Introduction: Make a Barbarian's Sword

About: I am a perpetual student, researcher, and hopelessly dedicated skill collector. I hope that you can find something inspiring or useful in the instructables I publish.

Intro: I think it's a guy thing ... making swords .... or wanting to make swords. You rarely see little girls whacking the crap out of each other with plastic/wooden/rubber swords ( I'm sure there are exceptions) - and I don't know if the desire to do that ever goes away (lol). It's funny to see a grown man's eyes light up when you tell him you've build a sword :)

Ever since I modeled the sword for my "Hunter" character, I've wanted to build that sword, but it took me - uh - "a while" - to finally follow through. I think it's due mostly to it taking a while to collect the knowledge and skills (and workarounds to not having certain equipment) than a lack of desire.... which is probably true of most projects.

Note: Since this Instructable has over 200 photos - most of which are commented - I'll be writing mostly high-level information and letting the photos do the talking.

Design Criteria: Even though this is something of a "fantasy" sword, I wanted a real sword - not a sword that would break if I was suddenly overrun by zombies (even if it spends it's life hanging on a wall), so it had to be heat treated, made of decent steel, and well put together (nearly full-tang). I wanted to make it from readily available bar-stock blanks, and require only (relatively) basic tools. I also wanted to keep the cost of materials under $150 - and I did manage to do that in regards to materials (but heat treating fees doubled that - lesson learned).

Roughing the Blade:

Since I don't have a forge (or a good anvil), I decided that I would use the stock-removal technique to make this sword. For those that don't know, that means buying a bar of steel and filing/grinding it to shape. The steel I used is 1095 High-Carbon Steel. I chose 1095 because it was inexpensive and recommended for noob knife makers (I've never made a knife before, let alone a sword). I figured that I'd stick with inexpensive steel in case I messed up - which makes sense .... until you look at what heat-treating costs. For example, my blade blank (3/16" x 2" x 36") was $18 (from A blank of CPM-3V the same size is $112. Where things get turned upside-down, however, is when it comes to heat-treating. CPM-3V steel can be heat treated almost anywhere that does heat-treating (for air-quenched steels) for about $40 because most modern heat treating facilities are set up to service those types of materials. However, because I was using an oil-quench steel (1095) and I don't have a forge, I had to find someone who would heat-treat the blade for me - and there aren't very many people who do it (so you're gonna pay). Cost: $170 + Shipping. Ouch.

So, what's the takeaway from that lesson? If you plan on heat-treating your blade and you can't do it yourself (you don't have a forge or the skills), it'd probably be best to stick with the air-quench stainless steels. You'll pay more up front, but you'd end up with a much tougher blade for *less* money in the long run. If you're going to make a "wall hanger" (non-heat-treated) - then go ahead and go with the less expensive steel. There is one thing to keep in mind, however: If you live in a damp climate, you may find that the high-carbon steels rust far too quickly/easily for your liking - so in that case, you might want to pony up for one of the less expensive stainless steels.

Step 1: Cutting the Fuller

The "fuller" is a groove that runs along the length of the blade. You will often seen it incorrectly referred to as a "blood groove" (now you know better). It's main purpose is to reduce the weight of the blade - which it does - but in this case it's more of a design element than a practical one. I spent a lot more time figuring out how to cut this and building the jig/guide than I did actually cutting the fuller - which seems to be the way it goes. It usually takes more time to figure out how to do something you've never done than it does to do it (at least it seems that way to me).

It's important to know how deep a fuller you're cutting relative to the thickness of your blade - you don't want to have the two curves of the fuller meet - or be so thin that it weakens the blade. I cut about 1/16" deep on both sides - leaving a web thickness of about 1/16" in this blade (3/16" thick).

