 45* degree angle. Make these grinds with a dull belt. Using a sharp belt on a corner would rapidly dull a belt. Start with a dull one, then move up to a sharp one.
Cutting bevels is all about going a little at a time. Let the machine do the work. Work patiently as with any project. This step will take a long time. Use the unsupported part of the belts. Apply gradual pressure at a same consistent angle. Start shallow, then work its way to the middle of the steel's thickness. Cut the bevels equally from both sides, until there is less then about 1/16 of an inch left.
Step 8: Heat Treatment
This is the most crucial step. This changes a sharpened shard of metal, into a brilliant weapon. Do research on how to harden your steel. If you don't know what kind of metal it is, oil is always a safe call. Quenching in water can crack certain steels which is why it should be avoided.
Quenching steel hardens it because it locks the carbon molecules into a tight lattice network, by rapidly cooling in something like oil after they are heated up. The steel needs to reach it's critical temperature, which again can vary depending on what type of steel you have. Again the safe bet is to go just past the steel's magnetic point.
When heating the piece up, make sure not to overheat it. Start with a low temperature, and bring it up gradually. Make certain that the blade is evenly heated, paying special focus to the tip and edges. The tang is not a crucial point, but the joint of it is.
To hold the oil, I used a piece of three inch PVC pipe. I glued the end cap on, and secured it to a stable table. Make sure the section of pipe is much longer then the sword. Before quenching make sure the oil is warm. This can be achieved easily by heating up a scrap piece of metal to orange, and putting it in the oil.
When the blade is evenly heated, and the oil is ready quench the blade straight down and forcefully swirl it simultaneously. This assures and even cool-down. Let it stay in the oil for at least 30 seconds, followed by air cooling. When it is cool, bring it to a very high grit belt, to rapidly remove the scale.
After quenching, comes tempering. The quench makes the steel brittle, and tempering brings back the toughness of the metal. Both the pre-quench temperature and the tempering temperature, as well as time and type of liquid depends upon the type of metal. Research what you have, in order to find the proper way.
Step 9: Blade Finalization
This part is all up to creator's opinion. I decided to just clean it up with a scotch brite belt. Here is how I would do it if i wanted a mirror finish.
Get the blade down to shape with 60-80 grit first. Move to 120 grit. Make certain that all the deep belt scratches are removed with every increase in grit. Continue to increase grit to 220. Then 400 if you want.
As soon as I eliminate the deep scratches with the 120 I generally move to hand sanding. The process takes a long time but the results are worth it. Move up to the next grit, maybe 220. Repeat the process and sand until there's only the 220 grit sandpaper scratches. I sand simply with a small piece and pressure by hand. You can also wrap a piece around a wood block. Another option is to use an orbital sander. Be careful though. Use slow speeds, and dull paper. Be careful of the sword edge. When sanding one side, put pressure so the sharp edge is pressed against a table, and can't slice your finger as you sand. Next go with 400 grit, then 800, 1200 and maybe 2000. The general rule is to double the number as you go up.
Patience is a virtue.
Step 10: Pommel Creation
The next main parts of the sword are the pommel and cross guard. I wanted to make these out of brass or bronze.
The function of the pommel of a sword is to serve as a counterweight to assist in the maneuverability of the weapon. Without it, the sword is very awkward to wield. Trust history, and use a pommel.
I got the metal from a pool heat exchanger. Pools use harsh chemicals, so the metal must be able to stand up to corrosion so they use materials like brass or copper. When I cleaned these pieces they didn't quite look like brass, so I think it is some kind of bronze or brass alloy. To prepare for the melting, I cleaned the crud off of the pieces over time, with lots of smashing and hitting.
For the melting, I used a crucible with a gas burner in a forge. I preheated the pieces on top of the forge, not inside. The purpose of this was to both assist in the melting and to get more of the impurities off of the metal. Every time the piece melted down, I cleaned the slag off the top and added another. When the crucible was full it was time to pour.
I chose to pour this into a section of pipe, larger then my desired pommel size. I set the pipe into some sand into a bucket, and made the pour. The remaining material went into a mould for bars for easier melting later. I waited for it to cool, and cut the piece out from its pipe.
This prior steps for the pommel could be skipped if you have a proper sized piece to start with. Any pommel design is acceptable. The are many options out there. After i had my "stock" piece, I put the piece on a lathe.
This was my first time using a lathe (metal or wood) so it was a major learning experience for me. I cut the pommel to the shape that I wanted, and now had to work on its functional aspects.
The pommel helps to hold the entire sword together. I will later weld some threaded rod onto the tang, that then runs through a hole in the pommel. This was the first step. I put a drill bit on the lathe (the size of the rod) and drilled it through the pommel. Next I drilled a hole for the nut to attach to the rod into the pommel so it could be hidden. I used a regular drill bit to get most of the material out, followed with an end bit to make it square on the bottom side. With that, I moved onto the cross-guard.
Step 11: Cross-Guard
The cross-guard has a few crucial functions. The first to prevent an enemy swords from sliding down your own blade into your hand. Without this, a blade will cling, clash, and slice. The other crucial part is to stop one's own hand from sliding up into the blade, unlikely but possible.
