How to make cheap and
effective war swords
By: Matthew Cross
The sword is described in this series of articles is a simple hand and a half sword that could have seen action through the medieval and renaissance period. According to the taste and needs of the maker each of the components can be modify to a variety of forms without significantly changing the method of manufacture. It is strongly suggested that simplicity is best for beginning projects.
Part1. Getting Started
Picking a leaf spring: No small operation can hope to make for better steel than big business so it is to be expected that auto manufactures can make stronger steel than we can ever heat treat ourselves. The leaf spring in most cars is hard enough and tough enough to eat every commercially available sword that I could find in almost 30 years of destructive testing. Leaf springs are easily available at junk yards all over. Most yards usually have a pile of hopelessly unmatched springs that can be had at scrap prices. It is generally easier to get lots of leaf springs than to get just one. There is a wide variety of leaf springs available to choose from. The hardness is of major concern so if given a choice use a small file to sample the hardness of each rack. The file will bite more in the softer springs. Get the hardest ones for the best swords, and the softest ones for the easiest straighting. some are thicker and thus more work to grind down but again are better swords. The narrow springs are easier to straiten and less work to taper but nothing matches a long thick wide spring if you have the juice to straighten it. If you have almost no tools and little investment money pick up a narrow thin spring like those found on mini-pickup trucks. The hole in the spring is a big deal so the longest springs allow one end to be cut off placing the hole closer to the handle.
Straitening a leaf spring: First separate the rack and cut the springs to the desired lengths with a cutting torch, disk grinder or hack saw. Place the spring on a railroad tie or stump with its convex side up and hit the spring until it does what you want it to do. Use as big a sledge hammer as you can use and hit squarely flat with the face of it. The closer you work to the edge of the of the stump the easier it goes. Hitting closer to the edge of the spring causes warping so be sure to hit the center of the spring. This process can take days so be patience. Some energetic young athletes can straighten a thinner spring in under an hour however. Nevertheless the very hardest springs will take days . When straight look along the edge and mark the convex side of each warp. Then you flip the spring from side to side, end to end and pound on the edge where it is marked. Some warpage will be removed in the grinding process. When the spring is straight it becomes a blade blank. Cut a bolt into a small piece that fits into the hole protruding slightly on both sides and pound it down like a rivet.
So now you have one or more blade blanks of the finest steel. The tools required were: A file, a sledge hammer (Approx. 4 to 10 lbs), a stump or rail rode tie, and at least one of the following: Disk grinder, cutting torch or hacksaw. Add to this a vice, a bench, a grind stone, a small chisel, a needle and a drill. This is the full list of equipment needed to make a sword.
Part2 How to Grind and prepare the blade
Shaping and contouring the blade: You have successfully completed a blade blank as per part one of the instructions. The blank can now be shaped with a hacksaw and contoured by hand using files or Japanese style shavers. The most effective tool for this purpose however is a small disk grinder. Bench grinders are affected by a vibration when grinding swords that tears up wheels and bearings. Moving the sword is more awkward than moving the grinder so it is much more effecient to get a disk style grinder.
The first task is to measure out the the final outline of the blade and mark it. Ergonomically speaking the main limitation to the travel of the sword is the ground at the wielders feet, so I usually put the end of the blank on the ground and grab it firmly as I stand. I then subtract 2 inches for clearance and mark the position of the guard. This gives you a sword that is two inches shorter than the distance between your clenched fist and the ground. This proportion seems to move right with the person. A tapered blade works far better than a straight blade, so mark the center of the tip end and mark an inch in either direction. This gives you a 2 inch wide tip. Then using a straight edge mark a line from the edge at the guard to the tip at the mark made at one inch from center. Do this to both edges on both edges and on both sides of the blank. Use a chisel to go over the marks that you finally decide on as your chalk marks will melt before your work is completed. Either cut along this tapered line on both sides with a hacksaw or grind away the unwanted material with a disk grinder. Use the disk grinder in broad sweeps not like a plow. Frequently cool the blade with a wet rag. Harmonic vibrations will hamper the grinding at the ends of the blade when using one vice. If possible a second vice or C clamp can help stabilize a lively blade or simply have patience and wait for the harmonics to subside between grinder strokes. Leave the tip square and move to the tang. Grasp the blank on the grip side of the guard line and with the other hand below that. Move the first hand down giving a three hand grip, add one inch mark and cut. The tang itself is the weakest part of the sword. If the tang is not made very carefully the sword will break at the tang. Follow each step carefully and take NO shortcuts. The point where the tang enters the guard is critical, no heat must be applied to this area ever. Never cut tangs with a cutting torch. The following technique seems tedious but follow it carefully and you will be able to trust your life to the end product. First take a file and remove one sixteenth of an inch of metal from each side of the blank at the point where the guard is to go. No more than one sixteenth of an inch. Next take a disk grinder or file and remove the edge sixteenth of an inch from the rest of the tang to the pommel end. This wide tang must then be tapered ever so slightly. As an example, if your blank is three inches wide then your tang will be two and seven eighths inches wide at the shoulder where the guard sits and two and three quarters wide at the pommel. The remaining material will be removed at a later time. The tang is then put into a vice that is mounted on the end of a bench and the tip of the blade is allowed to touch the bench or a block is placed under the tip. The blank is is flat in relation to the top of the bench not on edge. The actual grinding of the blade is easy if you take long sweeps with the disk grinder and don't try to remove material by force, let the weight of the tool do the work and take your time. Frequent cooling of the blade with a wet rag and and turning the blade over. Don't try to a hollow ground blade as they are worthless on a sword. The best edge for a war sword is a parabolic curve. The samurai sword was stroked on a stone for one hundred strokes, one degree form flat then ninety nine stokes at two degrees and so on until a single deft stroke at forty five degrees. Leave lots of material to be removed later by hand at a later stage and move to the point. Put the blank point up in the vise and grind away. Be carful not to overdue the point. Do not allow the blade to get sharp at this stage as there is a lot of handling left. You now have a blade!
