THE ROAD TO SMITHING YOUR OWN BLADES
We’ve all felt it. Whether it was last month or decades ago, in our less grounded youth, we’ve all felt the innate, almost preternatural drive to render raw materials into something with a purposeful design. Some say it’s that drive to make tools and weapons that makes us uniquely human. I say what makes us truly human is not our drive to make weapons, but the romantic vision that these weapons are capable of holding inside them the best qualities of humanity. It’s that vision that stirs many lovers of the sharpened edge to begin learning the timeless art of bladesmithing. In the following story, you’ll get an introduction to this art.
The Art of Smithing
You now know that a bladesmith forges, but what steps define the forging process? The alchemy of changing a raw piece of steal into a quality blade, while a straightforward and timeless process, is not something that is mastered the first time out of the gate. Every blade created since the beginning of recorded history follows the same basic process of heating, shaping, hardening, grinding, polishing and finishing. The difficulty comes in developing the judgment to know how much heat, the finesse to know how hard to swing the hammer and the skill to grind off just enough to make that perfect blade.
Building Your Forge
There are two choices: solid fuel or gas forges. Each has its own selling points and can easily be built with plans found on several websites. A solid fuel forge is nothing more than a hole in which the solid fuel, usually coal, can burn very hot and sustain that heat while working the metal.
The advantage of a solid fuel forge is that it’s cheap to build and materials are readily available. A disadvantage to using a solid fuel forge is that in addition to tending to the forging and shaping of your blade, you also have to tend to the fire, making sure it stays hot enough to heat up the metal. The other option is a gas forge. Though a little more complicated to build than a solid fuel forge, gas forges, when insulated properly, easily achieve and maintain temperature. Very little effort is required to keep the forge going. Though a little more expensive than a solid fuel forge, the gas forge allows
“THE ALCHEMY OF CHANGING A RAW PIECE OF STEAL INTO A QUALITY BLADE … IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS MASTERED THE FIRST TIME OUT OF THE GATE.”
the new bladesmith to concentrate on forming a blade and not tending to the quality, consistency and strength of a fire.
As for the other tools such as tongs, anvils and hammers, the choices are endless. Choosing an anvil and hammer is a personal endeavor. In selecting an anvil, the heavier the better. Some say 50 pounds is a minimum, but you’re better off with at least 100 pounds—although 200 pounds will serve you even better. Given the weight of the anvil, a strong base goes without saying. As far as hammers, a cheap hand sledge, engineer’s hammer, ball pein, or cross pein (blacksmith’s hammer) should work to start with, until experience tells you what you prefer. A sharp angle on a hammer face is going to leave a lot of marks in the piece that is being forged. Add to that some files for shaping, as well as for sharpening, and you’re on your way.
A Rewarding and Fulfilling Endeavor
Moving through the world of bladesmithing is a very rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. As you walk along your own path, it’s important to remember to be receptive to staying on the learning curve. Commit yourself to the process of learning; you can’t be great from the start, but you have to start to be great. Lastly, the most important part of bladesmithing. HAVE FUN. If it’s not fun, why do it? KI
Above: Changing a raw piece of steal into a qualityblade takes time. Every blade created follows the same basic process of heating, shaping, hardening, grinding, polishing and finishing. Here, take a close—and hot—look at the forging process.
Above: If you take this career path, expert James Helms recommends attending a blacksmiths meeting, because it would be an invaluable learning tool. Bottom: As you become more experienced, more sophisticated equipment can help you work on more challenging projects. Here James Helms uses Gunnhilda, his 1,000-pound power hammer, to draw out a recurve bush sword.