Beginners Guide to Forging a Sword | Blacksmithing Basics

If you’re a hobby blacksmith, you probably at one point or another considered making your own sword. After all, blacksmiths were responsible for forging swords across thousands of years, from the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all the way to the late renaissance era.

As such, forging a sword for yourself is more than just something to do for fun (although its definitely really cool). It connects you with all the past blacksmiths in history in a way that few other things can. Most importantly, swords are pretty darn fun to make, as well. Historically, swords have been a symbol of status, authority, and martial might.

Of course, there are tons of different types of swords out there. Rapiers, scimitars, cutlasses, katanas, etc, each type has its own intricacies that need to be studied and learned. At the same time, sword making can easily become a highly intricate and demanding process. Expert blacksmiths can also make sorts of fancy designs to impress the world, most of which are well beyond the abilities of beginner blacksmiths.

However, if you’re a complete beginner looking to get started, what’s the best way to get started? Here’s a brief outline covering exactly how you would go about making a basic, 24 inch, double-edged sword. If this is your first time making a sword, expect to spend around a few hours in total.

A word of caution

Making something smaller like a knife might not be that big of a deal, but a sword can be pretty dangerous. It’s up to you to decide exactly how sharp you want your blade to be, whether it’s going to just be an ornament on a wall or something that you can actually use.

It’s up to you, but I’d strongly recommend being very careful here. Are you responsible enough to handle a weapon that could potentially be dangerous? Imagine what it would be like if a friend or family member accidentally cut off a limb, or even got killed, due to playing with a sword that you made?

Think about these questions for a while before you decide to make a sword with a really sharp edge. If you don’t need it to be super sharp, then don’t do it. Having a slight edge is good enough, especially if you’re just making a sword just for practice or fun.

What materials do you need?

The good news is that you don’t really need that much to forge your own sword. Although making a sword is a bit more taxing than something like a survival knife, it doesn’t require that much in terms of material.

It’s your choice as to what kind of metal you want to use. Steel is easily the most recommended material for most blacksmiths, but you can get away with using iron if you prefer. I’ve known some smiths that have decided to use bronze, simply in order to mimic what the ancient smiths of ancient Greece used. However, I’d strongly recommend against this unless you really want the look and aesthetic of a bronze sword. Among other things, bronze is a much weaker and more malleable metal than iron or steel.

You might also want to have some long, leather strips lying around. These can be used to wrap around your sword’s grip, making it more comfortable as well as looking a bit more professional than just a basic, metal grip.

What equipment do you need?

You’re to need a few things to make a sword from start to finish. For one, the basics. An anvil, a hammer, a forge, and a pair of tongs are absolutely critical, and anyone who’s even considering taking up blacksmithing should have these things already sorted out.

You’re also going to need a sharpening tool of some sort, primarily a belt grinder. While there are many expensive ones out there, beginners can get away with a relatively small and cheap grinder for under $70 if they know where to look.

Other than that, you won’t need much else. For the purpose of this outline, our sword is going to be made from one piece of metal, from the handle to the guard to the blade. This way, you don’t need to worry about attaching anything complex.

Getting started with the basics

Different swords have completely different requirements for blacksmiths looking to make them. Even the word ‘sword’ can be used to describe a variety of different types of blades, some larger, some smaller, etc.

When most people are asked to picture a ‘sword’ the image that pops up to their heads will be a medieval sword from between the 10th to 14th centuries, for the most part. These swords aren’t necessarily that long, especially since most of these are meant to be used with just one hand.

That’s a big difference from other types of swords that came later. During the 15th century and onwards, two-handed claymores started to become more prevalent amongst the infantry rather than a regular shield and sword as was used. These take significantly longer to smith than the one-handed swords that were made in centuries before.

For the sake of this outline, we’ll be spending at least a couple of hours making our own, one-handed sword.

Step 1: Creating your design

Before you get started, the first thing you need to do is make a basic outline of the dimensions you want your sword to be. This is largely up to you. I’d recommend making something between 12 to 24 inches long, which is still fairly small but also quite manageable for a beginner blacksmith. As for the thickness of the blade, 2 inches from the widest part down to around 1 inch towards the middle is a pretty good guideline to go for.

Our goal here is to make a basic outline of what you’re looking for on a piece of paper. Once you’ve done this, then you want to put this outline on top of your stock metal that you’re going to use in order to give you a rough outline of exactly what you want. Of course, you can skip this entirely and just draw your outline on your stock metal directly; it’s up to you.

Once you’ve done this, you are ready to begin smithing.

Traditional style blacksmith at work. Hammer hands and iron.

Step 2: Forging

No matter what kind of sword you make in your career as a blacksmith, the forging process remains relatively similar. Once you’ve come up with your design, you’re going to need to spend quite a while working away on your metal with a forge, hammer, and anvil.

