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Aspiring blacksmith wishing for personal lessons

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Hey guys, I am planning on forging King Arthur's armor and Excalibur shown in the tv series Merlin for a halloween costume. However, I don't know where to start, or how to build a forge. If someone in the Boise area has a forge and is willing to take the time to teach me the craft, I would be very willing to compensate in any way I can. I may not be able to compensate entirely in the financial aspect, but would be very happy with compensating with labor. Keep in mind that I wish to perform these tasks with era correct equipment and techniques. Also, this Excalibur will be an exact replica of the sword seen in the series, down to the inlay and runes. Both attached images show the outfit, and the sword shown in the second is the Excalibur. I would be very happy spending several years learning the skills required for forging such a blade. Anyone willing to teach me these skills, please reply. Also, anyone who will have crucial tips is welcome. Anyone trying to tell me that this project is impractical, or that it should not be attempted without at least 20 years of experience, I don't particularly want to hear it. I am a very fast learner given the proper teacher, and am very mechanically inclined.



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Have you talked with the local SCA group about who is doing armour locally?

Note that trading labour for instruction has been discussed in detail a lot of times before and the general conclusion is that you should trade 10 hours of unskilled labour for every 1:1 hour with a skilled practitioner. Basically you will will need to spend hundreds of hours to make a fair trade. The reality is that you would be better off mowing yards and shovelling snow and *buying* what you want as the rate per hour for those tasks is more in your favour.

Now can you go into detail on the use of era correct equipment and techniques to make something that is not correct to that era? I know several people who have run pre-Y1K forges for experimentation but doing so for production requires a number of trained assistants to do it correctly and now you are talking about trading labour for a bunch of people at a very skewed ratio!

Anyway you will want to research real wrought iron, blister steel, bloomery iron, paired single action bellows, charcoal fueled forges, pre-Y1K anvils (What most Americans think of as an anvil is only a couple of centuries old...)  Luckily hammer and tongs can be found that match period examples.

Now making butted mail from modern steels and equipment is pretty simple and you can probably find the instructions on line. (I finished my first butted shirt in 1981 and went on to spend a year apprenticed to a swordmaker---6 days a week in the shop and no pay but I did get two meals a day with his family! At the end of that time I was nowhere near the level of blademaker that he was; but got married and had to get a real job to support a family.) Riveted mail is a step up from that and was what was used.  Finding real wrought iron wire will be the issue. (Note the plate ontop is COMPLETELY AHISTORICAL FOR THAT TIME AND PLACE!)

Now have you read "The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England" H.R.Ellis Davidson and "The Celtic Sword" Radomir Pleiner yet? (And a basic question: how much should a battle sword from that era weigh?)

In blacksmithing we often compare general smithing to be like getting your BS in college and knifemaking like getting a Graduate degree and swordmaking as your PhD to post doc work.  You will not start any younger!

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I see. How would you go about making this as historically accurate as possible? Or should I consider this as nothing more than a costume project?

If I recall correctly, a battle sword of that time weighed in the area of about 25-30 pounds, depending on the length of the sword and the weight of the pommel and guard. Alternatively, an arming sword weighs in the area of 10-15lbs so it would be easy to control. They are also shorter than a battle sword.

I really don't mind combining the labor with monetary compensation. It would give me a chance to practice what I've learned.

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As Thomas suggests, find a SCA group in your area and visit with them. Find a blacksmithing group or organization in your area and go to the meetings. You will learn more in a few hours with each group than you can ever imagine.

Using era correct equipment and techniques will require a lot of study. Putting this knowledge to work, with enough practice to reach the proficiency  level you have set for yourself, will take hours measured in years. This could be shortened some by finding great people to study under. 

Unlimited funds should allow you travel as required, and the time required to start your journey. 

You will need skill sets in blacksmithing, bladesmithing, armor making, and etc to gain knowledge so you can understand what you learn from study. Practicing the skill sets will prove valuable as base knowledge. Please let us know and we can suggest a place to start with the blacksmithing. From there you can add the other skills.

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As far as I know Thomas is probably the leading authority on historic metal working on the forum, his reading lists are gold. You REALLY need to bone up on history your original request is problematical on it's face. First you want to duplicate Hollywood props in the period correct methods. Know anybody with a prop shop? I'm going to stop I don't want to be snarky.