Step 2: Making a Knife Board

A knife board will be something you use through the entire project. It provides a clamping surface and supports the length of the blade as you file your bevels, as well as providing support for sanding and polishing later on. Remember that steel you buy from a supplier will be relatively soft and easy to bend - which is a good thing. I was never disappointed that I took the time to make one, and frankly don't know how you could make a sword without it (you might be able to skip it with a knife). I made my knife board from scrap framing timber I had lying around - all it required was a little clean-up with a hand plane, cutting to shape, and gluing/screwing it together.

Step 3: Cleaning Up the Blade

Unfortunately, I lost the photos of filing the bevels - which is very annoying. If you've never seen the process of draw-filing, I'd suggest looking up the term on YouTube - there is a plethora of videos on how it's done.I didn't use a jig - I just pushed and pulled until I was pretty tired - lol.

I highly recommend that you have sharp files for this process as it's very labor intensive and the last thing you want is to be wasting work on a dull file. Keep a file card handy and use it often as the blade will be easy to gouge with a clogged file )especially the double-cut files) - and then you'll have to get the gouges out. It took me about 4 hours of constant work to file the bevel on this blade. Yes, I could have sped the process up with a grinder, and I was probably overly careful, but I wanted to see what it would be like to do it the "old school" way.

I think if I was doing this regularly, I could skip chest and back days at the gym as it was a heck of a workout.

Some tips on filing bevels:

  • If you plan on heat-treating your blade, do not file the bevel all the way to the center of the blade - you must leave some edge thickness. Thin edges will possibly crack or warp during heat-treating - so be sure to leave about a 1/32" to 1/16" wide edge along the length of the blade.
  • Always keep a keen eye on your progress toward your two bevel target lines - the one up the face of the blade that determines the height of the bevel, and the one you don't want to go past on the edge of the blade. I filed a 45 degree chamfer from the edge line (the safe edge thickness) to the face of the blade, then darkened this edge with Dykem (you could use permanent marker). Then as I was draw filing, it was easy to keep an eye on the thickness of the chamfer - when it disappeared, I knew I was finished with the bevel.
  • I took off a lot of material with a second-cut file first, then graduated to a mill-cut file for the final finishing work. A second-cut file cuts a lot faster, but leaves a rough surface.

Step 4: Heat Treating

As I mentioned in the intro, I don't have a forge so I had to send my blade out to be heat treated. There are only two people in the western half of the states that I could find to do this work (or at least on the internet) - so I contacted one of them (the other never responded to emails) and agreed on a process/hardness/price. I opted for a "differential hardening" process where the blade edge is hardened to a very hard state, and the spine of the blade is heat-treated to spring-steel hardness. This is the same process Japanese Katanas are put through where the back of the blade is coated with refractory clay, the blade is heated to temperature and then quenched. The clay slows the rate of cooling of the spine of the blade - and since the hardness achieved is relative to the rate at which the steel is cooled - the edge cools quickly, and the spine a little more slowly resulting in a hard edge and a slighly less hard spine. Strength and toughness in the same blade.

At least that's the theory.

In short, while the blade came back with a nice "hamon", I had to send the blade back after the initial heat-treat and have it done again because the results were sub-standard (the spine was way too soft). This delay cost me almost 3 months of project time.... and it was expensive. Lesson learned.

Step 5: Make the Pommel and Guard

The pommel and guard were really a challenge. They are not quite domes and not quite chamfered discs - kind of a hybrid. I really had to get creative to find a solution on how to make them. I *almost* went with wood just to simplify the whole mess ... but I really felt that would be kind of a weenie solution to the problem .... and who the hell would ride into battle with a wooden guard on a sword? (not me). I started looking for "steel domes" on the internet and the ones I found initially were really expensive - which was dissapointing.

Then I found Ned's Pipe & Steel

(For those of us who remember ordering stacks of catalogs and trying to commit them to memory, ordering on forms you had to fill out, and waiting weeks (sometimes months) for "mail order" - the internet is amazing.)

