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Thread: Senior Project: Swordsmithing

  1. #1
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    Senior Project: Swordsmithing

    Hello everyone, I found this forum a few days ago while doing research on swordsmithing. I would appreciate any information you could give me, but first off, I have a specific question: What is the best steel I could get my hands on for a small price?? I know for a fact that I can get some pieces of railroad for free down by the local river, but I was wondering if there was a specific steel. Also, could any of you give me any links to a few simple, relatively inexpensive forge designs?? I don't have a proper anvil because they are very expensive, but I do have a piece of thick I-beam that I can use--would this suffice if I can properly stabilize it?? One last thing: I was wondering if there was anyone here who lives in Western North Carolina and could help me with my Senior Project, perhaps be my mentor? I live in Madison County, about 15-20 minutes from Asheville. Any help is greatly appreciated!!!

  2. #2
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    If you can find a piece of RR track down there that will make a pretty good anvil to start with.
    And depending on if you want to forge with coal/charcol or gas will depend on the type of forge you want to build.
    You can do a search here for forge building ideas.

    If you have access to a OLD wrecking yard you can find some old spring stock either flat or coil springs.
    "Do not suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency.
    These, as they are often used, are but three names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” John Adams, 1789

    "Everything the enemy least expects will succeed the best."

    Frederick the Great 1747

  3. #3
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    Best always requires a lot more qualifiers to be of use.

    Best for what? Easiest to forge, easiest to heat treat, most resistant to corrosion, best in edge holding, best in flexability, easiest to find,.... A steel that would be best for one type of sword might not make the top ten for a different type of sword---you didn't tell us what type of sword you plan to attempt.

    However in your case I would agree with Arik and suggest a piece of leaf spring stock.

    Now remember you should expect to have several failures in trying to make a sword so get enough to be able to start over!

    I would suggest you look up plans for a Tim Lively washtub forge on the net and work with real charcoal---not briquetttes

    And I hope you have bought a copy of "The Complete Bladesmith" by James Hrisoulas.

    Since you plan to forge a sword I assume that you have been blacksmithing for several years and have the basic forging skills well practiced---it's not the starting project for a new smith!
    Last edited by Thomas Powers; 08-19-2008 at 02:34 PM.
    Thomas Powers
    CoFounder of the Intergalactic Union of Bladesmiths
    "when you forge upon a star"---you better have your union card handy!

  4. #4
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    Well--I will admit, I am a new smith...I have only worked in a smith's shop once, but I plan on learning all I can and working hard. I would like the easiest to smith that can still retain an edge and strength. I plan on making a custom sword design that is similar to a katana, but with a few retaining traits of a european blade. I am a hard worker and a fast learner. I can get ahold of some railcar springs and railroad, as well as railroad ties and plates, so yeah, I do have good access to steel.

  5. #5
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    First rule: try to get your materials close to the size of what you hope to make:

    You may need several weeks of work to work a traincar spring down to where you *start* to forge a blade. So Start with something already close to size and save a couple of weeks where you run the risk of making a mistake and having to start over.

    Katanas are traditionally made from hand smelted iron/steel that ends up fairly low in carbon and very shallow hardening. 1050 would be a good choice to replace the tamahagane.

    Also remember that traditionally made japanese swords are fairly fragile items and easily destroyed in careless use. (Not like they are portrayed in the media; someone with 40-50 years of training can crack the edge of a katana by just being slightly off doing a cut on soft material)

    RR ties are generally heavily cresoted wood here in the USA and not much use in smithing.
    Thomas Powers
    CoFounder of the Intergalactic Union of Bladesmiths
    "when you forge upon a star"---you better have your union card handy!

  6. #6
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    Hey, thank you very much for all of your feedback so far!! I am taking all of this into consideration! How much does The Complete Bladesmith cost?

  7. #7
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    On Amazon.com about $25.+shipping.
    And they have his other books as well.
    As others have stated in the past, They are not the end all be all, but are a great starting point with much viable info and tips. And if you follow Dr Jims words you wont go to far off course.
    IMHO
    "Do not suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency.
    These, as they are often used, are but three names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” John Adams, 1789

    "Everything the enemy least expects will succeed the best."

    Frederick the Great 1747

  8. #8
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    Thank you very much!! I will scrounge up what I can and do research, etc. This is going to be a very in-depth project, so by the time I get my research finished, and if I get a good mentor, I should be able to do this

  9. #9
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    Hi Victor,

    Congrats on getting into blacksmithing and bladesmithing. It's quite a rewarding hobby--I've been creeping along with it myself for several years, picking up all kinds of pieces of knowledge along the way.

