I am sometimes asked to make reproductions of knives and swords. It's not very often but when it happens it is always an interesting challenge. Every project incorporates at least one new technique for me and usually multiple. I try to take reproductions seriously, making the project as close to the original as possible while adhering to the customer’s specs. The idea of making “my version” of a sword is not interesting to me because I don’t have enough experience with swords generally, much less the specific sword I am making to know where to begin to make my own variation. This is a common thing to see in the knife making community and I was able to learn to avoid this by seeing the mistakes of others. When we make a weapon from another time period that has no tactical use in the modern world, we are either making a historical reproduction or a fantasy weapon.
There are indeed many people who would love to have a real version of a Lord of the Rings sword or something from a video game but for me the way to become better at what I do is to learn how to make edged weapons as they were originally made in order to more fully understand their construction and use. The modern bladesmith’s own take on a sword from another period is almost always flawed in design and difficult to wield. Just look at Forged in Fire. It is safe to say that most swords made on that show have critical design or build errors that make them difficult to use. I should know because I’ve done it! It’s totally understandable because we are so disconnected from the era when swords were made at scale for military and civilian use.
This is where the reproduction comes in. I get the best results when I use the measurements of an original sword to guide my design of a reproduction. I don’t have the experience in building or using swords to make up my own design but doing reproductions of specific blades helps me to bypass that process. Because of the time involved to make a sword in a custom shop, there are many swords and knives that cost less to buy the original than to have a reproduction made. Many civil war or Napoleonic era swords can be had for a thousand dollars or less but a quality reproduction of a saber from that time period will definitely cost more than that. Of course if a customer actually wants to use the sword or wants something customized in that style then it may make sense to spend the extra money on a reproduction.
The other consideration for reproductions is those swords that cannot be purchased. Any sword that has important provenance and lives in a museum will certainly not be for sale and there are many blades from long ago that have few remaining examples. If you want one of George Washington’s swords then you are going to have to settle for a reproduction, and even that will be expensive. A roman gladius or Saxon seax are not going to be laying around at flea markets now are they?
In making the swords pictured with this article, I contacted my local museum that had it on display. I was attracted to this particular revolutionary era saber because it looked like a sword that I could accomplish with my current skill set. It is a Spanish style saber that is attributed to being owned by Daniel Morgan, a general in the American continental forces. I was surprised at the enthusiasm of the museum’s staff response and how accommodating they were. They pulled the sword from display to allow me to weigh and take careful measurements. Because of that I was able to make a reproduction that strictly adhered to the original design.
We are unbelievably fortunate to live in an era where a quick internet search will bring up about as much information as we could possibly need on any sword design we could want. In today’s day in age there is no practical use for swords other than ceremonial purposes. It is my opinion that they should continue to be made to carry on the tradition and craft for future generations and that requires serious attention to detail and faithfulness to the original designs. It’s not like swords are so boring that we have to come up with cartoon versions of them to make them interesting! If you want to make a pirate sword, go find out what they actually used and don’t go off the Disney movie. Aladdin would have had a scimitar which is a long and thin curved blade, not the cutlass-falchion sword hybrid he uses in the movie. Why is this important? Because I am a sword nerd.