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Nicholas Maider





Joined: 09 Jun 2011

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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 11:22 am    Post subject: Machinist's file applied to bar stock         Reply with quote

I have a rather large piece of 1/4" x 2" 5160 steel from a friend of mine. She works at a machine shop that is local to me, and she gave the bar to me thinking that I could 'make a sword' out of it. I appreciate the gift, it certainly is thoughtful and unique. I don't make swords, though. I am most likely going to destroy the bar in an attempt to make a blade. Even if I am successful, it will be a wall-hanger at best IMO.

My off-topic question for the board is this: would it take an overly long amount of time (60 hours) to take a series of files to this 4-foot bar, trying to get some kind of blade profile out of it? I understand that such a method would take an extraordinary amount of time, but I am worried that using some kind of electric grinder would ruin the metal. Either way I would have to give it back to the machine shop to case harden it. Would letting them case harden it like a machine part even work like a temper? I am unfamiliar with engineering heat treatments.

Other than that I would also like to mention that I appreciate the lengths that this website goes to, which makes a large volume of information available to the public. It means a lot to me that I can easily access things like reviews for products, as well as image galleries and forums.
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Mike Capanelli




Location: Whitestone, NY
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 12:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well I'm certainly no expert so take what I'm about to say with a generous helping of salt, but I'd say the files will not only take forever, but not be able to remove the material in the proper way to form a functional blade. Also as far as I know you can't case harden a sword blade and it wont function even close to a temper as it's not really a controlled heating and cooling process but a one shot deal as far as heating and cooling goes. Now with any luck people that acute;;y know what their talking about will chime in and correct me. Eek!
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Isaac H.




Location: Northern California
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 3:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think this is a great opportunity ,making a blade via stock removal is a bit mundane,but very rewarding if you are patient . However,in my experience,trying to file tempered 5160 is almost as bad as Chinese water torture Razz I would suggest annealing the steel.Then you can file and grind away with no worries.You CAN quench and temper your own blade after it is finished,and although it won't be perfect,it would be better than what you're planning on doing,and myArmoury won't have to mourn your death with post titled "man dies from exhaustion after trying to file 5160" :P
Wounds of flesh a surgeons skill may heal...

But wounded honor is only cured with steel.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
Each of us should please his neighbor for his good ,to build him up.
Romans 15:1-2
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Scott Woodruff





Joined: 30 Nov 2005
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 7:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The important thing to know is is it already hardened. If it is, you will need to anneal it before you can do any work on it. If I were you, I would do a few practice pieces first, either grind a small knife or two from a file or other hi-carbon steel or grind a wall hanger out of mild steel. This will give you a chance to learn basic skills and get an idea of just how much labor is involved in making a sword. I would just about kill for that piece of material you have, it would be a shame to use it for your first attempt and end up butchering it. Oh, and be careful, sword-making is addictive.
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 8:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The odds are good that if it was given to you as bar stock that it hasn't been hardened yet so using power grinders wouldn't normally harm the steel unless you actually heated it up to glowing hot. Eek!

Now controlling the power tools to give you crisp and strait bevels is not that easy to do but you could remove a lot of material and try to do the final bevels using files, assuming you are very skilled with using a file.

At least with slow hand work it's a lot harder to have too much material taken off at the wrong place i.e. slow does mean that any error will be small and correctable as you keep on working.

You should at least have a " plan " or a sword design in mind before working on it, profile taper and distal taper being important for a good handling sword.

Once you have it finished close to final dimensions then you have to find a place that can do a heat treat for you and hope they know what they are doing so as to avoid warping that can happen at times. ( Unfortunately a percentage of swords get ruined at this stage by a bad heat treat or just bad luck ).

Without special skills or without special tools doing it all by hand with a file may take a long long time and effort so as others have suggested maybe put this nice piece of steel aside and try to do a few smaller project first to work out your methods and " sharpen " ( pun ) your sword making skills.

