How to Become a Bladesmith or Sword Maker 2020 (Complete Guide)
Bladesmithing is similar to blacksmithing in that they both work with metal to create both functional and artistic pieces. While blacksmiths create a variety of different products, bladesmiths focus on crafting high-quality swords, knives, and other blades.
Considered a niche area of emphasis within the larger world of metalworking, bladesmithing can be a fulfilling career or hobby for those interested in metalworking and who want to create beautiful and useful products.
Read on to find out more about bladesmithing and whether this craft is right for you!
What Does a Modern Sword Maker Do?
While the role of a bladesmith may seem obvious, modern-day bladesmiths perform a variety of tasks during their work day. For bladesmiths who own their own businesses, a range of duties must be performed in order to survive and thrive.
Duties of a Professional Bladesmith
Each bladesmith has a different daily routine, but the following are some common tasks you will complete as a bladesmith:
- Purchasing different types of steel depending on the needs of clients/projects
- Forging blades
- Grinding blades to ensure a smooth finish, sharp edge and quality finished product
- If self-employed, corresponding with clients through email, marketing on social media, and doing other office-related tasks
Swordsmith Equipment Required for the Job
Depending on the types of blades you create and your personal style, you may need a few or many tools and larger pieces of equipment. In general, all bladesmiths need a forge and anvil to heat and shape metal, tools and materials for making hilts/handles, a grinder, and sanding equipment.
Finding the right tools and materials can be tricky for beginner bladesmiths, so check out a reputable source like the American Bladesmith Society for recommended brands and suppliers.
- Single Burner Propane Forge Furnace with 2600 degree capacity
- lined by 1" thick high density ceramic fiber blanket
- Comparatively High Tensile Strength & Can withstand Direct Flame
Where Will I Work As A Bladesmith?
Bladesmiths work around the world in workshops of their own, or in partnership with other metalworkers. Many master bladesmiths put on workshops and classes in studios for prospective smiths and work closely with bladesmith organizations to promote the trade.
What Items Do Modern Bladesmiths Make?
As the name suggests, a bladesmith specializes in making things like swords and knives. Of course, these items come in a range of different styles and uses, either as functional tools or collector pieces. The types of blades you create are only limited by your imagination, and it is important to establish your own unique style if you want to succeed as a bladesmith.
Some smiths focus on Japanese swords while for others, their speciality is medieval daggers. Other bladesmiths prefer making functional hunting or kitchen knives. The possibilities are really endless.
Education Paths for Bladesmiths – Where to Begin?
Due to its specialized nature, there are relatively few educational options for students seeking to become bladesmiths. While vocational training in bladesmithing exists, other avenues like bachelor’s degrees and apprenticeships are more limited and costly.
1) Bachelor’s Degree/Vocational School
One education path that many bladesmiths take is pursuing a degree in blacksmithing. Getting a bachelor’s degree or two-year degree in blacksmithing allows bladesmiths to get comfortable with metalworking and gain a wide range of skills that can help them when entering the workforce.
Hereford College of Arts in the UK has a blacksmithing degree that provides an excellent overview of metalworking more generally, and can set a future bladesmith up for success by exposing them to the history of metalworking and plenty of techniques. A downside to getting a four year degree is that it is costly and may not provide enough emphasis on bladesmithing. Vocational schools are easier to come by, but still mainly focus on blacksmithing more generally.
Unlike blacksmithing, formal apprenticeships in bladesmithing are quite rare. If you are interested in learning the trade from an expert, classes and workshops might be your best bet, however getting an apprenticeship is not completely impossible. Research bladesmiths in your area and take a look at pieces they have created. Once you find a bladesmith whose work resonates with you, reach out via social media or email to see if they have any interest in taking on an apprentice. It is worth a try to get hands on, individualized experience with a master!
One of the best ways to learn something new is to simply experiment! Set up a forge in your garage or another workspace and try out different techniques on your own. There are plenty of books and videos out there on bladesmithing that can help guide you in the self-teaching process.
