Ulfberht Viking Sword – MAN AT ARMS:REFORGEDOn August 13, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
I’m Matt. I’m Kerry. We are the Stagmer brothers of Baltimore Knife & Sword. We’re going to be building some of your favorite weapons and some weapons that you’ve never seen before. This is MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED. The Vikings are known for having many epic legends, but one stands out more than any other, and that is the Ulfberht sword. Not only the most legendary sword from history, but also one of the most requested online. The steel for the Ulfberht sword is crucible steel. It was probably imported from the Middle East, mixing cast iron and pure iron in something that’s called a crucible. Cast iron would have been placed in the bottom and pure iron on top. I’m adding a little bit of charcoal to eat up some of the oxygen that will be sealed in the crucible. Then the cap, simple clay cap, comes on and then I’m sealing the crucible with more clay. The cap protects the steel from being saturated with more carbon from the atmosphere inside the furnace. If the carbon saturates the steel too much, it will turn into cast iron, and we don’t want that. This is our crucible. Let’s make an Ulfberht. What’s happening is the crucible is standing on what’s called a plint. Um, in our case, it’s a brick in the middle of the remelter. It keeps it a little bit up over the floor. Around it, Matt is going to pour charcoal and the charcoal is going to be lit on fire, producing very high temperature. Most of our smelters’ made out of brick, surrounded and packed by clay; our top few layers are just dry stack. Pretty soon this pillar of smoke will turn into flame and then that’s when we know we’re starting to get up to temperature. At this point, we have to wait for the crucible to cool down, slowly in air, and then we’re going to extract the puck. We have extracted the crucible steel puck; it looks quite excellent. In the eighth and ninth centuries, this material would have been magic to the Europeans. The whole purpose of producing crucible steel, unlike other steels, is to eliminate the slag and other contaminants from the middle of your metal. Now that the crucible steel puck is in my hands, it’s time to forge it. First, I have to examine it. You see in the center there’s a little bit of porosity; that is fine and to be expected. Bubbles of gas and glass are trapped in the middle as the piece cools off. I have to massage it very gently in the first several heats so that the crystalline lattice that’s in there doesn’t produce cracks. A series of swords with the inscription Ulfberht appear around the 8th or 9th century AD. These are called the most famous and sought-after Viking swords. However there’s very little Viking about the Ulfberht blade. Crucible steel originates in Sri Lanka, and imported all the way up from the Islamic world along the rivers of Europe into either the coasts of the Baltic Seas or in modern-day Germany, meaning that they’re not technically Scandinavian in origin. This material in blade form is considered to be a super steel, but early on in puck form, it’s far from it. It can crumble at any time if you hit too hard or get your temperatures too high, so Ilya is going to be very careful with his temperatures and take his time hitting very lightly. Pushing it back in on itself to create a smoother surface. Once the puck is consolidated, I’m going to assist Ilya in punching and drifting a hole in the center, creating a donut. We’re then going to slice it and open it up into a bar so that our pattern is equal on both sides. This material is now pretty solid, but we don’t want to risk anything by striking. So we’re going to move to a screw press and continue drifting that hole bigger and bigger. The life of a blacksmith is full of failures; what separates a novice from an advanced smith is learning from those failures and persevering on. So as is typical of this material, it’s very finicky; when Matt and I were drifting the hole to open the beast up, we overheated it and it cracked. See how gigantic the grain is. However cracking and overheating is the exact problem the smiths back in the day would have encountered. In fact, many original Ulfberhts show signs of layering. If we break a puck, you flatten out the pieces stack them on top of each other, forge weld them, and draw them out into a blade. Getting pucks as big as we did would have been most likely unrealistic back in the day. Two or three pucks would have been necessary to produce enough material for a blade, so they would have been forged welded and stretched out. However, I took some time and started a new puck. When I punched the hole, I didn’t catch all of the porosity. This is not a problem. To continue working with this piece which I feel very confident about, all I have to do is grind off some of this so that the crack does not travel. Now that the doughnut has been cut and slightly opened, the material is beginning to work a little bit easier. The