How were medieval swords made?

Welcome, Knight Errant! I see you want to be talked through the steps in the process of forging your own medieval sword! We won’t be making no flimsy wooden swords here – grab your swordsmith and we can get to work blacksmithing a new weapon!

Before we begin the simple steps for crafting your blade, you must be knowledgeable in the types of sword:

  • Longsword

  • The longsword was common in European nations, and had a long handle providing two handed swinging motions. Weighing several pounds, it was capable of tearing limbs off, but was flexible and strong. It couldn’t pierce armour.
    • Broadsword

  • Broadswords were double edged and wide, with a much shorter length than a longsword. It was used from the early Saxon times, and is good for smashing and thrusting.
    • Rapier

    Rapiers were fancy weapons and only used towards the end of the medieval period. They were great for duels, however! Not so good for full on combat.

    • Cutlass

    Arrrgh! The cutlass was used as a slashing, swinging sword for sailors and pirates. Not so good for the initial thrust, but if you stabbed someone with it, you could turn the curved blade inside them and rip their guts. Ouch.

    What sword have you gone for? Comment below!

    Crafting

    You must get a specialist for your sword, not just any blacksmith. Make sure your chunk of iron is long and not too thick. After all, you’ll need a flexible weapon! You can make steel from iron and carbon, usually charcoal. A strong sword needs a mixture of hard steel and weak steel so you get the perfect balance between bendiness and strength!

    The sword smith would have learnt from experience what colour the steel should be after it was taken out from the furnace, and how much he should hammer each side of the steel bar. The front would have to be hammered especially hard on the sides to force the edges into a point, and the middle of the blade would be smashed until it flattened out so that the sword would not be too thick.

    If the sword is to be curved, spiked or in any unusual pattern, the smith must use his initiative to apply force to the necessary sections and possibly hang an end of the blade of the side of his anvil so he can hammer it downwards.

    To make a really trustworthy and unbreakable blade, the sword must be tempered. By reheating the brittle blade at a lower temperature than the original and eventually cooling it back down again, you are rearranging the molecules of steel to create a stronger, more dynamic-resistant pattern. Quench the steel as quickly as possible in water or oil before putting it back into the furnace.

    There was no way to measure temperature accurately in the Middle Ages, so the craftsman would absolutely have to know what amount of heat was perfect to temper the blade into the strongest sword.

    Now work a pair of rough and coarse wheels and grind the weapon’s edges against them. Work in a motion heading towards the point, and perform this on both sides to bring together a sharp, thrusting end. Additionally, you can use smaller stones to run along the edges to carefully acquire the desired sharpness and angle.

    “For most good swords, it is crucial that you make each cutting edge strong, sharp and equal.”

    There are three essential parts to the hilt of your sword – the pommel, the guard and the main grip.

    The pommel can be used for smashing the enemy downwards, which could be devastating to a helmet – a piece of armour which could easily sustain quite a dent if a ball of steel travelling at speed thrust into it.

    “Curved helmets were around since at least Roman times as they easily glanced sword and pommel blows off the wearer’s head.”

    Your pommel doesn’t have to be made of iron or steel, however; bone or wood can be used if you prefer an alternative – or you just cannot afford anything better.

    The grip could be connected directly to the steel blade, ie. a separately designer and crafted wood or horn piece, or it could be part of the blade itself – you just hammer the back end on all sides until it forms a dense, square block. Fibres or leather can be wrapped around this to make it comfortable for the combatants hand.

    • Decorate and engrave this if you want! What would you add to your sword, if you could make one? Let me know!

    A blade could be slotted through a guard into its grip and pommel. This guard will protect your hand – or two hands – if it is struck by your enemy’s sword, or if another weapon slides down your blade towards your hand at fatal speed.

    If you or your sword smith work hard on the sword with care, dedication and a good eye for detail, then you will surely be rewarded with a great, flexible but resistant sword that can be used to a great extent on the bloody battlefield.

    Mind that in reality, the process of making a sword is not simple, and takes time as well as experience to perfect the trade. This is why medieval knights required expert workers to produce their weapons.

    2 thoughts on “How were medieval swords made?

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