Blacksmiths forge Gandalf's sword Glamdring

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This video is not going appeal to the goblins…



Stainless steel is a bad material for a large sword - they can fail catastrophically when used compared to high carbon and don’t hold an edge well for this purpose compared to high carbon steel.


Still safer than plasma…


Beater, Biter … and Grinder!


I prefer to label such things as SLOs (Sword Like Objects)…


So in The Hobbit Elrond identifies the sword as coming from Gondolin. That would make it 5000 years old if I’m reading my timelines right.

Mind blowing display of craftsmanship and knowledge of traditional katana construction. Not traditionally, he made the blade, fittings, wrap and saya himself. Normally each of these processes are farmed out to people that specialize in only that work.
Even more impressive is the lack of wobble in the sword when cutting. I’d love to have them make a shinken katana for me.

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I dunno if that applies to this sort of thing.

From what I gather the issue there is more down to which stainless, and how you heat treat it. There are tons of high carbons stainless stool steels these days, and they’re pretty default for knives of all kinds.

Supposedly the big problems are the ones that are flexible enough for something as long as a sword are expensive, and they can be difficult to machine and heat treat. Which makes using them very expensive.

So that read comes out of sword collectors who tend to just see cheap decorative swords made from terrible stainless steel. The very small companies that make “real” swords just don’t get into it.

People making stuff for Youtube videos aren’t neccisarily operating with the same cost concerns. They don’t need to sell this thing at an acceptable price after, or make a bunch of them cost effectively.

Knife and sword steels are very different beasts due to how they are used and the substantial difference in sizes… Machining challenges aren’t actually that substantial and many modern swords steels are not forged but rather processed by stock removal methods. Also many vendors aim simply to make the best sword and cost is not always a big consideration in the steel used. (Swords can be expensive… It is not difficult to find modern ones well over 10,000)

The demands on knives tend to focus on edge retention and you can tolerate steels that are a bit more brittle when hardened. Swords on the other hand need to tolerate a bit of flex and a catastrophic failure due to brittle steel is a lot more dramatic on a sword than an average knife.

If you look around you will see that very few of the popular knife steels are used in swords that are designed to be used in some way. Even when tool steels are used for swords they tend to be the variants that are prone to rust and thus swords are typically oiled for storage.
Having to clean and reoil swords isn’t really a popular option for “wallhanger” swords so stainless is an option in these cases. (Note wallhanger can be pejorative, but I am just acknowledging that some swords will never see impact) Similarly for knives not many users want to bother with oiling so it’s all just balancing compromises.

Then there is the whole layer of complexity from swords thay are differentially hardened and represent multiple microstructures of steel and variable carbon contents… Stainless just doesn’t work as well in these applications.


Many non Japanese Katana are made by houses that do everything in one place. You don’t really hit the one specialist for every step point until you are buying a nihonto (modern made in Japan), or from higher end forges (think ~$10k and up). Of course the number of skills required to do everything in one place is high, so expect the quality and price to be heavily correlated.

If you are serious about a shinken I would look around a bit more before committing to one vendor. I think you might be surprised what options are available nowadays. The folks over at the sword buyers guide forum, including me ;), are a good resource in the modern production sword price points (hundreds to thousands). For example check out Motohara, Rado swords, Hanwei, and Huawei. I have a custom Motohara katana (I practice a Japanese sword martial art called Iaido) and it’s all made by one craftsman and the quality is really top notch.

You’re right. Stainless is a horrible choice for this.
God, I wish I had two power hammers and a whole bunch of die-sets…

Michael Bell and Walter Sorrels are traditionally-trained and Japan-certified sword makers who are also masters of Western sword and knife making and make good use of modern materials and tools.

I studied Iaido for years until general body wear and tear issues made it too painful to practice regularly. I occasionally used my Sensei’s shinken for practice - it forces a much different perspective on handling a sword. I’d still like to get a katana made someday.

I understand that. But aren’t typically used and can’t be used are two different things.

Stock removal = machining. Many varieties of stainless are more resistant to abrasion than typical carbon steels used for blade making. This simply means additional work hours to put them out. And that’s your number one contributor to cost in just about any business.

On top of that is the material cost. It’s not all that hard to spot check prices on steels. And stainless blade steels are anywhere from 50% more to 500% more than the standard carbon steels used for both knives and commonly cited for swords.

It doesn’t seem to matter much for knives, cause everything you’re making is gonna be 12" or less. And I doubt it matters very much for people doing one offs, very small production and hobby shit. But if you’re manufacturing these things you have to make a lot of them, you have to make a margin, and you have to have a price point that will move.

Every steel used in swords is also uses in knives. Not every steel used in knives is used in swords. At least from what I have seen.

The same is true of knives, stainless is used just fine for differentially hardened blades there. And stainless doesn’t lack “microstructures” just because it’s stainless. All stainless steel is is steel with higher levels of things like chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum in the alloy that contribute rust resistance. Many carbon steels also contain these at lower levels and resist rust to various levels (sometimes “near stainless” levels).

They don’t stop functioning and working the way metal functions and works because stainless.

This is pretty much what I’m talking about. If your angle on this is swords and sword collecting. Then what you’re seeing is a lot of higher priced, practical swords made made from carbon and a lot cheap decorative stuff made from stainless. And a lot of just so stories about why that is.

Just to clarify I didn’t mean to imply stock removal is different from machining. Similarly I do appreciate that stainless steels do have microstructures I was meaning to imply that their phase diagram is such that achieving the commonly desirable combinations is very difficult in stainless. (we aren’t going to get a martensitic edge with pearlite spine and desirable behaviors)

Also I think we might be having some terminology differences. When I hear stainless I think of very specific steels (300s, 400s etc…), and exclude the rust resistant and high chromium high carbon tool steels. (Based on how I hear the terms used). While some are very rust resistant I typically see them referred to by name, and not called stainless. No one is going to spend the money and time to use a high end CPM steel or D2 etc… and not call it out in their specs. All my fancy steel knives are pretty clear on the steel they use.
Sword buyers also love exotic sounding steels and heat treatments. For example see Howard Clarks fame for his L6 heat treatments.
If you can point me to any articles (primary literature or web posts) or threads (at bladeforums or the like) where a good smith uses the term stainless in conjunction with a sword I would love to read it.

Quick edit - when I said I think of specific steels I mean me personally, I could be wrong :wink:

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