There are plenty of different types of swords out there to choose from. If you’re a fan of fencing, then the noble and elegant rapier certainly would come to mind. It’s also a delightfully easy sword to forge for beginner blacksmiths looking to make something fun.
Now, rapiers tend to have some incredibly elaborate hilts. As far as I’m concerned, it’s up to you what kind of hilt you want your rapier to have. Just keep in mind, for a beginner blacksmith, it might be a bit too tricky to duplicate some of the crazy designs you find on the internet.
As such, for this guide, we’re going to use a basic curved metal, basket-hilt that covers the hand. It’s easier for beginners and removes an unnecessary stumbling block that could prevent you from finishing your blacksmithing project.
Let’s get started.
What do you need?
Materials wise, you need very little. As for the base metal of the sword itself, any piece of steel would do rather well.
*NOTE* There are plenty of professional blacksmiths that do some crazy techniques to make their steel. This includes stacking multiple steel layers on top of each other, splitting it in half, and flipping each side against itself. The idea here is that it creates a unique pattern in the metal that you can see when you look at your sword.
It’s true that, for professional smiths, using these kinds of techniques is a show of quality craftmanship. However, you can also make any kind of sword with your average piece of junk steel lying around as well.
For beginner blacksmiths, it’s okay to ignore these crazy blacksmithing techniques until you’re more advanced. Instead, use whatever material you have on hand. If it’s some type of carbon steel, it will be good enough.
As for other materials, having a forge, a grindstone, a hammer, a thread box, maybe a drill, and your basic safety equipment is all that you really need to forge a rapier.
What makes the rapier unique?
In terms of blacksmithing, most swords are created the same way. You have the actual blade portion, which is the largest piece of metal you will work with. This blade portion doesn’t entirely be a blade. Rather, 80-90% of its length will be the blade, while the bottom 10-20% will be devoted to the handle part. This handle portion should be smaller in width and diameter than the blade itself.
Then, you’re going to develop a hilt, the actual handle itself, and maybe an end cap to put on the bottom to keep everything in place (often, this is screwed in, with the groove or thread engraved onto the base metal itself).
What makes the process for rapiers unique is, firstly, the size of the blade. Rapiers are long, slender swords. In modern fencing, rapiers are incredibly thin and light, but they weren’t always like this. Hundreds of years ago, they were actually a bit thicker in diameter. That’s because if you were blocking a sword, a super-thin rapier could actually break, while a slightly thicker one wouldn’t.
This latter type of rapier, the thicker one, is the version this guide will talk about making.
Step 1: Outlining the blade’s shape
Before you get started, you need to have a basic outline of the blade of a rapier. This is the single largest piece of metal that you’ll work with, and spans not just the blade itself, but does down into the grip also.
For around 90% of the metal, which represents the bladed part, the width should be around 1-1.5 inches. The bottom 10%, which will be divided by the basket hilt, will be the base of the grip. This should be thinner than the blade, around half the size, around half an inch to as much as one inch.
The best thing to do is make a basic outline of this on paper. Then, put this outline on top of whatever piece of metal you’re going to be forging your blade with. The idea is to take a pen and outline onto the metal itself the shape of the paper, which is like the rough blueprint.
This is a rough outline to keep in mind; it’s not going to be exactly like your blueprint. However, by making marks onto the metal itself, you have a better idea of the exact measurements you’re going to be needing.
Step 2: Forging the blade
Once you have the exact measurements and outline of the blade in mind, it’s time to start forging. Most likely, the piece of metal you’ve picked will be larger than the outline you’ve made. Now’s the time to start hammering the metal down to the approximate size of your blueprint.
Now, what many workshops will do is that they will simply cut the steel via a high-powered machine saw. For beginners, most of us don’t have access to that kind of equipment. However, you can still get your metal to be close to the desired shape simply by hammering away at it.
Heat up your metal in your forge, and then get to work hammering at it. This part is going to take some time, but each hammer stroke will get your metal closer to the desired shape were looking for.
Step 3: Sharpening the blade
After you’ve got the rough shape down, you’re going to need to take your blade to the grindstone and sharpen the edges. Of course, be careful when you’re sharpening the blade, as there are a lot of sparks that fly out during this stage. Make sure you have nothing that could catch fire nearby, as well as maybe a bucket of water or even a fire extinguisher nearby.
You’re also going to want to shape the handle part (the bottom 10% mentioned before) of the metal. For this smaller part, instead of creating an edge, you’re going to want to smooth it out all around so that it’s cylindrical. To do this, put it up against the grindstone and slowly turn it around while the grindstone is working on your metal.
