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Bladesmith, Nuremberg, 1569.
Bladesmith, Nuremberg, 1569.

Bladesmithing is the art of making knives, swords, daggers and other blades using a forge, hammer, anvil, and other smithing tools.[1][2][3] Bladesmiths employ a variety of metalworking techniques similar to those used by blacksmiths, as well as woodworking for knife and sword handles, and often leatherworking for sheaths.[4] Bladesmithing is an art that is thousands of years old and found in cultures as diverse as China, Japan, India, Germany, Korea, the Middle East, Spain and the British Isles. As with any art shrouded in history, there are myths and misconceptions about the process. While traditionally bladesmithing referred to the manufacture of any blade by any means, the majority of contemporary craftsmen referred to as bladesmiths are those who primarily manufacture blades by means of using a forge to shape the blade as opposed to knifemakers who form blades by use of the stock removal method, although there is some overlap between both crafts.[5]

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  • ✪ Master Bladesmith James Rodebaugh
  • ✪ Audra Draper: Master Bladesmith - Our Wyoming
  • ✪ Chef's Knife with Jason Knight Part 1 - BLU Let's Forge!
  • ✪ Rookie Bladesmith 8: Leaf spring forging and interrupted quench. 2
  • ✪ "Quillon Dagger" ABS 2013 Board Knife of the Year by Kevin Cashen, Master Smith


