Introduction: Wooden Swords and How I Learned to Love Leather-Work
My 6 year old nephew has been on my case for near 10 months to build him a wooden sword. While I only see him every few months, each conversation starts and ends with, "How are my wooden swords coming along?" I finally got my crap together and began the project. I started this with zero idea of what I was going to end up with or how I was going to get there. I spent 5 minutes on the morning of the build sitting at a Starbucks, sketching out the rough dimensions on a napkin.
After my morning coffee, I dropped by my local lumber store to shop their vast selection of hardwoods. I ended up buying a minimal amount of walnut, white oak, cherry, and maple. (Honestly, a few board feet of each would do the trick. I do not have a parts list but hopefully you can figure out what you need by looking at my dimensions in this Instructable.) As I was building with no instructions or a definite plan, I decided it would be just as easy to build multiple swords in case I happen to screw up along the way. I started with 6 blanks and at the end, had 6 fairly decent wooden swords. SUCCESS!!!
Before we start any woodworking project, follow these famous words from Norm Abram - "Before we use any power tools, let's take a moment to talk about shop safety. Be sure to read, understand, and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your power tools properly will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury. And remember this: there is no more important safety rule than to wear these — safety glasses."
Step 1: Rough Cutting the Blades
I started by rough cutting 6 blades (2 cherry, 2 white oak, and 2 maple) down to 11/16" x 1 1/2" x 2' 6" long. Having access to a nice table saw helped to keep my dimensions exact.
After getting my rough blades to the proper length, it was time to cut the angles of the blade. Since my sister-in-law made me promise not to create a sword with sharp edges (Yes, I consulted her before building.), I had to adjust my measurements to allow for a 1/16" flat on each blade side. I did this by setting the bottom of my table saw blade to 5/16" away from the fence and rotating the blade to 22.5° from the table top. From here, I ran my pieces through following the order in the diagram above. (Posted from BobbyMike My dimensions differ from the image.) This left me with my desired flats on all sides and made the process quick and easy.
After completing the blade dimensions, I reset my blade to 45° and using the fence and miter gauge, ran the tips of all pieces through the saw to give each sword a bit of a point. (This would later be sanded to remove the sharp edges and points.) I removed a minimal amount of product from each end but being I gave myself some extra length on the overall blade, I was not incredibly concerned with the exact lengths at this point in the process.
I spent some time sanding the edges with an orbital sander to ensure my rough cuts were nice and smooth.
Step 2: Building the Handles on the Lathe.
Lathe work has never been my specialty and I quickly decided to not attempt and create matching handles. Each was to be a unique design and thickness, all measuring around 10" in length. I was going to turn 3 handles from each piece of 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 32" long maple. After rough shaping the square blanks into a round spindle using my roughing gouge, I utilized my skew and parting gouges to carve my pommels and handles into fairly unique shapes.
I then used various sandpaper grits (80, 150, and 320 in succession) to fine tune the spindle while still on the lathe. This technique allowed me to quickly and effortlessly sand each handle section to a desired finish.
After finishing both pieces, I set up my table saw to cut each 10" handle from the main piece.
Step 3: Building the Cross-Guards
It was at this point I tossed my hands into the air as I had not planned this far in advance. After studying my pieces carefully, I figured I could make a nice tongue out of my extra length of blade, run it through the cross-guard, and secure it to the handle in a groove I would cut out of the end.
This meant I had to cut out a 3/8" x 1" hole through the center of each section of gross guard. I then used that dimension to come up with an overall size of 2" x 4 1/2" x 1/2" thick for each cross-guard. I trimmed a piece of 1/2" thick maple to 2" wide x 30" long and cut that into individual cross-guards that measured 2" x 4 1/2" x 1/2" thick.
After setting the table saw blade to 45°, I trimmed each edge of the individual pieces giving me a beveled edge one one side of the cross-guard. After finishing 2 of these, I decided I didn't really like the square look and then decided to build the remaining 4 cross-guards out of walnut. I cut the pieces to the same size as before, rough cut the sharp edges to a rounded corner using a band saw and then used a 1/4" round-over bit in a router to remove the sharp edges from the new cross-guards. (Pictures of these show in the final images.)
I then needed to move back to cutting my 3/8" x 1" holes through the cross-guards to accept the tongue from each blade. I could not find my 3/8" mortising bit for the drill press so I had to mark and cut the holes with a regular 3/8" bit and use a sharp chisel to square off the corners of the hole. They ended up a little rough but my plan was to have the lip of the blade (above each tongue) and the handles hide my crimes.
I spent some time sanding all of the edges with different grades of sandpaper to ensure my rough cuts were nice and smooth.
