Introduction: Mini Swords for Non-forge Owners

Picture of Mini Swords for Non-forge Owners

For a while I've been wanting to make a decorative letter-opener or small knife, and it seems every instruction on the web on knife, or any other metal-working needs a forge. So I decided to experiment and find a method that allows me to make small swords, knives, or letter openers without the afore mentioned forge. And thus we have, the mini-swords.

While these serve no practical value, with very few letters to open these days, they are fun to make, and could make gifts for a fantasy-fond friend.

The images show me making a cutlass, but you can make any sort really, like the one below:

Step 1: Materials and Requirements

Picture of Materials and Requirements

Even though this does not require a forge, it still needs some other tools:

A Nail. 10cm is a good size, 15cm is hard to hammer flat, and 7 or so is the smallest you can work with without risking fingers.
Thin sheet steel for hand-guard. The amount and thickness depends on what style sword you make.
Solder to attach hand-guard.

Bench Grinder
Anvil or anvil like thing
The biggest hammer you have (short of a sledge. I use a 5lb-er)
Sandpaper of varying grits
Optional tools:
A Dremel or other rotary tool makes polishing much quicker...
A can of water

3-4 hours per sword
A template for a sword is a good thing to have. Making them by feel is hard, but possible.

Burns - even though we are not using fire, sanding and grinding metal makes it get very hot. Good luck not getting burned, I aint managed it it yet.
Major Abrasions - you have a rough surface spinning. It could hurt.
Cuts - Never mind, you'll get hundreds of small nicks by the end of it, nearly guaranteed.
Bruising and broken bones - a 5lb mallet can hurt if you miss the nail, hence the pliers.

Making it is dangerous, and if you sharpen it you could probably seriously injure someone. I'm not responsible for what you do.
Enough of that, you get the idea, it isn't safe, but it is fun....

Step 2: Hammering

Picture of Hammering

Well, a round nail isn't much like a sword, so you'd better make it a flat nail.
I use a length of railroad track and pound it flat on that.

Here are a few tips:

1) Hold the nail with the pliers, you can't hit your fingers that way. It also reduces the shock, which gets annoying after a while.
2) Hammer both sides in all directions, otherwise the nail can end up bent (hitting at an angle).
3) Hammer until the hammer "bounces" off the work-piece at that point it won't flatten much more, and if it does, well, look at the last picture.
4) Don't touch the nail, it gets rather hot after only a few hits.

Step 3: Blocking It

Picture of Blocking It

Now you have this nice wavy lump of metal that is more-or-less straight (hopefully).
Time to take a trip to the bench grinder and make it squarer. It doesn't have to get perfectly square, but it helps when you're modelling of a template to have a straight edge.

1) Have a can of water nearby, dunk it in when you feel it get hot. Don't do what I did and grab it by a "cooler" part (which was hotter).
2) When finishing "blocking" it do a long run from one side to the other
3) Don't make it the exact length and width of the sword, leave it slightly bigger, it will shrink later.

Step 4: Rough Shaping

Picture of Rough Shaping

Keeping the grinder perpendicular to the workpiece start shaping. I normally work from handle to tip to handle (front and then back), leaving the nail longer than the finished piece, to give me something to hold.

1) Keep the water nearby, it gets hot and stays hot. When working on the tip I've seen it get to red hot before, who needs a forge...
2) Make the blade wider than the template, as when you sharpen it it will shrink slightly.
3) Make the handle thinner than the template, when you bind it it grows.
4) As the last thing you do grind it to the proper length. 
5) Don't sharpen it yet, it just means you'll cut yourself later.

This is one of the hardest bits. Especially if you are aiming for symmetry. Don't worry if you miss the template slightly, no-one will sit there and measure it. Keep at it.....

Step 5: Cleaning Up

Picture of Cleaning Up

Here is where the rotary tool comes in useful, but my first few were done with only sandpaper.
Just shine up the edges a bit. Easiest to do it now while it's blunt, than later when it's sharp.
If you use a clean anvil and hammer you won't need to do this.

1) Use a drum of some sort in the rotary tool. Stone wears down quite fast I find, so use a "diamond-steel" sort of tip.
2) Try not to stay to long in one place, you may make little grooves. So keep the tool moving
3) You can also take the opportunity to square up the inside corners slightly.
4) Don't forget to clean any un-sharp edges, like the back of a single edged sword
5) If you see two distinct silvers it is probably the zinc and the steel, try to remove the zinc (the darker silver). If you see blue then next time don't hold it on the grinder in one place too long. You may be able to grind the blue off.

