I (Penda) have always wanted to make a full-sized sword. I finally got sick of sitting around waiting for spring to arrive and headed out to the workshop to make one. Working in the shop in the winter can be difficult with regard to blacksmithing. The anvil will be whatever temperature it is outside, so in this case right around 0 Celcius. My hope was that it would heat up a bit once I started working metal on it.
Everything I read said to make the sword out of high-carbon steel, so I used some old leaf springs we had in the shop.
I decided to make two blanks. That way one is heating up while I work on the other one. That way you don’t waste fuel. Leaf springs are made of very tough steel. They take a while to heat up and are hard to work with on the forge. Starting to make the tang (handle). It is important to work both sides at the same time so the tang ends up in the centre of the blade. Yes, that is ice! I didn’t need to use tongs with the blades, but now and then the heat would creep up the metal and it needed to get cooled down again so I could hold it. Cooling down the end. I hammered on the edge of the anvil to rapidly taper the tang. One tang finished. Next, I started on the tip. Many swords taper slightly along their entire length. The leaf spring was hard enough to work with as it was let along taper the whole length. Working two irons at the same time is always better than one! Tip complete. The ice in the quenching bucket was determined to stay. Once they were shaped, I did one more thorough heating. All three burners on the forge were handy for doing this. I let the blanks air cool to take as much of the hardness out of them as possible.
Once they cooled it was time to start grinding. I used an angle grinder and disks. More polishing happened with a range of flap discs going from 40 to 120 grit. I love flap-discs! I did grind a fuller down the length of the blade, but it wasn’t deep enough and it more or less disappeared. I was getting impatient and I decided the sword didn’t need the fuller. I worked on the shorter blank first and decided it looked more like a short sword in the end. The next step was heat treating. First, you heat the metal up to its critical point (where it is non-magnetic) and then rapidly cool it. This will make the metal super hard- but very brittle. It was a challenge to quench the sword all at once. The first time I did it unevenly and the sword bent over to one side and looked like a bow! I hammered it flat again and managed to cool more evenly the next time. I will use a steel pipe filled with canola oil or water next time I do this. The blade looked even when I ground it, but after the quenching, it warped a bit. Note to self- make sure it is even and quench it all at once next time. The next step of heat-treating is to temper the metal. I baked it in the oven for several hours with our roast. I heated it at 350 F for 3 hours and then 450 for 3 more. I think this metal would have tempered best at 400F. After it cooled down it had a bluish patina which indicates it was a bit too high of a temperature.
With the blade tempered it was time to move onto the guard. All I had handy for this was a 1/2″ bar. I decided to make the guard from two pieces and grind out the area for the tang. Flattened bars with a slight curve I riveted the two bars together so that I could grind them to match perfectly. The rivets will ‘magically vanish’ when the grinding is done. I ground out the spots for the tang. Then the rivets were removed. The guard fitted around the tang.
This whole guard process may seem very confusing at this point. Here’s what I was thinking. The tang ended up being thicker than the blade, and I had an idea that I would just leave it that way and fit the hilt around the blade rather than sliding it on. I ended up changing my mind on that and ground the tang down to the same width of the blade. That’s the way swords are normally made. I still like the two-piece idea for the guard though. That way you don’t need to drill holes and file the slot.
Grinding the tang down. Next time I make a sword I’ll just hammer it to the right thickness. I put in new rivets back and then welded the two parts of the guard together. After polishing it came out fairly well. No sign of the rivets at all. Although a traditional sword is held together by the pommel, I decided to weld the guard in place.
For the pommel, I used an old axle shaft. It was 1.25″ which was too small for the pommel. I cut off a 1″ section with the angle grinder and ground my messy cut flat. Into the forge so it could be flattened out I wanted it nice and hot since this was a fairly big piece of metal. After lots of hammering and reheating it started to take shape. I like the way the groove formed on the edge. I used a pean hammer to add texture to the surface. The next step was to drill a hole for the tang. In the end, the hole ended up being 1/4″. I would have made it bigger but I didn’t have any good quality 3/8″ bits handy! Pommel after grinding and polishing. I ground a slot in the pommel to accommodate the tang. I also ground the end of the tang to accept the pommel. Ready for the handle! Note that the tang protrudes from the pommel. At this point, I headed up the tang to red hot, put on the pommel and used a pean hammer to rivet it into place.
I used a couple of thin pieces of ash for the handle. They are curved a bit to fit nicely in my hand. I used high-quality epoxy to glue them on. The black tape just kept them in place. Resulting handle glued in place. Curving the handle into the pommel and guard I used some thin vegetable-tanned leather for the grip. Carpenters glue for the grip gluing. I like texture on a grip, so I wrapped some thick string around the handle and glued it in place. After the glue set, I soaked the leather in water and then generously applied more glue. Tightly winding string around the grip and letting it dry. The result was a pretty neat pattern. The seam came out fairly well. I also shaved the edge of the leather so it tapered at the overlap. If this hadn’t been done the seam would not be smooth. I then trimmed up the edges and wrapped them with some thin copper wire and soldered them together. This will prevent the grip from peeling away if it gets wet.
A die grinder purchase was made to speed up polishing. These run at 28000 rpm! Polishing discs of various grades I decided that the sword really did need its fuller back, so I used the small wheel on a cut-off tool to put it back on. Lots of buffing happened using various grades of compound.
The completed sword. It weighs 2lbs 5oz (1kg), has a blade length of 19.25″ (49cm) and a total length of 26″ (66cm) It’s quite sharp and will hold an edge. In the spring I will take it outside and see how it cuts through some Burdock. For now, it can rest up there … far away from the hands of our grandkids. Things to consider for the next sword.
Make sure the tang is the same thickness as the blade to save grinding later. Start with a 1″ wide bar and taper the edges on the forge rather than grinding it down so much. Don’t taper the blade edges so much before heat-treating. Had they been 3mm thick the warping wouldn’t have been so bad.