The Forging of Dusk

In March 2009 I was approached by Dave Rawlins; a medieval sword instructor, to make him a Messer or a big Bowie knife. Dave was very energetic about the project (to say the least). He was looking for a live feeling blade for Tameshigiri (practice cutting) and practicing forms so a very “real” knife was called for.

I documented the making process and will go through it…

I set about forging
Here are some progress shots, I had the blade shape in mind and had worked out dimensions and weights. This was a blade forged and ground with a pair of calipers and scales close to hand. I wanted a light blade with enough body for good cutting and a good thickness by the guard to keep it stiff.
The blade was to be made from 700 layers of 15n20 and en42. These steels are both very similar, being bandsaw steels, the 15n20 has a 2% nickel content to give good contrast in the etch ……..
Here is the billet being worked under my Goliath hammer.

Forging the pre-form shape


I like to have a look at the Damascus pattern early on to keep me inspired (not a problem with this piece)

Here I am filing in the blade shoulders, using a file guide …

Into the fire..

I have no images of the quench, it all happened too fast and was not something I was going to repeat!!

Eyeing-up the blade for straightness, boy do I love meta austenite (meta austenite is an unstable form of austenite, the steel has already started to form martensite but the process is not instant, this gives a chance to straighten a blade before it gets fully hard.) This blade was triple normalised (to reduce the grain growth from the high temperatures of the forging ) and oil quenched, then double tempered .

Now I must say that through the whole process Dave was very communicative and pretty exited by the whole idea of his Messer. He phoned often but was not disappointed when my progress had not evolved between phone calls.

I had meant to make the guard and pommel from big section wrought iron I had, only to find upon forging it that it was steel (and odd crumbly stuff at that) so I eventually made both the guard and pommel for low layer/low contrast Damascus. Unfortunately I was too busy working to take photos of the guard pommel making.
The guard blade slot was hot punched and I changed the shape a little in the fire, it now has a little bit of flying swan (or dragon) to it.

I had promised to let him have a feel of the balance before I put the whole thing together. I rough assembled the pieces with a couple of pins and superglue so that he could have a gentle swing of the piece (not sharpened yet)

Here it is in roughed out handle, the handle is walnut. I wanted the look to be utilitarian and more of a captain’s sword than a prince’s (it was going to be a user).
By this point I had done a lot of messing about with the balance, the pommel was hollowed out and the tang drilled and in the process of finishing the blade, it went on a bit of a diet. I was fairly sure it felt “right” The finished sword weighs 2 1/4 pound.

Here is the mocked up blade ready for balance approval

Dave was very happy with the feel of the piece (which I was glad about!!!) so I proceeded to finish it for him….

One little tip I gained from all this was that super gluing the handle onto the tang was a great way to get the final shaping done, superglue is a great temporary holder .
Here are the handle pieces ready to assemble.

I chose riveting as the final “belt and braces” method of construction; everything had already been epoxyd first.
The riveting does two things, it holds the handle together and adds some grip to the whole thing, a smooth handled sword is a little dangerous. The pommel pieces were dove tailed over the wood, I like this method of construction.

I finally delivered the blade in early July. I handed it over at The Wallace Collection in London and we had a wander around and looked at swords. Not a bad way to complete a Job!!!
Dave named the blade “Dusk” and I think it suits it well. I have never named a sword (or any blade for that matter) but I think I shall start.


I got a lot of satisfaction from this project, especially getting the feel and balance just right (a job which in all honesty took quite a bit of time).

Thanks to Dave Rawling for the commission and for being both persistent and patient.

Thanks to Dan Bass for coming and spending so much time taking the photos of me making, and to my brother Gavin for the photos of the finished piece.

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