Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Forging Medieval Swords

Guests on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have asked at the blacksmith’s shop whether swords can be made on the forge there.  TheJuly20 (1) answer is that even though the blacksmith shop and forge look very primitive, just about anything made of iron can be made there. 

People think of swords as being very special because they have a big reputation, but a lot of blacksmiths would argue that it takes as much care and skill to make a good knife or even a good mason’s chisel as a sword.  Most blacksmiths now and, I believe, most blacksmiths in the Middle Ages would call a weapon that is three span (18 inches) or longer a sword and under that measurement, a knife or dagger.  Also, it is important to remember that weapon and armor making was a specialty and not done by an ordinary blacksmith.  To describe the process of making a sword would be almost as involved as describing how to make a car.  You can get into a lot of detail and there are many good books on sword and knife making.

During the Medieval period, the sword, certainly, was an important weapon and a symbol of the knights.  The sword reached maturity in its development during this time.  In the 900’s the metal was hardened and tempered.  Hardening makes the blade stronger and tempering makes it more flexible.  In the 11th Century, the Normans of Northern France developed the sword type most associated with the Crusades - with a cross guard straight and long like a Christian cross. 

June25 (15)The cross guard is the “T” of the sword, which protects the hand.  The blade is the long, sharp, dangerous part.  The grip is what is held and the pommel is the counter-weight and decoration at the end of the grip.  The cross guard, grip and pommel together are called the hilt.  When you say “bury it to the hilt”, it means the entire blade up to the cross guard. 

After saying that the forge at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is the right setup to make a sword, I figured it was best to make sure so I made one.  I used a piece of hard steel from an old buckboard wagon and fashioned a likeness of a short sword I saw in a book I have on German Medieval weapons.  In the drawing I thought the pommel was too big, but it turned out a good thing I followed that old illustration carefully because the balance ended up just right.  Lessons like that are a big part of the “archeology in reverse” of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.



  1. James,

    Our family visited for the first time yesterday, and I wanted to tell you we all had a great experience. Everyone was friendly and knowledgeable, and it made for a great day -- even for our 3-year-old daughter.

    I'm glad to see you're blogging here. I'll be checking back to read more!

  2. Sorry I wasn't able to help you out with my leather tooling skills while I was volunteering at the site this July, James. Hopefully, by now, you've been able to wrap your sword handle and the creation process has been completed...

  3. Where'd you go? I miss reading your posts!

    I hope you are well and can resume blogging soon.


  4. Thnks. for sharing this informative post.During medieval times is when the sword acquired its basic forms.medieval swords blade was usually straight, double-edged, and pointed.

  5. Hey Medieval James, this is Melinda - the castle is being reopened. Contact me if you want more information, or check out the Castle Land Project on facebook...

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