more times this material is heat cycled the easier it is to work. They’re still going to be extremely careful while forging so that we don’t have any cracks as we create the bar. You may notice that we’ve been using a cross peen sledgehammer, but to this point, I’ve only been hitting with the face. We’re now at the point where I can turn it around and use the cross peen part to spread that metal a little quicker, then Ilya will direct me to use the face again to straighten everything up. So today I get to do one of the things that I love to do most which is melt metal and pour ingots and then roll them into the shape that we want. So we’ve got an ingot mold here and it’s been carboned so that the metal doesn’t stick. I’m going to heat it up and then I’m going to melt the metal and we’ll pour the metal into the mold. So once the ingots are poured, we’re going to take the wire over and draw it down thin enough so that Ilya can inlay it into the Viking sword. We’re going to have fine silver and fine gold wire of the size that he wants. Alright, Ilya has been working his butt off. He’s got this blade pretty much blanked out. Figured now was a good time to do a little explanation. Recently I traveled to Solingen, Germany to the Klingen Museum and they have several Ulfberhts there. I walked around the corner at that museum and saw them all sitting in the case and it just blew my mind. And it really confirmed what Ilya said earlier in the episode, that as much time they spent making this super steel of their time and making the inlay and making fabulous blades, the ornament and the fittings were really plain on all the swords. About a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity a few years ago, when Jeff Pringle came to our shop and asked us to help in a restoration of a real-life Ulfberht, we had to do a little repair work on the tang which really gave us a good look into how it was layered, much like the tang area right here: either folded or stacked from smaller pieces of crucible steel in order to make enough material for the blade. We showed you the forging of the puck by hand. However, in reality that procedure, by hand, would have taken several months at least, and we had to cheat a little bit and go to the power hammer to speed up the process. I clipped off the tip, formed a little bit of the tang, and I’m ready to form the point and start forming the rest of the blade to its final shape. You’ll notice that he’s going to strike on the edge and then return to the flat to make sure it’s nice and true. He’ll do this in about three to four heats. Once again, we can’t rush this material or it’ll just break. Back in the day, good swords would have been valued about as much as a house. Excellent swords would be the price of a small castle. The reason for that being is that you live in a world where labor is cheap, it’s performed by peasants, but materials are expensive. And good craftsmanship lasts a lifetime. It’s now time to start laying in the edge bevels. The smith is going to want to start at the shoulder and work his way to the point. Once again, I’m going to reiterate: you have to take your time on this material. Ilya would normally bevel a blade this size in about two or three heats; it’s probably going to take him about a dozen. But he’s just going to work his way to the point and then he’ll be able to move on to the inlay. After the rough forging is done on the blade, I lay it on top of the charcoal, heat it up slowly, and let it go. Letting it cool very very slowly. This procedure normalizes the grains in the steel making it nice and soft. That way after I scuff off all the scale from the surface, I can come in with a cutter, cut out my grooves and inlay the wrought iron to later on be welded. That signature will read Ulfberht. So for a historic build, we’re gonna use the big green historic machine. It’s a filigree rolling mill. I’m gonna take our rounding, roll it square and get it down to a smaller gauge so that then I can draw it into wire. Once it gets to the other side, I turn it so it doesn’t become a diamond shape. Here we see Lauren taking the pure gold and running it through the mill. She’s squaring it up and sizing it so that when we go to the drawing bench it’ll be proper for size and fit through the holes in the draw plate. And each time it’s getting rounder and rounder. As she does this, you’ll see it get brighter and brighter as well as longer. Ulfberht blades can be roughly classified into three main groups. The first spelling is cross, V or U, sometimes they’re the same letter, L, F, B, E, R, H, important: cross, and then T. Every Ulfberht sword that is spelled like that is made entirely out of crucible steel, with the exception of the writing inlay. Group B are also original; T and then cross. Group C’s generally fakes. V, B, R, L, F, cross, T, or something like that. They’re almost always made out of subpar material, either pure iron, or sometimes by an incompetent blacksmith. More often than the originals, the fittings