A modern bladesmith rooted in the old traditions

Homage to the Vehmaa sword

This is the story of a sword. The blade began as a little seed in my mind after reading the book “Swords of the Viking Age” by Ian Pierce. As I turned pages 148 and 149, very much at the end of the book and having already seen many photographs of wonderful pattern-welding, I was stunned by two photographs depicting a sword found in Vehmaa and dating to the 8th century. My first impression looking at the photographs on both pages is that I was looking at two different swords but reading the brief notes I was further shocked in realizing that it was only one. Ever since I saw that blade I wanted to try and figure out how the pattern was created.

That was many moons ago. Then going back some three or four years I saw Jeff’s repair on the handle of a Viking sword and that sword and another were shown at Fire&Brimstone. When I held the one blade with the Petersen L morphology, I felt a more compelling need to try to make the Vehmaa sword.

It took me the best part of a year of on and off reviewing my original notes on the pattern and developing new ideas to sort out how could it be re-made. Aided at times by a 3D CAD program to determine the composition, layer count and arrangement of the rods, I was able to figure out the individual patterns but not quite able to determine how where they put together and the transitions from one pattern to another realized. One day when I least expected it, I came up with a plausible solution and even if it is not how the original was made, I was happy enough with the plans to make some billets and get ready to test my thoughts in the fire.

I used 1095 and 15N20. About 6 kg of steel to begin with and run the tests I wanted with enough material to spare. I made core rods and edge rods. The edge rods were 1095 and W2.

The five rods that were to become the core of the blade needed to be twisted and/or manipulated to very precise dimensions. The day I did the twists I had two pages of carefully detailed directions as to where to start and stop each twist and how many turns to do. It was nerve wrecking as any one single mistake would have thrown the pattern off. Everything needed to line up as close to the layout directions as possible.

The next issue was to figure out how much material to remove from either side to expose the pattern exactly where it was intended and for most people who have done this, they would realize that the pattern is shown at different depths on different sections on both sides of the blade.

The most dificult weld was the last. Attaching the wrap-around edge to the core had to be done when the billets were ¼” thick and there was no wiggle room for any offset as it would simply ruin the carefully develop pattern.

Unfortunately, the first sword did not show the correct patterns after grinding as a result of miscalculating the depth. The blade was very interesting in itself but not was I was going after. So a second blade was started and with the gained knowledge from the previous one, the patterns were pre-arranged where after grinding they will show at the correct depth.

So now it was on to profiling on the grinder and heat treating. The blade look really pretty dressed in its tempering colors.

But it had a little bit of a warping towards the point which I tried and tried to straighten at tempering temperature for a couple days. Finally I thought I had straighten it just to come in the shop the next morning and see that that curve had come back to some degree after cooling. I thought that it was such a little curve that I put it in the vise cold and tried to fix it. The blade broke in two.

Too bad as the pattern was for the most part there. The serpent section was not as tight as I wanted but everything else was right on. The next week instead of feeling pity on myself I went back to the shop to make a new set of billets for a third attempt. Although for a day or two I did walk with my head down.

Third time’s a charm. I had the sword I wanted with the correct amount of tightness for the serpent and although one of the chevron sections did not have the correct spacing, it was close enough. I was not planning on hilting the blade or making a scabbard but I needed some sort of sheath to keep the blade in so I made a wooden one and it looked so nice that I was compelled to finish it with a leather wrap and lambskin liner. At that point there was no turning back from making a hilt for it too.

The blade itself is 950 grams and the length without the tang was 32 ½”. Width of 1 7/8” at the base and tapering from there. Polishing the w2/1095 edge to show contrast was a bit tricky and ended up using a method similar to the Japanese polish for the edge.

I had a smile on my face when it was finished.

Here you can see how subtle the edge pattern is.

For those interested in trying to figure out the pattern-welding, the following two images are composite images made in Photoshop by combining many sectional pictures. The proportions of the handle and blade were a bit deformed by the program but the pattern is more easily discerned. You can click on the image for a larger version.

My respect for the smith who made the original sword is enormous. I don’t think that I actually followed the process that he used to make his sword in making mine. He knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. Thanks to all my friends that help me in one way or another through questions and answers on the making on the different parts of this blade. You know who you are.