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Making a spear on a forge

Before I get into the actual process of making a socketed spear, first a few words about my background and the tools needed.

I’m known as Cormac McInnean (Dan Crowther), I’ve been blacksmithing for nearly 20 years at this point.  I’m the Ollamh Gobae or Master Smith from Ancient Celtic Clans.  Additionally, my project articles have been published in the “Blacksmith’s Gazette” and I’m the secretary for Capital District Blacksmiths’ Association in NY, USA, as well as the Affiliate Liaison to the Artist Blacksmiths’ Association of North America (ABANA)

Blacksmithing is really a minimalist activity.  Elemental blacksmithing really needs only 4 things: heat, hammer, anvil, metal.  Once those four things are acquired the blacksmith can make all the other tools s/he needs.  Although how to set up a smithy is out of the scope of this article, you can clearly see how little is needed to get a functional forge going. (fig a)  “Where there is a will there is a way”.

Background on spear forging

Spears have historically come in three varieties; socketed one piece, socketed two piece and tanged.  The tanged spear is the easiest to make.  It is essentially nothing more than a dagger who’s tang has been jammed into a stick instead of a dagger grip.  The one piece spear is pretty much self explanatory, the socket and blade are made from the same material.  The two piece spear, is a short tanged spear and socket that have been forge welded together.

From what I've been able to determine, both the one and two piece socketed spears greatly out number the tanged types. It's also interesting to note that regardless of socket type, archaeological examples often show the sockets are not welded shut, nor even always butted completely closed! 

The forging process

I'm starting out with 1.5"x.25" 5160 spring steel.  Although in the time period in question the higher carbon steel would have been separated out from the smelt to be used specifically for tools and weap

Hinge Fuller (fig 1)

Spring fuller (fig 2)

Angled edges (fig 4)

ons.  This particular piece was cut 12" long with about 8" allocated for the spear head and 4" for socket.

The first step is to taper an end to a point with the final taper profile you're after. Once this is done measure from the point back to where you want the socket to start.

Next isolate the socket area by fullering. I used a "hinge fuller" (fig 1) but in period this would have been accomplished with either a "spring fuller" (fig 2) or by placing the stock at a 45 degree angle to the edge of the anvil and hammering straight down, flipping then repeating.


Socket isolated by nocks (fig 3)

Fully fanned and smooth socket material (fig 5) Delete caption

Once the area is isolated (fig 3), taper the socket from the end down to the fullered area. The fuller width should be nearly the same size as the desired final transition from blade to socket. Then using the pein on your hammer, hammer in parallel with the length of the socket to widen the socket material. As the socket starts to flare it will be necessary to also hammer (with the pein) parallel to the edges once they start to angle. (fig 4)

Occasionally go back with the hammer face and flatten the developing ridges and valleys so they do not get too high or uneven. (fig 5)

Next start the socket curling by either centering the flare over the horn and slowly hammering off the centerline working each side evenly, OR hammering the flair into a swedge. In period this could easily have been accomplished by placing the flare on a stump and using the pein repeating the same blow placement used to flare it originally. Since it's on a wooden stump, those struck areas will burn out making a swedge (depression) on the fly. Figures 6, 7, and 8 show the progression of curling the socket.

Once at this stage the curving can be completed by tapping down on the socket as it is rolled on the anvil face. (fig 9) Now, the spear blank is ready for grinding (fig 10).

fig. 6

fig. 7
fig. 8
  fig. 9
  fig. 10

Finishing & polishing

Before we dive in again, a word of caution regarding belt sanders since they are the main tool* used in this section.  Obviously they can remove material quickly, and this is especially true of finger tips and other body parts.  So as most people can figure out, safety glasses and gloves are a must.  What is not necessarily so obvious is the need for a respirator.  A decent respirator may cost $25-$35 but the amount of grinding grit and steel dust it will stop from going into your lungs is well worth it!

Don’t have a belt sander? No problem; you can achieve the same results with a file and lot of elbow grease and I’ll be talking filing techniques too.

fig. 11 - ridge peak

fig. 12 - center line marked
Although there are a few ways to remove metal from the blank to finish the blade, if you are working totally by hand the first rule is actually to “move it, not remove it”.  Every minute you forge the blade closer to it’s final shape hot will save you at least three minutes if you were to do it by cold filing. So, take the time to make sure the blade is symmetrical, straight, and free of hammer marks.  This can take some practice particularly if you’ve also decided to start the edge bevels by hammering but it will save you a lot of time in the end.

Once the spear blank is complete, find the center line by measuring the width at any 3 given points and dividing the measurement of each one of those points in half, then connect the dots.  This centerline will not only show you how symmetrical you’ve made the point and whether the socket is inline but will be the “grind-to” line for the ridge peak (fig 11).
 fig.13 - first bevel cut
 fig. 14 - back of 1st bevel
 fig. 15 edge formed

When grinding I typically do the bulk of my work with an ultra-coarse 40 grit, finish with 120 grit, and start my “polishing phase” with 220 or 360 grit.  A fair portion of what grit to start with and how big to jump between grits is personal preference so try some variations to see what you like.

Next, clean up any symmetry issues along the edges and  make sure the thickness is even near the tip and the transition to the socket.  It’s very common for these areas to become thicker during the tapering and this will throw things off later.  Just like the peak, the edge centerline is marked (fig 12). Now it’s time to start grinding the main bevel.

The bevel is ground “edge up” against the direction of the belt with the goal of grinding to the center of the cutting edge then grinding to the peak.  A “steep” angle of grind is used on the first pass.  The steep angle means a manageable amount of material is removed while at the same time getting you to the edge centerline quickly (fig 13). This needs to be done on all four faces (fig 14) until the edge is approx 1/32” thick (fig 15).

 fig 16. - shallower 2nd bevel angle
Another bevel cut is then started, though this one is at a shallower angle than the first.  By working in this fashion each successive bevel cut will remove a reas

See the spear being created from start to finish

onable amount of material, get a step closer towards the peak centerline, and maintain the edge (fig 16).
This process is nearly identical if you’re working with a file and not a belt sander.  The biggest difference is that because the spearhead will be held in a vice the file angle is changed instead of the spearhead. 

Another difference is the use of a technique known as “draw filing” to file cut the bevels. This process will greatly even the smoothness of the bevel face and speed up the cut.  Draw filing involves using the file a lot like a draw knife.  The file is held 35-45deg to the bevel, moved along the entire spear edge while at the same time pushing so it uses it full cutting surface.  With a sharp file and practiced hand it is possible for the file to cut so effectively that it will remove little ribbons of steel on each pass.

 fig 17. shadow behind blade
 fig 18. shadow missing

On all remaining bevel cuts you can tell whether they are complete by looking for a shadow or gap between the edge and the belt (fig 17). Once the gap disappears you’ve completed that cut and it matches the bevel.  The next bevel cut can begin (fig 18). This process of making multiple bevel cuts continues until you’ve nearly reached the peak centerline.  Remember this is your rough shaping and so you don’t want to go all the way to the peak or edge centerline; that will be accomplished with the next two grit levels.

 fig. 19 - finished edge
Once the rough bevel cutting is complete, swap the belt to something finer (I switch from 40 grit down to 120 grit.)  Simply match the bevel and work evenly on all faces until the ridge centerlines and edge centerlines meet themselves.  If you wish you can now swap up to an even higher grit (220 or 360) and polish the spear.  As long as you make sure to work in the same plane as the bevel, you’ll end up with a nice defined ridge peak, and razor sharp edge (fig 19).