The piece of metal you are working with will need to be hammered into the appropriate dimensions you want for your blade. This is going to take a while. Heat up your stock in an appropriately hot forge until it turns bright orange, and then start hammering away, slowly but steadily.

If your stock is a bit too thick for what a blade normally would be, you’re going to want to hammer it down until it’s thin enough for what you want. The idea is that, for a double-edged sword, that you’re going angle your hammer strokes at an incline in order to create a downward slope that will lead to your edge. You do this on both sides of your blade. You also want the edge or end of your blade to be thinner than the base of your blade, so you’re going to need to be mindful of this as well.

While you want to make a sword that roughly corresponds to the blueprint you’ve created beforehand, it’s not going to be perfect. If you are a beginner blacksmith, there are going to be imperfections along the blade. It might not be perfectly straight at first, for example. As you become more experienced as a blacksmith, you’re going to be able to do a better job. Until then, just try your best and don’t worry about making it perfect.

This step will take a large portion of your time. Expect to spend at least an hour hammering away at your stock until it takes the exact shape you’re looking for. You are also going to need to hammer out the rough shape of your hilt, your guard, as well as your handle. Keep this in mind as you continue.

Step 3: Sharpening and cleaning your blade

Once you’ve finished the shaping your blade how you want it to be, it’s time to cool your sword off and prepare to sharpen and clean it.

If your sword is still hot, you’re welcome to take a break for an hour or two and wait for it to cool. You can also dip your blade in a bucket of water in order to cool it immediately if you’d like. Either way, once this is done, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Using a belt grinder, you’re going to firstly clean up the flat side of the blade itself from any impurities that are still on it at this point. Slowly put the edge against the belt and slowly move it across its length.

Once you’ve cleaned up your blade a bit, now you’re going to sharpen the edge of your blade. Again, as mentioned before, be mindful of exactly how sharp you want your blade. I’d advise not going overboard and just sharpen your blade a little bit, but its ultimately your call.

Step 4: Polishing your grip and pommel

After this, you’re going to want to polish your sword’s grip as well as its pommel. Once again, you’re going to use a belt grinder for this, but you might also want to use a piece of course sandpaper as well as a final, finishing touch.

Slowly use the belt grinder to smoothen out your grip and handle, rotating it steadily as the belt smoothens out any jagged edges and sharp pieces until its relatively smooth. This will take your roughly as long as it did to sharpen and clean up your blade, which could take around 20 to 30 minutes in total.

After you’ve finished this, you can use a sheet of rough sandpaper and use it as a final touch on the pommel and grip. Similar to using a scrub pad, use a piece of sandpaper to smoothen out your pommel and handle even more for a finer, more polished texture. Depending on how long you want to do this, your hand can easily start getting tired after a few minutes. It’s up to you to.

Step 5: Final touches

At this point, your sword should be roughly finished. It might look relatively basic at this point depending on the style and design you’ve chosen for yourself at the beginning of this outline, but the process will be the same no matter what kind of sword you make in the future.

A big reason why people love swords so much is that its easy to show off your craftsmanship in a blade. Often times, expert smiths will fold several sheets of steel on top of each other, cut it in half, and then use this as the stock for their future blade. The end result is that it produces a beautiful, wavy pattern within the steel itself.

Other smiths like to create elaborate pommels and guards, which can frequently be seen in rapiers as well. All of this is up to you, and you have to decide what you want to do with your blade.

One simple thing that you can do is wrap your handle with some leather strips. Using a long, thin piece of leather, you just go around your handle, wrapping it with the leather and then tying it so that it doesn’t come up. This is one relatively simple thing that any beginner blacksmith can do but does a lot to make your sword look more professional.

Often times, knifemakers like to put engravings on the side of their blades. There’s no reason why you can’t do something similar with your sword, although it’s just as common to leave your blade’s edge unmarked as well. If you want to do this, you’re going to need to get a rotary tool that comes with an electric engraver. While there are tons of different styles or patterns you can choose, this is a topic largely beyond the scope of this outline. However, once you’ve gotten the hang of making swords, you can experiment with adding your own engravings yourself.

This is just one example of how ornate and elaborate the hilts and grips of a sword can become. Notice the long, central indentation along the center of the blade.

Final thoughts

Making a sword might sound simple on the surface, but its actually a lot more challenging than it appears. The process isn’t overly complicated, and the basic step-by-step guideline remains roughly the same no matter what kind of sword you’re making. However, there’s a lot of skill required to make a professional sword, even using the most basic of designs.

As such, I wouldn’t really recommend swordsmithing to absolute beginners. Knives, due to them being much smaller and quicker to make, are generally a better bet for a new blacksmith looking to improve his skills. After mastering knives, moving on to swords is a natural progression that makes sense.

Regardless of what you do, you’re going to need to dedicate a lot of time practicing your skills to become an accomplished swordsmith. Until then, however, have fun, and enjoy the process!

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