Step 6: The Edge

Picture of The Edge

Back to the bench grinder and give it an edge. Then finish up the rough edge with the whetstone. Don't make it too sharp yet though.

Tips for grinding:
1) Pick an angle and stick with it, don't change mid-way
2) Do it complete from base to tip each time
3) If you are doing double edged, do diagonal opposites first, and then the other two. Helps reduce cuts.
4) As you near the tip (on an extreme curve like mine) you have to change the angle to go around)
5) As you near the tip (on any) slow down and lighten the pressure to stop it jumping off and blunting the tip.

Tips for whetting:
1) Pick an angle and stay with it
2) The angle changes to stay the same near the tip. (hard to explain, like #4 above)
3) Use a coarse stone, no point going too fine yet, as you will then cut yourself. Only do that at the end.

Step 7: Polishing

Picture of Polishing

Remember how I said that the dremel only cleaned it? Well, now you need to get out the elbow grease and sandpaper it. (Or spend $5+ on a cheap stone bit each time)

1) There are two ways, one is to use a small piece of sandpaper and put the sword down to sand, the other is to use a large piece and rub it across
2) It gets hot is you use method 2
3) Start with 120 grit, move to 180, 240, 400, and up depending on how long and how good you want it to look. I normally stop at 240.
4) Try not to sand only the edges (near to the blades edge) If this happens you'll have to make a step 7b and re-whet it on the stone.

Step 8: Handguard and Grip

Picture of Handguard and Grip

I'm afraid there is no easy way that works every way. Here are a few ways I have done it, but for different swords, well, it differs.

1) The eastern round hand-guard is done by using a craft knife to cut a slot in the middle of a disc of aluminium coke can. Make it slightly smaller than necessary and force it on. You can make it bigger and cut it down when mounted

2) A western "bar"  handguard can be done by using a large staple, bend it round, and then crimp it so the join is in the middle. Then slide it onto the blade and solder it there

3) A western "leaf" handguard is done with thin steel sheet in two parts, with slots for the tang, and then soldered on. Be prepared to burn fingers on this one. It's the most painful handguard I've done yet.

1) Black cotton works well, and is used in 3 of my swords so far.
2) Bronze embrodery thread for thicker grips, with a more pronounced (lumpy) shape.
3) Strip of fabric may be good, I've been put off by it always fraying on me though...

Starting a grip:
You may wish to have shims of wood to give it thickness. Bamboo skewers work well, sanded or whittled down. Glue them into place, it won't hold well, but it will hold long enough to:
Tie a knot in the thread, at the top of the handle (or the bottom, it doesn't mappter) and then wrap around, over the loose end. If you have slivers of wood to give it shape I recommend doing a few widely spaced loops first, and then doing close together ones.

Ending a grip:
Two knots on two separate loops, and then a dab of PVA or similar glue.

Other thoughts:
Copper electro-plating gave a nice look to my cutlass. You can do the same, or use paint.
A decent pommel can be a tin-foil strip glued in place. (might not stay there long though)

Other styles or suggestions? Post a comment and I'll let dump up your method here, or you can ask how I would do style "X" if you provide an image.

Step 9: Mounting

Picture of Mounting

Little cabinets, stands, here's a salt-dough stone too. Be creative, or, like me, use google.

The wood here is balsa, and has been painted brown, and then the paint rubbed off with a wet piece of toilet paper. Glass is OHP transparency, and the green stuff is felt.

Photo-editing is optional here too.

Step 10: Next

Picture of Next

I'm going to try 15cm nails again. They're 6mm thick and take more work to flatten, my only experiment so far with them is one that I hammered to thin, and it broke in half!
EDIT: Done it! Look at the main image on the first picture. Took a lot more work to flatten, and eventually I gave up and ground it thinner. Grinding also took a lot longer, but at least that doesn't make your arm tired.

Engravings in the blade?
EDIT: I tried this with my rotary tool today, and it wasn't too controllable. I managed to achieve something half decent though.

Anything else I think of....

And some more images of my swords.

btw these pictures were taken with a cellphone, are they good enough quality?


the Oracle of Ampersand (author)2016-08-20

interesting hobby. would make decent gift for fantasy fans. would be interested to see a completed rapier with the exquisite hand guards. consider it a challenge (lol). dare ye pick up the gauntlet I throw at your feet? imaginative and well written. difficult to think of any practicality for them, but like I said, its an interesting hobby, and I rather like the idea of them, just cant figure out what id DO with them lol. well documented steps though. thank you for your contribution.

