In
stories from legend and antiquity, swords have a special place. From Hrunting,
the sword of Beowulf, to Excalibur, sword of King Arthur, they are the
centerpieces of countless myths. Because of the high regard in which swords are
held, bladesmithing – the process of creating a sword – has long been regarded
with fascination and awe, as if it was an almost magical process. Historical
sources describe those makers of legendary swords with reverence, glorifying their
skill and attributing to them sometimes mystical abilities.

This has
led in modern times to an overall fascination with bladesmithing that is,
unfortunately, divorced from any practical knowledge of the craft – resulting
in confusion about what the process actually entails. Pop culture has
contributed to this confusion as television and films often depict the process
of sword making with wild inaccuracies. Consider the opening scenes of Conan
the Barbarian (1982) in which a steel sword is poured into a mould, a process
reserved for softer metals such as bronze. How many sword collectors based
their understanding of bladesmithing on that scene? Beyond the folklore and
mysticism, beyond the films and television shows, the process of sword making,
while indeed complex, is not arcane in nature.

Collectors
and fans of swords both historical and legendary have long been fascinated with
the process of making a sword. To respond to this curiosity, we wanted to
answer some of the more common questions we receive from our fans and
customers: How are swords forged? And more specifically, how does Darksword
Armory manufacture their swords? We will also discuss what steel is used for
the making of the blades and why the type of steel is an important consideration
in the proper manufacturing of a sword.

The Making of a Sword

Modern European
sword makers use one of three methods to create their swords. While each method
can overlap, the bulk of the process is made by either one of the three methods
based on the smiths’ preference and skill. Blades can either be:

  1. Hand forged – this method takes
    lumps or blocks of raw steel and uses a forge to heat it up and stretch it out
    into a blade shape. Hammers and anvils, and sometimes power hammers, are used
    for most of the process of actually shaping the weapon, though modern tools
    such as belt sanders may be used for polishing.
  2. Stock removal – starting with a
    “blank,” or a long strip of pre-shaped steel, this method uses modern tools to
    remove enough steel from the blank to reveal the blade within. Belt grinders,
    sanders, and other power tools are used in lieu of traditional hand forging
    methods.
  3. CNC machine made – a CNC
    (Computer Numerical Control) machine is a device that uses computer technology
    to control machine tools such as grinders, routers, mills, and lathes. A design
    is entered into a CNC machine’s computer, which directs the use of tools in a
    process similar to stock removal on a piece of steel. As CNC machines are
    highly specialized, this is the most expensive method of sword making, due to
    the cost of the CNC machinery itself, and relies on the least amount of
    traditional tools and labour.

Darksword
Armory uses a combination of hand forging and stock removal to create our
blades, relying on both traditional forging techniques and modern machine tools.
The following is a step-by-step account of our process, transforming a piece of
steel into the Darksword in your hands.

Steps to Creating a Darksword

We begin
with a 2” by 30”, (7mm thick) blank of 5160 high carbon spring steel. 5160 is a
steel/chromium alloy with excellent toughness and resilience, making it perfect
for sword blades.

5160 Stock Bar

We
prepare the blanks by cutting the end on one side at a 30-degree angle. This
allows us to reduce the manufacturing time on making of the tip of the blade,
which can be time consuming, while favouring a more symmetrical finish once we
start shaping the tip of the blade. This process usually requires the tip to be
heated twice prior to completion.

hot-steel-being-hammered-forged-darksword-armory

Once the
tip has been shaped, we begin to “draw” the blade (hammering it into the
general shape of the sword blade it will become) in the traditional manner (with
hammer and anvil). We usually have 6 bladesmiths working in the shop at this
point, each one working on one blade at a time – taking intervals between
heating and hammering. Once the general shape is outlined, we complete the
majority of the shaping on our power hammer.

Fine
adjustments to the shape of the blade are carefully made with a hammer and
anvil. Each blade is examined during the forging process, in terms of its geometry
and tapper – which is later further adjusted with industrial grinders prior to
the tempering of the blade.

Once the
blank has been transformed we work on the opposite end, drawing the tang. The
tang is primarily done with the power hammer and finishing touches are made
manually on the anvil. While each sword has its own attributes, the tang
thickness and width remains the same among sword types. Only the length changes
– which is why we work with a master prototype of each blade typology we make.

After the
blade and tang have been drawn, minor adjustments are made to the geometry of
the blade by use of various belt sanders and grinders. The profile is
corrected, the edges are tapered, the blade tapering is adjusted, and
imperfections and waves are smoothed over the grinder using various grit
sanding belts. This is similar to how stock removal processes are done, though
without the initial shaping in the forge that is a part of our process.

grinding-polishing-darksword-armory

Once the
blade has arrived at a shape close to the intended design, we proceed in
grinding the fuller using a special 2” grinding wheel. With steady hands, we
make sure that the fuller is straight, and symmetrical on both sides. Once complete,
the blade goes back to grinding on the main industrial grinder to smooth out
any imperfections and guide the blade to its final form.

forming-the-fuller-sword-darksword-armory

Now, the
shaping work has been completed, and it is time to heat treat the blade. Blades
are placed together in a large heat treating oven – or kiln – then are individually
quenched in canola oil in a quenching tank.

Once the
blade has been quenched, we arrive at the final stages in the manufacturing
process.

Post-quench,
the finish on the blade is pretty rough looking. The blade must then be polished
and brought to its final state before assembly. This is a lengthy process,
involving various polishing wheels, compounds, different grit sandpaper pads,
and finally polishing again with scotch wheel pads. All of this goes towards
giving each Darksword a finish worthy of a museum piece.

At this
stage the blade is complete and moves to the assembly department. This is where
blades are paired with sword fittings, which we also make in house – the guards
and pommels are cast in using the “lost wax” process, moulded from an original
piece designed and made at the Darksword shop.

In
assembly we have 2 specialized staff members fitting the handles, guards, and
pommels to the completed blade. This may involve some reshaping of the interior
of the handle to ensure it has a tight fit to the tang. To reduce any
possibility of movement of the fittings due to humidity or temperature change,
Darksword Armory (as do most companies) also uses epoxy to secure the grips to
the tang of the blade.

When the
guards, handles, and pommels are in their final position the tang is peened.
This means the exposed portion of the tang is heated and then hammered over the
pommel, completing construction – a new Darksword is born!

To view
all these steps, you can click the link below:

We hope
that this peek behind the curtain at Darksword Armoury has been illuminating
for you. The process we used was arrived at using countless hours of research
and practice, and we are always working to improve our products. By bringing
together traditional forging techniques with updated tools and methods, we aim
to keep the knowledge of sword making close at hand while also benefitting from
all that modern technology can bring. Now, when you purchase you next
Darksword, you will have a better understanding of the process that brought it
to life.

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