Just like with the pommel, and material can be used for this. You could use a piece of brass, bronze, aluminum, steel, titanium, etc. Anything can be used. You can take any design with it as well. Square is good, or rounded. Hey, get creative, it can be anything. Make a dragon. Okay back to reality.
I had brass available to me, but I wanted to use the same material I did for the pommel. I took a piece that I had poured into the mould. Brass/bronze and their alloys are very challenging to work with, as I discovered. The material will crumble like a failing sandcastle if it gets too hot.The term some people use is "red short." Also the material tends to work harden, meaning that by bending it and working it, it gets harder to move. Then it must be annealed by heating and cooling slowly. Even if it doesn't crumble, it has a tendency to crack along failure points. My first several attempts resulted in all of these failures. Again and again I thought I was doing well, and then it would fail. The solution I finally tried was just working it cold. I used a power hammer to smash it into shape. Upon later research online, I found that this was most recommended by those experienced with it.
As soon as I had a large enough piece, I drilled some holes in it for the tang to go through, and cleaned it with a file. It had to be sized so that it laid flush with With a proper slot in the piece, I set a bar through it. That bar then set into the vertical milling machine vise. With the tang whole/line I was able to make the sides of it totally parallel. After that was done, I went to the grinder to clean the piece. Same system as before of cleaning and wire wheel.
I attached it onto the sword by soldering it with pure lead solder and flux. I tried to fill in all the gaps to ensure strength.
Step 12: Wooden Handle
Next is the wooden handle. The handle needs to have a hole for the tang to go through. This is generally done with both drilling and burning. The drilling sets a straight whole for the tang, and makes less material needs to be burned. Then a mock tang is built to burn a similar size, but smaller/ish. After it's clean, any excess space will be filled with epoxy when it is glued. Now for my exact process.
The first thing was to drill the hole. In my initial attempt, i tried to just burn out the hole, which served to be both fairly challenging and unsuccessful. I did some research online, and figured drilling a hole was the way to go. I set the piece up in the vertical milling machine and drilled a hole smaller then the tang width. A drill press could also be used just as effectively, by hand would require a larger stock piece, allowing room for more error. I started with a typical length drill bit. After the small sized bit, I used a longer one that could now fit in the machine, as I could set it into the wood because of the hole. After I had that one all the way down I still was not through the hole piece. I drilled the rest by hand.
With the hole drilled I went to the grinder and cleaned off all the corners, rounding the piece. With it more cylindrical, is set it into a lathe, and started to shape the piece. After I had it sized down, I used sandpaper still on the lathe. With the handle finished, i v
Step 13: Pommel Connection
To connect the pommel to the sword, I had to add some threaded rod to the back. I found the correct sized bolt to go through the pommel, and cut off the head, leaving me with threads. Next I cut a groove in the thread to slide onto the tang.
I now had the size of the wooden handle, so I cut the tang of the sword to match. I welded the rod on, and tried to slide the handle on. The weld was too big, so I had to grind it down. I slide the wooden handle on, then the pommel. Noticing that the handle didn't line up square with the cross-guard and pommel, I shaped the top and bottom of the handle to match.
When I was pleased with the connection, I slide it all together, and put a washer and nut into the pommel.
Step 14: Gluing
With the pieces all prepared, now all the remained was gluing to make it a full sword. I used a two part epoxy as a bonding agent.
With everything lined up, I mixed the glue. All part require glue. I slathered it all over the tang, and poured it into the wooden handle. I lined the top and bottom of the handle as well. I slid the handle onto the tang, as well as the pommel. I slid the washer on and cranked down the nut.
I let the glue dry, and cure for several hours.
Step 15: Polishing/Buffing
With the glue set, I could buff the sword. I used an angle grinder with a fabric wheel and buffing compound. I cleaned the entire sword blade, cross-guard, and pommel. I only sanded the handle and applied linseed oil as I am wrapping it in leather.
Step 16: Leather Wrap
This was my first time stitching leather. I had the idea to try to wrap the handle of the sword as I didn't really like the way the wood turned out.
First I found a section of leather that conveniently had the right length.I wrapped it around the handle and marked the spot on the top and bottom of the wood of the leather. I drew a line between the marks and cut it with scissors.
For stitching first it needs to be punched, as leather is very tough. Prior to that, the spots need to be marked. The best way to I found to do this is to use a fork to press down to make the mark. This continues on the prior mark, and allows for consistent marks. The marks should be about an eighth of an inch from the sides.
Then I punched the holes using just a punch and a hammer on a scrap piece of wood. An awl could be used as well. Another typical strategy for thick leather is to drill it with a very small drill bit. I punched all of the holes, and was ready for stitching.
I started the stitch at the top of the handle by looping it underneath.I should have tied it underneath, but like I said, not to experienced. I stitched it underneath, and the wrapped it over. I stitched it the same all the way down the handle. At the bottom, I repeatedly re-threaded the line through the same spot, attempting to have it stay.
Upon later research, I found that a better way to do this is to use two needles starting at the top and acting like it's just tying a shoe. At the end, it can be finished with a knot.
Step 17: And It's All Done
There you have it. My guide to making a sword, every step of the way. Well now all that's left is sharpening. Use a high grit sander or files or sharpening stones etc.
Hope you enjoyed, please ask question and give input (I'm sure there are better methods out there).
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When I make a sheath, I plan on making an 'ible
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Happy crafting - BC