So You Want to Forge a Sword
Words for the "Wannabe" Bladesmith


Basic Ladder pattern Damascus blade by Dr. Jim Hrisoulas

The following information is based totally on my own personal feelings and experience. I have been strongly criticized for the advice that follows. Others dissagree with my suggestions, the order I suggest to proceed, and how to get started, but that is unimportant. If you are doing your "homework" properly as suggested below, you will learn their thoughts too, and can then make an informed decision as to how you wish to proceed. Some guys suggest you jump right in and start hammering a blade, but in my teaching career I learned long ago that to attempt techniques that are way above a person's skill level usually results in frustration and loss of interest. My comments below are based on this premise, and I therefore suggest a longer but surer road to the final end.....that of becoming an acomplished bladesmith.


A Note About Obtaining My Help

I am no longer able to offer my support to help solve problems you may have with your burners or forge. I have reached the point that something has to give. Two to three hours a night answering questions has brought my metal working each evening of the week to a stand still. I will continue to update my blacksmithing pages, and will now also have the time to clean out all the outdated and conflicting information in my pages, however, I will no longer be able to troubleshoot your system. I still want to receive your e-mails if they do not pertain to forge or burner problems. If you build your burner to the design specs and information shown and discussed on my pages, including in the Troubleshooting Document and FAQ, your burner should work well. If it doesn't, then its not built correctly, and you will need to make some adjustments after looking through the available information. The best thing to look at when fine tuning your burner are the various flame images I have posted. If yours looks like these images, you have it right. Here are a few helpful links.

FAQ

Forge & Burner Troubleshooting Document

EZ-Burner Construction

Rich To Lean Flame Image

1) T-Rex Flame Image - Ideal Neutral Flame

2) Side-arm Burner Flame Using Temporary Cast Iron Test Nozzle - Slightly Reducing Flame

3) Another Flame Image - Oxidizing Flame

The bottom three flame images give you views of burner flames adjusted to 1) neutral, 2) slightly reducing, and 3) strongly oxidizing. The burners have nothing to do with it, just the choke settings. All of these images could have been done with the T-Rex, or Side-arm burners. At your high end gas pressure, if you have achieved a flame similar to the oxidizing flame shown in the bottom image, #3, you will then have full control over the burner flame across the full pressure range. This will allow you to achieve oxidizing, neutral, or reducing, flames as needed by simply adjusting the choke. You will then have a properly functioning burner.


Forging Swords

I assume the interest in the SCA organization, and the dungeons and dragons games and activities, has created the elevated interest in forging swords that I am seeing. I have recently experienced a very large increase in requests for information about sword forge designs, and getting started in sword making. Probably the very best example I can think of regarding "putting the cart before the horse" would be a beginner trying to forge a sword, especially a laminated sword, before learning some of the basic techniques needed to work hot steel. If you want to make a sword, and have no blacksmithing or bladesmithing experience, I strongly suggest you delay attempting to forge one for the present, invest in a good belt sander, and make some stock removal blades while you gather resources to further your goals. The techniques and hand-eye coordination necessary to produce a good stock removal blade are also required to make a fine forged blade. You will not be wasting your time by starting out in this fashion, but will be gaining the knowledge necessary for the completion of a blade after its forged. It is a lot more cost effective to ruin some plain steel bars while learning the techniques than to spend the time and money to forge a laminated Damascus steel blade and destroy it in a botched blade finishing process later. While you are actually making blades with your grinder, you can also be gathering the equipment and knowledge to begin your forge work. This approach will allow you to start working metal sooner, build your confidence, and will result in more rapid overall progress.