- [Narrator] Your support helps us bring you programs you love. Go to Click on support and become a sustaining member or an annual member. It's easy and secure. Thank you! - Artwork only has to be pretty or represent a feeling. When you're making a tool that morphs into art, the level of fit and finish is what makes that transition. - From apprentice to journeyman, craftsman James Rodebaugh now holds the highest accolade he can achieve from the American Bladesmith Society, that of master craftsman. And he manufactures beautiful knives right here in Wyoming. Craftsman James Rodebaugh next on Wyoming Chronicle. (dramatic orchestral music) - [Narrator] Funding for this program was provided in part by the Wyoming Public Television Endowment and viewers like you. - James, we're near Carpenter, Wyoming. - Thank you. Yes. - And you manufacture knives. A master bladesmith. - Yes I'm a master bladesmith with the American Bladesmith Society. - And how long have you been here in Carpenter? - I moved here in 2006 and it just appealed to me. It reminded me of my Midwestern roots but still I'm able to enjoy the fruits of the Rocky Mountains. - When did you start making and manufacturing knives? - I started in about 1996. I joined the American Bladesmith Society in January of 1999 and went full time at that point. - And you were telling me earlier there's fewer than a hundred, about 80 master bladesmiths? - There's 80 that are actually active thereabouts. There's been 126 I think total. It could be as many as 140. We're doing actually compiling records now to figure that out. - Sure. What does one do to get that status? - You start as an apprentice bladesmith, usually working with a known master smith or an advanced journeyman. - And you were able to do that? Who did you work with? - I work with Alman T. Barton, since passed away. And I met him the week after I decided to go full time. Was just really fortunate. - And this was in California? - Yes, yeah that was in the high desert of California. - And he was actually ill at the time? - Yes, he was suffering from cancer. - And he wanted to pass as much as he could to you. - Yes and I was at a point in my career where I needed a mentor like that that was willing to give me everything. There have been others that have influenced me and one of them would be Tim Hancock, out of Scottsdale, Arizona. Tim took me when I was a journeyman or studying for my journeyman and refined my finishing abilities, my design sensibilities, and helped me to think like a master. - Give us a sense of what it means to have a knife that is juried so that you can get your master craftsman status, your master bladesmith status. - You know, I've been in some pretty tight spots in my life. I was a federal law enforcement officer. I was a United States Marine. I would say it's the scariest thing I've ever done. I was a wreck when I realized that I had succeeded and become a master bladesmith. The relief was, I mean. - There are functional tests that your knives had to endure. - Absolutely. The first thing that we do is we have to go through a function test, the cut and bend test we call it. And we take a ten-inch bladed knife with a five-inch handle, for the journeyman test it's carbon steel. For the master test it's damascus that we've made ourselves. We have to cut through a two by four twice and the blade still has to shave. Then we cut through a one-inch Manila rope free-hanging, six inches from the bottom. - [Interviewer] Just whack it. - Just one little snap cut. And then we put one-third of the blade length in a vice, and then we put a cheater bar on it and then we bend that 90 degrees and it cannot break. It can have a slight crack up to I think one-third of the blade width or half-inch, whichever is less, and you can still pass. But most of the applicants nowadays, because we've advanced so far thanks to the ABS, we very seldom see a crack. They pass with flying colors most often. - So let's get into having you demonstrate a little bit, James if we could, what you do. You've got a forge here that you're working with. - Yes, yes. This is a small what we call a turtle shell forge. Runs on propane. I have a piece of 1084 in there right now that is now up to temperature. And what I'll do first is I'll draw a point on this, which is simply a taper, and that's the beginning of the blade. And I'll go to a heavier hammer for this. This is a five pound just kinda like an engineer's hammer. And I'll use the rounding face initially and I'll alternate rounding to flatting as I go through this. The first step like I say is we'll go ahead and draw a point. (hammering) Okay now I've got the point mostly formed. I'll go back in and get more heat. And then I'll true that all up. - Not only do you make the blade of course, you do so much more with the knives. Do you consider yourself a craftsman or are you an artist? What's the difference in your mind? - I consider myself a master craftsman and to me a master craftsman is an artist but also is an artist but also you have to produce a piece of functional work that will actually do a job and you have to complete that to a level of fit and finish that takes it a step above mere artwork. Artwork only has to be pretty or represent a feeling. When you're making a tool that morphs into art, the level of fit and finish I think is what makes that transition from tool to art, functional art. - [Interviewer] How do you continue to learn? - I attend classes and seminars all over the country. I work quite often with other master bladesmiths. We're a very open society. We share knowledge. So we'll refine the point and I'll go to a lighter hammer. (hammering) So once I have achieved that, then what I'll do cause I'm gonna make a raised edge hunter is I'll get a little more heat in it. I'll come back here and I'll set a curve here. - [Interviewer] How hot are we talking? - We're working at about 1900 degrees right now. So what I'll do now is I'll set that curve over a radius part of the anvil here. I'll hit half on half off and then I'll refine that a little more. Okay and you can see how we've got now a raised area there. Alright and oddly enough, the edge section will be this and as I forge the edge and this will curl up. And I'll show you that now. - [Interviewer] Biggest knife you've made so far? - Probably my master stagger. It was 19 and 7/8 inches. At the time it was the largest master dagger that had been submitted to the panel for master bladesmith. - [Interviewer] When you design, you don't use computers? - No. I see the knife in my head that I want and so I'll sit down- - And