But most makers started like this trying to make a first knife or a sword with just very limited tools.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 8:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is going to take a long..... time with files! There is a web page or two by individuals who have shaped o.k. looking blades from already tempered leaf springs with nothing but angle grinders. The 1/4" thickness of your bar is marginally thin for many of the medieval style cross sections. You could make it pass, but have little room for error if imitating many of the popular replica cross sections near the guard or strong portion of the blade spine. If you do get it to shape, you will have to ship it to a heat treat facility that handles blade sized pieces. By the time you have gone through that many hours and dollars of effort, a good quality reproduction, by one of the sword manufacturers praised in our reviews section, is not going to seem that expensive.
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Nicholas Maider





Joined: 09 Jun 2011

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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 6:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you all very much, I understand the scope of this hypothetical project much better now.
Scott, I agree that a smaller project is much more reasonable. Isaac, thank you for warning me about the hardness of the steel and suggesting that I anneal it first. Also Jean, I value your input regarding the electric grinder. It does make sense after reading your post, that it would be difficult to heat the piece enough to ruin it. Lastly Jared, I realize now that the geometry of an actual sword is very complex, and I am not qualified to research the appropriate distal & profile tapers.

I made the decision to keep the bar stock for now, if the summer lends me any free time I will start with a scrap metal knife project and work my way up from there. Cool
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nicholas Maider wrote:
I realize now that the geometry of an actual sword is very complex, and I am not qualified to research the appropriate distal & profile tapers.



Well if you can see and handle a few well made swords like Albions or A&A or some from the customs makers you would have a better idea about the distal and profile tapers. ( Even some of the better Windlass or Hanwey swords would help as they are currently pretty good in handling and not the sharpened crowbars of a few decades ago ).

Reading the " Reviews " and " Feature Articles " on this site might help.

Firstly you have to look at the sword type but just for example lets say you have a wide bladed cutting sword of the Type XIII with little or no profile taper except very close to a very spatulate point, such a blade might be thick near the guard and have 50% or more of distal taper.

If you have a type XV with a wide blade at the guard going to a very acute point with the blade's profile being essentially a very long triangle, such a blade could have very little distal taper and still be good handling.

A sword having moderate profile taper could also have moderate distal taper.

Anyway, it's a question of weight distribution and design specifics.

Now, even if you understand and figured out an appropriate profile and distal taper being able to translate the " plan " to execution is one of acquiring the skills to get the shapes you want.

I think there are 3 levels of skill possible:

A) Not enough skills to do the work.

B) Enough skills to do it, but only working very slowly with great care.

C) Mature skills where you can work quickly and with confidence at a professional production level.

At the hobby level you need to be somewhere between (B) & (C) I think

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Scott Woodruff





Joined: 30 Nov 2005
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 9:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What tools do you have/have access to? Really all you need to get started is a large angle grinder ($20-$100) a belt sander ($20-$100) and some files,stones and/or sandpaper. If you know someone who will let you use their tools all you need is a $2 file for raw material and you could make a nice knife in just a few days. Last year I made a really nice knife which I forged in a wood fire in a hole in the ground using a shop vac for a bellows and an angle grinder and a piece of flagstone to do the grinding. A little forging can save you a ton of grinding time, and hardening and tempering a small knife is really not very difficult. I heated mine until a magnet would not stick to it, quenched it in vegetable oil and tempered it in the oven at 450. That knife has seen a lot of use since then and has held up great. As to sword geometry, it really is not that complex. As Jean said, it is really all about having a lot less mass at the point than at the base, whether this is done with profile taper or distal taper. The longer the blade is, the more critical mass distribution becomes. With a blade less than 60cm or so mass distribution becomes much less critical when it comes to handling.
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Nicholas Maider





Joined: 09 Jun 2011

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PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2011 4:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks again Jean, I am going to take some time this weekend to look into the geometry aspect of swords. I think my s.o. is getting me a copy of "Records of the Medieval Sword", but my birthday is many weeks away. I will probably have better references after I receive it. There is a typology article here too, I will use those resources to figure out what tapers I can use to get a realistic shape in relation to mass distribution.

In regards to resources, Scott, I am pretty lucky. My grandfather was a machinist for 45 years, and he has a large workshop that I have access to. There is a well-maintained Bridgeport, various welding machines, a entry-level press break, and many other pieces of equipment that should help me. Thank you for the forging tips, I am noting a lot of this thread in my project log.
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W. Cannon




Location: Thailand
Joined: 24 May 2011

Posts: 4

PostPosted: Fri 17 Jun, 2011 5:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good luck on this project. I've made a few swords from 5160 and its tough to file even in an annealed state( compared to many other steels) If you can rig up some holding vises or stands that allow for comfortable standing and for positioning the blade blank, this will really help filing go quicker. The main thing is, by rough grinding to shape, you would save years on filing! Even filing an entire blade to 97% or more, you will still have to hand sand that last bit from 120 grit to 400 grit. I have used a flat !/8 thick bar wrapped with s.c. paper and plenty of lubricant and it actually goes pretty fast.
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