By starting out slowly you will have the time available to investigate what equipment is needed, preventing you from wasting money on unneeded or poor quality tools, and to learn how the work is done to properly forge a blade. Bladesmithing is at the top of the list of difficulty in blacksmithing, not at the beginner's end of the list. You are simply not going to fire up a forge and laminate a fine sword blade as a beginner....it just won't happen. Even forging a non laminated solid steel blade is very difficult for a beginner. The thin edges of a blade are very critical to work with, and often will be burned away long before a beginning smith is able to reach the grinding and polishing stage. Just forging a straight shaft is a perplexing challenge for a beginner because the thinning and drawing of the metal on one side will bend the blade in the opposite direction, creating a hook shaped blade. If its a single edged blade, you have to carefully plan ahead to counter this bending problem.

Before you start hammering delicate blade shapes, you need to learn the nature and behavior of hot steel under the hammer, and gain the very fine hammer control necessary for such work. If you don't, you will end up with a very rough and dented piece of steel, instead of the fine blade that you desire. You have to be able to hit in the exact spot required every time, especially so during forge welding, and also to hit with a totally flat hammer face impact, or you will just dent and ding the steel, making it difficult or impossible to grind out later. So how do you get started on the road to eventually making that prized sword you so badly want?23 Nov 0723 Nov 0723 Nov 07

The first thing I suggest you do is join the "knifelist," a free listserve dedicated to making knives and swords of all kinds. Here is where you will be exposed to those with differeing thoughts to mine. There are some extremely talented bladesmiths on the list, and they can help you progress step by step in the direction of becoming a bladesmith yourself. Don't join the list and start piling on the questions however, just introduce yourself, drop back into the background, and be a "lurker" while you learn what is going on, and the accepted manor of posting to the list. Start gathering information and becoming educated in metal working techniques and termonology. The experienced smiths on the list get tired of answering the same old worn out questions over and over again. Just wait and someone else will ask most of them for you. Another forum that may be of interest is the Knifemaking Forum. It covers all kinds of unusual subjects relevant and irrelevant to knife making.

The next step, which probably should be done concurrently with joining the "knifelist," is to start building your library of technical references, and the bladesmithing books by Dr. Jim Hrisoulas are about as good a place to start as you will find. You should visit his Salamander Armoury where you can see some of his excellent work, and some of the Damascus patterns that you too might be able to produce someday. You will also need to start collecting books and gaining knowledge about blacksmithing. You can join "theforge," which is another free listserve dedicated to blacksmithing, and hosted by ABANA, "Artist Blacksmiths of North America." You should join ABANA as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to receive their excellent publications about blacksmith work. Another good source for answers to questions is the Blacksmithing Newsgroup, "alt.crafts.blacksmithing," where a much smaller group of blacksmiths resides, mostly beginners, but there are a few very experienced smiths there too. The Sword Forum is another Web site that may be of interest to you. You should also try to find a local bladesmith or blacksmith who will agree to teach you some of the basic skills necessary to work iron. You will be way ahead by taking advantage of his/her knowledge and instruction. The above lists, newsgroup, Web site, and ABANA, are also your best sources to locate a local smith to help you get started.

At some point you need to start gathering equipment, and that means tongs, hammers, anvil(s), files, grinders, sanders, drills, and a host of other tools. You can't use a hammer as it comes from the store, if you are so unfortunate as to have to buy your hammers new. Hammers have to be faced properly so they will not damage the steel, this is called "dressing the face," and is just another piece of knowledge you will need to obtain, and which can be found in the books you collected about blacksmithing. Additionally, you have to shape the hammer handle properly or your arm will not stand up to the work of hammering iron over the long term. At some point you will also want a forge, and that is when my Web pages may be of help to you. Please don't get the cart in front of the horse and start asking me questions about forges and burners before you even have an idea which direction to proceed, or have started your tool collection. Your blacksmith instructor should be able to suggest a good starter forge design. After that, when you have learned what features you want in your own forge, perhaps then you should explore the more sophisticated forge and burner designs I have on my pages. Certainly, your best source for information on sword forges are the guys who forge swords.....and I don't make swords.

