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Lee Sauder

A different way to forge sword "fullers"

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Hey folks-
It's bothered me for awhile that Viking smiths didn't have Bader grinders or spring fullers. I came up with this idea of how they might have forged their blades. It seems radical, I guess, but I demonstrated this at Owen Bush's hammer-in a few weeks ago, and the response was positive enough that I'm not afraid to share it. I've written it up on the research section my website here:

http://www.leesauder.com/smelting_research.php
and look under "Shop Reports".

 

Please excuse the somewhat stuffy prose style, it's a rough draft for a more academic sort of publication.

 

So please go read it, try it, and then give me your thoughts about it here.

Just a few photos (from different experiments) to give you the idea:

 

edge bars-1.jpg

 

wrapped-1.jpg

 

DSCN4681-1.jpg

Edited by Lee Sauder

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Hey Lee

I am no authority ,and I did not find your essay "stuffy" Very sensible theory . If nothing else it looks like a good hack to use for us equipmentally challenged guys who want to turn out this style of blade. My only sort of objection would be to ask why a viking smith could not make a spring fuller tool? I doubt a fully equipped viking era

sword shop has been discovered under a landslide or something that would allow an archaeologist to say with authority what tools were or were not used . It's not exactly the same as claiming they used arc welders LOL! Well thats my amateur opinion , I'm curious to see what the big dogs say! Thanks for sharing this I will use this trick soon on a project I'm doing

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actually on the contrary, it was common for viking era smiths to be buried with their tools, and no such tool as a spring fuller has ever been found. We actually have a very decent understanding of just what tools were used commonly, and while lack of archaeological evidence isn't proof that something didn't occur, it is on the same token quite compelling for an argument that it most probably did not.

 

What I'm interested in seeing with this method is just how the distortion patterns work out with twist cores (or inlays) I have not been able to examine up close and person enough pattern welded swords with fullers to really have a good handle on what the distortion patterns at the edges of the fullers, and the edges of the core bars looks like that would give better evidence of forging method.

 

It seems to me that cross sectional slices of swords made this way would appear such that the upset edges would then be forged back down and slightly around the edge bar in such a manner that it would almost match a very shallowly 'slit and welded' edge. I.E. that the upset core would slightly wrap the edge bar at the contact point. This is something that I will keep an eye out for when i see any papers that have done a slice of a sword or cleaned and etched the end of a broken sword.

Edited by Justin Mercier

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What strikes me is how much it looks like this sword (450-600AD, Netherlands):

 

http://1501bc.com/page/rijks_museum_oudheden/image286.htm

 

With regard to the tools found, I have been involved in trying to figure out how things were made purely on what the archeological record provides in terms of tools. And forces you to do far more with far less tools. Similarly, if you look at what a smith uses in a poor area in Asia or Africa nowadays, that's quite similar to the limitation in tools you find from ancient times. Yet they manage to do a lot with just a few basic tools.

 

If you have a big workshop with lots of metal about to make all kinds of handy tools, it's quite easy to make tools like fullers etc. But when you don't have much, you invest in technique, rather then tools. So in that respect I find this a nice way of thinking about it.

Some things you also have to keep in mind though: although we have quite a few toolkits from the period, you also have to know what they were used for. Not every smith was a bladesmith. Far from it, a bladesmith would probably have been quite rare. Most tool kits would more likely be from smiths who made tools for farmers, basic metalwork for house building etc. I've not seen a tool kit yet that makes me believe it was used by a bladesmith (could be, but just not clear).

 

Another thing that will clearly determine what method was favored back in the day was the amount of effort it would take to finish it. You'd have to do that not only without modern power tools, but also without round files, without sandpaper, and many other tools that simply weren't around yet. It would have to be done with scrapers, polishing compounds etc. If you do things that way, you have far higher demands for the accuracy of the forged sword, as grinding metal away by hand is incredibly laborious. It's only by going through the entire process that way, many times, when you start to know what state you need to forge towards to ensure that the blade can be finished efficiently and accurately. In that respect I quite like how Lee's method places the fuller. I still needs a lot of work scraping to further define it, but at least you have lines to work with that help to further define the fuller.