    Here's a tidbit/approach/advice/whatever... that's helped me out quite a bit: read all you can. Like others have mentioned, pick up Jim H.'s book, The Complete Bladesmith and read it. Then pick up another book that Jim H. references and read that. Then find a few more books referenced in your new book, and read them--and keep it going! Keep reading and learning. Then, when you've read so much that your head feels like it will explode, get outside and beat some steel You'll have lots of stuff you've read come back to you while you work, which is really helpful.

    And don't get discouraged when your first attempt, your second, or even third, fourth, whatever, don't turn out like you'd like them. Think about what you did, think about the way you wanted it to be, and ask yourself, "How can I improve my methods, myself, etc?" Then go read some more

    There's also a lot of great guys on here, and I myself am just starting to scratch the surface of smithing by picking their brains a bit--so feel free to study something a bit and ask questions about it.

    All the best in your projects, and let us know how it goes,
    Nathan
    Nathan G.
    Mathrox431@yahoo.com
    -------------------------------
    Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    Who has made desolations in all the earth.
    He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
    He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
    He burns the chariot in the fire.
    Psalm 46:8-9
    -------------------------------
    "Your sword's blowing glue!" --Dalboz of Gurth

  10. #10
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    Keep all your failures and document why they failed---looks very impressive when you give the final readout on your project.
    Thomas Powers
    CoFounder of the Intergalactic Union of Bladesmiths
    "when you forge upon a star"---you better have your union card handy!

  11. #11
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    Ok, cool!! Thanks for the feedback so far everyone! I need to get the book--If I can't get the money to buy it, maybe see if any local library has it or could get it in. I still need to find my mentor and the forge design, then get everything together. IOt may take a while :P

  12. #12
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    ILL it from the library to read while waiting for your copy to arrive! Though as a getting started book I prefer "the Complete Modern Blacksmith" by Weygers as he has a scrounge and recycle meme that I reall identify with on making stuff from things I can find.

    Remember you should already know how to blacksmith *before* you bladesmith just as you should know how to drive a car *before* you start racing in one.
    Thomas Powers
    CoFounder of the Intergalactic Union of Bladesmiths
    "when you forge upon a star"---you better have your union card handy!

  13. #13
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    Thumbs up Some answers, and some advice:

    I was in your position about 20 years ago, before the advent of the internet, and got Dr. Jim's book, but hit a dead end with having a useable workspace, no one nearby to mentor me, and knowing absolutly no trustworthy facts about swords (other than Dr. jim's book). I envy you embarking in the new electronic age when all answers are but a few keystrokes away. It took me 15 years of floundering until I produced anything I was remotely proud of...

    Because I know it can be difficult to know what search results are reliable, I'll provide some links to sites with designs I have tried and had moderate to good results with. Your results may differ:

    Charcoal forge:
    http://64.176.180.203/washtubforge.htm

    If scrounging parts, for a blower, try to find something with at least 100 cfm, possibly like a bathroom fan, or use a hair dryer (although I could never figure out how to get the heat coils to not work so it wouldn't burn out when you restrict the flow).

    Propane forge:
    http://www.zoellerforge.com/simplegasforge.html
    (cut a hole in the back to pass the blade through to heat the whole thing)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gNL2ezQnbI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3JT8...eature=related

    Propane Burner options:
    http://www.tzknives.com/manifold.html
    http://www.zoellerforge.com/pipeburn.pdf

    Tips on shaping the steel, both hotwork and cold work (lots to read here):
    Hot Work:
    http://swordforum.com/swordshop/basic-katana.html

    http://www.dfoggknives.com/sword.htm


    Cold Work:
    http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=30323

    After you get to the point where you have a mostly finished blade, you need to heat treat, and that's a whole new bag of worms.

    Finally, the advice I promised:

    While it might seem that you need to jump right in and start working on your blade with no time to lose, make a bunch of scale drawings of exactly what you want to make, and then consider making an 1:1 scale model out of hardwood. All of the finishing skills required to shape, grind and polish a steel blade are very similar to those required to make one in wood. If you have never made something as finicky as a sword before, making one out of wood can show you the areas where there are either weaknesses in your design, your skill, or your plan.

    Take it slow, be prepared for multiple failures (we call them learning experiences, or design adjustments, depending on the severity), and as others have said - READ EVERYTHING you can get your hands on. Most of the links I provided are from web pages with a millenia's worth of trying to learn by your own mistakes, so read, read, and re-read everything on those pages and on others linked to those pages.

    Finally, once you have a good understanding of all of the theoretical knowledge offered in books and online, start on your project, and as you go, if you run into a snag, ask a very specific question on this forum and you'll likely get any number of very knowledgable answers to help you out.

