Generation X Sword Making
or POOF! You're a Swordsmith!A letter and response to a reader that thought an education in sword making should be free in order to preserve civilization.
I want to start by saying forgive any misspellings in this letter, it's 21:12 am right now and I misspell many things wile awake and alert. also I do not use that E-mail anymore nut, I had to enter soothing.
I could understand your frustration about all the E-mails about sword making and some of the suggestions you made, (mainly about reading the books first), were good responses. The things I,m having troubles with are as follows. First your templet for learning to build your own sword seems to be based to much on the present. Many of the people who would like to build a sword would like to know how to do it like they did 2,000 years ago, not the most modern way possible. Through my research I have found out that traditionally craftsmen did not cut their blade out of a blank, they made them from scratch. Having said that the above statement also answers the question
"why would you want to build a sword?"The traditions of the past must be kept in the knowledge of tomorrow. These are things that the next generation needs to learn, if for know other reason, then suppose there is a nuclear holocaust. Somebody will need to know how to perform these functions to keep the human race alive.
Also why would a master craftsmen take on a student for nothing? That's simple, to pass knowledge to someone. It's a part of civilization to pass on your knowledge on to someone. If nobody passed their knowledge on, then we would still be in the stone age. . .
(author's name removed, spelling corrected and paragraphs added)
My Response January 6, 2005 (not one of my best)
> first), were good responses. The things I,m having troubles with
> are as follows. First your templet for learning to build your own sword
> seem to be based to much on the present. Many of the people who would
> like to build a sword would like to know how to do it like they did 2,000
> years ago, not the most modern way possible.
2000 years ago WHERE? The Japanese had almost no metal working industry at all then. Their sword making developed less than 1,000 years ago. However, it has remained static and has not changed in about 300 years. Their method starts with the smith making his own steel from the ore. They still do this and if you do not start there the blade is NOT a traditional Japanese blade (by law).
2000 years ago in China that had a vast cast iron industry. But they had little or no steel other than what was imported from India. Their weapons were in the bronze age. Bronze age swords started as a cast blank that was then hand finished with scrapers and a small amount of hammering. Those for the common soldier were used rough as-cast. This was the norm for most Bronze age civilizations.
The Bronze age existed until the 1500's in Africa. In the new world the societies here were neolithic, late stone age using found metals such as copper, silver and gold.
> Having said that, the above statement also answers the question
> "why would you want to build a sword?"
> the traditions of the past must be kept in the knowledge of tomorrow.
> these are things that the next generation needs to learn, if for know other
> reason, then suppose there is a nuclear holocaust.
The re-creation of an industrial society would be completely different than in the past. You are right that the knowledge needs to be preserved but the problem IS that knowledge does not necessarily produce results. Many of the inventions of Leonardo DaVinci were public knowledge for over 300 years before society developed an economic NEED for them. Then they were re-invented by people that needed the mechanization due to economic need.
Your idea of re-creation of an industrial society assumes historical starting conditions. After a collapse of modern society FOOD would be the number one need. Metal would be readily available in the millions of tons of scrap of everything from buildings to ships. There would be no need to know how to make your own steel and not nearly as much to forge it as you would believe.
It would be much more important to know how to make tools to recycle scrap that was too large to forge or to build machines that reduce scrap to usable sizes than to know how to make a shiv from a piece of rebar.
In making swords the majority of the hours are put in doing grinding. The earliest water powered industry was first to grind grain THEN to grind blades.
> Also why would a master craftsmen take on a student for nothing?
> That's simple, to pass knowledge to someone.
The historical fact is this exchange has never been free outside of a family. And even within a family a child that did not work would soon be cast out. It was not unusual for a Master to take on an apprentice when he had a son with no aptitude or interest in the trade.
Education has always had a value. That is why apprentices were legally bound to a Master like a slave for seven years in exchange for his education. This system is thousands of years old. It was not until the abolishment of slavery that the system ceased to exist.
Even if the Master were to GIVE the education away there would be a cost to SOMEONE. The apprentice must eat and have a place to sleep. Then there are the tools needed and the materials. Even in traditional apprenticeships it was common for the family of the apprentice to pay a significant "apprentice" fee. This was to cover the Master's costs of feeding and housing the apprentice until he was of some value in the shop (several years).
Today machines have replaced the apprentice power that turned engine lathes and grindstones. 2000 years ago an apprentice might spend YEARS doing nothing but turning the crank on a grindstone. After a few years if he was carefully observant AND there was a replacement apprentice he might get to be the grinder and hold the blade. In the forge he would spend years pulling the bellows and carefully observing. THEN he would be put to the filing bench. Cleaning up someone else's forgings is the best way to learn that they need to be clean, straight and scale free. In seven years the apprentice might spend two at the forge.
This is how manual trades were learned as recently as 150 years ago. Today there are few willing to put in the thousands of hours doing tasks the hard way in order to improve their hand skills. Today it is hard to find an apprentice that is willing to sweep floors and clean shop much less real repetitive hand work in exchange for the privilege of learning from a Master.
Education today IS much easier. There are very good books that can be studied. But skill doing hand work comes from DOING it. The simple projects I describe teach the MOST needed hand skills. Layout, filing and finishing. These are the much harder to become skilled at and require the most patience. Forging is easy in comparison and is only a few hours of a task that takes hundreds.
If you want to worry about what you will need to know after the end of civilization then worry about FOOD. If you want to worry about the much less important metal trades then learn to make files by hand. Since the bronze age these have been one of man's most important tools. They require understanding metals, they require skill and patience. But the local bladesmith will come to YOU for tools. So will the stone cutter, wood carver and machine builder (when one is needed).
A related trade is making saw blades. Ever see a jewelers saw blade? Without magnification or VERY good eyesight they look like a fine wire. In fact they have carefully cut teeth with set and are hardened and tempered.
Both these trades are very similar and are much more important than the weapons makers and many other craftspeople who need THEIR tools. But they do not have the romance of being a "Swordsmith".
Try making a file. I explained some of the details on the guru´s page last week including a drawing of a file cutter's chisel. It is more sophisticated a tool than you would think. And if you think this is a job for a machine, you are right. But many files are still hand cut because a machine can't do it.
webmaster at anvilfire.com
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