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I have to admit...

I like this idea Lee. In my lay hands I find this to be very Occam's razor.

 

Then again,

I have made square plugs fit round holes... it just didn't look pretty :wacko:

 

-Gabriel

Edited by grpaavola

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Lee this is fascinating, i have never thought of doing it this way!

I wonder at the thickness, if I understand correctly the bottom of the fuller would end up at 3/16" that is three times as thick as i would expect in the final sword. the high portions of the spine near the tip should be almost half that and I would think forging in the distal taper would wash out the fuller unless done first. Do you think this could be done at half these thicknesses?

MP

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What strikes me is how much it looks like this sword (450-600AD, Netherlands):

 

http://1501bc.com/page/rijks_museum_oudheden/image286.htm

 

With regard to the tools found, I have been involved in trying to figure out how things were made purely on what the archeological record provides in terms of tools. And forces you to do far more with far less tools. Similarly, if you look at what a smith uses in a poor area in Asia or Africa nowadays, that's quite similar to the limitation in tools you find from ancient times. Yet they manage to do a lot with just a few basic tools.

 

If you have a big workshop with lots of metal about to make all kinds of handy tools, it's quite easy to make tools like fullers etc. But when you don't have much, you invest in technique, rather then tools. So in that respect I find this a nice way of thinking about it.

 

Some things you also have to keep in mind though: although we have quite a few toolkits from the period, you also have to know what they were used for. Not every smith was a bladesmith. Far from it, a bladesmith would probably have been quite rare. Most tool kits would more likely be from smiths who made tools for farmers, basic metalwork for house building etc. I've not seen a tool kit yet that makes me believe it was used by a bladesmith (could be, but just not clear).

 

Another thing that will clearly determine what method was favored back in the day was the amount of effort it would take to finish it. You'd have to do that not only without modern power tools, but also without round files, without sandpaper, and many other tools that simply weren't around yet. It would have to be done with scrapers, polishing compounds etc. If you do things that way, you have far higher demands for the accuracy of the forged sword, as grinding metal away by hand is incredibly laborious. It's only by going through the entire process that way, many times, when you start to know what state you need to forge towards to ensure that the blade can be finished efficiently and accurately. In that respect I quite like how Lee's method places the fuller. I still needs a lot of work scraping to further define it, but at least you have lines to work with that hek for thislp to further define the fuller.

Jeroen-

One thing I've been wondering- if this tool from Mastermyr find, which puzzled the catalogers, could be a scraper that would work for this:

83-Possible-Chisel.jpg

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Lee this is fascinating, i have never thought of doing it this way!

I wonder at the thickness, if I understand correctly the bottom of the fuller would end up at 3/16" that is three times as thick as i would expect in the final sword. the high portions of the spine near the tip should be almost half that and I would think forging in the distal taper would wash out the fuller unless done first. Do you think this could be done at half these thicknesses?

MP

Thanks Matt. That's exactly why I want to throw this idea around. There are lots of combinations and ideas to work out, and there are so many people more experienced and knowledgeable than I am, especially with regards to pattern welding, and finished shape of the swords. It's a whole new set of skills to acquire and hone, which we can do collectively a hell of a lot faster than I'll ever do by myself! I've only just started on my first twisted core blade ever....

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Also, I haven't yet carried the forging any farther than what you see. I think the fuller and blade thickness can still be forged down more with careful hammering, after the basic shape is defined.

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It seems to me that cross sectional slices of swords made this way would appear such that the upset edges would then be forged back down and slightly around the edge bar in such a manner that it would almost match a very shallowly 'slit and welded' edge. I.E. that the upset core would slightly wrap the edge bar at the contact point. This is something that I will keep an eye out for when i see any papers that have done a slice of a sword or cleaned and etched the end of a broken sword.

 

Interestingly, you see just that on some of the Anglo-Saxon sword sections in Tylecote and Gilmour 1986... I had just assumed it was a scarf to help hold the edge bars in place. Intrigueing, Lee! I still wonder how they cut the twisted cores longways so cleanly. I have done it with a hot chisel and it tends to "drag" the layers a bit, for want of a better term. Then again those guys were far better than I'll ever be. Thanks for posting this.

