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I Forge Iron

starting swordsmithing


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Hey Guys

I'm starting this tread to try and help with the over enthusiastic beginner (like me :) )to find out what he/she needs to master/learn before even attempting a sword.

So all the Masters and Expert out there please drop a reply with all the parts/knowledge of Blacksmithing and Metallurgy that is needed for Swordsmithing and maybe some exercises (from beginner to advanced) to help build the these skills (I mean this as a teaching tread so please explain everything).

I'm hoping that this answers alot of the repeat questions that are asked here and if it works like i hope it does you may want to think about pinning.

looking forward to reading the replies
Cheers Ben

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"Explain everything." Wow. You're not afraid to think big, but you're asking a lot more than I think you realize. Dr. Jim Hrisoulas hasn't managed to explain everything in three big books -- he's working on number four right now, I believe! Of course those are more in-depth than what you need just to attempt a basic sword, but you're still asking a lot. Good luck.

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Good idea and I think it would be really nice to have all that information at our fingertips.: However it is simply too much for anyone to put down in a simplified format. For sure you can get unstuck with a Q and A session in here and I think this is about the very best at that. But for anyone to put forth a manual of skills tools experience and step by steps in here is a lot more than most folks would want to put forth the time it would take. And if you think it over that is where books or videos really come into play. Just for sure check out the information they contain. There is simply no rules when it comes to who can put forth wot ever they wish to on a utube video even if they have no background or experience in that area at all. And on a very minor scale the items you see listed in these forums may not do well under a microscope test. However if you go through all you can find on here you will see how that sorts out real soon. I have a list of folks that reply on here that I have come to trust and I read wotever they write even if the question is not one I am in need of an answer. A thought for anyone would be to compose a book from the information you get on here and keep it updated and maybe in a nice spot in the shop. Quick reference right at hand.

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Read books,
go to classes and forge ins .
scour the internet
involve yourself in forums
practice ,
accumulate tools

Make a sword .

go to WMA classes or learn kendo.

re evaluate what your idea of a sword really is?

make your sword.....

do all the above again

make it better...........

Pick up a really good sword made by a really good modern maker who understands all the elements that go into his swords (there are not many of these people to be found)

re evaluate

Make a sword................

visit museums

arms fairs

document originals

re evaluate what your idea of a sword really is ?

Make a sword............................

start looking into ancient methods of steel production and pattern welding and wootz and sheer steel and other reality of what a sword really was.....

let that sink in a bit and.....

wait for it....

Make a sword...........................

I teach a sword class where people make a single handed double edged sword in a week .A real sword with good ht and relatively good form (in a couple of cases people have pulled really quite professional blades out of the hat)........It can be done .

However just understanding what a sword "is" , is really is is a job on its own. sword making is a lifetime pursuit . I have been at it 16 years and am still learning and improving and finding new challenges that are beyond my current skills and overcoming them.

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Thought I had made a patternwelded sword once.... then handled some of owens and realised Id make a pretty looking piece of metal, not a sword :D

another few dozen hours grinding and its sword 'like',. gotta keep plugging away at the skills, there are no short cuts other than having someone willing to share the knowledge, which can take years off the learning curve!

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  • 1 year later...

Swords are one of the last things you should make as a beginner. A kitchen knife is a great place to start, but even before that you need to build yourself a forge. That's pretty easy as well, although tools for proper forging can be expensive and will continue to be until you can forge them yourself. Keep in mind that swordsmithing is not just a facet of forging. Any blacksmith will be able to make you a sword (or at least a very usable blade), so I recommend first learning how to build, use, and operate a proper forge before making a blade.

I agree with above statements: find a master blacksmith and learn the properties of metals. You won't be able to simply throw a thermometer at a piece of metal and say "look at that, it's ready to be hammered out...", it's a look, a feel, and swordsmithing is an art form.

Learn how to make a horseshoe. Then, learn how to make some tools. When you can make a horseshoe perfectly twice, you'll be ready to start working with steel.

That said, here is my contribution for the beginner's knowledge:
Iron is the most rudimentary metal to use. It has hundreds of applications and is relatively easy to obtain.
Steel is harder to work and much more tricky to forge, owing to the fact that if forged improperly, steel will be as brittle as glass or not workable at all.
Titanium is NOT a sword metal. It will not take or hold an edge, and is very tricky to balance. You don't have the proper equipment to work titanium. Ever.
Mithril is not real.
Adamantium is not real.
A good swordsman will always do well with any balanced blade, regardless of the metals used.
Become a swordsman. A real swordsman. You can't construct a sword until you know how one works.
Do some research. Answer me this question : what is carbon steel? what is spring steel? They're both integral parts of making a sword. How would you achieve those metals with your forge?
Sometimes, a sword blade is forged in two pieces. Why?
Figure this stuff out, and I'll teach you more.