Necessary Skills & Requirements of Bladesmiths
The skills you will need as a bladesmith will differ slightly depending on the type of work that you do and whether or not you are self-employed. Below are some of the key traits that most bladesmiths share.
1) Knowledge of leatherworking, woodworking, sewing, etc.
While metalworking is at the heart of bladesmithing, a knife or sword is not complete without a well-crafted hilt or handle. Master bladesmiths finish each of their pieces with beautifully constructed hilts made of materials such as leather and wood, so knowing how to manipulate these materials is a must.
2) Physical Strength
The process of working metal takes a lot of physical strength and stamina, so be prepared to work hard! As you continue to practice your bladesmithing skills, it will become easier to work for longer stretches without getting fatigued.
3) Attention to Detail
Making blades takes a lot of precision, and the best bladesmiths work painstakingly to ensure their blades are the highest quality possible. Having a strong attention to detail is important when making a sharp, well polished blade and durable handle.
4) Business Skills/Ability to Market Oneself
If you plan on working for yourself, being able to show off your skills, manage clients, and take care of business matters are all vital components of a successful bladesmithing business. Having basic website design skills, knowing how to use social media, and replying professionally and promptly to phone calls and emails are skills that will put you ahead of competitors. Don’t be afraid to show off your personal style and strengths in order to attract loyal customers.
Career Prospects for Bladesmiths & Sword Makers
While blacksmithing possesses a good degree of career stability, bladesmithing as a niche is a lot less common and less in-demand overall. Owen Bush, a UK based bladesmith with years of experience, explains it best when he recommends working as a blacksmith first and practicing bladesmithing as a hobby until you can support yourself on bladesmithing alone.
According to Bush, the variety of skills blacksmiths learn are more desirable and can land you higher paying jobs in realms such as welding and fabricating. From there, you can move into bladesmithing part-time.
He also warns that you will likely work hard with very little pay for a long time before you are able to make a name for yourself and start selling your blades at high prices. The best ways to ensure success are to hone your skills without expecting much financial reward in return, and to master the use of grinders for the best finished product possible.
Preparing for a Bladesmithing Career (Things You Can Do Right Now!)
If you are serious about becoming a bladesmith, why wait to start learning the necessary techniques and develop your signature style? Here are some things you can do right now that will better prepare you for your work as a smith.
Courses and workshops are less expensive than traditional degrees and can teach you many skills in a short amount of time. Check out the websites of bladesmith organizations and master smiths to find the right program for you. Owen Bush offers many courses throughout the year for those located in the UK or willing to travel.
2) Personal Experimentation
Sometimes the easiest and cheapest way to learn something new is through trial and error. Spend your free time experimenting with different tools and materials and see what you can do yourself. This is a great way to gauge your strengths and weaknesses and figure out if you should supplement your individual learning with a course or two.
There are many great books out there devoted to the art of bladesmithing. Check out amazon.com and local booksellers for books about knives, swords, techniques, history, and everything in-between. Two books worth checking out are A Modern Guide to Knifemaking and The Complete Bladesmith. Both books are highly rated, affordable, and accessible to both beginner and more advanced bladesmiths.
- Hrisoulas, Jim (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 190 Pages - 12/20/2017 (Publication Date) - Redd Ink Press (Publisher)
One of the best ways to learn about bladesmithing is by watching instructional videos. YouTube offers thousands of free videos on specific bladesmithing techniques, so you will definitely be able to find ones that work for you. If you are looking for both instruction and inspiration, check out Brad Richardson, a blacksmith and knife maker who shows you how to make great looking knives step-by-step.
Are you Ready to be A Bladesmith?
Bladesmithing is not an easy career to pursue, but with the right training and attitude, you can make it work for you. If you are serious about the trade, learn as much as you can, do not be afraid to experiment, and put your work out into the world for others to see.