Homemade Medieval Letter Opener




This Instructible will take you through the steps and techniques necessary to make your very own medieval letter opener out of some wood, leather, wire and yes ... a bolt. and this will make a great Christmas gift to a medieval enthusiast or a gift for a great Dad for his desk. (who I'm making it for) and as this was a gift this tool engraver would have been cool to engrave his name http://www.craftsman.com/shc/s/p_10155_12602_00961050000P?vName=Power+Tools+%26+Equipment&cName=Power+Tools&sName=Portable+Power+Tools&prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=L1

Step 1: Materials & Tools


* Cloth - any kind will work it will only be covered in leather and wont be seen as wide as the grip of your letter opener and about 10 inches long(scrap is just fine).

* Bolt - any kind really but you must think about the shape you want your letter opener to be  (size, width, and thickness must be taken into account) i used a 10 inch long half inch bolt(the best is the kind w/out the threads the whole length. (you can find these at home depot pretty cheap) this is what I used http://www.homedepot.com/Tools-Hardware-Hardware-Fasteners-Fasteners/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xg6Zar9h/R-100337973/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053 .

* Wire - between 18 and 20 gauge is best you'll want it to be shiny(I'm using some jewelry wire I got at Michael's craft store it is copper core silver plate wire.) you'll need about 2-4 ft.

* Leather - I'm not actually using leather cause I found some nice vinyl at a local fabric store (this is for the handle so whatever size yours is is what you'll need I'm gonna use about a 18" x 1" piece) can be found at any fabric store.

* Sand paper- 100, 250, 400, and 600 grit

* Steel wool-  Kind: #0000 http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xg6/R-100212006/h_d2/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053 . for finishing can be found at hardware store .

* SteelBuffing compound- for polishing can be found at a hardware store.


* Torch- I used an Mapp-gas torch cause its what I have but a blow torch or a forge would have been better.

* Heavy Mallet- I used a 3 lb. Mallet.

* Files- coarse, medium and fine.

* Pliers or Vice grips- to hold the bolt while striking.

* Ear protection- unless you want a headache (past experience . . . the worst one I've had).

* Heavy duty gloves- I used welders gloves (to protect from burns).

* Anvil- or hard heavy metal surface on which to work the metal.

* Grinder- to rough out surface.

* Buffing wheel- to polish it.

* Vice - to hold letter opener while filing.

I did all my shopping at Homedepot

Step 2: Shaping & Hammering

This step is where you'll draw out the rod to the length and the width you want.

Tools required for this step: Vice grips or pliers, torch, anvil, hammer,


First use your torch or forge (if you're fortunate enough) to heat up the tip of your rod (about a 2-3 inch section. heat it till it is glowing orange but be sure not to burn the steel this will damage it permanently.


*To draw out the metal you will strike the rod beginning at the tip where you have heated and you will hit with sliding blows length ways towards the tip and this will slowly make it longer. Do this on both sides of the blade.

            Note: repeat the heating and drawing out while slowly moving Down the length of the blade up to the point that you want your handle to start (be careful not to flatten this part this will be your tang).

Shaping Cont. :

* Next, once your blade is drawn out you will begin to strike the edges of the blade flattening it until it is the width you want. in this part you will also do this the whole length of the blade. Also do this on both side of the blade.

Step 3: Shaping the Pommel

This step is optional.

Tools required for this step: Vice grips or pliers, torch, anvil, hammer, vice

The pommel, in sword terms, or the butt of the hilt  A.K.A. the back end of the blade.

You can shape this in any way you like but I will tell you how I did it.
Shaping the Pommel:

* Heat up the end until orange.

* Set it on the anvil and hammer until on side is flat the turn 90° and repeat until four flat sides have been achieved.

* Heat up the end until orange.

* Then turn 45° hammer until flat  and turn 90° and repeat until four flat sides in-between the original four have been achieved.

After a basic shape is achieved by hammering it you will repeat the process above but instead of hammering and heating it you will just be turning and filing the already flat sides.

Step 4: Shaping the Tang

This step will show you how to shape the tang of the blade which will become the handle of your letter opener.

Tools required for this step: Grinder ,Welders Gloves, cup of water (to quench hot metal)

The shoulder:

* (refer to first image) Use the grinder to shape the Shoulder of the tang on both sides of blade.

* This will get hot so use welders gloves and water to quench the blade every so often.

Flattening out the tang:

* (refer to the third image) Hold the metal so that you are gripping the flat of the blade and grind the tang moving back and forth to begin to remove metal to create a flat side.

* Once it is flat a shown in picture 4 flip to the other side and repeat.

Step 5: Filing the Blade and Creating the Bevels

This step goes through how i filed it smooth and made the bevels.

Tools required for this step: File, Vice

Filing the blade smooth:

* Place the tang in the vice so the the flat of the blade is is visible from above.

* Holding the file perfectly flat against the blade start at the back of the blade and in one fluid motion hold the file against the blade and move forward towards the tip while moving the file from right and ending on the left side by the time you get to the tip of your blade. (note: hold the file at an angle as shown in the pictures)

* Repeat this motion until the blade is perfectly smooth and flat with no divots or valleys in the blade.

* Once the flat of the blade is done flip over and repeat the above steps.