that's not just the blade, that's the handle, that's the sheath. That's every part of it. - That's everything. I'll see a picture in my mind of the knife I want to build and then oftentimes I'll come to the forge and I'll forge the blade. Sometimes I'll make a template out of Lexan and I'll draw the blade on the anvil and then forge it til it fits inside. And you can see there's some where I've drawn other knives that I've built. And that's a technique that Jim Hancock and I designed back when we were designing introduction to bladesmithing course for a school out in California. And Tim and I worked for a week together to design this course. - So this part of the process, or is any part of the process, more exciting to you? Is it the grunt work part of it? Or where are we at right now? - This to me I love. This is like poetry to me, to watch a blade grow on the anvil. The heat treat is the science. The fit and finish is the craftsman. This, if there's any part of this that is truly art, this is it right here. This is where it comes from your heart. So now we'll start drawing the edge on this. (hammering) Let's get this out of the way. So you can see now how it's starting to curve up? - [Interviewer] Yep. Sure can. - And that's kind of my signature style. It's called a raised edge hunter. In the 70's when they started the American Bladesmith Society it was a dying craft. B.R. Hughes is one of the founding members, a dear friend of mine stated he thought they'd be lucky if they had 20 members. We just went over 2000 members the other day worldwide. Our mission is to preserve and promote the art of the forged blade. - [Interviewer] So I've gotta ask, severity of the worst burn? - Really, really bad. Let's see, I was doing a demo at the largest blacksmithing convention in the world in Ohio this year and I was doing mosaic damascus. - So you weren't by yourself in your shop hidden away from folks? - No I was in front of about 100 people in the stands and doing a demo on mosaic damascus and a piece of slag flew off, landed on my shoulder, ignited my shirt, cotton shirt, and I couldn't stop. There was a pretty good puff of smoke. And in fact I think it's on video. And I had to keep working and I couldn't pull it off so I think the scab just fell off from that a couple weeks ago and that was in August. - Oh my goodness. And we're in December now. Have you cut yourself? - Many times. I stabbed myself with a Persian dagger by turning when it was in a vice and I was finishing it. That was a ridiculous mistake. My hands are, there's little white scars all over my hands. It's part of the job. - Your apron says it's a magic apron. - That was a joke from one of my students cause I was doing a forge weld. He was having trouble with it and he said there's something you're doing that's magic. And I had my apron sitting there, wasn't paying attention and he went over and wrote magic apron on it. And I'm just too cheap to buy a new apron. So now we're gonna bring this edge down quite a bit more. One of the things I guess I'm known for is forging really close to shape. (hammering) And now I'm starting to draw the distal taper into this blade. (hammering) And I'm gonna leave it a little thick at the tip so I don't burn the tip off. And I'm gonna start pulling this what we call the choil down. (hammering) And one of the ways you can tell a properly forged blade is that you'll always have a dropped edge. When you're forging in your edge bevels, the steel has to go somewhere. Steel doesn't compress. It has to move so as I forge this thinner, that thickens the spine and it curves up. - What types of knives you make are in demand? - I make bowies, hunters, daggers, folders, axes, hatchets, froes, you name it. Draw knives, any kind of bladed arrowhead, spearheads. - Are they all a challenge? Do you prefer one over the other? - When I first started I was known for my bowie knives. And that was really kind of neat. And I still do a lot of bowie knives. Now I probably have a better name as a maker of hunting and bird- and trout-type knives. So I kind of developed a style that is fairly in demand. - So if I were to ask someone what a James Rodebaugh knife means, what would they tell me? What is at its soul one of your knives? - The highest standards of craftsmanship. If it isn't superb it never leaves the shop. Only the very best leave my shop. We're much more scientific now. We understand that it's not demons and spirits that make a blade good or bad. We understand what occurs on a molecular level when we heat steel up and quench it suddenly. We understand how the heating or thermal cycling process, from hot to cold, hot to cold, hot to cold, refines grain structure in the metal. All of these things go into making a world-class knife. - So this is science? - Yeah what I love about this is I wear so many different hats. I'm a woodworker, a leatherworker, a metallurgist, a machinist, a blacksmith, a leatherworker, a jeweler, a marketing, not guru obviously but I just wear so many different hats. It never gets boring. - Are you as busy as you want to be? - Yes, yes I am. I think I'm right where I'd like to be. I sell everything I make. I sell it for a very good price. I can make an honest living at it. I'll never get rich at it. But then again what's rich? I'm my own boss. I hunt and fish quite a bit. I get to go meet great people. I don't know, I think I'm probably better off than guys who have millions of dollars in the bank. It's been a really good life so far. And you know, I get to create. And that's something I've done since I was a kid. - By the way you can feel the heat of the blade here. (hammering) So what I'm doing now is I've got a few areas in the blade I just didn't like the way they flowed. So I set them back and now I'm bringing it back down so I have a nice, pleasing curve right there. It's a very clean curve. And then I'll proof from that side. And now I'm gonna come back and fix this. (hammering) - [Interviewer] How much time can you have invested in a knife? - The bowie knife I showed you earlier, with the sheaths and everything, is almost two months. So I mean I've got friends that have spent literally an entire year on one knife. And that one knife will sell for anywhere between 30 and 100,000, but that's an entire year of your life invested in that project. And I've not worked on one that long. I think the longest I've worked on one was probably about three and a half months. So what I'm doing right now is refining that choil and refining the edge and you can see we went from a little over a quarter of an inch thick. (hammering) On