Making A Sword – Day 3

After somehow pulling off a miracle and almost catching up with the majority of my classmates, I was working with the power tools to begin the cleanup process associated with making a blade.

Profiled and ready to go! The joys of a belt grinder!
Profiled and ready to go! The joys of a belt grinder!

This is normally a long and arduous process if you don’t have power tools and the skills to use them and, due to lack of power tools and lack of time for proper instruction, the process was done mostly by hand outside of a few steps. The first was to use a belt grinder to clean up the edges and removing all of the waves caused by the beveling process. This had the added benefit of shaping the blade into a proper triangle-ish shape again.

First step of cleanup: grinding away scale with an angle grinder.
First step of cleanup: grinding away scale with an angle grinder.

The first real step of proper cleanup (so you can actually see the blade) involved an angle grinder with a low grit wheel. Unlike a number of my classmates, I’ve worked with angle grinders quite often, and was able to slice through a sizeable amount of scale and material in little time.

Why am I cutting through material? You’ll see if you look closely that there are some pockmarks on the blade. The only way to get rid of them (besides not causing them at all when you strike with your hammer) is to remove the material around it. As you’ll want to keep things symmetrical, you’ll want to clean ALL of the material down the line and grind down to the lowest point. I stopped early due to the sheer depth of the marks and how thin my blade was.

Second step of cleanup: filing by hand. This process took HOURS.
Second step of cleanup: filing by hand. This process took HOURS.

After a short burst at the grinder (maybe twenty minutes), it was time to work by hand again with a file. This works similarly to the grinder, only with more leeway if you make a mistake and more control to get the proper geometry of the blade (the slopes leading from the raised point in the middle to the edges). An added benefit was to remove any scratches caused by the grinder. This process really did take hours to do, and due to the heat, it wasn’t very comfortable.

Third step of cleanup: sanding. I probably could have done all this with some time and an angle grinder, but it wouldn't look this good!
Third step of cleanup: sanding. I probably could have done all this with some time and an angle grinder, but it wouldn’t look this good!

Next up was sanding. Sam didn’t want us doing our sanding directly by hand, possibly for fear that we’d sharpen the blade before doing the rest of the work/destroying the blade, so we had to find some boards to wrap the paper around and just go to town. This removes metal very slowly, which again helps with removing pits (I got rid of a surprising number this way), but it also helps bring it almost to a shine.

While waiting for materials to be cut and the oven to be built, I was told to start sketching guards so I could get rolling.
While waiting for materials to be cut and the oven to be built, I was told to start sketching guards so I could get rolling.

Upon returning from lunch, Sam was still working on the necessary heat treat oven, so everyone was to continue cleaning up blades or begin working on guards. As I had to wait for some material to be cut, I started asking my peers and sketching ideas, leading to three potentials: a D-guard, a crescent shape, or a sharper edged shape. Once I was handed some metal, it was go time.

My first attempt at a guard while waiting for my turn to begin the normalizing process.
My first attempt at a guard while waiting for my turn to begin the normalizing process.

It didn’t take too long to hammer out once I knew what I wanted. I heated up the metal, used the power hammer to note where I wanted to flatten things, and just went to town on shaping, twisting, and overall just decorating it. Sadly, I learned the following day the guard couldn’t be used (more on that next time!), but it was still a fun little project that I can turn into a wall hook!

Our heat treat oven! Made from a 100 gallon drum, 1/4 roll of ceramic insulation wool (kaowool), some stainless steel wire and a burner.
Our heat treat oven! Made from a 100 gallon drum, 1/4 roll of ceramic insulation wool (kaowool), some stainless steel wire and a burner.

Shortly after my guard was finished, Sam called me in to start normalizing. This is a process in which we heat up the metal to a very high temperature (almost critical) and allow it to cool in the air. This process allows the metal to realign itself before quenching (more on THAT tomorrow!), and is a good habit to get in to.

Normalizing. Really cool process to watch, as thin parts cool and then get brighter before cooling again! That, and it looks like a lightsaber.
Normalizing. Really cool process to watch, as thin parts cool and then get brighter before cooling again!
That, and it looks like a lightsaber.

The normalizing took longer than expected overall due to only having the one oven and having to take turns with it. Heating up to the necessary temperature took about 15 minutes, watching it took an additional few minutes, and we ended the process by leaving it in a vice until it was cool to the touch.

Keep in mind there were nine students in the class, as well as a TA who made a knife, Sam made a sword with us, and one of the students actually brought a sword he made but never finished with him to be heat treated. Eleven swords and one knife were processed, which took most of the night.

So what did I do? I did what any other good blacksmith would do when waiting.

Ending the night while waiting for my turn for more normalizing. Yes, that's a bottle of mead.
Ending the night while waiting for my turn for more normalizing. Yes, that’s a bottle of mead.

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