Look, I'm not trying to tear you to pieces here I'd just like to point out your need of some basic research so you know what you're looking for. Did you know current archaeological opinion is up in the air as to whether a possible "King Arthur" existed as anything but a metaphor, like Robin Hood. The time period was pretty close to the early iron age in Europe meaning scale or ring mail was maybe more likely than chain and certainly not plate. 

A 25-30 lb. battle sword is a death sentence to the user, I could go unarmored and take you out with a sharpened stick. Heck even 10 lbs. would be almost certain death to the guy using it. A 2 handed great sword weighed in circa 4-5 lbs. The giant Scandanavian swords sviehander (or something like that) used to break pike walls weighed in circa 7 lbs. and they were considered useful only for diving onto pike walls in a suicidal charge to knock the pikes down so the rest of the party could get close enough to fight. 

I believe from what little I've read the typical warrior of Arthur's time would've carried an axe or spear with a long seax or maybe gladius for up close and personal. The King himself would probably carry a long sword if it was a rich kingdom, probably very few others.

Again, I'm not trying to chase you off your idea I'm hoping to suggest realistic themes: Hollywood costume and props. Arthurian legend costume, or historically accurate reproduction to the current state of study. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Thanks for correcting me on the weights, and the type of armor actually used. Merlin was not a Hollywood production, let alone a US one. It was made in the UK, and broadcast on BBC. 

So I suppose an era correct costume is out of the question then. That means my only option is to do this the way it would have been for each bit, from the chainmail to the plate armor to the sword. I honestly don't care what anyone says, that sword is gorgeous, and I want to forge an authentic battle ready version of it, right down to the balance, no matter what it takes.

Please don't take my determination to do this as my wanting to disregard what you guys are saying, thats not the case at all. It's just the fact that I love the look of the complete outfit, and wish to use that as a reason to learn new skills outside my passion, which is maintaining those two wheeled contraptions they call bicycles.

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The sword in the movie/tv show is a prop.. They are made by a guy which might not even be a sword maker.. It's a modern sword that might have just used material removal methods an not forged at all.. 

A lot of the information on TV shows as to accuracy is far from accurate for a time frame.. 

While all of these things are neat and the desire to produce this object is there for you..  Then there is no reason not to produce the item.. I would contact the studio and see where they purchased the prop from.. They might have 4 or 5 of them since they will get damaged as they shoot film.. 

I'd suggest you stock up on books if you want to go the traditional route.. There are a lot of guys out there doing stock removal knives and swords only that are making a ton of money.. some are even using CNC milling machines to create the finished product.. 

I'm a traditional smith with only hammer, anvil, forge and vise and don't really use any time saving measures as I enjoy working with my hands.  With that said.  A movie prop the studio will not want to pay 2000 or more for a prop so they will find the most cost effective way to purchase the props they need.. 

Keep this in mind.. for a finer hand forged and finished sword it would range about 70+ hours for a skilled worker..  I have trained a few of my martial arts students to make their own swords, knives, etc, etc..  It takes then nearly 4X that number to get to a respectable result by hand.. 

With each item they make the time shrinks greatly but they still need guidance..  In a rush job that time frame would be cut in half for a skilled worker but who wants to work like that and in this case like War more items were pretty shabby compared to a kings or knights work which they often paid for themselves or was donated by a particular armorer.. 

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12 hours ago, King Arthur of Camelot said:

I see. How would you go about making this as historically accurate as possible? Or should I consider this as nothing more than a costume project?  YES

If I recall correctly, a battle sword of that time weighed in the area of about 25-30 pounds,  NO, they were 2 to 4 pounds

an arming sword weighs in the area of 10-15lbs so it would be easy to control. Do you really think swinging the weight of a bowling ball around for a while is controllable?

Please read more about this. Historically accurate also means having about 8 different people for the 8 different trades involved, not one person building it all himself. also using hand stones not a grinder, You have picked up so much misinformation

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Hey Arthur, I think your project is one your passionate about, and is possible; you just need to sort some stuff out.

With any project you have basic questions:  What do you wish to accomplish?  How do you wish to accomplish it? What parameters are set in stone and which are flexible.

