Tag Archives: Medieval

Finished Seax style shortsword

I finished up the sword I was making for my Grandfather but totally forgot to take photos! Luckily I visited a couple of months later and was able to take some quick shots.

The biggest challenges of this sword were the handle details. The entire thing is knife carved, and the gold leaf was really tricky to apply and in the end I had to touch it up with a liquid gold suspension. Something I look forward to mastering one day!

I really like how it came out, it has the slightly garish look I associate with the Dark Ages! The scabbard is a little on the simple side, but it did get a small tassel for bling:

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The first post on making this bad boy: Large Seax Style Shortsword -Hotforged

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Large Seax Style Shortsword -Hotforged

Another gift, I made a seax styled shortsword for my grandfather. I decided to do a seax both because I love the blade style and because my grandparents live in Sussex, home of the Southern Saxons for whom the seax is named.

I had a bit more time on my hands than usual, at least at the start of the project, so I decided to forge the distal taper into the blade rather than grind it out. As seaxes have a really unusual taper where the thickest point is towards the tip of the blade, this would allow me to make that area extra thick and give a real dynamism to the feel of the finished weapon.

I cut a bar to the approximate edge taper I wanted and through precise hammering moved the bulk of the metal of the blade from the base up to the tip, ending up with about 3mm thickness at the handle and about 1cm at the tip. Here is a little forging montage, starting with the rough cut bar and ending with the pointed and tapered blade. Because of the unusual section, it doesn’t appear to change much but in each photo the blade curves a little more as the edge is thinned and the spine thickens.

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So here is the finished rough blade. I gave it a quick cleanup on the belt grinder, turned off the lights and heated the forge up to quenching temperature:

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After quenching and tempering the blade I spent a few days profiling and detailing the handle. These pictures were taken in the early stages of work as I burnt the blade into the handle to get tight fit. This is a bit of a tricky operation as if you push too hard or too fast the handle will split but if you go too slow it will char a huge hole in the centre and the handle will not fit. Practice and a tolerance for acrid smoke are a necessity!

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Here the handle is fitted, and I could continue with the carving without fear that I would put hours of work into it only to have it crack as I fitted it! In the end I removed the rounded end and covered the whole surface in basket-weave knotwork  stained to an almost ebony shade. The raised bands were then covered with gold leaf which was a pain in the a**e but gave a great and gaudy look that I think is appropriate for a blade from the dark ages.

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I don’t have any pictures of the finished sword but I’m hoping my Grandfather will take some glamour shots for me as he is an amazing photographer and it would be nice to have some better pictures than my phone can produce!

Edit: Finished sword: Finished Seax style shortsword

Finished medieval Quillon Dagger

It’s always the way, without an event in my social life projects can spend years on the bench as I have the attention span of a butterfly. In this case, my fencing club had a raffle at the Christmas Banquet and I volunteered to provide the first prize. With the deadline approaching and work at the forge entering the final stages of the Christmas rush, I cast about for something that already had most of the work done on it.

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I came across the dagger I have been working on for a couple of years, its so old in fact that this was one of my first experiments in drawfiling a diamond section blade as a new apprentice. So after I’d had a good laugh at my previous efforts i polished up the blade and did some work on the crossguard and pommel to make it a more elegant weapon. The crossguard was shortened and given a convex cutoff to give it a bit of movement and I lightened the pommel to improve the balance (it sat a bit too far towards the heel of the hand before). I also carved six shallow radiating trenches in the top, a common detail on medieval daggers. Sadly due to the looming deadline, I forgot to take more glamour shots, the only ones I had were taken for the Banquet webpage.

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The grip is the same wood as it was in the beginning, spirally carved and then overlaid with soaked leather. I added dagged (spiky) collars at the top and bottom to add a little visual interest and to mimic the carving on the pommel.

All in all I think it turned out a rather handsome knife, and the raffle winner was very pleased with his prize. It is currently razor sharp but I have offered to blunt the blade for him should he want to use it to fence. Personally I rather think that would spoil it but I’d always rather see something used than just sitting in a drawer!

Original Quillon dagger post!

Bushfire Forge Damascus Course Report

This report is well overdue as I went on this course during the summer, but better late than never!

I went to South London to learn how to pattern weld steel under the excellent tutelage of Owen Bush. We had learnt how to do the weld by the end of the first of the three days, and the rest of the time was spent practising the method and increasing the layer count of the billet. This sounds somewhat repetitive, but honestly the work needed constant concentration and attention to ensure that everything was optimised to give a good weld. Not for Mr Bush of course, he was welding things with a devil-may-care ease, but the rest of us really sweated to get our billets!