Once you have learned enough about the metal arts to give you some idea where you will be going with your project, then its time to start collecting the information that is specific to your needs. That means that you need to talk to to other bladesmiths, as well as to start downloading, printing, and reading everything you can find on the subject, and my pages are a good place to start, but certainly do not stop there. You should also read as many books as you can find on metalworking, blacksmithing, and bladesmithing, and often your local library will have some valuable books on the subject. A good source for old out-dated technical books that have been reprinted is "Lindsay's Technical Books." They have a catalog that you may order from their Web site. The price of their books is a tiny fraction of the value of their contents. If you already know what books you want, the finest "metal-working book" vendor I know of is "Norm Larson." Norm is as honest and reliable a person as you will ever meet, and his service is superb. The last source for both books and equipment that I will mention is "Centaur Forge Ltd." You can obtain their large and detailed catalog from the Web site, as well as explore some of their products. Be warned that they are expensive, but they have stuff you can't find new anywhere else. Certainly your best source for old tools, post vises, post drills, tongs, anvils, etc., is your regional flea market, but if you want new equipment, Centaur Forge may be the answer. If you join your local chapter of ABANA, you will have an excellent source for these rare tools through the member smiths in your local chapter. This is also the place to make that contact that will lead to your instruction in the metal arts. There are a number of companies who cater to the bladesmith specifically, and I do have many of their catalogs, but I will leave that to your research, and the "knifelist."

Blacksmithing or bladesmithing will take you a long time to become even reasonably skilled in. Notice I didn't say a long time to master, because to do so will take many years most likely. This is not a weekend project. You have to commit yourself to it. I am not a bladesmith, and actually have very little interest in making blades. However, I have a great respect for the spectacular work that many smiths produce in their shops, especially some of the beautiful Damascus blades, and that is because I know what is involved. I don't make knives, but I do make Damascus steel for various other applications, including leaves, dragon's wings, and jewelry. There is no limit to what this beautiful material can be used for.

If your only goal is to make forged swords, I suggest you put that on the back burner for the present and concentrate on learning how to forge iron, and that means begin at the beginning, forging tools, hooks, fireplace pokers, punches, and the vast array of other useful and beautiful items that can come from your forge. Learn how to forge weld expertly....no easy task. Learn the way iron moves and behaves under the hammer, and how to get your hammer to do exactly what you want it to, every time, and to do it for hours on end. Once you have learned and developed these basic skills, then you will be ready to attempt the much more difficult task of making forged blades, or even forge welded laminated blades, such as the fine Japanese blades. It required years of apprenticeship before the beginning Japanese bladesmith would be considered worthy of his own forge. Don't expect to do it in a week, month, or year. Don't rush it, just let it develop as it will, and perhaps someday you may be ready to make one of those truly legendary blades of your own, or perhaps not. Enjoy the art of working iron for what it is, not as a means to an immediate end, and you may arrive at your goal eventually. You will have a much better chance to achieve your goal if you slowly build your expertise and confidence to the level necessary to succeed in the more difficult techniques required for this kind of work. If you jump in and attempt the more difficult techniques before you are ready, you will most likely fail, and that may result in a loss of confidence and interest that would not occur if you worked up to it gradually.

There seems to be a desire by many people to try to shortcut the learning process. Yes, learning takes work, but there are no shortcuts around doing your homework. The road to becoming an accomplished bladesmith or blacksmith is a long one. It requires dedication, and the willingness to "bite the bullet" and dig out the information on your own. I have provided a vast amount of information in my pages, and invested many hundreds of hours, and considerable expense....just for you. It is up to you to determine what sections of my pages are of value to you, study them in detail, and figure out how to apply the information to your own particular needs. Please don't ask me to do your research for you...I won't. My time is limited by the work I do to provide you with this information. I also need to spend time at my own forge, teaching, running my little blacksmithing business, and with my family. If you find it to be too much work to sift though the large volume of information I have provided, perhaps you are not yet ready to commit to a long term and demanding art form like metal art. Of all the benefits you will derive from learning the art of metal working, by far the greatest is the learning. If you place "learning" at the top of your list of goals, all the rest will follow.   :-)

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Golden Age Forge

1 Mar 02