the edge to probably about 35 to 40 thousandths. And we'll straighten that all out. (hammering) And I don't know if you notice but I'm working at cooler and cooler temperatures. Now I'm gonna make a hot cut. So we're gonna leave ourselves plenty of tang here. And I'll make a cut there. (hammering) Okay then I'll roll it up and get lined up perfectly, make a cut there. And then I'll roll up and make a cut there. Okay and see now I can make sure that I'm cutting in the same groove because I have a visual aid. Now I'll use a shearing blow to pop that loose. And off it goes. (hammering) So I'll line up with the anvil as I start to put the tang in. When I first started this, it was very hard to find power hammers. And because of that, many of us had to build our own equipment. Now it's become such a rage that there's folks you can buy hammers all over. I'm gonna move in here to this little hammer. - Okay, move out of your way here. - And I'm gonna start to draw the tang on it. (hammering) So now we'll continue to bring the tang in. Finish that up and I'll probably do it under this hammer here. (hammering) So this is where we're pretty much ended up on this. We'll let it cool on the anvil. I'll deal with the rest of the thermal cycling and heat treating at a later time because it takes, it'll take a full day. - [Interviewer] Sure, to finish that. So then from here, what happens next? - From here, sometimes I'll heat treat direct from the forging. Quite often actually as I've become a better smith. I'll quite often heat treat directly from this point. The common practice is to take this, run a quick anneal on it, and then grind it. Then hand finish it, or grind it then heat treat it then hand finish it then start to put the guard and handle and the other elements of the knife together. And I have some examples. - Yeah let's take a look at some of your finished knives, if we could now, James. - Okay, sure. Absolutely. - James, we were forging knives. And now we're in your finishing room. You call this your cleanroom. - My cleanroom, my so-called cleanroom. It's not always clean. - What are we looking at? - So this is a knife that I designed back when I was dieting. I call it the outfitter. And it over several years this is what my perfect hunting knife morphed into. It worked very well for me and since has become a favorite of a lot of the local ranchers around here. - So you're worried about design, you're worried about balance. And you literally manufacture every part of this knife. - Absolutely. Yes, the blade is forged. It's a differential temper. I do all my own heat treating. So we have a hard edge and a softer back. The softer back supports the harder edge so you have a ductile knife that still has the cutting ability of the higher Rockwell hardness. The guard is silicon-bronze and the handle is micarta because it's resistant to oils and solvents, blood, grease. This is one of the toughest handle materials I think there is. And it works superbly on a working-grade hunting knife. - And even though you manufacture many of these styles of knives, no two knives are the same. - No, they never come out exactly the same. Each is a one of a kind knife. So this would be my entry-level knife. I have some bowie knives here. This is a bowie knife that went to a gunmaker. - What does it mean to be a bowie knife, for those that don't know? - Well, a bowie knife commonly is a type of knife associated with Jim Bowie, who the knife was named after. Typically it's a larger knife, clip point blade typically, not always. They'll often have a coffin handle, but not always. It's a very, I think the most American of knives. That's why I love to make them. - You're a jeweler also. - Well I would hesitate to call myself a jeweler but this is actually the same material as the handle. It's African blackwood and I inlayed it into a white bronze what we call a frog. This hangs in the belt so you slide this between the belt and your waist. And this is a nickel-silver throat and tip leather sheath. With my engraving around the perimeter on the throat and tip. And this is a takedown bowie knife so you can unscrew this and the entire knife will break down into its component parts. And people ask me why I do that. Well number one, if I ever have to refinish the blade it makes it easier to refinish. But the main reason is is the cool factor. To be able to build a knife accurately enough to be able to disassemble it completely and then have it snap right back together perfectly tickles my little heart. So to produce the shimmer, what is done is I cut with a chainsaw file alternating grooves on each side of the blade. And then forge that blade back down to a very fine edge. That raises and lowers the layers and that gives it that shimmer or toothed effect that you can see running along the edge. It's a very old pattern. It's been done for a thousand years probably. - And I wonder if we can see if we just, yeah by moving it back and forth you can certainly see the light reflecting. - Yeah, and that's a mark of a little bit more care and attention to detail, to be able to see that. - The sheath. You also manufacture the leather sheath and all that goes with it. We can see the design, the intricate design also that you manufacture into not only the metal but also the leather. - Right. This is cut engraving that I do myself. This is a running leaf border. It's a very simple pattern but somewhat deceiving cause to figure out how to make it flow seamlessly around a complete area caused me a little bit of trouble actually, when I was making the knife. And then this sheath, I believe there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and twelve. There's 13 or 14 components in this sheath itself. They're all brought together to make one homogenous sheath. - [Interviewer] James, your craftsmanship is stunning. - Thank you. - [Interviewer] This is a passion for you. - Absolutely. - [Interviewer] If people want to learn more about you, how can they reach you? - They can either go to the American Bladesmith Society website and I have a profile on there. A very brief one. Or you can call me at 307 649 2394. - And as we close, our viewers are looking at some of the beautiful pictures that you've taken of some of the other knives that you created and I think you are an artist, but I understand your difference between being an artist and a craftsman. They're just beautiful. - Well thank you very much. I surely appreciate it. - Thank you so much for joining us on Wyoming Chronicle. - Thank you very much. It was my pleasure. (dramatic orchestral music)


