Ok, the first thing to do is gather the supplies...
You'll need a few STEEL nails in different gauges and lengths, a medium-sized ballpeen hammer, an anvil of some sorts, and a propane torch for this first part of forging the blade. For the second part, finishing the sword, you'll need a Dremel mototool or a bench grinder, files, different grits of sandpaper and lots of elbow grease!
Selecting the right nail for the job....
You'll be beating the heck out of them so as a rough rule, select a nail that is approximately 1/2 the width you plan the blade to be. I'm not an expert on nails so don't ask me for the penny size or gauge....just select them via the 1/2 width rule and you'll be ok. For length, the nails we'll be working with will gain approximately 15% in length so if you pick a nail as long as the blade you plan, you'll have room to work and something extra to hold onto. Just remember that "extra" can be cut off later...."not enough" can't.
The first step is to remove the head. Dremel it or file it or hacksaw it off. It doesn't matter. Second step is to heat the entire nail to red hot for about two minutes with the propane torch and then let it cool slowly. You want to anneal it to remove any temper it gained from the manufacturing process.
Next, and here's the first muscle work, put it on your anvil and beat it out flat until it's approximately 2/3 the width of the planned finished piece. Dont worry about hammer marks....you'll remove those later. Just get it flattened. You can hammer it on the edges to keep it straight, but all you're trying to do is flatten it.
Once you have it to 2/3 width, we start the forging process.
With the ball peen side of the hammer, working ONLY on one edge of the blade blank, start hammering up one side and then turn it over and do the other side the same way as in this pic.
These drawings took literally five minutes so don't even think that they're to scale!
By working only one one edge at a time, you're beginning the diamond cross section you'll be finishing later. You'll notice that as you peen each edge, the blade will curve a tiny bit away from the hammer....then as you turn it over and peen the other edge, it'll straighten back out. Always peen the second edge til the blade blank is straight again....don't hammer it edge on to straighten it!
Continue peening each edge in turn until you have a good, noticeable centerline to the blade and it's about as wide as the finished blade design you picked. Then go back and start hammering the edges the same way with the FLAT face of the hammer and remove as many peen marks as you can. That can take about twenty cycles per edge to get done so take your time. Each hammer cycle should be slightly lighter than the last until the majority of the peen marks are gone and you have a nice, semi-finished sword blade. As before, hammer each edge in turn and then turn the blade over and hammer the other edge until the blade blank is straight again. Don't hammer it on the edge to straighten because you'll twist the blade!
Once it's to your liking, red hot it again and let it cool slowly.
Now comes the hardest part unless you have a belt sander. Take your files and file both edges until they're *perfectly* straight. You can do it by clamping the blade in a set of vicegrip pliers and running the edges back and forth on sandpaper....or hand file them if necessary. Straight edges are a must here!
Once your edges are perfectly straight, we do the dremel or grinding work.
If you use a dremel, use a heavyduty cutoff wheel and set your speed to the max. Hold the wheel at an angle to the blade so the wheel almost hits the blade facet flatly and begin grinding it up one face and down the other until you have a rough-finished sword blade. The flatter the angle you hold the dremel at, the less you'll need to dress the blade later with files so go slow and practice. Be sure to grind each facet until it's just a hair short of the centerline....you'll be finishing it to the centerline with files.
It should now look like this....this is only one facet but you get the idea.
Once both faces of the blade (all four facets) are smoothly ground with a very shallow hollow-grind to them, start filing each facet until they're perfectly flat. As before when hammering, when you file one facet, the centerline may move....so you then file the opposite facet until it's perfectly centered again before turning the blade over and doing the other side. Work slowly up one side and down the other as before....don't try to file one facet until it's totally flat or the blade won't be perfectly faceted when you're done!
Is it close to this now?
Now, use your files or dremel or grinder to dress the tip to the sword profile you planned....turn it over often to be sure the angles are all the same as you dress it!
Next, cut the tang out of the extra length at the base end of the blade....if you have enough length, do a full tang if you want. Short or long doesn't really matter since the sword won't be hitting much.
The blade should be stiff enough with the diamond cross section for most blades....but rapiers and katanas and other thin blades will need tempering. Do that by getting it to a bright orange-yellow with the propane torch and then quenching it in near freezing brine (salt water). Take a coffee cup or something deep enough to dip the entire blade and fill it with water then mix in as much salt as will dissolve in it....then put it in the freezer for a couple of hours.
After working with fullscale blades for twenty years and miniatures for the past ten, I can pretty much tell you the rockwell hardness of any blade by simply filing a tiny area....but you, you'll need to fire and quench it until it's a stiffness that you're satisfied with.
Word of warning....if it bends while you're testing its stiffness, DON'T try to bend it the other way to straighten it! Go back to your anvil and gently hammer it back flat and then refile any marks you left.
The physics behind a bend insist that the bent section will be the strongest part of the blade area you're trying to bend and that means the straight area *next* to the original bend will be the spot that bends. You'll end up with an S-curve in your blade.
After tempering it to your liking, carefully polish it and sharpen it if you want.