Step 4: Cutting the Blade Tongues and Handle Grooves.
I built a template out of scrap stock with 22.5° angles which would allow my blades to rest comfortably at a 90° angles to the table saw and fence so I could use my router to trim off excess blade material and build a tongue which measured 3/8" x 1" x 2" long. I then tested each tongue in a cross-guard to ensure a proper fit.
The handle grooves were nothing short of a nightmare due to the fact that each was different. I had to build an adjustable jig to hold each handle square to the table saw and fence so I could cut a 3/8" wide and 1 1/2" deep groove in the end of each handle. I then set my table saw blade at a 90° angle to the fence and at a height of 1 1/2" to slowly cut 3/8" out of the end of the handles.
I then did a dry fit of each piece to ensure a proper fit. All worked well minus one cross-guard which needed a shim to tighten it to the blade tongue. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a huge deal.
I then spent some time with sandpaper to carefully sand all of the cut edges of the tongues and grooves.
Step 5: Assembling the Blades, Cross-Guards, and Handles.
I originally planned to drill holes through the handles and blade tongues to bring all of the pieces together as one. Lining all of the pieces up, I used the original blade template to square the blades to the drill press table and drill two 3/8" holes in each handle and blade sections while they were dry fitted. It was at this time I noticed that my standard 1" wide tongues did not work for each handle (image #2) since I had no constant measurement on that aspect. (More on that later.)
After determining that I was going to go on and hide my crimes later in the build, I continued by gluing the cross-guards and handles to the blade and driving 3/8" dowels through the holes I drilled previously. I placed clamps on the outsides of the handles to ensure the sides of the handle groves came into as much contact with the blade tongue as possible.
After those dried, I used a coping saw to cut the excess dowels from the body of the sword and used a series of sandpaper to sand them smooth to the handle. Luckily, the sword construction felt like a single piece of wood at this point.
That's it. The swords were basically constructed at this point.
Step 6: Protecting the Wood.
Instead of using stain and polyurethane to color and seal the swords, I went with some tung oil to help bring out the natural grain in the swords and protect it from the elements. I tied each to a piece of fishing string at the handle and hung them from the ceiling in my home workshop. I proceeded to give each sword 4 coats of tung oil with a sanding between each coat using 0000 grade steel wool to knock off the raised grain caused by the tung oil. After finishing that, I decided I was going to cover my mistakes on the handles by learning how to wrap the handles in leather.
Step 7: How I Learned to Work With Leather.
After learning that the tongues on the blades and the grooves in the handles were not going to come out flush, I decided the best course of action was to learn how to wrap the handles in leather.
Thank whatever you believe in that youtube exists! I was able to watch a handful of amazing tutorials to learn the very basics of how to wrap a sword handle in leather. (Videos below.)
I ended up purchasing a huge bag of leather straps at my local hobby shop. I believe there were 3 strips in the bag that were the proper lengths and widths and were ready to wrap. The others, I had to get creative with. I decided to wrap one in a single sheet of leather and secure it to the handle using old barn tacks. For the other 2 swords, I actually cut leather sheets into strips and spliced them together using my dremel and barge glue. One turned out to be my favorite of the lot and the other, well, I kept that one for myself. Call it proof that I once built a wooden sword.
Each section of leather was quickly soaked in warm water to loosen the fibers in the leather and make it easier to wrap and tighten around the handles. Using a combination of barn tacks and barge glue, I was able to adhere all of the leather to the handles without issue. I also used my hot glue gun to affix a jew to the bottom of each sword. I really only did this because I had some jewels hanging around from another project and wanted to get rid of them.
Thorbjorn Jorkelsson -
Step 8: Final Thoughts.
For building these swords on the fly with very little planning, I was quite pleased with how they turned out. I do have a few thoughts for future builds:
- Work to properly size the tongues to each handle next time. It doesn't really affect the final product as the mistakes were hidden behind leather gripping but having the pieces flush would help with my OCD.
- Purchase single strands of leather as not to have to piece sections together in the future. It was good to learn but it would have been easier with a single piece. I want to also make sure to soak each in water next time.
- Get a little more creative with the cross-guards. I was ending the day and wanted to finish that part of the build and I rushed the final design. They turned out well but I think variations in design would be more fun for the next lot of swords.
- Make sure to cut the tongues from the blades before cutting the blade edges. This would have been a smoother process and would have required less work when cutting the tongues.
Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you with your future wooden sword builds. Please feel free to ask questions if you have them. (I will update this Instructable with more definite dimensions during my next build. I already have a bunch of adult friends who requested wooden swords and I look forward to taking what I learned from this build to enhance the next round of products.)