Related trades

Many blade smiths were known by other titles according to the kind of blade that they produced:

  • A swordsmith's specialty is making swords.
  • A knifemaker makes knives and other cutlery.
  • A scythesmith is a smith who makes scythes.

Historic bladesmithing

Historically speaking, bladesmithing is an art that has survived and thrived over thousands of years. Many different parts of the world have different styles of bladesmithing, some more well-known than others.


Ancient Egyptians referred to iron as "copper from the heavens" because their lack of smelting technology limited their accessible iron supplies to what little native iron they could recover from meteorites. Despite iron's rarity, they gained enough familiarity with ironworking techniques to have used wrought iron in the manufacture of swords and blades as early as 3000 BC.[6] They exported this technique to Assyria, Babylon and Greece through trade and as they conquered other lands and were conquered themselves.[6][7]


The Proto-Celtic Hallstatt culture (8th century BC) were among the earliest users of iron swords. During the Hallstatt period, they made swords both in bronze as well as iron with rounded tips. Toward the end of the Hallstatt period, around 600-500BC, these swords were replaced with short daggers. The La Tene culture reintroduced the sword, which were very different from the traditional shape and construction of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age, characterized by a more pointed tip.[6][8]


Traditional Chinese blades (jians) are usually of sanmei (three plate) construction, which involved sandwiching a core of hard steel between two plates of softer steel. The central plate protrudes slightly from its surrounding pieces, allowing for a sharp edge, while the softer spine protects the brittle core. Some blades had wumei or five plate construction, with two more soft plates being used at the central ridge. Bronze jian were often made in a somewhat similar manner: in this case an alloy with a high copper content would be used to make a resilient core and spine, while the edge would be made from a high-tin-content alloy for sharpness and welded onto the rest of the blade.

The swordsmiths of China are often credited with the forging technology that was carried to Korea and Japan, allowing swordsmiths in those places to create such weapons as the katana.[9][10] This technology included folding, inserting alloys, and differential hardening of the edge, which historically has been the most common technique around the world. While the Japanese would be more influenced by the Chinese dāo (single-edged swords of various forms), the early Japanese swords known as ken are often based on the jian. One-sided jians from the Tang dynasty provided the basis for various Japanese forging styles and techniques. The Korean version of the jian is known as the geom or gum, and these swords often preserve features found in Ming-era jian, such as openwork pommels and sharply angled tips.


Korea has a history of swordsmithing dating back 3,000 years.[citation needed] Although Korea was in close proximity to both Japan and China, no native systems of swordsmanship and swordmaking developed in Korea.[9][11][12]

Korean swords include long swords such as the yeoh do, geom, and hyup do and curved swords such as Samindo.[citation needed] Metal swords of double bladed leaf structure have been found throughout Korea dating back to the Bronze Age. These bronze swords were around 32 cm in overall length, with a short handle.[citation needed]


The technology that led to the development of the Japanese sword originated in China and was brought to Japan by way of Korea.[9] The oldest steel swords found in Japan date to the fourth or fifth century A.D.[9] Although appearing to be ceremonial in nature, samples of these straight blades preserved in the Shōsōin were hand-forged with hardened cutting edges. By the time of the Heian period (794—1185 AD) the Japanese sword took on its distinctive curved shape as a mounted horseman would have more use for a slashing type of blade as opposed to a thrusting type.[9] These swords were known as tachi.[9]