Part3: Hard fitting the guard:
The blade that you made following the instructions in parts one and two has a wide tang with a shallow shoulder to receive the guard. The guard described here is a basic cross hilt that was the most common guard through most of history in one form or another. We start with a piece of steel (never use brass or soft metal) and six tools; a drill a hacksaw, a large half round file (from welding supply shop), a small cold chisel and a small machinists file. The best size for guard stock is three quarters by one half and following the ergonomic formula used so far the length of the guard should be two hands and one thumb, so grip the stock tightly with both hands, add one inch and cut. The first step is to drill a row of holes in the center of the guard. The easiest way to blow it is with the drill. What you want to achive here is a slot that the file will fit into. This slot must be narrower in both dimensions than the tang and and slowly fit with a file. So use a drill bit that is smaller than the width of the tang. To keep the holes straight mark a line with a cold chisel and then a punch. Make absolutely certain that the widths of the slot at this stage is at least a half an inch smaller than the width of the tang as material will be removed later to center the groove. Once the holes are drilled use a small chisel to cut the metal from between the holes. Again have patience and only remove enough material to get the file into the hole. If necessary file the chisel's edge to one side to do the last cuts. In a pinch the chisel can do the work and the drill can be omitted. It is fairly easy to file the little balls on the ends of the guard leaving a substantial block around the slot in the center. If desired bend the arms in a slight curve. Use an angle or T square to measure the distance between the end of the guard and the end of the slot. File until even. Next comes the process called hard fitting. The slot is filled evenly on both sides till the guard can be slid with moderate force to within a half an inch of the shoulder. At that time the shoulders are filed absolutely even and heavy hammer blows used to force the guard onto the shoulder. A stout piece of steel can be used as a drift by placing it on each side of the tang and hitting it rather than the guard. Once the guard is firmly in place in should have no play whatsoever. The next stage is very delicate. With a file another shoulder is cut below the guard. Leave the tang full width for one sixteenth of an inch then file into the tang for one sixteenth of an inch to produce a square shoulder on each side of the tang. In a simple operation put the sword in a vice, tang up. Take a chisel and put it in the corner on top of the shoulder against the tang. Strike down separating the shoulder from the tang leaving a small standing block. Split the block from side to side with one more stroke of the chisel turned parallel to the side of the blade. The resulting two small chunks of metal are then pounded down onto the guard by laying the side of the chisel onto them and hitting it. The effect should be a lot like the claws holding a jewel onto a ring setting. Repeat on both sides. This simple but tedious method will produce a guard that will stay put. When struck with hammers it should ring with a pure note entirely without buzzing. The hammer tight fit and claw keepers help keep the guard in place when subject to extreme force. After all extreme force is what a sword is all about. Combined with extreme skill a more martial are has never been conceived but I digress. The tang remains too wide for yet another step but it is not hard to call this thing a sword.