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One of the most exciting bits for me was exploring Owens hundreds of metalworking tools and getting to use the power hammer on the higher layer count section of the blade. I have always wanted to use one and I was not disappointed, its quite a beast! It saved a huge amount of elbow grease though, we welded our first billet by hand with the hammer and the second on the power hammer, and it increased the welding and folding speed about tenfold. I now desperately want one!

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Here are some shots of my finished blade blank. I forged it out into a rough seax shape to maximise the amount of material in the finished blade, as I want a meaty shortsword style seax. The body of the blade is random pattern damascus but I have sadly forgotten what the layer count was, but I think it was in the region of 200 layers. On the final blade, the hammer blows create a wood-grain effect that I have always loved to see in steel, even though it is the easiest pattern to make. The nasty scaly bits of the billet are in fact nasty scale, as this is straight from the forge with only a section cleaned and etched so that we could all bask in the glory of our efforts ;).

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The spine of the blade has a chevron pattern created by twisting a stacked billet at welding heat to form a spiral within the steel, and the cutting it in two and aligning it so as to create the pattern. I found this incredibly hard to do, I think I was being impatient during the heating, and the billet sheared three times whilst I was twisting it. Not a big deal but it meant I had to make the spine a little thinner to compensate.

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Here is the billet lined up with my apprentice seax, they are of a size but the forged one is about twice as thick at the moment which means that I can really play with the taper when I grind it to finish. Here’s hoping that the welds don’t crack when I quench it! (No, seriously, cross your fingers for me!).

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Finished Buckler

I finished the buckler I had been working on a while ago and took a picture of it in its glorious, unbattered state:

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I have since used it in about 20 historical fencing bouts as well as innumerable relaxed sparring encounters, and it has held up very well. Far better than the previous all metal incarnation as thicker steel for the central boss worked well. The leather rim is doing surprisingly well, only showing a few nicks and scratches despite the fact that my regular sparring partner loves his longsword. I think that I have pretty much perfected my Secret Leather Hardening process (every leatherworker I meet has one!). Here it is after considerable punishment:

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The beautiful yet fragile blue oxide coating has been pretty battered but I actually quite like the silver accents that have emerged. The leather on the front is almost untouched. On the back things look considerably more ragged. As I had to have it finished for an event, I of course only put it together the day before and as I was finishing the handle at home I realised that I had left all my leather and string at work! The only thing I could find round the house was some knitting wool which was lovely on the hand but didn’t survive for long. I need to revisit it with a tooled leather grip at some point…

Whilst rereading the previous post, I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of the fittings which was a pity as I spent a bit of time making them more period appropriate.

Firstly I hand engraved flowers around each of the rivets. It takes a little while to do with a hand graving chisel, but as Daggerandbrush noted in the comments it really does enhance the look of the whole shield when viewed close up:

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Floral motifs were extremely popular on historical weapons, and I think the entire buckler was going that way so I decided to continue with the vegetable look on the handle. The main element of this was forming and chiselling a leaf on one end of the handle, the other end forms a belt hook and needed to be bent over after riveting so I kept it simple with a little punchwork on the top:

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As a final detail, I decided not to use modern washers under the rivets as they really do stand out on an otherwise handmade object. Mine were cut, chiselled and punched out of a sheet of steel and as such are all different. Not because I am lazy and couldn’t be bothered to measure, its because its historically accurate ;). The square shape was common at the time as it is much easier to make and works just as well:

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So all in all I’m very happy about how it turned out, now I really want to make one of these:

So many projects….!

Viking/Norman Sword: Having fun with an open commission.

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I was asked by my Grandmother to make her a family sword for her birthday. It was a really nice commission as I normally deal with sword junkies who know exactly what they think they want (but do often need some practical guidance). To most (normal!) people though a sword is a sword so I had really free reign to make anything I wanted.

I decided to go with a transitional Viking/Norman style of sword, as they are shorter than later swords and much easier to display. They also often had wonderful decoration and I really need to work on my inlaying skills, so I threw caution to the winds and chose a design that would feature simple but extensive inlay. Did I mention I am not a very organised person? I had three weeks to make it! In the end it took about 50 hours squeezed in over weekends and around work.

