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Well, yet another evening without stepping into the workshop. I did… - Doug Ayen's Blacksmithing Blog [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Doug Ayen

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[May. 21st, 2002|10:25 am]
Doug Ayen
Well, yet another evening without stepping into the workshop. I did do some research, though, for the Celtic sword project. First couple of steps are going to be to reforge and refine some wrought iron, as the stuff I have is quite "authentic" and contains a lot of slag inclusions, cold shuts, and for some reason what looks a lot like rust *inside* the metal. A few quick forge welds should fix this, but first I need to restructure the workshop a bit.

Some details of how the Celts made their iron longswords. As they didn't really have an understanding of steel from what we can tell, they tended to use all iron, or if they had a bit of steel they'd keep that near the center of the sword. This actually works for an early iron-age weapon because rather than sharpen by removing metal with an abrasive stone, they would hammer out the edge until it was quite sharp, and finish it off with a stone. This is the same method used by farmers for centuries -- the "hammer and sickle" emblem of the Soviet Union was not just for farmers and mechanics, but were the two tools needed to harvest grain -- a sickle to cut the grain, and a hammer (and an anvil, usually a rock) to beat out the edge when it got dull. You can't do this readily on most steels, as the steel is too hard and too brittle to draw out cold like that, although the technique of steeling chef's knives is similar (straightening out the edge rather than reshaping it, but you're still deforming the metal back to a useable edge rather than removing metal.) I assume that the Celts did the same thing -- use the sword until it got dull, then hammer out the edges again.

If they did have some steel around, by putting it in the center of the sword the resulting blade would be a lot springier and would tend not to take a permanent set (bend) quite so easily. I have read that swords bending during combat was a problem with most of these swords -- a couple of old scots tales mention people having to stop in the middle of battle to straighten out their swords so they could continue fighting. It is documented in a book I have that has metallurgical analysis of a couple of hundred swords that some of them had steel in the cores, and a very few had some on one or more edge.

For my sword, since I have both wrought iron (think trade bar) and some wrought iron that I carburized via the bone-charcoal-in-an-airtight-container method, I'll use some of the steely iron in the core, probably a 50-50 mix of steel and wrought, and just wrought on the edges. Since the most common method of manufacture was a three-ply "pile" of laminations, I'll first make up three bars, two of refined wrought, one of the 50/50 mix, then forge weld them together, form the blade, hammer in the bevels, but not heat treat as that seems to have been the custom.

I don't think I'll bother with a sheath at this point, though I might make one later. I'll probably use ash for the handle, with either horn or some lighter wood for the guard and pommel. One of the Celtic swords I handled had a big ball of iron for a pommel, I'm going to try to see if that was common, and if so I'll probably use that, because it looked cool.

Tomorrow's subject: back to knifemaking for a few days. Maybe some thoughts on workshop design.