Maillemaker

Words of Caution for Budding Swordsmiths

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This might seem like a bit of a rant, but I do mean well. Here we go.

One of my greatest pet peeves is being asked to make swords three seconds after I tell someone I'm a blacksmith. I understand that swords are semi-legendary weapon forged in the fires of King Arthur, knights in shining armor, samurai, the ninja, and countless other fantasies, and that they have a magic all their own.

I also hear many beginner smiths declare proudly "I'm going to make a SWORD!!!". Oftentimes, there are requests on IFI that essentially say:

"Hi! I just started three weeks ago, and I want to make a sword! How do I....?"

I've seen two "camps" on IFI: the "Go-For-It's", and the "If-You-Have-To-Ask's". Both bring up valid points. Swordsmithing is a very well regarded skill (or set of skills), and the only way you'll learn those skills is to actually do it. Reading books is no replacement for actual forge-time.

However, producing a quality sword is an extremely difficult task that takes years to master. Asking for help is a wise decision, but if you don't have the basic skillset necessary for the advanced techniques, you will not make a quality blade. It's like trying to build a house without a foundation: it's not going to work.

At the end of the day, it's your choice: if you are dead set on producing a sword right off the bat, then by all means go for it. You'll learn to select the right steel, hammer control, how to establish bevels, heat treat, sharpen, polish, attach fittings and crossguards by actually doing it. But that's not the only way to learn the necessary skills: smaller, less complicated projects will give you the same knowledge, along with the RESEARCH YOU DO BEFORE YOU START.

Personally, I suggest starting small and gradually working your way up; at the end of the day, however, it's your call.

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I feel compelled to add that there is a genuine and very serious safety issue involved in making swords. Most beginners don't understand that bad forging or heat treating technique can easily result in a blade breaking and scything off into space like a razor sharp steel boomerang, with the potential for very serious injury (or worse) if the flight path intersects with a human being. Yes, it's the individual's call whether to start making swords with little to no experience in bladesmithing and heat treating. It's also the individual's call whether to drive drunk. But in both cases, one alternative is objectively better than the other, at least in the vast majority of cases. (If you're an experienced amateur machinist with a degree in metallurgy and access to a heat treating furnace or a kiln, who's never made a blade before but wants to try a sword, you very well might pull off something decent on the first try. But that's a very different situation than that of the typical guy who pops up and says, "Hi, I'm sixteen and I've never worked with metal. How do I make a sword?") Just my $0.02.

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When someone comes up to me and says "Make me a sword!" I say "Sure hop up into the forge!"

Many people don't realize that a poorly made sword is probably more dangerous than a well made one as it has more failure modes along with being a sharp pointy item.

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the trouble is not just that they do not know enough to ask the proper questions, Many refuse to TRY to learn basics, One of my "buttons" is when a person says this blade keeps curving when they hammer in the bevels, how do we straighten it? then when I tell them to go back and learn basics they will know, I get called some names that can not be printed here.

And people wonder why I stopped doing the "IFI Friday night knife chat", or talking to many of the beginners lately. Even had a member here accuse me and 2 well known teachers/blade smiths of not being willing to share, and keeping secrets, also a comment of us being self appointed masters. So that made a few of us stop answering beginners at all for a while, because of rude people, thinking they know it all, we gave up.

When we try to teach and keep people safe, they refuse, and then these teens want to fight with us, it does make us want to stop trying. So... Who suffers? the beginner that now is alone trying to figure it out, as the teens that backed him up cant help.. We need to decide what is more important. But I guess its their egos now... not the craft, but they got their way didnt they :(

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Unfortunately that for a lot of these young folks their ego's have been babied throughout school and the net reinforces the idea that *everybody's* views on a subject have worth whether the know diddly squat about the subject or are just guessing or are a world renowned expert on the subject.

Remember the you-tube video from the guy who said "I've only made *one* sword so far; so here is how you make a sword" and then the methods he suggested were so bad and even possibly dangerous that there was a large number of people warning folks off from that side and it was finally pulled?

Or all the young people who come up to me at a Demo and tell me they know all about blacksmithing because they played a video game or watched anime...