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Very cool idea !!

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Just thinking aloud for a moment.

It would seem that everything would have to start at as close to final size as possible no?

I'm trying to imagine drawing this thing out to a longer length without delaminating the edge bars off of the core.

The benefit to forging the fuller in would be that the forging happens on the core and that pushes the outer bars along as the core stretches.

With the edge bars so much larger than the core bar in cross section, any forging out in length will make the edges grow and pull away from the core.

I suppose once you had the bevels established, you could forge the core bar/fuller longer and hope to push the edges along too.

That would be far easier than trying to establish a straight, centered, and even fuller in an otherwise semi-flat bar

The lack of serious grinding/sand media supports the idea of forging together at finish length. (maybe?)

This is going to need some serious experimenting at full sword length.

Shoot! another bucket list item. My bucket list is rapidly become my "bucket book."

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Jeroen-

One thing I've been wondering- if this tool from Mastermyr find, which puzzled the catalogers, could be a scraper that would work for this:

83-Possible-Chisel.jpg

 

That could very well be. The only way to figure that out is if the edge is hardened.

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Just thinking aloud for a moment.

It would seem that everything would have to start at as close to final size as possible no?

 

 

Very much so, but we have already shown that several migration and viking era patterns dont look 'right' UNLESS they're made 'at' final dimension. Look at the thread on viking age wolfstooth pattern spears in this history forum for an example of a pattern that will NOT work UNLESS it's forged at size. One of the major problems people have thinking about archaeological ironwork is that in the modern day we are SO used to taking stock of a certain size and drawing it out / stretching it / etc, that we forget that this is NOT how ironwork was done for most of the history of the iron age. Instead if you wanted a large object, you had to build it up from many smaller pieces. You would not draw a bar down to size, instead you would build a bar UP to size.

 

For an example, we also know from many of the saxon twist core swords that the twist cores they were working with were MUCH smaller than the 10 to 12mm / half inch square size that we modern smiths tend to work in. When you look at the pattern development of a twist core and how deep into the twists you have to get in order to see the patterns seen in period swords at first your inclination would be to think "wow they ground away a ton of material" but there's a much easier way to get that sort of development, and that is to work at very small size and to forge it thin in one direction. If you want to see this in action, take some black and white Plasticine and make a 7 layer twist that's half an inch thick and then cut it in half. that exposes the 'center' of the bar for the jelly roll like swirls. Now think about an anglo saxon sword which had jelly rolls on both sides of the blade, but an iron core between the twist cores... you'd think "wow they removed a whole ton of material!" but... take another 7 layer bit of plasticine and make a quarter inch square twist, and then hammer it flat so that it's half an inch wide, now scrape off just a bit from the top and ... viola you're at the center of the twist without removing almost any material... and you match the historic pattern in terms of look... and you can stack these flattened bars to a center bar much easier to weld them together.

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Justin said it better than I was going to, thanks!

 

Yeah, you forge these things at as close to finished dimensions as you can. It's great fun welding up a stack of five 1/4" bars on edge! Then you get to spread them against the weld direction...that is one reason people speculate the pattern-welded sword was a mark of quality smithing. If the welds held, it's gotta be good. Too bad many of them were not heat treated. They were relying on phosphorus for contrast rather than carbon and nickel like we do now.

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Thanks for that clarification/education guys. That makes my head spin just thinking about it.

Gotta try that. yeah that's what I gotta do...........

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OK, so I've been pondering this idea. I was wondering about a two-bar core with a fuller. (I think I've seen these around here somewhere.)

So, I thinks to myself I think, if I were to try this technique with a two-bar core, how would I do it?

Could you start to bevel one side of each bar, and weld the bevels to each other? If you were taking a single long bar and folding it over, you could bevel along one edge and fold so that the bevels met in the center. Either way, you would have a cross section that looked like a bow tie. Then you could do the wrap around with the edge bar(s) and have the fuller established by the time the forge welding was complete.

Edited by Joshua States

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One problem that I have with the basic hypothesis of how Norse bladesmiths created fullers without things like spring fuller tools is that the tools were created to allow a smith to do the work that would take two or three people to do by himself. The Norse bladesmiths would have had apprentices or slaves to hold fullering tools to forge a fuller into a bar. In larger shops they might have even had a dedicated team to forge the fullers into the blades.

