How to forge medieval swords

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How to forge medieval swords
Medieval swords often featured a hammered blade and a handle made in one piece. (ngould@stock.xchang)

Medieval swords are the stuff of which legends are made. Excalibur, Durendal and the legendary Caladbolg of Fergus Mac Roigh have all earned their place in myth as magical medieval swords. While many of the secrets of forging medieval swords have been lost to antiquity, a skilled weaponsmith can still create a high quality medieval sword using traditional methods. This article assumes that you have both some knowledge of blacksmithing and experience doing metal work. If you meet those two tests, forging a medieval sword is still a challenging project, but it is doable. Just follow the steps below to forge your own medieval sword.

Skill level:
Challenging

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Things you need

  • 3-4 wrought iron bars
  • 2 steel billets 1/4" x 2" by 48"
  • 1 small hardened iron bar
  • Wood for grip
  • 1 small piece of soft iron to shape pommel
  • Full size blacksmith's anvil
  • Charcoal forge
  • Powdered charcoal
  • Metal case for case hardening
  • Blacksmith tongs
  • Hammer
  • File and whetstone
  • Borax for flux

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Instructions

    Shaping the Sword

  1. 1

    Pack the wrought iron rods into the case with powdered carbon. Heat in hot forge for up to 4 hours. Remove the bars from the case using blacksmith tongs.

  2. 2

    Twist the heated bars together using blacksmith tongs. This will form the centre of the sword, including the tang--the long piece extending from the blade around which the handle will be wrapped. Put the twisted bars back into the fire and heat to red heat. Pull the metal from the fire and coat it with borax. This is called fluxing the metal. The flux will melt and fill any spaces between the twisted rods, preventing oxygen from being trapped and weakening the weld. Return the metal to the fire and heat to white heat, about 1,371 degrees C.

    How to forge medieval swords
    Become familiar with the anatomy of a medieval sword before attempting to craft one.
  3. 3

    Remove the heated rods from the forge and bring to the anvil. Hammer-weld the bars together by hammering the heated metal on the anvil. A hammer weld uses heat from the forge and pressure applied by striking white hot metal with a hammer to join two or more pieces of metal together. Hammer along the full length of the metal, flattening and joining the pieces.

  4. 4

    Return the metal to the heat when it cools to red and bring back to white heat. Continue hammering until the metal is joined into one piece. You will be able to see the difference in the metal pieces, but there will be no seam that can be felt. As you work, shape the metal with the hammer, thinning it from centre to each edge to form a diamond shaped cross section. Allow to cool to red heat and flux with borax again. Place back in fire to reheat.

  5. 5

    While the metal is heating, cut both metal billets to the desired length of the sword blade and tang using a metal saw or a torch. Fold each in half into a tight V shape. Remove the iron bar from the fire. Fit one V shape along each side of the hot metal, using the hammer to tap them into place and form a hammer weld on both the top and bottom of the bar on each side. As metal cools to red hot, flux with borax as above and return the metal to the fire to reheat.

  6. 6

    Continue to hammer-weld the blade to the wrought iron rods, working slowly along the edge of the blade. Return the metal to the fire to reheat whenever it reaches red heat. Continue working in this manner until the steel is completely welded to the wrought iron, shaping the bar to the desired point at the end as you hammer.

  7. 7

    Using metal snips or a saw on cold metal, create the tang by cutting away excess metal about 8 inches from the top of the blade. Refer to the diagram for correct shaping. Use a file to round and smooth the shoulder where the blade becomes the tang.

  8. 8

    Shape the fuller, a narrow trench along the centre of the blade, using a scraper to dig metal out of the trench formed. The fuller can also be shaped by using a fuller tool and hammer.

  9. 9

    Allow the shaped sword to cool completely before proceeding.

    Shaping the Edge and Finishing

  1. 1

    Using a series of files, grinders and sandpaper, grind and polish the blade and sharpen the edges.

  2. 2

    Heat the blade in the forge again, then quench in water to harden the sharpened edge. You may need to repeat these two steps several times to get a smooth, finished edge.

  3. 3

    Hammer-weld an iron bar to the tang just above the blade using the method described above. This will serve as the cross guard, which protects your hand when you're using the sword.

  4. 4

    Cut the wooden piece to size for a grip, using the tang as a measurement guide. Bore a hole through the grip lengthwise so that you can insert the tang through it. Before gluing it in place, shape the hand grip on a lathe or sand it into shape. Slide grip onto tang, using epoxy or other glue to cement it in place against the cross guard. About an inch of the tang should extend beyond the hand grip. Wrap the hand grip with leather strips if desired.

  5. 5

    Shape the pommel from soft metal. The pommel fits onto the end of the tang to further secure the hand grip in place on the sword. It is often engraved or otherwise decorated. The end of the tang may be rounded and threaded to allow the pommel to be screwed on.

  6. 6

    Use acid or another method to etch decorative accents onto the blade, cross guard and pommel if desired.

Tips and warnings

  • Practice making wooden swords before attempting to make metal blades to learn how to shape and join the pieces.
  • Learn how to pattern weld, hammer weld and forge weld by practicing on smaller blades like knives and daggers. The techniques are exactly the same.
  • Hold both the sword and the hammer at a slight angle to shape the sword blade.
  • Forging a sword this way can take several weeks of work. You can reduce the amount of time it takes to make a sword by using a pre-shaped blade blank. Blanks can be purchased from a blacksmith supply shop.
  • Use aluminium billets for pattern welding a sword in a much shorter amount of time.
  • Swords are dangerous weapons. It's safest to round the edges of the blade rather than sharpen them for safety's sake.
  • Always use appropriate safety gear and precautions when working with hot metal and cutting tools.
  • Before beginning, read the FAQ on sword-making found in the resources below. It contains a great deal of important information that will make these directions easier to understand.

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