Author Topic: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted  (Read 129 times)

Spritelady

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I was wondering if anyone could help me with some research for a short fiction story that I'm writing. It focuses on a bladesmith as she's making a sword for a customer and I want to be able to include accurate/interesting detail about the process of forging the sword as I go.

The general setting at the moment is fairly classic medieval fantasy so I may add some embellishments/details to reflect the fantasy element but broadly speaking I wanted to gain an idea of the usual process for forging a sword from scratch in a medieval setting (I think I'm generally assuming a European setting here, but I'm very open to alternative ideas on that front).

Additionally, if anyone would like to read said story once it's approaching completion, do let me know  :)

dubsartur

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Re: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2020, 10:11:24 PM »
I've been trying to think of one or two good resources.  The best I can do is some things which focus on different aspects:


Generally speaking, traditional crafts involve less tools but more workers and trades than you expect.  So one shop with a master, three journeymen (day labourers) and two apprentices buys a hundredweight of iron and starts making table knives, churns out a few hundred of them, sends them to another shop with a waterwheel to be ground and polished, takes them back for final inspection, sells them to a third shop in another town which puts the handles on them and pairs some of the knives with scabbards and sells most of the finished knives to a wholesaler.  Its very expensive for one shop, let alone one worker, to do all the steps. 

  And that first shop probably just has a handful of hammers and tongs and chisels, a forge, some small stakes and anvils and some small workbenches in it.  Today people use power tools and vices to replace teams of helpers, and they make specialized tools to make up for not being able to practice one task enough to get really good at it.

  Traditional iron and steel (like anything made before 1850) are really the element of earth, and you can see why they believed ore grew in the ground like trees.  No two pieces are exactly the same.  So you might have a favorite way of making a sword, but sometimes the pieces of iron you have don't cooperate, and you have to do something different that will still give you a product to sell.  In that respect, its a lot like sculpting marble.  Modern steels are a lot more predictable, so the smiths don't have to put together all those different pieces with different properties unless they want to show off.

  Traditional crafts tend to be tied up with a lot of rituals and secrets, like cooking and baking today.  So a swordsmith can probably talk to customers about what they want, and has their own way of talking through problems with people in the shop, but the customer does not get to hear the shop talk or talking through problems (and in a place with towns and shops, the swordsmith is probably fuzzy on how iron and steel are made and why different kinds behave differently).  So in fiction, that gives you a chance for characterization: you can show the swordsmith talking one way to her client and talking another way to herself or other people in the shop.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2020, 10:23:19 PM by dubsartur »

dubsartur

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Re: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2020, 04:25:10 PM »
The thread Traditional Armour Finishing Processes has some information on the polishing stage but none of us got a chance to write it up in a more organized way. 

A rough, generic list of steps might be as follows.  Stars mark optional steps.

  • Envision the sword they want to make (it might be "make me 20 swords like this one" it might be "I want a Ruritarian-style sword for a lefty, and make it kind of small and light so its handy to ride around with" it might be the elaborate diagrams which Peter Johansson uses, this mostly happens face to face so we just don't know)
  • Choose materials (either from heaps-of-iron-and-steel in the shop, or by visiting suppliers)
  • *Heat up the different pieces, place them side by side, and smash them together until they become one
  • Heat up the blank and hit it until it starts to cool.  Repeat until it is shaped right.
  • *Heat treatment (bring the whole blade up to an even temperature, then cool it slowly in air or quickly in water or oil, sometimes gently warming it one more time) OR hammer-harden the edges (if you don't have access to pretty good steel for the edges).  The blade may need to be straightened out again after heat-treatment.
  • Send it to the polisher to be ground with big wheels and small hand scrapers, bricks of emery, and emery powder until its pretty and shiny
  • Send it to the cutler who will mount the guard, handle, and pommel.
  • Send it to the furbisher who will make the scabbard.

But the details will vary from shop to shop and project to project, and all the different trades had their secrets.

dubsartur

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Re: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2020, 03:48:50 PM »
Was that helpful at all? If you check out YouTube you can find lots of videos, and if you check your local library you will find plenty of archaeology books with cross-sections of blades, so I tried to write some things which would put all those details in context.

Cowgill's "Knives and Scabbards" is really really good but its by archaeologists not primitive smelting people or swordsmiths so it does not say so much about how the bladesmiths did their work.  And the smelters and the swordsmiths have a lot of web posts and videos rather than broad books on how the things they are copying were made.

Spritelady

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Re: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2020, 07:46:23 PM »
Thank you so much for all of that! Sorry for the delayed reply - work got rather hectic and this project had to be put to one side temporarily. But I'll start going through some of those resources - I really appreciate all the effort you put in here!

dubsartur

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Re: Fiction writing about forging a sword - help/advice wanted
« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2020, 04:07:26 PM »
You are welcome!  I just wanted to know whether I gave the right kinds of detail.

Unfortunately, I have not done any blacksmith's work and definitely not with old-school iron and steel.