You know you want to remake the armor and sword.  You know that your converting a prop over to a functional piece.  The total project has several parts - the sword, the mail, the various pieces of plate mail ect..

The next step is how to accomplish this. Finding a mentor is one.  Contacting and joining your local ABANA affiliate is a good start.  Looking for knife makers in your area and visiting their shop is another.  As many have suggested reading is paramount too.  There are ton's of books on this subject.  IFI has a whole section dedicated to books.  Some are cheap, some can be found on the internet legally for free, others can be very expensive.  The Library loan program like Glenn suggested is your friend here.

Setting your parameters is next.  You need to define whats acceptable and what's not.  When some people on here see "historical methods" they are planning to go mining for ore and make their own steel.  The only way you can set these parameters is by discovering what goes into making these items. Different materials, methods, tools, ect..

My advice is, if butted mail is acceptable, starting there.  If you planned on making riveted mail, making butted mail first will give you many of the skills to accomplish that.  In the meanwhile learn as much as you can to be able to set the parameters for the other pieces.

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For instance: "King Arthur" predates the use of rotary grindstones according to "Cathedral Forge and Waterwheel", Gies & Gies...lovely picture from the Utrecht Psalter (9th century---so 800's)  showing the angels and demons getting ready to battle and the angels are using the NEW "high tech" rotatory grindstones to sharpen their swords while the benighted demons are using the old style horizontal grindstones... https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Utrecht_Ps63_(cropped)_(cropped2).jpg 

So what I would suggest is to do this as a multi phase project: first the costume version and then replacing it piecemeal as your learning and skills get better.  Firstly make a butted maille byrnie (better term than chainmail, a lot of the English armour terms come from the French.)  That will teach maille construction and tailoring and then you can start on the riveted version, it's tedious rather than difficult and a good thing to work on while watching TV for instance. (I used to "knit" butted mail in the back of lecture halls during some of my college classes). You will need a way to anneal links for flattening and punching and it will start giving you access to some basics on steel alloys and heat treating.

In parallel you can start learning to forge; I'd suggest a modern solid fuel forge as you really need more people to run a period one well.  However the hammer, tongs and anvil can be right out of the history books!  And the "correct" style of anvil will be MUCH cheaper than a modern London pattern anvil.  Once you are settled in basic forging---and your bike maintenance area is full of hooks to hang bikes and tools from...you start working on bladesmithing and learn steel alloys for bladesmithing and how those alloys MUST be forged and heat treated to get what you want.  May I commend IFI's Steve Sells book "Introduction to Knifemaking" to you?     Start with small blades and move to large blades. You should be comfortable forging and heat treating large knives before going on to swords. (note: Hrisoulas' books on Bladesmithing are the only ones I know of that include swordmaking info.)

Once all that is under your belt you can make the decision to "go full early Medieval" and start assembling the resources to do so.

Sad to say; but most folks never complete their first butted byrnie. (Why many folks are wary of investing a lot of time and typing when someone comes here and starts out "I want to make a SWORD!)

re Weights: remember that scene in "The 13th Warrior" where Antonio Banderas' character finds that the---max 3 pound ---swords they were using too heavy for him to swing and so ground off the hardened edges to make a lighter, and useless, blade?  (Not to mention that Middle Eastern swords of that time period were straight double edged ones...).   Weights of medieval swords and medieval-renaissance armour are probably the most misconceived aspect of the era and so a good touch stone to see if someone has done their research properly...(The old "lifted on horses by cranes" for instance. I had a friend who was a Green Beret in Vietnam and he was expected to carry, move and fight with double the weight of a typical medieval armour!---And not so nicely distributed either.)

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Everyone has given a wealth of information above, I would just add that the American Bladesmith Society (ABS; www.americanbladesmith.com) is a good resource for learning about the principles of forging a blade, sword or otherwise.  Much of the info will tend towards more modern techniques and you'll find more knife makers than sword makers in their membership, but until you can forge a quality knife and understand the principals of the same, sword making should remain on the to-do list. You can also view their membership roster to see if there are bladesmiths in your area who might be able to serve as a mentor or at least offer some input as you learn.   