Due to the quality of metal found in Japan, Japanese bladesmithing became an extremely rigid, precise process, involving folding and forge-welding the steel many times over to create a laminated blade. By the time of the Kamakura period (1185–1333 AD), Japan was under the rule of a military class and repelling Mongol invasions. This became known as the "Golden era" of Japanese bladesmithing under Emperor Toba II, who became a bladesmith himself.[13] After adbicating, Toba II summoned Japan's finest bladesmiths around him in an effort to develop the perfect sword.[9] It was determined that a sword had to be hard in order to maintain a sharp cutting edge, yet hard steel is brittle and can shatter under the stress of a heavy blow.[9] Swordsmiths in Japan found the solution by wrapping a softer low-carbon steel core such as wrought iron, in a jacket of high-carbon steel and then hardening the edge.[9] However, under heavy usage, the edge would be more prone to chipping than its European counterparts, which were typically designed to deal with heavier armor than Japanese blades.[9] This was answered by allowing projections of softer steel known as ashi to form in the hardened cutting edge during differential hardening of the blade.[9]

The Mongol invasions brought with them a need for swords also suited for hand-to-hand combat and the smiths began manufacture of shorter blades to meet this need.[10] It was during the Muromachi period that the katana and tantō came into being.[9][10] By the sixteenth century, Japanese bladesmithing had become so renowned throughout Asia that the Japanese turned to large scale manufacturing of swords as an export to China.[10] Smiths at Sakai[14] also crafted knives for cutting tobacco, which had been introduced by the Portuguese. The Sakai bladesmithing industry received a major boost from the Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868), which granted Sakai a special seal of approval and enhanced its reputation for quality.[10]

The Haitorei Edict in 1876 banned carrying of swords in public, which, combined with the decimation of the samurai class caused a heavy decline in the number of swords produced throughout the country. Sword-making was completely banned following World War II and did not resume until 1953, under heavy restrictions to preserve it solely as an art.[9][10] In modern-day Japan a swordsmith is still only allowed to manufacture two swords a month by law, for example.[9] As a result, many smiths travel to Taiwan or China to make extra swords for the export market as foreign-made swords are also illegal in Japan.[9] Bladesmithing is still practiced in the cities of Sakai (Osaka Prefecture) and Seki (Gifu Prefecture).[15]


At the Bladesmith's, by Carl von Häberlin (1879)
At the Bladesmith's, by Carl von Häberlin (1879)
A sword-maker from Damascus, ca. 1900.
A sword-maker from Damascus, ca. 1900.

The Germanic Migration period peoples also had advanced bladesmithing techniques for their level of technology. Migration Era smiths would often forge-weld blades of multiple materials, and their blades were typically double-edged and straight. Migration Era blades were often forged with a hard steel edge wrapped around a pattern welded core. Pattern welding was adopted from the neighbouring Romans, who had employed such technique since the second century AD.[16][17]


Bladesmithing was common practice in India during the Middle Ages. A special type of steel known as Wootz or Damascus steel was often used in South Asia. The term Damascus steel can refer to two different types of artefacts. One is the true Damascus steel, or Wootz steel, which is a high carbon alloy with tremendous edge retention possibly due to its composition of carbon nanotubes and carbide nanowires,[18] with a wavy surface texture originating from the crystalline structure of alloy metals such as tungsten and vanadium - elements that occur naturally in iron ore from southern India - to the surface during the manufacturing process. This is still in debate as metallurgist John Verhoeven at Iowa State University believes the nanowires to occur in most steels. The other is a composite structure made by welding together iron and steel to give a visible pattern on the surface, called pattern welded steel. Although both were referred to as Damascus steels, true Damascus steels were not replicated in Europe until 1821.[19]


Between the 15th and 17th centuries the Toledo sword-making industry enjoyed a great boom, to the point where its products came to be regarded as the best in Europe.

Middle East

Damascus Steel was commonly used in the Middle East.