are very extravagant. That gives credence to the hypothesis that Ulfberhts were produced in a monastery by people who are more humble than the rest of us, and, worked on quality rather than the fanciful presentation. In our case, we’re making the sword that’s known as the Dublin Ulfberht. It was probably acquired by an Irish Chieftain in the trade, rather than in battle, judging from its good condition. It is fairly wide and fairly long for an early medieval sword. But the number one reason why we chose that specific one: it is known as an original. I’m ready to cut in the grooves to inlay a signature. The wrought iron will later on be forge welded to the blade. All I have to do is cut in a small channel: the groove into which wrought iron nails will be laid in. Now because this is crucible steel, it still has carbide dendrites still present in it so it will wreak havoc on my cutters, and I will continuously have to resharpen and maybe even make new ones as I proceed with the signature. Now that the recesses are all cut into our blade for the lettering, it’s time to start working on the material that’s going to be inlaid. In this case, we are going to use some wrought iron nails. The first thing Ilya has to do is square them up, then he’ll cut them into small pieces and place them into the recesses. With most of the inlay now in place, Ilya’s going to set the final few pieces where he needs them to go. And then we’ll move to the press, cold set them and that will prepare them forge welding. Ilya removes the blade from the forge and places it on the anvil. In his other hand, he holds a flatter that I strike and set the letters in place. This is by far the most critical phase; we have to ensure that this weld takes on the first time or we’ll have to start over. At this point, we have the pommel rough forged. Ilya just made it out of a piece of wrought iron. It’s just a rectangle right now, but my goal is to turn it into a five lobed Viking pommel. I’m going to start with a hacksaw and define my lines in between each lobe. Aaah. There it goes. And I’m going to use a rasp and refine the shape. Alright, I’ve been scuffing this blade for a while now. I got the surfaces down about even from where the inlay was with the blade. I’m not going refine this blade shape all the way before heat treat; I want to leave a little extra mass to stay on the safe side. You can see that the letters really stand out already. I really can’t wait to see what this thing looks like in polish. Now that we know all our forge welding took just perfectly, it’s time to move on to the heat treat. This is still a pretty critical step: if he overheats the blade, it will be no good and if he underheats it it won’t be hard enough. Before we can claim to have made a super steel blade, we have to make sure that it’s tempered, or it’ll just shatter upon contact. Rick places the blade into a hot oil bath. We’ll leave it there for about an hour at 450 degrees, and then we’ll remove it later and finish her up. Alright, now that our blade has been heat treated, both quenched and tempered, it’s time to start forming it to its final shape. Traditionally when you think of a Viking sword, you think of a very deep and wide fuller, however on the Dublin sword, it barely has a fuller so I’m going to put a very shallow fuller in here. Make sure I don’t grind through any of those letters, or all of Ilya’s time will have been wasted. Phew, I’m not going to lie, that was pretty stressful. I got the fuller ground in and polished all the way through 220-grit. You can still clearly see those letters, it looks fantastic. A little bit of advice for you up-and-coming sword makers: do the fullers before you ever touch the edges. You can go back now like I’m going to do, finish grinding the edges, and really true all your lines up. As stated earlier, Ulfberht swords are not known for their fancy fittings. However, the Dublin sword has traces of past inlay, where a little bit of silver maybe a little bit of gold, still remains in the creases, so I’m gonna use my cutters and start engraving the channels into which I’m going to lay in the gold. Now that the blade is fully polished. Now we get to etch it and see how beautiful this blade is. So much anticipation to see what that beautiful pattern’s going to look like. I feel pretty honored on this piece to be the one that gets to do it. Hu, hu, huoh. From this moment on, everyone at this shop can now claim they’ve been a part of making a real Ulfberht. The team here at Balt Knife & Sword loves to do these historical builds. There’s a lot of different techniques that go into these and we can’t short you guys, we want to show you the legit way of doing things. I think we really went above and beyond on this Ulfberht sword, and I can’t wait for the next one. Click here to subscribe or click here to watch more episodes. Thanks for watching MAN AT ARMS: REFORGED. We need to know what you want the guys to build so tell us in the comments below what weapons you want to see next.