Creating the bevels:

This process is similar to the one above but differs in that you will be holding the file at an angle of about 20°

* Noting the change in the motions use the technique described above in the earlier part of this step create a bevel on both sides of each edge. (note: make sure bevels are even and smooth and are not wavy)

Step 6: Sanding the Blade

This step is when your piece begins to get shiny.

Materials Required for this Step: Sand paper, Steel wool

Sanding the Blade:

* Hold the tang in your non-dominant hand and with your dominant hand hold a piece of sand paper (100 grit) and fold it in half over the edge of the blade and sand up and down the length of the blade until you don't see scratches from the filing step and a uniform new set of lines is achieved. Now take a fresh piece and fold over other edge and repeat.

* Do the same as above but switch to 250 grit sand paper.

* Do this again but switch to 400 grit, then 600 grit, then switch to the steel wool.

Step 7: Polishing

This is the polishing step in which you will make your project very shiny.

Materials and Tools: Polishing compound, buffing wheel


* Take your polishing compound and with the wheel running touch the wheel with it for a few seconds.

* Then grab your blade and begin to push it into the wheel firmly (note: hold your piece tightly or the wheel will take it from you) and move it back and forth all over the blade until a uniform shine is achieved all over.

* Repeat for reverse side.

Step 8: Wraping the Handle

Here I will show you how to wrap your letter openers handle.

Materials and tools:20 gauge wire, pliers, vice leather, cloth, tape.


* Taking your piece of cloth wrap it around evenly.

* Then take the tape and wrap it all up and down the handle.

Twisting the wire:

* Cut about a 2.5' section of wire and bend it in half.

* Place the bent end in the pliers and the other in the vice the evenly twist the wire until it resembles that of the image below.

Wrapping the prepared handle:

* Take your strip of leather and cut about a 15° angle at one end.

* Hold it up against the pommel as shown in image below then wrap making sure to have some overlap but not to much about 1 mm proceed to wrap all the way up. 

* Hold with one hand the end of the leather and with the other hand take your twisted wire tuck it under the leather at the pommel.

* Then wrap around twice tightly making sure to grab the leather then proceed to follow the spiral all the way to the blade and once you reach the end wrap twice and tuck it in on the last loop.

Congratulations!!! your done. You have your own medieval letter opener.

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    38 Discussions


    4 years ago

    I will try anyway, I will try this weekend and post pics. I have already done this with nails but I thought I'd step it up


    7 years ago on Introduction

    For a letter opener you don't need the strength or flexibility provided by tempering, so:
    I made on from a large nail, just hammering it flat and then grinding it.

    For those cheapo's like me, who don't have anything that can heat up metal hot enough, you don't actually need to, it just takes more work to get it flat.

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    This is good but the files will give you a more refined look to your bevels. Just utilize some patience.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Well yes and no if you don't heat I between hammering the metal at a molecular level will get very dense and hard and will take so much more work than necessary. Heating or annealing the metal will make it easier and better and will prevent brittle ness on edges and cracking.


    4 years ago

    Could I make this from an eyebolt? Also what type of hammer did you use as I have a mallet/big hammer but that is my surface to hammer on so I just use a claw hammer? Could I do it with an eye blot and claw hammer?

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago

    Probably could use the eyebolt but it'd be a lot of work to straighten it out. And a claw hammer in theory would work as it's still a hammer but you need something with weight otherwise you'll be doing a lot more work than needed. As my Father always taught me "use the right tool for the right job". So, make sure you're going about a task the right way using the best tools for the purpose they're meant for and you'll have the best outcome. A claw hammer is meant for driving and removing nails and as such doesn't need to be heavy usually measured in ounces. But a mallet is used for shaping hot metal or to drive much larger tools like a wood splitter(wedge) and is like 3 lbs or more. Hope this helps. I would love to see your outcome, post pics.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

    well since steel is comprised of iron and carbon if you heat up the steel to much what happens is the carbon burns out and leaves you with a very brittle useless bit of iron oxide and can no longer be used for a blade. just be careful to heat it moderately and evenly and you have no worries.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    yeah someday i will but i don't know how to properly heat treat steel so i could do it but without the heat treating my work would be wasted, but this summer i'm taking a metalworking class at ASU so lets see if i cant do that.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

    what do you mean by that? to finish the overall shaping process in refining the shape you file the edges down it that what you mean?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    fine instructable, and very nice results.
    a few interjections- that's not an oxy-acetylene torch, looks like a mapp-air setup.
    it might be worth adding something about hardening/softening steel. i.e, once heated until orange, the faster steel is cooled (via quenching) the harder and more brittle it become. conversely, if allowed to cool slowly, the more slowly it cools the softer it will become.

    3 replies

    He doesn't really need to talk about heat treating it because there is no way you can really harden a cheap mild steel bolt. Now if it was made from a highcarbon steel like leafsprings, files,etc, then it would need to be mentioned. But all the bolts I've ever checked are all mild steel, and even with a superquench you can't get any real hardness out of it.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    A wonderful gift and a great instructable.
    Out of curiosity is that a railroad track anvil you're using?

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Where did you get your "anvil?" Do you know of an easy way to obtain one? (I've been looking for a while.)