Part 4 The Pommel:
The tang on the sword created in this process has been deliberately left wide till the last possible moment. These precautions are necessary so follow along a bit more. At this stage the tang is narrowed to the desired width using a disk grinder (or file) with the exception of the last inch before the guard. As always keep cooling the blade with a wet rag. This design is for a full tang so don't remove enough material to slide a wooden grip onto it. Keep the tang as wide as comfortably possible and plan for a flatish sort of grip. A round grip on a sword is an uncontrollable absurdity (more on this in part 5). Using a file remove the last inch of unwanted material from the sides of the tang leaving the claws that hold the guard untouched. IMPORTANT do not file a sharp corner where the tang goes into the guard, use a round file for the last bit and don't give a crack a place to start, especially at the weakest point of the sword. My favorite grip here is a sort of diamond shape with concave lines sweeping out to swell in the center of the grip that gives the top hand a better grasp. The tang should at no point be narrower than one inch, a wide variety of pommels existed and much ingenuity can be exercised in there construction. For this project we will use simple stacked pommel made from the same stock as the guard. Using a file remove one sixteenth of an inch from each side of the end of the tang for seven eighths inch leaving shoulders of a sixteenth of an inch. The pommel tang that results must be slightly tapered. Cut three two inch pieces of the guard stock. (One half by three quarters) Drill, chisel and file each of the pieces individually as in the guard and pound them into place and tightly as possible. The eighth of an inch the protrudes is pounded down like a long rivet. This metal is hard so hit it many times with a hard hammer. If the hammer dents try using a hard metal drift. If desired a thin piece of copper or brass can be put in between the steel ones or a thick piece of practically anything hard substituted for the center piece. File the sandwich of metal down into any one of several shapes. A basic oval is good and simple. This pommel should be just as solid as the guard. Notice that the guard and pommel do not depend on the grip material to hold them in place as in most modern designs. As alternative a larger piece of steel can be drilled and filed in one piece but thicker the stock is more difficult it is to start the file. Another possibility is to grind and file a more complicated pommel from a single piece of steel with a bottleneck or bolster extending from it this "neck" is split with a file and the end of the tang is inserted into the slot and the sandwich is drilled and riveted. Of course more tools and more skill can produce better and prettier things but the purpose here is to give anyone a chance at making and owning a sword that can be used for real. The sword described here can be made by a resolute armature with: a hammer, a stump, a chisel and two files. Any guild that cares to can set up to build a whole collection with a couple hundred dollars.
Part 5 The Grip, Sheath and Edge:
The grip of the sword that has been built in this five part project is designed around a full tang for strength. To begin with a pair of thin scales are made to sandwich on the tang. The cross section should be a flat oval, not round. No real sword ever had a round grip! No, not even claymores. A round grip will twist in the had and make true hits impossible. So make scales thin. They can be wood, leather or metal. Glue was a big thing from Egypt on so don't feel bad about using modern glues. Certain epoxies can be used to build up grips alone. The best is a glue called P.C.7. to cover the scales several things can be used. Wrapping the grip with cord and glue is simple. Leather in two strips can be sewn over the grips using a simple trick. Cover the grip and leather with rubber glue and starting at the edges of the grip apply the leather with pieces meeting at the center of the side of the grip. Cut away the excess leather and sew the edges together using curved needles. The seamless leather grips seen on so many originals were made of fresh cow intestine secured at each end with a Turks head knot set in a groove in the grip. As the gut shrank and dried it tightly binds the grip components together. After shrinking wipe these grips with outgrow brand ingrown toenail medicine to instantly tan the leather and prevent stinking and future water damage. The possibilities are endless.
A sharp sword needs a sheath so make one before sharpening it. Leather is ideal but not always possible. Wood is useless, a wooden sheath is bulky and brittle. Decent sheaths can be made from canvass coated in liberal doses of latex paint. (The best black latex available is San Louis paints) Naughahide turned inside out and upholstery can work as well. Take the tapered blade and lay it on the material. Mark the outline and flip the sword. Mark a second outline exactly next to the first. A triangle that is twice as wide as the sword and as long should result. Add three quarters of an inch for seams and cut. To sew this special stich is used called an English saddle stich. The edges to be sewed, if leather, are punched using a stitching spacer if possible or just an awl. Heavy carpet or saddle thread is used with a heavy curved needle. The edge is folded in so that the resulting seam will look like the sheath was sewn turned inside out. Insert the needle into the first hole on the right side and then out the second. Then into the second hole on the left side and out the third. Then into the third hole on the right side and out the fourth and so on. The stitches are made to loose and the sewing proceeds a few inches they are pulled tight like shoestrings. When tightened the seam is inside inside the sheath and looks quite impossible. Trim the top of the sheath to fit the blade. The fittings of the sheath can vary according to taste and available resources. A layer of heavy leather sewn into a cone and glued to the tip of the sheath will help to keep the point from coming out the end of the sheath.
Now comes the fun part. Sharpening the blade is a rewarding almost meditative process. A course whet stone is required. A small wheel from a bench grinder or piece of a big wheel is held in the hand and stroked longwise on the blade with the tip on a bench and the hilt in lap. If the sword is clamped at this point it is difficult to feel the edge as it progresses. Have patience and take care to grind both edges evenly. Feel the progress by pinching the center of the blade and sliding the fingers to the edge with light pressure. By this means it is easy to determine if one edge is thinner than the other. Just keep stroking until satisfied. Some people desire a better finish than others.
So now you have a powerful sword! Try it out! If you followed the instructions and trust your work you should be able to put the blade on two blocks and stand on it to start with. Smash a few pallets and cut a fifty gallon drum long wise. Chop down a small tree or a medium sized house, it shouldn't matter. A real sword, like it said in the movie, you can trust
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