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Thanks for all of this guys, and for setting me straight. All of this information will be invaluable to the completion of this venture. I've never seen "the 13th warrior", so unfortunately I dont get the reference, but you made it clear to understand, so thanks.

I knew the maille would be the easiest part of all of this, but certainly the most time consuming, due to my childhood interest in shark shows. Maille is often used during observation dives because the sharks teeth couldn't penetrate the maille as easily as something like kevlar. Smelting my own steel is preferable, but not necessary, as I can always just melt down some stock or scrap and add carbon if needed. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the maille that arthur is wearing in the photos is made of wire rings, right? Should I make my own wire, or just buy some?

Thomas, I feel the urge to say I'm not most people. That is why I stated that I am willing to spend years learning, and even applying what I learned as partial compensation. However, my primary reason is that it is a skillset that remains relevant no matter what happens to the economy, and thus, a skillset I am highly interested in acquiring.

I will look into these associations and the recommended books so I can gain a better understanding of the trade, and perhaps someone to be a mentor, as you suggested Lutz.

I should have said this in my original post: Under no circumstance will my excalibur actually be used in a battle. It is more an art piece for the costume, and proof that I can do the work. That will not stop me from using the methods used to create similar swords from that era (which era does that sword represent historically?).

If at all possible, I would prefer that all pieces are battle ready, as proof that I can forge quality items. I don't care how long it takes to do it, only that it is done. Thanks for your time, and corrections, and everything really.


The King of Camelot, Arthur Pendragon

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47 minutes ago, King Arthur of Camelot said:

I knew the maille would be the easiest part of all of this, but certainly the most time consuming, due to my childhood interest in shark shows. Maille is often used during observation dives because the sharks teeth couldn't penetrate the maille as easily as something like kevlar. Smelting my own steel is preferable, but not necessary, as I can always just melt down some stock or scrap and add carbon if needed.  

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the maille that arthur is wearing in the photos is made of wire rings, right? Should I make my own wire, or just buy some?

Actually, the mail the actor is wearing in that picture could be made of plastic.

If you want to make a coat of mail, I would advise you to buy the wire instead of making it. In fact, you can probably buy pre-made mail rings and then knit you own mail.

If you think making the mail is the most time consuming, you're in for a shock. The time you'll need to spend to make a functionnal sword (as opposed to a prop) is probably in the order of 10x as much as the time needed to make the coat of mail.

Your comment about melting down "some stock or scrap and add carbon" is a good example of how much you'll need to learn. Making steel from iron is much more complicated than that. Modern methods made it cost-effective to a level undreamt of in the past, but impractical for an individual withouth industrial equipment. Historical ways were time- and ressources-consuming, and did not always produce reliable results.

Before tackling your project, I would advise you to do two things.

First is to find someone in your area that can give you a basic blacksmithing class. This will help you understand how much knowledge and work is involved in attaining your goal. You may have to pay for that initial class -- finding a job like mowing lawns or clearing snow from neighbours' porches to pay for it is a better avenue than offering your time to the smith.

Second is to read a lot. This site contains a wealth of knowledge. A few hundreds of hours of reading is probably a realistic estimate of how much knowledge you can gain here. And making a good functional sword will probably require as many hours of physical work at the forge.


P.S. I discovered this site a bit more than a year-and-a-half ago and spent about 5 hours a week reading from it ever since. I was only able to spend about 60 hours at the forge so far. And I would dream of trying to make a sword yet. This is a long-time endeavour you are contemplating, my friend! Be ready for your project to mutate over time as you learn more.

P.P.S. Or be ready to settle for props instead of functional (let alone historically accurate) armour and sword.

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Melting of steel showed up in Western Europe in the 1700's with Huntsman's process of making cast steel. Swords were NEVER cast to shape in steel as cooling from the melt with simple alloys results in large crystals that severely weaken the steel. Even in central Asia where they melted steel 1000 years earlier to make both crucible steel and wootz steel, (Crucible Steel in Central Asia, PhD thesis, Dr Feurbach) what was cast were "pucks" that for wootz were then carefully worked in the the needed shape at relatively low forging temps to keep from solutioning the carbides and losing the pattern.