Technical info: The blade is heat treated EN45 carbon steel, the crossguard and pommel are both made of mild steel which is the closest analogue I had to hand for medieval iron. The grip is cored with oak and covered with veg tanned leather stitched over leather risers.

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Here the pommel has been formed and tested for balance, then I laid out my design and ever so slowly started cutting in the lines with gravers. Slowly shaving off layers of steel I cut the trenches about 2mm deep and then undercut the edges to grip the copper. Then I heated my copper wire to dull red and quenched it in order to soften it, at which point it becomes much easier to deform. I then hammered it in and polished the whole thing.

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This is the crossguard, hot forged to shape and with the tips carved into a fishtail shape. I inlayed it in exactly the same way as the pommel, but I got a bit carried away and came back later to add more. Grinding down the second layer destroyed the undercut lip that was holding the first layer (seen above) down, and it fell out! I had to recut the lines, lesson learnt.

As I was in such a hurry, I didn’t take too many photos of the making process, but I made sure I took a lot of the end result as I am pretty happy with how it turned out. So here it is in all its glory, weighing in at 1100g and with the balance and feel of an excellent cutter. I’m happy with the inlayed and punched decoration, but I still want to get more practice in!

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Every sword is still an exciting journey!

File Knife Seax pt.2 Etching! With acid!

The reason I was making the file knife in the first place was to try out some etching. We don’t do etching at the forge but its something that I wanted to learn so I just went for it.

In between this and the last post I hardened the blade by heating it to a bright yellow and then dipping the edge into oil. Bright yellow is pretty hot and was a risk as I could have easily cracked the blade, but as I don’t know what the steel is I wanted to be sure that I had taken it past its critical temperature. If I had failed to do this it would have remained as soft as it was before heating, or have gotten even softer. By dipping the edge into the oil rather than plunging the whole blade, I reduced the shock as only the edge would suddenly contract. This gave me a hard edge with a softer spine to balance it out, and also meant that I might get some cool patterning at the edge called a hamon (more on that later).

To do the etching, I decided to use ferric chloride in an aqueous solution. Its quite easy to get from electronics stores as it is used to etch circuit boards. The first time I tried it, I only masked off the pattern I wanted and left the rest of the blade bare. This was a big mistake as by the time I had started to see the pattern distinguish itself the rest of the blade was deeply and horribly pitted. Oh dear, back to the grinder to remove the worst of the damage, then try again:

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This time I blocked off the entirety of the blade to protect it from the etchant and sliced out the pattern with a sharp knife. The resist (purple bit) is cheap nail varnish and the black is where I used a permanent marker to tidy up the edges as the marker stops ferric chloride from eating the steel. The hearts are a classic pattern, although not on seaxes, and the text is a snappy bit of an occult phrase.

I plunged the blade into the etchant and left it for a couple of hours as ferric chloride is pretty mild to steel. I got a light etch, but I wanted something bolder, so I bought sulphuric acid from the hardware shop. That sounds hardcore, but its actually a fairly extreme drain unblocker! I diluted it and stuck the blade into the new solution. The steel immediately started to bubble and after about a minute the resist started to fall off. I quickly pulled it out and neutralised the acid with bicarbonate of soda. Once again, the blade had some random pitting and the edges of the design were a little ragged, but I think that a double coat of resist might sort that out on the next blade or i might make a wax/tar mix which is much more hardcore. Here it is with the resist removed and a bit of a polish:

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Its a nice etch, about 3/4mm deep and with a rough base in the deepest areas. I’m pretty happy with it as a first go, although the next one should be a lot better.

After I had it clean, I decided to throw caution to the wind and break out the ferric chloride for a further surface etch. I outlined my original etched pattern to give it a bit of protection as I was a little worried that I would undo what I had already achieved. Here it is as I started outlining:

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As I had only quenched the edge during the heat treatment, the edge is hard steel and the body is softer. When you etch a blade with different hardnesses you can get a nice line at the border between each hardness. This is what I was referring to earlier, the hamon. The most instantly recognisable example of this is on a traditional Japanese Katana:

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This is a random image from Google, the hamon is that wavy line just behind the edge of the blade. The hard steel is paler. One of the main things you need to get a good hamon is the right manganese level, and I think my file wasn’t quite right (or my etching was a little poor). You can just about see the hamon I got on the edge of the blade:

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My one is a bit like ripples in water, I may have knocked the oil tank as I quenched the edge. Still looks pretty cool though.

Next up: Engraving and inlay on the blade! I will try to take more step by step photos.