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:
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Step 1: 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.
Anvil or anvil like thing
The biggest hammer you have (short of a sledge. I use a 5lb-er)
Sandpaper of varying grits
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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?