Ned shipped those black-oxide discs and domes straight to my hot little hands an I set about trying to figure out how to shape them into what I wanted. I tried using a 30-ton shop press to flatten the domes - but the domes basically laughed and barely moved. Out of curiosity, I tried a 2-lb sledge to see if I could get a decently controlled shape - and as luck would have it, that worked just fine. Like draw-filing the blade, beating the flats into the domes was a bit of work, but somehow satisfying. You can make the process less tedious by imagining that the dome is someone you don't like (lol).

Unfortunately, the pics of silver-brazing the pommel and guard were lost along with the draw-filing pics - but it's a fairly simple process. Clean surfaces, flux, get 'em hot, and flow the metal into the seam :)

Step 6: Make the Blade Collar

Admittedly, I don't know what this part is called on a European sword (if they even have them) - I couldn't find any references to it on non-Japanese swords. On a Japanese sword, this blade collar is called a "habaki", it's basically a "seal" that provides a surface for the scabbard to grab onto and keeps the sword from rattling. In this case, it's a design element that I liked the looks of .... and it IS my party ... so my sword gets one.

Step 7: Etching the Blade

Lately, there seems to be quite a few people out there recommending etching techniques - some of them better than others, some of them as simple as hot vinegar, and others requiring much more exotic and expensive etchants (also called a "mordant"). A lot of it depends on what substrate you want to etch and how large of a surface you're looking at. For this project, I settled on a tried and true steel mordant: Ferric Chloride. While it's not as aggressive (or dangerous) as some etchants, it WILL make a mess, so make sure you're wearing protective gear, have plenty of air circulating, and are wearing clothes you really don't care about. I bought a couple of bottles of "PCB etchant" from Radio Shack and brought it up to the required volume in my etch tank with distilled water. When I was finished with the etchant, I put it in a suitable container and will keep it until I want to use it again, or need to dispose of it at an appropriate facility (do not pour it into your drains!). As with all chemicals, you should be very aware of how to use it, the risks involved, and how to properly dispose of it (OK, hall-monitor mode: off).

I tried some different techniques with the etching. I used a PVC "tank" for the blade and figured I'd try to heat it to accelerate the "bite". This turned out to be a less optimal solution than just going with room temperature as I found that the heat tended to be localized in the tank so the bite was uneven - I didn't get the thermal circulation I expected. The best results I got were with room-temperature ferric chloride dilluted about 30% with distilled water - and then just waiting a lot longer. The slower etch seemed to give more predictable and clean results. The blade etched in about two hours while the pommel and guard were etched in about 5 hours in a more dilute solution. In the future, I'll opt for the longer etch for better results.

Step 8: Slotting the Guard

This was another tricky part - I had to cut a slot through three thicknesses of about 1/8" steel. What I found worked was to drill parallel holes then use a RotoZip with a carbide porcelain bit to carefully chew away the webbing between the holes. Once I could get a file through the slot, the rest was just some good ol' fashioned file work.

Step 9: Etching the Pommel and Guard

Same basic process here - just ferric chloride (dilluted about 30% with distilled water) in a plastic tank for about 4 hours.

Step 10: Slow Rust Bluing

Slow rust bluing is a very old process. It's been used on firearms for a couple hundred years, and is still used by gunsmith's for creating and restoring authentic finishes. Basically, the metal is reacted with an acid, allowed to rust, boiled in distilled water (or exposed to steam) to neutralize the rusting reaction, the residue is "carded" off (brushed off) and the process is repeated until the desired depth of color is achieved. Once the desired color is achieved, the metal is oiled - resulting in a very durable coating.

I tried a few different methods for achieving good rust formation and found that for larger items, hanging them over a bathtub of hot water works very well (keep the bathroom closed up) and for smaller items, allowing them to sit in a covered pot over warm (NOT hot water) water works great - but you have to be very wary of condensation (it's bad - see pics and learn from my mistakes ;).