SurenO1 (author)2016-05-28

How did you hammer the nail so flat? Mine wasn't flattening at all.

sdfgeoff (author)SurenO12016-05-28

Brute force. I used a big hammer, and hammered it on a hard metal surface. The hard metal surface was on a big concrete surface. If you're hammering onto a workbench, it may take a lot more work to flatten. If you're using a smaller hammer it will take a lot more work to flatten.

If you are happy with the size of the nail, you don't have to flatten it, but you do get a lot more surface area to play with (and it hardens the material) if you do.

overblast (author)2015-11-11

Here are some ideas:

1. Use vise grips with leather padding to hold them. This prevents heat from getting to your fingers as well as well as giving you much better control over a thin nail. The leather gives a nice grip as well as preventing metal-to-metal marring.

2. Heat treat using a toaster oven. You can go to 500 degrees with them, control the temperature (not too cold, not too hot, but just right!) and time, and do an entire tray at one time. This would allow a small production line of sorts.

Question: Would oil or water quenching help strengthen these?

overblast (author)2015-11-11

I used one to open my email. Now I have to replace my monitor. :(

Normey132 (author)2015-07-23

I made it :-) i did not need a bench grinder i used a metal file

austin42 (author)2014-04-28

cool i made one just dont have picture :( do you know any home ways to shine it

Normey132 (author)austin422015-07-23

i use steel wool or an S.O.S pad and some water

sdfgeoff (author)austin422014-04-28

There are plenty of instructables here on polishing metal. I find just taking lots of time, and starting with coarse sandpaper.

turel10 (author)2014-12-05


enarmory (author)2014-07-17

Friend needed a pair of letter openers so I used 4" deck screws

ArticAkita (author)2014-05-20

WOW! you have talent! I dinked around with a simple nail and flattened the whole thing and left it be, wondering what to do next? I finally took my ginding bit to it and buzzed away at it until it took the shape I wanted and I don't have a way to solder so I used super glue gel used a wood stiring stick and sanded that down to cover the metal, used the top of a roofing nail and carefully buzzed a oval for my blade to go through for the hilt & for some dumb reason wrapped green emoboydery floss only to redo that with green elmarko and use elctrical tape to wrap it providing green 'windows' looks cleaner.after reading you instructables on making tiny swords has me inspired to make another!

MandalorianMaker (author)2014-04-28

here some of the better ones I've made

Looking Good. I'm particularly intriqued with the gold-handled one. Is that just wire-wound?

Anyway, I should update this with some of my newer creations.

Venemot (author)2014-04-23

Great instructable.........I MAde one too......though inspiration credit goes to another instructables by penabilli...........

though this ones pretty great aswell

zahilslmn (author)2014-03-20

I know I'm late in saying this, but this is awesome. I know what I'm doing when I get a couple hours of free time. Also, I think you can use a barbeque to heat up the nail to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not enough to heat treat a blade but it will soften it if you cool it down slowly (I know it's called aneiling but I don't know how I to correctly spell that).

sdfgeoff (author)zahilslmn2014-03-20

It is great fun. Though I prefer to leave the blade as hard as I can

Also, if you heat it, you have zinc fumes to worry about.

David Zeno Maly (author)2014-01-23

how did you flatten them so much and still keep them so thin mine ended up looking like a cheese fork

sdfgeoff (author)David Zeno Maly2014-01-23

If I understand your reference to 'cheese fork' correctly, you're ending up with really long and thin bars?

I normally hammer across the nail (so when the hammer hits the nail, it forms a 'T' like shape), which may be different to what you are doing.

juswood (author)2013-06-13

Love it!

bf1828 (author)2012-04-15

Thanks for this instructable after reading it I just had to have a go.
I've posted a pic of my first but by no means final attempt made using the recommended 4" nail.
Bit rough I know but the only way is up from here.
Pommel was a bit of a challange so any ideas on making a better looking one would be gratefully appreciated.

bf1828 (author)bf18282012-04-15

I've now made a shield for the sword so this is how they look together.
Thanks again for the inspiration

sdfgeoff (author)bf18282012-06-21

Great job, looking really good. What material did you use for the shield?
Just sheet metal? How did you paint that then?