Modern bladesmithing

Bladesmithing began declining after the Industrial Revolution. With improvements in steel production, bladesmiths no longer had to forge steel and knives could be machined from flat bars of steel.[20] As cutlery companies moved to mass production of blades and machine tools became more available, the art of forging steel began to disappear as knifemakers could grind blades out of existing stock.[20] By the mid 20th century, bladesmithing had been relegated to a cottage industry carried out by a handful of bladesmiths.[21]

One of these bladesmiths was William F. Moran, who forged his knives using a coal forge in the manner of a blacksmith using a hammer and anvil to shape the steel. Moran began trying to revive the ancient process of forging Damascus steel in the late 1960s. However, no living bladesmith knew the exact techniques and without a recipe for the process, it was in danger of being lost; through trial and error he taught himself pattern welding and referred to his end product as "Damascus steel".[22]

In 1972, Moran was elected president of the Knifemakers' Guild. The following year he unveiled his "Damascus knives" at the Guild Show and created a revival of interest in the forged blade, and along with the knives he gave away free booklets detailing how he made them, to encourage other knifemakers to take up the hammer and anvil.[23] In 1976 he founded the American Bladesmith Society (ABS). Despite its name, this was an international group of knife makers dedicated to preserving the forged blade and educating the public about traditional bladesmithing techniques.[24] The handful of traditional bladesmiths in the 1960s rose to several hundred by 2005.[21]


The basic art and principles of forging a blade has remained similar for thousands of years and the modern bladesmith uses a variety of tools and techniques in order to produce a blade.[5] Forges formerly fed by wood, coke, or coal are still in use, but gas forges are becoming the standard.[5] Likewise the smith's hammer is being eclipsed by the use of hydraulic forging presses and power hammers.[5]


Modern bladesmiths use a variety of steels to produce their blades, most commonly high carbon steel, such as SAE 1075 or SAE 1095 (the '10' representing the 10-series carbon steels, while '75' '85' and '95' reflect the carbon content of the steel), tool steel such as O-1, A-2, D2 other tool or high carbon steels, or a variety of steels welded in layers, commonly referred to as "Damascus".[25]

When forging, the blade material is heated to a high temperature or forging temperature in a forge and shaped with a hammer on an anvil to achieve the desired shape, often to near final dimension, where very little stock removal, if any, is required to finish. Steel can be folded either to form decorative pattern welded steel or to refine raw steel, or as the Japanese call it, tamahagane. Grain size is kept at a minimum as grain growth can happen quite easily if the blade material is overheated.[4]

Swords and longer blades, in modern times, are often crafted of 5160 carbon spring steel, which is not as hard or brittle as a high carbon steel (such as 1095), but is more durable and less prone to breakage, and therefore more suitable for longer weapons.[26] 5160 carbon spring steel is sometimes used for leaf springs in American trucks, making it readily available in the US.[27] In Europe, EN-45 is more commonly used.[28]

Damascus steel

Many bladesmiths are able to forge a special type of steel using a technique called pattern welding, producing a metal erroneously referred to as Damascus steel.[29][30][31] Modern pattern-welded steel can be highly decorative as well as durable (if welded in certain ways with proper steels), and is often used in custom knife- and sword-crafting. Bill Moran is said to be the "Father of Modern Damascus Steel".[22][32]