The blade will discolor after quenching in the brine....just use some fine-grit steel wool and polish it back down. You can leave it polished or temper and quench a few times to achieve a nice mottled/used look, or even dip it in some ferric chloride to cold blue it. It's your sword, it's all up to you.)
Congrats on your first blade!
That blade we just made sure looks like a gladius to me! Well, at least mine does lol With practice, yours will too!
The steps again....
Now a few tips on swordmaking and general forging techniques.
For a diamond cross-sectioned sword, ALWAYS work one edge/facet then the other and when the blade curves from working one edge, work the opposite one to straighten it back. Go slow and work all the facets over and over until you get it right. Don't try to finish one face all the way and then go to another.
Btw, "face" and "facet" are interchangeable on a diamond cross-sectioned sword....but the same area of the blade is a "face" on a fullered blade.
For a curved blade (katana-type), do it the same as the straight blade up til the point where you straighten the edges with a file. Straighten BOTH edges perfectly and only then go back and hammerwork the one edge to create the curve. The trick here is to let the hammer curve the blade for you and you won't have to touch the curved edge again. Concave-curved edges are nearly impossible to do right with files whereas hammering the curve is almost effortless.
To save time, katanas and rapiers can be cut from those spring-steel bands that cheap headsets have on them. File the taper into the straight edge of the steel until you have the correct taper and THEN go back and gently hammer-work one edge to curve it. Finish it by dressing your edge grind and polish it and you're done.
If steel intimidates you or if your arms aren't up to it, try working with sterling silver wire of the same gauge as the nail you had planned. You can buy silver wire at your local craft or jewelry store and it's far easier to forge. It will oxidize to a grey/white color in time, though, so you'll need to keep your sword polished. Remember the 1/2 rule! Proceed through each of the steps and skip tempering it at the end. Silver work-hardens as you hammer it so you don't want to loose the stiffness you gained by forging it.
As an experiment, try working with heavy gauge copper wire for a blade if you plan a fantasy figure. It polishes beautifully and can be etched afterwards just like brass.
As always, WEAR YOUR SAFETY GLASSES!!! You're working with highspeed metal and those pieces can hurt whatever they hit!!!
Here's where we get creative! From here on, it's all up to you. Blades are all alike once you've made a few but your choices of furniture on your blade will make it a one of a kind.
For a simple, flat guard, take a flattened nail (or brass sheet, or silver, or a copper penny etc) and bend it in half and hammer it lightly down like this. Lightly! You don't want to crease it.
Now use a dremel cutoff wheel and cut a slice into the folded end. Just cut the slice until you can see through the metal to the other side and then stop.
Unfold the metal and gently hammer it back flat and you have a slotted guard. Fit it to your blade with needle files and shape, file, and polish it if you want.
For a nice creative look that takes next to no extra work, try gently hammering your flat guard around a 2" diameter pipe or creasing the quillons upward just a bit.
As a sidenote, softer metals like brass/copper/aluminum/silver make for better guards because they're easier to work with in a slightly thicker state that you would want a guard to be. Even something like lead can make for a great guard so don't be afraid to experiment.
For a more elaborate guard, try cutting two pieces of 1/16 inch thick silver sheet as in this picture and solder them together around the blade tang. Use your needle files to finish shaping it. If your blade is a bit thick to pinch the guard ends together, try layering another small shim of sheet into it before you solder.
For an even more elaborate guard as on a katana and such, start going through the cheapo jewelry sections at your local stores. Look for suitable earrings and necklaces and charms. One tip....silver is VERY easy to work with as you probably found out! Elaborate celtic knot charms make great katana guards as do small foreign coins.
Earrings and charms also make great cloak pins!
Above all, be creative! No one will ever tell you you did it wrong!
Get some plain wooden craft beads from your local wallyworld. The oblong/oval kind work best. Tack glue them to a piece of welding rod and turn them to size on your dremel if need be. For a more elaborate grip, try some of the hand-carved bone or horn ones. Remember, you can go for shorter beads and stack them on the tang....it's all up to you! Try alternating a colored craft bead (not the plastic pony beads) and a disk of colored craft foam. Brown craft foam makes great "leather" grips, too.
Again, hit the local wallyworld and check the craft department for suitable metallic beads. They come in a million types and sizes. I prefer the teardrop ones for pommels, of course. You can often buy cheapo earrings with the teardrop thingies on them and you can sometimes find them on the net as "findings". A teardrop stone set into a metal setting makes for a great pommel.
Scabbards and sheaths
These are really up to the maker, of course, since we all have differing tastes on style, so I'll just give a few of my techniques here.
First off, I prefer craft foam to leather. It's much more in scale and when done properly, looks more like leather than real leather. Nothing ruins a good miniature sword more in my opinion than having a sheath with full-scale grain!
The best way to handle it to simulate leather is to take a 1x3 inch piece of brown or black craft foam and then CAREFULLY heat it over an RC modeling sealing iron until it melts slightly and you can stretch it. Once it's stretched to its limit (you'll know when), hold it taught and let it cool and then start "distressing" it by rolling and twisting it and crumpling it in your hand. It can take an hour or more to distress it to the right point but it's worth it. It ends up as perfect 1/6 scale "leather" with a perfect grain.
