Making A Sword – Day 1

As I stated last week, I’ve spent the past five days working in a smithy with eight other students under the tutelage of Sam Salvati (see Man At Arms: Reforged to see his work, namely the lightsaber katana). The goal: to complete one single-handed, “Type 15” sword in five days.

A typical "Type 15" sword according to Oakeshott's classification. Sometimes known as an "Arming Sword."
A typical “Type 15” sword according to Oakeshott’s classification.
Sometimes known as an “Arming Sword.”

Now, making a single knife is a full day or more depending on how intricate you want to be. My knife blades take at least two hours of forge time (down from almost four!), about a half hour or so to “clean” after forging, an overnight annealing process, an hour or so for profiling/shaping corrections depending on what needs to be done, a three hour heat treating process, and another hour or more to clean up, sharpen, etc. Not including handles and other fittings, it takes, on average, eight hours of work and two days to create a single, six to ten inch knife.

This class was to make a complete 36 inch sword, almost five times my average knife size, within five days. A daunting task, especially when Sam informed me that, due to my lack of experience, I may not leave with the blade. Then again, some professional bladesmiths struggle to finish a sword in five intensive days, so I guess it works.

Now that you know the background, it’s time you see the work that goes into this. I’ll cover this in a few posts, covering one or more days at a time.

Day One

I walked into this class without high expectations. I knew I’d at least acquire the knowledge of making a sword, but I didn’t actually expect to LEAVE with one. Still, that didn’t stop me.

After meeting and doing the basic introductions, we were about to break and get started when the power went out. Now, this smithy runs entirely on electricity and burnable fuel sources, so we lacked hand-cranked blowers, grinding wheels, or efficient ways of cutting large blocks of metal, so it became a design day.

A really great book if you want to learn how swords are categorized!
A really great book if you want to learn how swords are categorized!

We hit the books, grabbed some graph paper, and got started with soundboarding, designing, and reviewing until power was restored after lunch. Then the fun began.

The first step was to “taper” the length and shape the blade, essentially making a large, gradual triangle out of the material. This is a whole lot harder than it looks, as you need to do this for a very long length of material and make it even.

An afternoon of progress: tapered edges almost halfway done!
An afternoon of progress: tapered edges almost halfway done! Not quite centered, though. . .

Of course the material often has better ideas, usually bending in various directions, but that’s the trick with blacksmithing: learning how the metal moves and how to get it to go where you want!

When I hit around the halfway point of my blade, disaster struck.

DISASTER! Coal is an unforgiving mistress.
DISASTER! Coal is an unforgiving mistress.

My timing was off, either due to being too warm or just off in general, and I left the sword in for too long. My blade literally melted. Coal is very unforgiving, even if it is an awesome source.

At this point, it was around 4:15, dinner and mandatory events started at 5, and the shop couldn’t reopen until almost 10:00pm. To make things worse, we didn’t have enough metal to let me make another sword.

Thankfully, I show up to these things prepared, and had a bit of steel that was just a bit thinner (but the same thickness and length), so I got started again. With my last 45 minutes and the twenty or thirty I had to work with in the evening, I was almost caught up.

Starting again from scratch, but made up for lost time!
Starting again from scratch, but made up for lost time!

This was the end of day one and, therefore, this post. I’ll try to get some details about the later days as time permits, but expect to see the subtle and unexpectedly long process!

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