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Basher, I like that answer, the more times I read it the more accurate it appears. Each time I read it I try and evaluate where I am and I keep getting closer and close to the start of the list.

I have gotten to go to quite a few starter classes/demos and Thomas often starts the student out with a S hook and says that everything they do making that is needed for sword smithing.

1 Heating the metal, metal move better at certain temperatures, Identifying these temperatures but sight, sound, feel, etc is important to not stressing or causing weaknesses in you metal. Hitting mild steel, harder when it is colder so you can move it that little bit more might not be a problem,. Do that with spring steal and you'll have two knives rather then a sword. Different alloys work differently, by working multiple pieces it is possible to learn how a metal will work after a few hammer blows and then adjust accordingly. That way when you find a piece of steel to make into sword you can become familiar enough to work it quickly. Also it is important to hit it when and where it is hot and just as important to learn how to heat only the parts you want to work on, (That is a trick and a half when using a coal forge since the hotspot moves as it burns)

2 Hammer control. S hooks don't have to be even or clean, they can be rough as you like but if you take the time and learn how to use the hammer correctly; don't turn the hammer and strike with the side of the face that will marr the surface, hit evenly so that the sides have a uniform thickness where you want and/or a smooth tapper and transition. You might not think this is important after all you are going to grind and sand, grind and sand, and file, grind and sand, grind and sand..... Anyways, the more control you have the closer you can get to the final size before you have to go to that process. It also lets you learn how your body reacts to a hammer. If you use a bigger hammer it lets you move metal faster, fewer heats + fewer strikes = better right. Ya but know this a bad strike with a bigger hammer does a lot more damage then 2 with a smaller hammer. As I found out I can wield a sledge hammer all day and make great progress and some good tapers. The three weeks recovering because I went to far in my excitement meant my sword still isn't done.

3 Drawing a tapper. The blade edge is a tapper, depending on what kind of grind or shape you want defines the tapper length thickness, etc. But an even tapper along the entire bade length, down to a respectable size (yes this part is vague since I don't know enough yet) really limits filing/sanding and lets the edge survive multiple heats and the heat treat process without burning up or warping.

4 The devil is in the details, the fact is that a sword is a long piece of metal that has had the most basic things done to it: drawing it out, tapering it, beveling it, drawing out the handle material, grinding it, filing it, sanding it polishing it. (The heat treat I can not comment on as of yet) What makes it difficult and an advanced piece is that your skill must be at a level that you can do these things without thinking or trying. If you have to strain your self to see the colors and to hit evenly then its going to be imposable fore you to watch and match the tapper from one part to the other and keep track of the thickness, and know how far back your bevel goes and keeping the edges from rolling, etc. etc etc.

5 Stop before you make a (projects) fatal mistake. A sword needs a hot forge, that's not saying that the forge is anything different from the normal one you work in it just means that you let the forge get to the best conditions it can before you try sticking in the medal for long heat times and scale loss while you sit and question is it ready yet is it ready yet, can I hit it now. This makes you impatient and can degrade the quality of your work. Once you start working on the blade, it is possible to lose track of time, to not listen to your body when it says you need to drink or rest, you can lose focus and try to hit harder, work metal longer, let the hammer fall a little out of place because you can fix that later. Don't let this happen it just means more work later trust me on this. Stop while your ahead and come back latter when your ready. Un Poketo a Poco Little by little you can get it done and by doing that you have a better chance of getting it right without burning out or making a unfix able mistake because you were tired.

These are just the incites I have gained over my time trying to learn what I can before I have to move. The basics make a difference. I had looked down on making S hooks because I had considered my skill good enough to move on. Well all the little things I ignored have shown up whenever I lose focus (even for A hammer blow) while working on a more advanced project.

