Learning how to forge a sword is not really something you can learn from an online article - it takes a lot of trial and error, a certain amount of inherent ability and a fairly expensive set up of specialized tools.
What technique you use also depends on what type of sword you want to make, what steel you are using and what kind of workshop you have access to.
This article is intended to be something of an introduction. Here we will be taking a peek at the various sword making techniques used by the major sword forges and manufacturers, provide some sword making techniques that are no less effective than forging and used by some of the most respected sword makers in North America, and point you in the right direction should you really be serious enough to take it to the next level.
At the end of the day, even if you never plan on making one for yourself, knowing how to forge a sword is important to any collector as it helps you make the best buying decision, avoid falling prey to unscrupulous sellers and cutting through the hype that often surrounds product descriptions.
As around 85% of all fully functional swords being sold today are made in China, we will be using Chinese sword forges as our primary example. Contrary to popular belief, Chinese made swords do not automatically equate to poor quality - they make swords according to customer demand at at various price points, from wall hangers to extremely high end museum quality pieces.
Chinese Master Smiths follow a tradition some 2,500 years old and taught advanced techniques such as differential hardening, folding and lamination to the Japanese - so let there be know doubt, these guys know how to forge a sword, and forge it well..
Contrary to what most eBay sellers would like you to believe, the vast majority of Chinese forged swords are made in one place, not by master smiths, but by blue collar workers.
Below is a picture of that location, known colloquially as "hammer town" in Longquan China.
The basic technique used here is to take billets of steel (often 1045 carbon steel, but other types are available) and heat them until the steel becomes red hot and enters a malleable state.
Then the billets are pounded out to the shape and length desired by a power hammer..
This is not necessarily a a bad thing in itself, power hammers are used to make high end Katana in Japan. But it is something to be aware of as many eBay sellers claim their swords are hand hammered by Master Smiths, when nothing could be further from the truth..
This is definitely how to forge a sword in the fastest way possible with the least amount of sweat. And naturally, it is how the vast majority of swords being sold online are made - despite many eBay vendors claiming that they have their own forges or make the swords themselves.
Lower end swords are not actually forged at all, they are simply stamped out and ground to shape. Higher end swords are all made by certified master smiths, men who have taken a grueling 3-7 year apprenticeship, learned how to forge a sword in a variety of styles and techniques and passed the test to become a level one (city level) master.
These guys certainly know how to forge a sword by hammer and anvil, which is the basic technique you will need to learn if you cannot afford or do not have access to a power hammer..
We will get to some basic techniques on how to forge a sword yourself shortly, but before we do, let's take one last look at the Chinese method and the various levels of sword production there with a video I shot on location in Longquan which will show you some of the techniques and methods in action.
Most hobbyist sword makers don't actually forge their swords from a billet of steel like the Chinese forges do. The cost of buying and setting up a forge, anvil, hammer, gas tanks, etc and the skills needed are hard to learn from an online article like this. But there is one technique that skips a lot of the hardest parts of making a sword - and that is a method known as stock removal.
There is nothing inherently bad about this method - indeed, it is used by some of the most respected North American sword makers in the industry and bypasses the need for a forge. All you actually need is some steel, some grinders and some safety gear..
You can pick up lengths of steel online from sellers like McMaster-Carr - just do a google search for the type of steel you plan to make your sword from and your location. Here is a guide to the different steel types if you are not sure, many beginners like to start with 1075 as it is readily available and a good compromise between hardness and pliability.
Next you need some basic safety equipment.
The basic protective gear you need is:
Then you need the basic "tool of the trade" for stock removal, an angle grinder. At a bare minimum, a 4 1/2 inch grinder, grinding wheels, cut-off wheels, and sanding wheels.
With this basic tool, a good work bench, a drill press, belt sander and some hand files and clamps, you can make a surprisingly good quality sword in around 10 steps..
Do not be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the stock removal method. The author of our 10 step guide, Brendan Oswalsky from Fableblades.com started out and continues to make his swords using these basic techniques.
The sword below, one of his, shows the kind of sword it is possible to make using this basic method..
It is recommended that before you forge a sword, you should forge some knives first to get a feel for the process and use the techniques outlined above to refine it as they are essentially the same.
If you still wish to learn how to forge a sword from a billet of steel using hammer and anvil, here are some additional resources.
You can find a wealth of information, WIP pictures and get advice and help right here in the sword making section of our forum. Here you will find examples of what other people are doing, additional tutorials and links to other useful websites to aid you in your quest.
If you are truly serious in learning how to forge a sword, we also strongly recommend you stock your library with at least one of the books from the following selection.
I hope this article on how to forge a sword has been helpful. To return to the SBG Homepage from How to Forge a Sword - From Chinese Forges to the Garage at Home, click here