Once your foam is good, wrap it around the blade from the front face and trim the back edges so they lay flat right at the centerline of your blade. Next, carefully cyanoacrylate a second full length piece on the back side to cover your first join. Once the cyanoacrylate is fully cured, you can use your RC sealing iron to carefully heat shrink the sheath to the blade for a finished look.
For buckles and trim, I always prefer to make my own from brass wire or sheet since most of mine are "primitive-looking", but Rio Rondo's work perfectly, too. Rio Rondo filigree conchos can be filed to shape and tack glued on to the sheath throat and frog as well.
For a wooden sheath or a wooden-lined leather sheath, try a popsicle stick or a tongue depressor from your craft store. Lay one on a table and lay the plain blade on top of it and press the blade into the wood with a hot soldering iron. Once it's burnt into one stick, burn it into another one and then trim around the blade pattern and cyanoacrylate them together and finish it however you want.
Plain wooden sheaths look great with a stain and then a lashing of linen craft thread or leather. The alternating wood/leather makes a great combo.
Finishing your gladius
Since I've had four people (I wish it was more, but not many folks ever try to do their own work anymore) ask me about my gladius swords I've sold (given away) on the Joe group a couple of times, I'd like to take this time to go through making one.
I'm going to put this pic up that I just found on the web and I'll tell you how to go step by step in making one. You'll probably recognize it from the recent movie....those of you that have one of mine will doubtlessly recognize it.
It looks difficult, but trust me, it's so easy it makes a great first sword.
First off, we would make the blade as we did above.
Second, for the guard, find a copper penny (pre 1982) and hammer/file it flat as above.
Copper sheet from your local craft store is perfect, too, but I just like doing my own work. As an alternative, use brass or silver sheet.
Now rough center a fine drillbit and put one hole through it that's slightly less than the thickness of your blade. You'll use files to finish fitting it later. Use a drillbit smaller than the blade thickness but thicker than the dremel cutoff wheel you'll use next.
Bend that penny in half and cut the slot as on the basic guard above....right through the drilled hole....then flatten it back out and polish it.
As I did on all of mine, buy two *HORN* beads from your local craft store or off the web....one 1/2 inch in diam and the other 3/8 inch diam. Razorsaw the larger of them directly in half and then mount it on a dremel to turn it flat and level and half bead-shaped. That will be glued directly to the penny/brass guard you made before. Go ahead and cyanoacrylate them together and mount it to the dremel and turn the penny/brass guard down to perfectly match the diameter of the bead. Your previously drilled guard and the horn bead should be in perfect alignment now.
Now use your needle files to CAREFULLY open the slot in the guard to fit the blade you made and slip it through.
My last gladius, I stacked 6, 5, and 4mm horn beads on a piece of welding rod and turned them down slighty to form the grip. Once they're sized to your satisfaction, slip them onto the tang of your blade and tack glue them in place.
The pommel is the 3/8 inch diam horn bead turned down slightly on a dremel.
The detailing on the guard....use an earring inset into the horn craft bead.
Mine all used a filigree butterfly earring thingy I had found on the web. Well, my wife found them and thought they looked nice and they grew on me.
How do we inset things into craft beads? Well, horn (and plastic beads, too) has a peculiar characteristic to it that makes insetting a breeze. It melts with heat. So we simply lay the earring on the horn bead and apply a hot soldering iron to the earring until it starts to burn into the bead. Remove it and file the now raised edge of the bead back off. Do that a few times....heat it then remove and file it....and the earring will soon be completely inset into the horn bead. One tip....don't inset the earring or finding all the way into the bead! If you do, it'll be flat on the finsihes curve and look bad. Just inset it to the point that the outside edges are inset and then file and sand it off to give it a nice rounded contour to match the grip contour.
That funny looking metal trim on the pommel on that "Gladiator" gladius? Well you can easily recreate that by buying a cheapo necklace setting or keychain setting from your craft store or the web and open it up and then inset it into the horn pommel just like the earring before.
I've recently had the pleasure of getting to know a bunch of terrific folks on a new forum. Fantasy Net if anyone's interested. I'm not associated with them in any way other than to enjoy the heck out of looking at their incredibly creative and talented work. I don't know if they're taking members or not but it's a great place to check into if fantasy is your ball of wax!
To answer a few questions I've seen posted there in the past couple of months...
Yes, you can use cheapo kitchen knives for making blades. They're invariably hard as heck, though, so red hot them with a torch or a stove eye for a couple of mins to soften them. Once they're annealed, just work them as you would any metal.
Fullering a blade can be done pretty easily with a bit of practice. Buy yourself a cheapo cold chisel from Big Lots and go gentle the first time or two up and down the blade. Go light at first to establish your fuller and then heavier to deepen it. Use a dremel cutoff wheel to clean it up if you want.
If direct hammering has you cringing, you can try making your own fullering tools.
An easy one can be made with a pair of end nippers with the edges filed a tad.
Rapiers....the cup guards can be done easily with an empty drink bottle or some scrap styrene scrunch-formed over a small ball peen hammer.
Walmart $2 letter openers? Yes! They make great starts!
To be continued....