A student that started on the road to making a sword so that I could do it with someone looking over me while knowing full well that this was a learning exercise, that my sword WILL break, that I have a good chance of destroying it before even hilting it, that I could put hours into it just to have it warp or do something funny during heat treat because it was a used leaf spring and not some new and reliable alloy, That I am going to spend the equivalent of days sanding, grinding and filing in a attempt to hid mistakes that I will always know are there, that my friend that guides me shall laugh at my hardships so that I know it is ok to laugh to as I go through this a s a right of passage, and that even when I fail I shall look back and be better for the experience for I shall know where I can improve. (though I still wish I was better at my basics before I had started this project but too late now :D )

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As a new smith myself, 3 yrs, the best advice I can give is:

There is no substitute for hands on learning with someone more experienced. Take classes, ask another local smith if you can work with him. The guild near me does a knife class every year. I attended last year and plan on taking it again.

Build your library. The books by Jim Hrisoulas are a great start.

Practice, practice, practice. Mastering your basic blacksmithing skills are a must.

Ask lots of questions.

Join forums to research. I am sure a lot of questions have been already answered here and in other sites.

Show your work to other bladesmiths for feedback.

Time. It will take time to build your skills up. Don't try and rush it.

good Luck and keep at it.

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"So all the Masters and Expert out there please drop a reply with all the parts/knowledge of Blacksmithing and Metallurgy that is needed for Swordsmithing and maybe some exercises (from beginner to advanced) to help build the these skills (I mean this as a teaching tread so please explain everything)."

I'd be happy to spend the next 5 years typing out this information for you; of course I'd want my annual salary and benefits covered; but that isn't a problem is it? (I have never understood why folks think that a page or two on a website written by "who knows" can replace hundreds and thousands of pages of books written by experts!---now websites can be a great place to inquire which books are a good place to start---Hrisoulas' books are BTW)

One of the issues in swordmaking is that sometimes you don't understand some of the information until *after* you have a sound basis in the basics of the craft. And others become clear only when you start being expert at the craft---how to adjust the harmonics of a blade presupposes you've made a blade to a standard where the harmonics are of interest.

I encourage people to start off with knives as the turnover rate is MUCH faster so you can make your mistakes *faster* and learn from them. Anyone who believes that their first blade will be perfect is not someone I want around my shop.

Patience is a major factor in making a sword. Forging is the fun part, grinding and finishing is *work*! (And you will need to build up the muscles and control necessary to do it well!)

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It is impossible to make what you do not know. It is best to handle as many swords as you can...real ones and preferably old.
I have held many modern swords and can only assume that the maker has never held an old one from a time when they were used.

Get comfortable with forging, but it will be more important to be handy with a file and sand paper/stones or a belt sander. You will spend more time away from the fire than with it. If you think sword making is forging then you are wrong. Forging is the fun part and over the fastest...the other 90 percent is the hard part.

A sword is not a long knife, it is a dynamic tool with many disparate demands placed upon it....if you do not know those demands then you can not make one.

Find a blacksmith and learn to forge...find a machinist and learn to run those tools....when you have time with no sword orders those other skills will "feed the dog".


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I got to look over some blades my apprentice is making. I drug out the Bader so he could start getting experience grinding but still sent him back to file, paper and stone to clean things up after he "roughed" them out with power.

He tried a double edged blade too; but it's got too thin to recover so I told him to add it to his next billet as it was a billet to start with.

Only takes a blade or two done all by hand before folks start paying real attention to hammer control!

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  • 2 weeks later...

ive always been told that if i got into blade smithing much to practice on some NON blade worthy steel untill i can forge it the way it needs to be and then use semi- good blade steel for a long long time untill i think ive become a master and then use it some more. he never told me when i could move up from the semi-good steel......

ive made junk knives that arent for anything but show before out of old wrenches. i find them perfect because they already have my basic shape, all i need is a point(if i so choose to put one) make the blade and then fit it on the handle. people have found the little piece that actually goes on the bolt is neat as a hand gaurd.

my personal advice, (though not very knoledgable) is to start SMALL. when you see those huge buildings, they didnt just go out there and think they could do it really easily, they started with a scale model. my thought is, start with knives, theyre scale models of swords.

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I don't suggest learning to forge blades on "non-blade worthy steel" as what you learn is how to forge non-blade worthy steel. forging higher carbon is different! Can't forge as hot---or as cold; have to watch out for contact quenching---had a student leave a hot blade in a cold vise once---*TINK*, etc.

What I suggest is that they take an automotive coil spring and slice it down opposing sides and forge the dozen or so C's into blades learning how that alloy works and heat treats and then add in a new alloy an work from that basis till they get good with it, USW

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