Perhaps you were referring to Ric Furrer's "Secrets of the Viking Sword" and the possible genesis of the Ulfberht blades?

I hope you are taking notes as these types of suggestions can save you months if not years on your quest!

(And the lawn mowing/snow shoveling was not meant to be implying anything about your age---just a source of income that may be available alongside of a regular job that can be dedicated to the grand obsession.)

Give a thought about why so many folks here have such info at their fingertips so to speak...BTW do you read any other languages?  I have a copy of "The Double Edged Sword of the German Migration Period" but it's all in German.  I lack sources in French as I do not read it.

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One of the finest books I have seen (and owned) is Cut And Thrust Weapons by Eduard Wagner. For a reference on what was really used, take a gander.

We had an exchange student (our 3rd) from the Czech Republic (Prague). As we got to know each other, he expressed his passion for medieval arms and armour  and the re-enactment groups he had participated in. He told of his and his friends research and how they had to wait in line to study a reference book at the main library. He talked at length at how rare and great this book was and proud that it had a Czech author.

I mentioned that I had a pretty good book and maybe he would like to see it. He , somewhat reluctantly, agreed to take a look implying that it could not be as good (he was a little arrogant).

As I pulled it from the shelve he was shocked, I thought he would need to change his underware......

Of course, it was Cut And Thrust Weapons. I can still see the expression on his face....




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Sorry, I use Hollywood for most any film or TV production style, I'm lazy that way sometimes, my bad.

There is no "only option," you're making it make what YOU like. The TV costume is beautiful, nothing wrong with duplicating it and you don't have to worry about limiting yourself to a technology available some time in the past. Once we get away from early 20th cent movies I tend to like modern interpretations of Arthurian legend. 

For the sword, look to a long sword and go with stock removal first and make some wall hangers. You'll need the skills anyway why not learn them in steps. Same for forging, learn blacksmithing before you invest the huge amount of time and effort in a sword. A sword isn't a big knife it's another world and they're easy to screw up at the last moment. 

We make these suggestions to hopefully get you going on a path that has a good chance of success. Linking chain maille is pretty easy, I used to turn my own links and weave for evening relaxation. Maille would've been the product of several crafts some quite different. Drawing wire, turning rings and linking rings to name the obvious ones. Making the breast plate and helms are entirely different crafts, maybe not even in the same town. 

That vivid red cloak would probably been duller maybe a berry dye, flower petal? Thomas? 

The main problem you're setting yourself up for, well trying to, we're trying to save you a LOT of failure by offering the benefits of OUR mistakes and failures. Anyway, your main mistake at this point is having too many options and trying to mix and match to suit what you believe you know. Been there done that, still do but I'm more aware so I can keep watch. 

This is really a dipping a toe in the pool to see if the water's the right temperature before diving in. It's a good think, I call it brainstorming or skyballing; toss out every idea and thought that comes to mind, talk about it with others and sift the mounds of info for what works for you.

It's all good, we're pulling for you.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Probably an oranger red from Kermes or Madder have to ask my wife---who at this very moment is read a book just on the colour red---entitled "Red".

We are more used to the New world reds from cochineal.  Colour will also depend on textile and mordant. (My wife the spinster is much more up on this, I've just absorbed a lot during dye-ins when I'm used as grunt labout---or at least one time to help reduce indigo.)

Zeke, I got a copy of that back in the early 1980's; large format...

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Thanks for more reading material Thomas. I don't see a thing about berries scratch that thought. Bugs and roots neat. I knew about predatory sea snail purple. 

About all I know about natural dyes is from the talking toos I got from Mother regarding sliding around on the grass and being careful eating.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Well, if this is how much I've already learned, then yeah, I do have a whole lot left to learn. It should be noted that I took 11 years teaching myself everything I know about bicycles, so with some guidance, I should be able to learn all of this within 5 to 6 years. 

Thanks again for all the information, and the time you guys took to type this all out for me.

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54 minutes ago, King Arthur of Camelot said:

years teaching myself everything I know

Join the human race little brother we're all mostly self taught.

56 minutes ago, King Arthur of Camelot said:

I should be able to learn all of this within 5 to 6 years. 

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol::lol: :lol:!

Good sense of humor you have there Art.

Frosty The Lucky.

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