Lastly, you’re going to want to engrave the side of your handle section with screw markings. If you’re confused, find a random screw in your house and look at its grooves. That’s what we want to do with our handle, because were going to be screwing on the handle grip on later).
This groove pattern I’m referring to is also known in woodworking and blacksmithing as the “thread,” which is how I’m going to call it from now on. To do this, you put a small piece of metal on top with called a threader, and then you turn it while holding onto it with a pair of tongs of pliers. It’s best to do this while the metal’s still a little hot from the grindstone. Additionally, I would recommend coating a drop of oil on the metal itself to make it easier to thread.
Step 4: Cleaning the blade
Once all this is done, you’ve finished the basic structure of the rapier. Depending on the type of metal that you used, however, it’s possible that your blade will be covered in hardened black flakes.
If you want to clean this off to make the blade look nicer, put the blade into the forge so that the entire top section becomes yellow hot. Then place the heated blade into the water to cool. Once you’ve finished doing this, put the flat part of the blade (not the edge, but the side) up against the grindstone to polish off any remaining impurities.
If you’ve done it right, the blade will be much cleaner and clearer. To be completely transparent, most professional blacksmiths will do a number of additional steps here to make their blades polish and shine. For the sake of a complete beginner, however, I’m just going to say that this is a little unnecessary and complicates what’s already can be a challenging project.
Step 5: Forging the basket hilt
With the blade now polished and cleaned up a bit, all that’s left is to create the hilt and then add the handle grip. To create the basic basket hilt were going for in this example, you’re going to need a piece of metal that’s relatively thin that’s also in the shape of a circle. Once you heat it up, you need to hammer out the inside portion in order to make a dome-like shape. This piece is going to be our hilt.
After this, you’re going to need to punch a hole in our potential hilt. If you have a machine that can punch holes, now’s the opportunity to use it. If you don’t, then you can repeatedly punch a hole in the heated metal using something like a screw and a hammer, but it’s not going to be exactly as precise as you’d like. You can also use a drill to drill a hole in the heated metal as well, which is what I would partially recommend.
Once this is done, just put the hilt onto the bottom part of your blade. If you’ve done everything correctly, it should slide up to the top of the handle portion, while the actual blade part (the top 90% of the metal) will be too large for the hilt to continue.
Step 6. Adding the handle
In many ways, adding the handle could be the hardest part. When I first started out as a blacksmith, I was so frustrated at making this work that I tried to superglue my handle with the blade. Suffice to say, that’s a pretty bad way of doing things.
To make the actual handle grip, ideally, you’re going to use a piece of wood. Take a rectangular piece of wood and drill a hole in the middle. The diameter of this hole should be the same as the length of the handle part of your blade forged earlier (half an inch to as much as one inch based on what I mentioned earlier).
Then, you’re going to grind your piece of wood down to a smooth cylinder-like shape. Again, this is the part you’re going to be gripping, so as you grind your wood, imagine what it would feel like to be gripping this in your hand.
Once this is done, put the wooden piece onto the bottom part of your blade. It should slide in fine, but there will be a bit of space between the metal and the wood itself. You’re going to need to measure this difference, and then make two smaller pieces of wood that will slide in to fill in this space.
If done correctly, this should fill up the space and make the grip feel like it fits the metal portion relatively tightly. All that’s left is to make the end piece or cap.
Step 7: Final touches
Notice I specifically didn’t call it the pommel, but rather, an end cap. This is intentional. If you search up swords online, you’ll find there to be plenty of interesting and complex pommel designs. However, the principle remains relatively the same, as this last piece is often screwed onto the bottom threaded part of the metal handle portion of the blade.
For this reason, we’re just going to use a metal cap to screw onto the last part of our handle, securing it into place. This doesn’t need to be that complicated. Take a piece of metal that’s roughly the shape of the end of your handle. If it’s a bit too large, feel free to hammer it down to the appropriate size and then use a grindstone to smooth it out.
Then, while the metal is still hot, drill a hole into the metal that corresponds with the threading you’ve put onto the metal handle part earlier. Once this is done, simply screw on the pommel or end cap to the end of your sword.
That’s it. You’ve just created your first rapier. This is a pretty basic guide on creating a fairly simple rapier, something that many websites overcomplicate. While there are definitely some amazing videos and guides on building a polished, high-quality, professional blade, that’s not really achievable for beginner blacksmiths just trying to get started.
Hopefully, this basic outline will help you understand the process of forging a rapier, the separate components involved, as well as how to assemble the various components into one functional sword.