See also


  1. ^ Barney, Richard W.; Loveless, Robert W. (March 1995) [1977]. How to Make Knives. Knife World Publications. ISBN 0-695-80913-X.
  2. ^ Hrisoulas, Jim (March 1991). Master Bladesmith: Advanced Studies In Steel. Paladin Press. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-87364-612-3.
  3. ^ Hrisoulas, Jim (March 1991). Pattern-Welded Blade: Artistry In Iron (Equipment & Techniques). Paladin Press. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-58160-544-0.
  4. ^ a b Hrisoulas, Jim (March 1987). The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way To Perfection. Paladin Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-87364-430-3.
  5. ^ a b c d Goddard, Wayne (2000). The Wonder of Knifemaking. Krause. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-87341-798-3.
  6. ^ a b c Peterson, Harold L. (2001). Daggers and Fighting Knives of the Western World. Dover. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-486-41743-1.
  7. ^ Nicholson, Paul T.; et al. (2000). Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45257-0.
  8. ^ Pleiner, Radomir; B. G. Scott (April 8, 1993). The Celtic Sword. Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-19-813411-4.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Kapp, Leon; Hiroko Kapp; Yoshindo Yoshihara (1987). The Craft of the Japanese Sword. Japan: Kodansha International. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-87011-798-5.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Sato, Kanzan (1983). The Japanese Sword: A Comprehensive Guide(Japanese arts Library). Japan: Kodansha International. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-87011-562-2.
  11. ^ Sugawara, Makoto (1985). Lives of Master Swordsmen. Tokyo, Japan: The East Publications.
  12. ^ Draeger, Donn F.; Smith, Robert W. (1980). Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts. Kodansha International. p. 71. ISBN 0870114360.
  13. ^ Brower, Robert H. (1972) "Ex-Emperor Go-Toba's Secret Teachings": Go-Toba no in Gokuden. Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 32
  14. ^ "History of knife making". Sakai Japanese Knives. Sakai Japanese. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
  15. ^ Walker, Greg (1993). Battle Blades: A Professional's Guide to Combat/Fighting Knives. Boulder, Colo.: Paladin Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-87364-732-7.
  16. ^ Davidson, Hilda Ellis (1998). The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Archaeology and Literature. Boydell Press. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-85115-716-0.
  17. ^ Peirce, Ian; Oakeshott, Ewart (May 2007). Swords of the Viking Age. Boydell Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-84383-089-4.
  18. ^ Inman, Mason (November 16, 2006). "Legendary Swords' Sharpness, Strength From Nanotubes, Study Says". National Geographic News.
  19. ^ S. Srinivasan; S. Ranganathan (November 18, 2000). "WOOTZ STEEL: AN ADVANCED MATERIAL OF THE ANCIENT WORLD". Indian Institute of Science, Department of Metallurgy.
  20. ^ a b Lloyd, Godfrey Isaac Howard (1913). The cutlery trades: an historical essay in the economics of small-scale production. Longmans, Green, and Co. pp. 30–32.
  21. ^ a b Fogg, Don (2005). "Dedicated to the Study of Swordmaking". In Ketzman, Joe (ed.). Blade's Guide to Making Knives. F&W Media. pp. 86–88. ISBN 0-89689-240-9.
  22. ^ a b Pacella, Gerard (2002). 100 Legendary Knives. Krause Publications. p. 22. ISBN 0-87349-417-2.
  23. ^ Kertzman, Joe (2007). Art of the Knife. Krause Publications. pp. 224–226. ISBN 978-0-89689-470-9.
  24. ^ Rasmussen, Frederick (2005). "William F. Moran". The Anvil's ring. Blacksmiths' Association of North America. 34: 15–16.
  25. ^ Loveless, Robert W.; Barney, Richard (March 1995) [1977]. How to Make Knives. Knife World Publications. pp. 64–69. ISBN 978-0-87341-389-3.
  26. ^ Pearce, Michael (2007). The Medieval Sword in the Modern World. Lulu. pp. 80–82. ISBN 978-1-4303-2801-8.
  27. ^ Goddard(2000)page 27.
  28. ^ Henning, Jim (2001). "The Business and Technology of Heat Treating,". Heat treating progress: the official voice of the ASM Heat Treating Society. Michigan. 1 (3): 22.
  29. ^ Maryon, Herbert (1948). "A Sword of the Nydam Type from Ely Fields Farm, near Ely". Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. XLI: 73–76. doi:10.5284/1034398.
  30. ^ Maryon, Herbert (February 1960). "Pattern-Welding and Damascening of Sword-Blades—Part 1: Pattern-Welding". Studies in Conservation. 5 (1): 25–37. doi:10.2307/1505063. JSTOR 1505063.
  31. ^ Maryon, Herbert (May 1960). "Pattern-Welding and Damascening of Sword-Blades—Part 2: The Damascene Process". Studies in Conservation. 5 (2): 52–60. doi:10.2307/1504953. JSTOR 1504953.
  32. ^ Lewis, Jack; Roger Combs (1992). Gun Digest Book of Knives. Iola, WI: DBI Books. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-87349-129-7.

Further reading

External links

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