 

I do think that your solution is rather ingenious but I think that the real test would be to see if you can weld the edges to the core without tack welding them into place first. A stick welder is something else that the Norse didn't have.

 

Doug

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Interestingly, you see just that on some of the Anglo-Saxon sword sections in Tylecote and Gilmour 1986... I had just assumed it was a scarf to help hold the edge bars in place. Intrigueing, Lee! I still wonder how they cut the twisted cores longways so cleanly. I have done it with a hot chisel and it tends to "drag" the layers a bit, for want of a better term. Then again those guys were far better than I'll ever be. Thanks for posting this.

 

Alan, any particular pages you have in mind? I was just paging through it with Lee's approach in mind and did not notice anything.

 

I also wonder how much distortion in the pattern upsetting the bars would cause. In any case, a very interesting idea.

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I also wonder how much distortion in the pattern upsetting the bars would cause. In any case, a very interesting idea.

Exactly why i want to try a test piece with twist cores so I can examine the distortion of the pattern =)

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Alan, any particular pages you have in mind? I was just paging through it with Lee's approach in mind and did not notice anything.

 

I also wonder how much distortion in the pattern upsetting the bars would cause. In any case, a very interesting idea.

 

I'll have to go through it again and see, I was working from memory there... I know most of them show a sort of half-lap, but those are the non-fullered blades.

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One problem that I have with the basic hypothesis of how Norse bladesmiths created fullers without things like spring fuller tools is that the tools were created to allow a smith to do the work that would take two or three people to do by himself. The Norse bladesmiths would have had apprentices or slaves to hold fullering tools to forge a fuller into a bar. In larger shops they might have even had a dedicated team to forge the fullers into the blades.

 

I do think that your solution is rather ingenious but I think that the real test would be to see if you can weld the edges to the core without tack welding them into place first. A stick welder is something else that the Norse didn't have.

 

Doug

Not a problem, Doug. Just a drop-tong weld, or have one of the handy helpers you mentioned hold on piece while you hold the other and stick it with the hammer. Just normal blacksmithing procedure.

 

You could also use little forged clips like Niels Provos does.

 

But anyway, your objection would apply to making billets for the stock removal or fullering methods too.

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Alan, any particular pages you have in mind? I was just paging through it with Lee's approach in mind and did not notice anything.

 

I also wonder how much distortion in the pattern upsetting the bars would cause. In any case, a very interesting idea.

Yes, it will be interesting to see, and to see whether any distortion is distinguishable from the distortion from fullering. I assume fullering distorts as well. Can anyone who's done the forged fuller describe and/or photo that?

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Going back to Tylecote and Gilmore, most of the swords are not fullered. On page 189, Fig. 80, there is a multibar sword section that does seem to show a little distortion from forging the edges of the core bars. Likewise on p. 211, Fig. 88a. A nice shot is p. 228, Fig. 96, but that one is also not fullered. It does show a bit of distortion from forging the core bars square, but that is to be expected. Then again, the one on page 239, fig. 101, shows definitively the fuller was forged in with some sort of fullering tool.

 

After looking over all those examples I am once again sent reeling by the complexity of these things and the apparently haphazard weld lines on many of them. Almost any way you can think of to build up a sword blade from small bars is shown, and a few I'd never have thought of (diagonals, anyone? or one side steel, the other iron?) Helpers are to be expected, and I would surmise the use of lots of clamps. The distortion from forging in the bevels is evident on some, not at all on others. However: almost all of the clearly illustrated multibar cores show a flat weld line at the core/edge junction whether fullered or not. Again, this may just be a result of forging the core flat to get a good surface for welding on the edge bars. It could also be the result of forging on edge to upset the center(!) of the core to help with the lenticular section of these blades. In other words, I'm more confused than ever... :wacko: I do think Lee's method shows promise. We just need to do some experimental archaeology and try it, then compare the results. That means using wrought iron and high-P wrought, no modern steels. I have the materials but not the time at the moment. One of these days, though...

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