    Good luck, and keep us informed of your progress!
    "Dontopedology is the Science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it. I've been practicing it for years."
    -- Prince Philip

    "Remember, if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."
    -- Red Green

  14. #14
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    Oh wow!! THANK YOU!! That is an amazing compilation of info!!! I just hope to get the forge built sometime soon!! I actually came across that exact webpage on google earlier and printed it out :P I'm going to save most of these links to my favorites!

  15. #15
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    I should have clarified: the 100 CFM+ blower is for most blown gas forge burner designs, like the Zowada burner I posted the link for. I'm not sure of the CFM requirement for a charcoal forge, it's not a lot of air that you need, unless you have an endless supply of charcoal ;-)

    Will
    "Dontopedology is the Science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it. I've been practicing it for years."
    -- Prince Philip

    "Remember, if the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."
    -- Red Green

  16. #16
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    Lol, thank you a lot ^_^ I haven't been able to get started yet, but I am hoping to soon ^_^

  17. #17
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    Hello everyone! I actually finally got to do my ssenior project on swordsmithing! And I have pictures which I will post at a later time!!!

    Thank you for all your help!!!

  18. #18
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    Hi Victor,
    Cool, lets see the pics.
    "Do not suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency.
    These, as they are often used, are but three names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” John Adams, 1789

    "Everything the enemy least expects will succeed the best."

    Frederick the Great 1747

  19. #19
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    As far as finding makers to teach/mentor you ( I know it is a little late now), try:
    The North Carolina Custom Knifemakers Guild
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/
    and more specifically, Tommy McNabb
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/members/

    They offer classes and seminars at Montgomery College and other places in western NC.
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/classes/

    Stacy
    Right is worth dying for.
    Wrong isn't worth living for.

  20. #20
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    Hi Victor, as a Japanese Style bladesmith I can tell you right now that, Everyone is correct and that you need to know your steel, and has anyone talked to you about heat treating? If not that is a whole new beast unto itself. Along with what comes after forging and before heat treating. PM me I can help on the book situation, I will look for your pm. And like I said this is what I do you can check out my videos on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isoPU9qJS5s I have a whole slew of videos on forging and polishing, drawfiling ect.

    So please I have a wealth of info.

  21. #21
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    Looks like I am reviving my own dead post! Most of you do not even remember this thread, just as I did not, and that is ok! I promised pictures over 3 years ago, and I will finally post them, though the results are not good! Also not bad for my frist projects. As of yet, I have not gotten to do anymore smithing since then, but I intend to get started again as soon as I graduate college in May!

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    I hope you all enjoy!
    Intending to make: Hand-and-a-half saber, similar to a Kriegsmesser. Between width of katana and kriegs, distal taper, 2/3 length fuller, last 1/3 with false-edged spine-Mild steel for pommel and guard.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stacy Apelt View Post
    As far as finding makers to teach/mentor you ( I know it is a little late now), try:
    The North Carolina Custom Knifemakers Guild
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/
    and more specifically, Tommy McNabb
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/members/

    They offer classes and seminars at Montgomery College and other places in western NC.
    http://www.ncknifeguild.org/classes/

    Stacy
    My reply is far more late, but thank you so much! I will check this out!
    Intending to make: Hand-and-a-half saber, similar to a Kriegsmesser. Between width of katana and kriegs, distal taper, 2/3 length fuller, last 1/3 with false-edged spine-Mild steel for pommel and guard.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arik Estus View Post
    Hi Victor,
    Cool, lets see the pics.
    I have now posted the pictures! Please forgive me for the 3-year hiatus!
    Intending to make: Hand-and-a-half saber, similar to a Kriegsmesser. Between width of katana and kriegs, distal taper, 2/3 length fuller, last 1/3 with false-edged spine-Mild steel for pommel and guard.

  24. #24
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    Keep it up. You will get there.
    "Do not suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency.
    These, as they are often used, are but three names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” John Adams, 1789

    "Everything the enemy least expects will succeed the best."

    Frederick the Great 1747

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arik Estus View Post
    Keep it up. You will get there.
    Thank you, Arik! As before said, I will build a forge in May once I graduate from my college and I will get started forging again. I actually have plans to make 4 swords. You see, I am getting married in September and I want to hand forge swords for my 2 groomsmen, one for myself, and a short sword for my fiance! The swords for myself and my groomsmen will be hand-and-a-half swiss-styled sabers with an autumn theme in the shapes and colors of the furnishings.
    Intending to make: Hand-and-a-half saber, similar to a Kriegsmesser. Between width of katana and kriegs, distal taper, 2/3 length fuller, last 1/3 with false-edged spine-Mild steel for pommel and guard.

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