I used Rust Blue American Formula - and although it may seem a bit spendy, there's enough in one of these small bottles to do a LOT of bluing. After working through this process, I can see making my own drawer-pulls and other ornaments with a combination of etching and bluing.

Step 11: Attaching the Pommel Stud

The pommel screws on to the stud and draws up all of the parts tight. The great thing about this is that I can build multiple handles and change them out easily - without compromising the strength or tightness of the sword.

Step 12: Making the Handle

The handle is made of hard maple. I started with two halves, grooved them to fit over the mounting stud and slide tightly around the tang. The halves were glued together and then profiled to fit my hand. I found that an oval profile is a lot more comfortable to me than a rounded shape. Anyway, I just kept shaping until it felt good in my hands (watching for thickness all the while, of course).

Step 13: Wire Wrapping the Handle

Wire wrapping is done a number of ways - just like anything, I guess. Because the original design of the sword had straight wire - and because a twisted wire would have added another design element that I feel wouldn't have "fit" very well, I went with a straight wrap.

The wire I used was .04" stainless steel (304 stainless) from Harbor Freight. The only "problem" I had was that it was bright silver, and since I wanted the sword to look "used but well maintained" I wanted to darken it. The easiest way I found was to heat it to red with a MAPP gas torch and let it air-cool which gave the wire a nice patina.

Preparing the wire: I went through the trouble to figure out how much wire I'd need to wrap the handle - with some extra to hang on to. In my case it was about 66 feet, so I spooled out 74 feet across my back yard - cut it off the main spool - and re-wound it onto a piece of shipping tube. The thing I wanted to make sure of is that I kept the wire from kinking or twisting over on itself which would make wrapping it smoothly extremely difficult. I then took that measured spool of wire and put it the torch to it to darken it. After it was cooled, I unwound it carefully again across my yard, then wound it very carefully around a piece of tubing that would act as my "spool" as I wound the wire onto the handle. This tube happened to be 1.75" in diameter which allowed me to make a close-fitting "bearing" out of a 2x4 - if/when the tube got pulled off it's center-line, it would cease turning freely - this was a great benefit when winding the handle as it didn't require clamps or other acrobatics to keep tension on the spool.

Step 14: Leather Wrapping the Handle

Just like wire wrapping, there are a lot of ways to wrap a handle. I experimented with a few different ideas, but ended up, again, going with the original design as it was simpler and just felt more comfortable. I was a *little* worried that the wrap would come loose given that the wrap isn't self-locking, but after doing a few experiments I found that the deer skin lacing I used really gripped the wire wrap - so - short of the lacing breaking, it's not going to slide up or down the handle.

The wrap I used is basically a barber-pole with a reverse barber-pole over the top of it. The end result looks a bit like what you'd find on a Japanese sword - except I'm not twisting at the cross-over point. The lacing isn't glued to the wire - just the ends are bonded - so if I ever had to, I could strip off the lacing and re-wrap it.

I built a mandrel to hold the handle while I wrapped it - and I'd highly recommend it. It was just a threaded-rod fed through a scrap of 2x4 tied together with some washers and nuts. I was able to put some tension on the rod where it passed through the wood to keep the handle from freewheeling. The mandrel made wrapping the handle almost easy :)

Step 15: Making the Pommel Cap

Ah, the final part: The pommel cap. I wanted to use a brass cap - and as I turned out it was easier to make one than to find one the right size with the right threaded rod, etc. The "gem" at the end is epoxy resin - which will have to do until I find a cabochon that I like - at which time the sword will truly be worthy :)

Step 16: Final Images

Overall, I'm happy with how it turned out - and how accurate it is to the original design. Now, to find someone worthy to wield it ;)

BTW - I'm entering this in the Full Spectrum Laser Contest - so I'd appreciate a vote if you think it's worthy :)

Thanks for reading through this! I hope I've managed to inspire you to try your own ideas :)

Full Spectrum Laser Contest

Third Prize in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest