Making a pirate sword

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Halloween is always an awkward time for me because I'm not into costumes much. I had this crazy idea of going to a party as a "lumberjack", seeing that I already have so many accessories to go with that. But the woman putting on the party immediately said "I hope you aren't thinking of bringing your chainsaw". Indeed, that had occurred to me, but I also figured that a gas powered chainsaw, even if I didn't start it, might be a bit much!

But it had me thinking of Halloween and woodworking. I had previously made a straight sword out of wood for an amateur play, and everybody thought that was just so cool. So for an extra challenge, I thought I'd try to make a curved pirate sword.

Of course, you can buy this sort of thing cheaply, but these things tend to be small and flat and made of plastic. So to distinguish mine from the cheap toys, I decided to make mine much longer and with a nice profile.

I sketched the shape for the sword blade on a piece of plywood. It was basically a freehand sketch, going over the lines a few times until it the a shape that I figured would look good.

Once I got the shape it was time to figure out how best to fit it onto a piece of pine. I lined it up so that the part nearest the handle would be more aligned with the grain. That's where the blade is narrowest but also likely to get the most stress from being waved around.

Carving the sword blade

The key to making a sword that looks good is to give it a non-flat profile. Way back when swords were forged by blacksmiths, they had more of a diamond shaped cross-section. It's that sort of profile that I was aiming for, even if my sword is only made of wood.

Because the sword is curved, I couldn't just do a regular rip cut to cut a bevel on the sides. So, instead, I used more of a cove cutting technique. Basically, I passed the sword sideways over the blade, each time raising the blade by about a millimeter. I attached a stop, which is held into the T-slot to help guide the sword and keep it from getting pulled into the sawblade. I cut it on the back side of the sawblade, which pulled the blade against my stop. In retrospect, a safer thing would have been to pass the sword on the front side of the sawblade, which would have pushed the sword away from the blade.

I didn't stand in front of my saw while I was doing this, and I kept my fingers far away from the blade. I really wasn't sure if this technique would work or end in disaster when I started. It was more of an experiment that turned out to work!
Because the sword is wider near the tip, I varied the angle at which I passed it over the blade as I moved it along, so that the blade cut more perpendicular to the edge for a wider cut near the tip, and about 45 degrees for a narrower cove cut near the hilt.

Having cut the edges of the blade on the table saw, I then bevelled the tip on the band saw.

I did a lot of sanding to get the blade smooth after cutting it. Cove cutting doesn't leave a super smooth surface, and with me varying the angle and all it was even rougher. There were a few spots where I had to trim it with a chisel to fix it up.

I really couldn't figure out a way to power sand the shape, so it was all hand sanding. I wanted to maintain the slight concave shape that my cove cut produced, and any sort of sanding drum would have flattened that out.

I drilled a small hole in the handle to screw on a drawer knob to act as a "pommel". Although, with the hand guard I put on the sword, the pommel really had no plausible function other than decoration.

I used my new horizontal boring machine to do this. A hand drill would have sufficed, but I like to use my toys!

Making the steam bent hand-guard

I needed a curved piece of wood to make the hand guard. I decided to make this using a bent lamination. So I started by cutting 1.5 mm thick slices off a block of ash that I reclaimed from firewood

I like to cut the strips with a really thin 7 1/2" blade and cut in from both sides. I waste less wood that way, and the cutting goes a bit faster too. It's also a bit less dangerous, the piece I'm cutting off doesn't get fully wedged behind the saw blade.

A zero clearance insert is essential for this kind of cut, or the cut off piece always ends up getting sucked into the saw.

Heating up wood makes it bend easier. So does moisture. That's why wood is commonly bent with steam. I'm not really set up for steam bending, so I just put a bit of water in a large stock pot, and stuck the pieces in two thirds of the way to start.

Once the end softened a bit, I was able to bend them and get them fully into the pot for a bit more steaming.

bending the strips To get the initial bend, I wrapped the pieces around a jar. It helps to bend them around something to avoid accidentally kinking the wood.

drying in shape Once I had my three pieces bent, I put a clamp around them, and let them cool and dry.

I didn't use any sort of bending form. Whatever shape my hand guard would end up with didn't matter so much. With just one clamp around it, it looked like a pretty good shape already.

After letting it dry overnight, I spread glue all over the laminations and then used lots and lots of clamps to make sure the laminations made good contact as I glued it.

I used my slot mortiser to cut a rectangular hole for the tang of the sword. I cut a series of slots side by side to rough out the rectangle, then trimmed the rest square with a carving knife.

Because I wanted to round the edges of my handle, I figured it would be best if the bottom hole of the guard was just the shape of my handle. So I drilled a pair of overlapping 3/4" holes in the guard on my drill press and then carved that out to an oblong shape.

Fitting the guard onto the handle. I hadn't yet trimmed the guard to its final shape when I took this photo, nor had I cut the end of the handle square for the pommel.

Next I rounded the edges of the hand guard, first with a bandsaw, then by sanding it. In the process, I cut away all the messy part of my lamination. You now have to look carefully to realize that the guard is actually a bent lamination and not a solid piece of wood.

The pommel is just a wooden drawer knob that I had kicking around. It fit the purpose just fine. I was too lazy to make one on the lathe for just a quickie project like this.

The sword ready for a paint job.

I took the pommel off again before painting the sword. I kind of liked the colour and finish on it already.

I bought this cheap "silver paint" to paint the blade with. I should have opted for more expensive silver paint, because the stuff I bought ended up looking more white than metallic.

What probably didn't help is that I started with a base coat of white, to help the "silver" paint look brighter.

Oh well, with the blade glossy and bright it's at least a bit more eye catching. It was tempting to add blood splatters onto the blade, but with it having come out so nicely curved and smooth, I didn't want to detract from that aspect.

And the finished paint job. I added a light blue streak near the ridge on the blade to emphasize that a bit more.

All ready for Halloween! Yarr!!!
Now what to do about the rest of the costume?


See also:

Curvy board A bent
lamination experiment

More toy projects on woodgears.ca.