SO HOW HARD IS IT TO MAKE, SAY, A SWORD?
One handmade sword takes about 30 hours, minimum, to hand craft. And I’ve had 50 years of practice. That’s not even including the historical research, the investment in equipment, and the time searching for inspiration. So all said, approximately a week, working full time. Which only rarely have I been able to do, over the past 50 years. (Can we say full time job to pay the mortgage and health insurance?)
Yes, there are folks out there who could do it faster. Fancy tools do make the work quicker. Machine cut blanks make it even quicker. Completely machine made makes it even quicker still. And you can pump out dozens, if not hundreds, of machine cut cutlery that way. I’m even a big fan of those. I especially enjoy fixing them to make them better.
That’s not the way I do it though. Every part of one of my swords is done by hand. Start to finish. (Ok, aside from smelting and shaping the original piece of metal. And occasionally, I do scrounge for scrap in some odd places and use some of the shapes I find there in my work.. Check out my ‘candleholder sword’…)
HOW THE MAGIC HAPPENS: The story of a sword…
- Inspiration! (i.e. History! or Movie! or Book! or Rumor! Or a combo of the preceding. Or a combo of the preceding plus pun. Or plus fantasy novel. Or thin air. That too…)
- Research. (Did it work? How did it work? Who used it? Who could have used it? Was it decorative? Is it functionally realistic? Is there a second history? Is my imagining of it more practical than historical record? Or fantastical record?) This part can take a while…
- I search out a piece of metal. Sometimes this means getting my hands on some spring steel (the springs that make your car bouncy.) Sometimes I use other chunks of metal, from industrial scrap to old Model T axels, or plow blades, but one way or another I get my hands on a big chunk of steel.
- I sketch the rough shape of the sword I’m imagining onto the metal.
- I borrow an cutting torch. This is not as easy to find as you would think, and I don’t have the money to have my own. Bummer. There are some really nice folks out there with cutting torches though. (Hint, hint)
- Next I don on my helmet and the (borrowed) torch and cut out the (very) rough shape of the sword. While I’m doing that I add more heat to keep it hot long enough to hammer it flat too. Now I have a thick chunk of metal roughly shaped like a sword. If I want to add a curve to the blade this is a good time to start it.
- Now I grind down all the excess metal till I can see the basic shape of the sword. This takes a while. (You go ahead and watch 15 movies in a row while I work on this. I’ll see you in a few days.)
- At some point in this process I can finally see the sword well enough to imagine the shape of the hilt, and so I make, and then spot weld on the individualized hilt that it wants using a Arc Welder or torch welder.
- More grinding.
- And more grinding.
- Now I add flourishes. Like the fuller groove, a fancy pommel, carved bits, etc. That kind of thing.
- Rough polishing. (You watch a few – or a dozen more movies while I do this.)
- Now it’s time to add the temper. I heat the blade again and watch the color carefully. If I need to make any adjustments to the shape of the blade I do it now. When it begins to get exactly the right bit of a glow, I quench it in a bucket of heavy brine or saw coolant, or oil. (Don’t do this at home. Seriously. Oil lights on fire when you stick glowing hot metal in it. It does look really cool though.)
- Fine polishing. (Time for more movies.)
- More flourishes. Fine tuning the flourishes I already added.
- Building a grip. Weaving the leather. (Double whip, woven together) I get it as tight as I can, then soak it with alcohol and insert spacers under it to add more width. When it dries it shrinks down. Then I put several coats of tung oil on it and cure it in the sun to give it a good solid grip.
- I arrange for, or build myself, a sheath.
- Done! Now it’s time to get to know my new sword. (Add a few weeks here.) You know. Finding it’s sweet spot, learning it’s special moves, etc.
- Naming my new baby. (Ok, maybe not. Well, yes, sometimes. Come on – all the best swords gotta have a name, right? Excalibur anyone?)
Ok, yeah, a week is probably under-selling it.
And then I begin again.