bf1828 (author)sdfgeoff2012-06-26

Thanks the shield is quite simply the side of a beer can as
the natural curvature of the can works perfectly with the scale of the shield.
Once cut out I painted it with acrylics via an airbrush.
I just need to work out an effective way of getting more complex design onto them. Transfer paper just doesnt look right any suggestions?

curvy77 (author)bf18282012-09-28

great recycaling by useing the beer can! much were u drinking? =p

sdfgeoff (author)bf18282012-06-26

Good idea using a can.
Airbrush the base colour, then cut a stencil for your design out of paper. Glue the paper on using a cheap gluestick (so you can have detached parts) and then airbrush again.

kjb135 (author)2012-08-27

What kind of grinder du you use?

sdfgeoff (author)kjb1352012-08-27

A desktop bench grinder (two wheels, one coarse and one fine)

custom knives101 (author)2012-08-15

dont use galvinized nails

It doesn't matter if they're galvanized or not. When you clean up the bar by grinding the faces, you take the galvanizing off.

HMice (author)2012-06-21

My favourite is the last on on the 10th step on the second photo!

LunaSweetBlood (author)2012-05-17

What if you don't have a bench grinder? Is there a head for a dremel that would do virtually the same thing?

bf1828 (author)LunaSweetBlood2012-06-03

Try a grind stone on your dremel but be careful of the heat generated and the stone catching your fingers.
Here's a pic of my second attempt with a much improved pommel

ngong0 (author)2012-05-18

I just got the same tool as a gift yesterday and am looking for projects to use it on.

sdfgeoff (author)ngong02012-05-19

These tools are great for starting, but working on steel like this, even small grinding takes a long time. You're better off working with aluminium unless you are just adding finishing touches.
Myself I have a bunch of 1mm and 2mm sheet aluminium that I regularly make pendants out of. I'll have to make a ible on that sometime.

curvy77 (author)2012-01-27

for easier engravings leave the blade blackened and start from there. since ur doin somthing small you could use a stove burner or blowtorch to heat up the metal and make it easier to hammer down. also if you ever want to make a great sword nail heat up 2 nails till both turn mid orange or low yellow color( extremely hot!!! be carful!!) then hammer ends together (u judge the length) and one u can lift the super heated metal without them seperating give it a few more good whacks and cool rapidly. also use a small dremer or metal file on the edge to give it a good sharpness.

sdfgeoff (author)curvy772012-01-27

Leaving the metal blackened does indeed make the engraving stand out more, but does little to improve my own inaccuracy with the tool!

Interesting idea to join two nails, I hadn't really considered that. But then the whole point of this ible is to let people try metalworking without any kind of high-temp generating device (forge, gas torch etc). Still great to know, and I may well try this at some point.

curvy77 (author)sdfgeoff2012-02-03

to help with ur inaccuracy you could make a little paper design over the blade and ,after cuttinging them out, use the holes as a sort of trace path. i did this on my knife and worked well(though mines a bit bigger lol). as for the cold metal work you can try metal folding..... might work.

yoyology (author)2012-01-28

You could try etching instead of engraving for blade decoration.
Etching Knife Blades
Etch a Family Portrait (he's doing aluminum, but says it will work on steel)
Etching On Tin Using Crayon-Technique

And here's an 'ible on How to do engraving easy and make it look good. :-)

spiderham (author)2012-01-26

Those look great. Here's one I made some time ago. it's not up to par with yours, but I enjoyed making it.

sdfgeoff (author)spiderham2012-01-27

Out of interest, what did you make the hand-guard out of, and how did you cut the slot for the blade?
Looks great, mine aren't exactly museum pieces either.

spiderham (author)sdfgeoff2012-01-27

It's a flat washer from some throw away electronic devices I scavenged. It just happened to be the right size to fit over the tang. However, Tinplate Girl has a video on making decorative punches out of concrete nails. I think that might be your best solution for making the holes on your guards. I used a bit of solder on the tang side of the guard so the hilt would hide it.

sdfgeoff (author)spiderham2012-01-27


curvy77 (author)2012-01-27

to minimize burns or heat pain one should wear thick gloves (gardners gloves will work) and long sleaves. very nice design and work. and remember just cause you dont use a fire to make blades dosent mean its not forging. i have made a few things cold smithing and they turned out fine. the fact that it takes so much time to make one sword means you put great effort into it. Well done!!

Biggsy (author)2012-01-25

This is actually kinda awesome, I like it well done... I don't have the patience to make one, nor the tools i suppose... :D

but anyway great work and a well rounded instructable, a high five for you

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