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I get where you're coming from, Steve, but I don't think it's quite as bad as you suggest. Sure, some people won't listen, and some will be pretty uncivil about it. But if you present the arguments factually and unemotionally, and try not to let it come across as condescending, some will listen. As for the uncivil ones, it's best to try to ignore them. The hard part is not sounding condescending when you've answered the same question twenty, fifty, or a hundred times. It's tempting to be very brusque about it, which can come across as, "I'm dismissing you because you're clueless," rather than, "I'm willing to help, but it's a big subject and you're going to have to devote a lot of time to self-guided study and practice to do this right. No is going to explain it all to you, and there's no substitute for experience." I realize the I-want-it-all-right-now-and-I-don't-want-to-have-to-exercise-any-discipline-to-get-it mentality gets harder to deal with as we get older, but I suspect we were all a little more like that than we'd care to admit at a certain age. If we try to stay positive and meet them halfway, some may have real potential. I'm pretty embarrassed when I look back at some of the attitudes I had when I was 16, 18, 20 years old. Fortunately, most people do grow out of the worst of it.


And by the way, for the record (in case anyone is wondering), I haven't made a single sword yet. I'm still on knives. Probably will be for a good little while, too.

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Matt I do have to admit I have gotten a bit short with quite a few of them. I am guilty.

I have put a lot of time not only into attempting to learn a few things, but also writing papers and publishing a few of them to share what little I have figured out. Then these guys cant be bothered to read, No, their time is too valuable to learn anything, they expect us to drop everything and give them personal service. They think they can make them easily, and are told that its OK to just make them because that in how they will learn, so they can just have fun (forget about safety and responsibility, we are just old guys protecting our craft right ?). What happens when it breaks and a person is cut? or worse? Its no wonder quite a few members here cringe when anyone asks about blades. Almost as bad as that guy advocating cold hammering truck springs into swords, then threatening to sue anyone that mentions his name and calls him on it for defamation, (not sure anyone has actually gone to court) hiding behind a web screen makes so many people do things they would never do face to face. Also hard to know (at least for beginners) who really does forge blade or fakes it like a video game.

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Shall we mention the people who think 2 screens of info and a 2 minute video published by "who knows" is a good replacement for several hundred pages of a book written by an expert?

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When I teach the first project is an S hook and I tell them that *everything* they do to make an S hook is directly applicable to making a blade---helps focus some students.

I did the into lesson for a teenager at the NM State Fair last weekend and was able to assure him that he was doing better than many of the college students I teach.

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I will admit the reason I wanted to start smithing is to learn how to make knives. But after reading and reading and then taking a beginners blacksmithing class I decided to just stay away from blades for a while. That is until I get the basics down and can do some of the more advanced smithing stuff.

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This is the sort of image that comes to mind when a young person says he wants to make swords:

My Note: I removed the url to the humorous but somewhat scary YouTube "big-boned" teenager playing Ninja from here due to embarrassment of not noticing bad language by a teenager. But if you really want to see it, it is one of the related videos shown under the above YouTube video if you click through to YouTube.

Sorry, I didn't notice the bad words. I was not paying attention. My error. Sorry.

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Sharp pointy things are the farthest thing from my mind. Unless you count steak turners and letter openers.

People need to have a goal to aspire to be better than they are. It's no different than a kid who wants to be an astronaut or a Dr etc.. Somewhere along the way someone needs to tell them the cold hard facts about what it takes to be what they want and if they really want that goal to be met. They need to be told how long and possibly difficult the road is that leads there. Otherwise they will tire and be left along the wayside. Not saying to squirsh their aspirations but to let them know precisely what it takes to attain their goals. If they persist, and a few will, then they will put forth the time and effort and deserve to be taught.

Others sadly need to be kicked to the curb at a young age so they may mature and redirect their energy if needed.

I am a little long in the tooth to set too many long term goals.

The guy in the previous video may need to erase Ninja from his wish list.

Mark <>< Old and dull

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The DARKSIDE of blacksmithing, In HOLY scripture is "those who live by the sword..." that has to apply to those who make them too. Kitchen knives is as close to making blades as I want to go.

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Sam, don't you think the fact that you're personally walking them through it and supervising the process might have a lot to do with the outcome? Are you completely confident that after a week with you, someone with little or no prior experience is ready to go do it on his (or her, I suppose -- but probably not :)) own, properly -- without you standing over his shoulder, recognizing mistakes, and fixing them before they become problems?

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Heh. I just remembered something.

I once flew a helicopter for about fifteen minutes, with fifteen minutes at the controls of a T-34 as the sum total of my prior piloting experience. The fact that I'm writing this means it was a successful flight. Of course there was an expert instructor pilot sitting in the seat next to me, with his hands and feet inches from the controls, the entire time.

Despite the fact that I have successfully piloted a helicopter once before, if I ever offer to take you for a helicopter ride, with me as the pilot, you should decline. :blink: :P

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Sam how do you teach them good design and control of vibration nodes and heat treatment of a variety of steels in that short of time?

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No offense meant guys, but your questions show your lack of both of understanding of the question and the people asking it.

Matt, yes you flew a helicopter for only 15 minutes, but you flew it correctly for that 15 minutes.

None of these people asking are asking to be "ace helicopter pilots", they want the equivalent of your helicopter flight, to do it well once. They don't need to know anything more then the basics about harmonics, balance and design which could be taught in an afternoon.

The logic of answering the "I want to make a sword" here is very flawed, everyone seems to jump to the conclusion they want to go into business making swords and/or be a competent swordsmith NO they just want to do it once and have help to do it.

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Sam, as I said, I think it's very different when someone like you is standing over their shoulder and supervising, rather than attempting it on their own based on some advice over the Internet. That was my point: I did fly the helo correctly for 15 minutes, but I wouldn't have attempted it without that sort of close supervision. And if I had, it probably wouldn't have gone so well. :o I absolutely believe that you are capable of getting a new guy through making a functional sword, once, with your hands-on instruction and supervision. But it's not clear to me that that's what the average new guy here wants, or that he'll be willing to go out and find someone like you to walk him through it in person.

However, henceforth, when people ask the question I will answer, "spend a week with Sam." :)

Seriously, though, for the sort of people you're describing, I think something along those lines is a good answer. Personal, hands-on instruction makes a huge difference. I just don't know if most of the young guys who come here wanting to make swords will be willing to pursue that. It's not necessarily easy -- or free -- to get that kind of instruction from someone who knows what they're doing. But it's a good suggestion. I'll try to remember to mention it from now on.

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If these same kids wanna make a gun and do not plan on making more than one, means just jump in right"? Is a one time item magically not going to have any risk? its not that we try to stop them from making them, we are wanting them to wait on making it until they have the basics learned. Skipping the fundamentals is the problem here.

I have walked people from beginner to a finished knife blade in just a few days, but as Matt and Sam said.. its forging with a person that knows and can correct, that is a lot different than most of the kids asking here, that are living away from any qualified smith. Also many are underage for making or even having a weapon.

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well, not being a sord guy...i won't even attempt a responce. but a few months ago i had a "kid" wanting to forge a knife. well... i talked to his mother, and she gave premission. here's the deal- i asked him to draw me a picture of what he wanted to make. mostly for me to to pick his brain on designs and his vision of the "project". well after a week i asked him to show me his ideas. well the response was " i haven't done it" so it didn't take me long to properly inform him that this project is a done deal. and not to waste my time again.( i had gathered supplies and such already) but it comes down to i want it now with no thought,labor,or drive to see it through. i may have been a "little" irate and uncareing at that point, but i do sleep at night. i hope this didn't jade me on any future kids that really want to do it...

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Reading this thread reminds me once again that there is simply no laws or rules on who puts instructional videos on utube. Any other tecky medium or in these forums. Quite simply anyone can answer any questions or at least pretend to by simply having access to a 'puter and a desire to see their name in print. If we are in here often those folks that have no experience stand out really quick, and the ones that indeed have knowledge that they are willing to share stand out in a much better way. It is not tough to figure out who answers based soley on flawed information, It at times takes a bit longer to determine which ones of them reseaerch info from other sources and answer questions based entirely on that research.
I prefer to learn from those on here that have actually done the work they speak of.

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Actually most I have talked with do not want to "make a sword" they want to *own* a sword on the cheap. I suggest they mow lawns and *buy* a good sword and only want to teach the ones who want to make one because they Have to Make One and are interested in the whole practice.

I'll put almost anybody through a basic knife forged from coil spring; however I have learned over the decades that only about 10% get *finished*. Most bog down in the tedium of filing and end up abandoning the project. Yet they at least *learned* something and only took an afternoon of my time. Swords deserve better!

I have a student currently making a falchion and I spent a lot of time holding it as he forged with a heavy hammer two handed; but I'm making *him* call the spot to hit as I slide the blade back and forth on the anvil at his call. (If it's cold I'll stop him---but he's gotten good about making that judgment himself). I have also let him learn the basics of various types of abrasives as he starts to clean it up.

As a falchion the POB is forward and when it's ready for HT we'll check out the vibration nodes and make tweaks to the position of the guard to shift one into the grip if necessary. This is more like a "senior thesis" for someone who has been working with me for several years. If he just wanted a sword I would have told him to buy one.

Now to wean him off titanium knives....I had him forge one once to impress the yokels and now he's decided he like impressing the yokels...sigh, he's young.

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...i may have been a "little" irate and uncareing at that point, but i do sleep at night. i hope this didn't jade me on any future kids that really want to do it...


I believe you did good Jimmy!! :)

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