Robert Treskillard is a Celtic enthusiast who holds a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies from Bethel University, Minnesota. He has been crafting stories from his early youth, is a software developer, graphic artist, and sometime bladesmith. When Robert’s son wanted to learn blacksmithing and sword-making, the two set out to learn the crafts. This lit the fire of Robert’s imagination, and so welding his Celtic research to his love of the legends of King Arthur, a book was forged: Merlin’s Blade, the first book of The Merlin Spiral. This wa followed by Merlin’s Shadow and the just-released 3rd book, Merlin’s Nightmare. To join the battle, visit the author’s website dedicated to the series: KingArthur.org.uk.
by Robert Treskillard
My son said it-and it changed my world: “I want to make a sword!”
“Well”, pop thought, “a real sword is a bit ambitious!” So being a hobbyist woodworker, I made a wooden one. Did that satisfy him for long? Not a bit.
Metal? What did I know about metalworking? Nothing! So after buying a few bladesmithing books, an anvil was mail-ordered, a forge was built, and vague knife-like shapes were being drawn on some flat O2 steel. We learned the process by making knives, and it wasn’t easy.
From Wood, to Metal, to Fantasy
Then my sister told me that our family was descended from a Cornish blacksmith. I was already a Celtic enthusiast, but this lit my swirling thoughts on fire. Swords! Cornwall! Celtic myths! Which led to … King Arthur! And so a question began to bug me. Why had the sword been thrust into a stone? And the only answer that made sense was … what if the stone was the enemy? What if you were trying to kill it?
And so after a year of research I began to write, and fourteen drafts after that I had a published novel, MERLIN’S BLADE, book 1 of The Merlin Spiral.
From Fantasy back to Reality
But now I had a problem. I had written about the forging of Excalibur, and needed to make it. I needed that sword to help promote the book. And not only that, but my publisher, Blink YA Books, wanted to photograph it for the cover!
How to do it? We’d made knives, but nothing as long as a hand-and-a-half sword. Not only that, but our forge was too small to heat treat such a monstrous blade. So I bought a blade without a handle, and then custom bronze-cast the handle! This saved time, gave me a pristine hardened steel blade, and also allowed me to design the hilt, handle, and pommel as I envisioned a late-iron age blade might have looked.
Was the bronze-casting easy? No, but it was fun and rewarding, and if you’re ambitious, you might just want to attempt it. The reward? Your own custom designed fantasy sword!
Danger, Will Robinson!
But beware! You have to melt the bronze at 1750 degrees fahrenheit, and that requires a massive bit of caution. So, taking the smartest approach, I read a lot on the internet, and that qualified me as a knowledgeable expert. NOT!
To be honest, I knew just enough to get myself in trouble.
You see, by this time I had done a bit of pewter casting, and thought if I could somehow get the bronze to melt that I could just pour it into the same type of plaster molds I had used for pewter. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Computer 3D Design…just like the ancients did it…hah!
So I set out to make my plaster molds using the lost-wax method. This is how I did it:
- Created a 3D model of the hilt and pommel on the computer.
- Sent the 3D models to a service that printed them in plastic.
- Made silicone rubber molds of the plastic hilt and pommel.
- Poured wax into the molds and made wax duplicates of the plastic pieces.
- Attached sprues and air vents to the wax models, put them in a box, and poured plaster in.
- Once the plaster dried, melted the wax out.
What if you’re not a 3D designer? Just carve your hilt and pommel out of wood and make your rubber molds from that. Simple-pimple.
Once the plaster was dry, I was ready to pour bronze-or so I thought!
A Furnace From a Flowerpot
Next I ordered a few things … bronze ingots, a crucible, and a little book that explained how to make a bronze-melting furnace out of a Christmas popcorn tin and a terracotta flowerpot … believe it or not! Check it out yourself at BackyardMetalCasting.com.
The trouble was that when my bronze ingots came they were too big for my little crucible. I had to figure out how to melt the bronze, so I bought a Lodge cast-iron pot and melted the bronze. Iron melts at a higher temp than bronze, right?
Catastrophe – or Tolkien’s Eucatastrophe?
So once the bronze melted, I went inside to get the plaster molds from the oven where they had been warming up. Before I arrived outside, my son started yelling. The cast iron pot had melted through! The bronze had fallen into the bottom of the furnace. Disaster of all disasters!
The next day I found an SCA guy who knew how to bronze cast, and told him my predicament. He asked me a pointed question:
“You weren’t about to pour bronze into plaster molds? You can’t do that!”
He explained that water is chemically bound up in plaster, and if you pour in molten bronze, the water is released as steam-and volcanically explodes the bronze in your face!
So my catastrophe was really a eu-catastrophe … it had saved me from serious bsasgurns, maybe even blindness.
My friend explained to me that I had to mix quartz sand with the plaster, and then I needed to burn the chemical water from the molds using a kiln before pouring the bronze. It was back to the drawing board.
Next I took a class from him, bought a kiln, made my new molds, and successfully poured the bronze. Thus was born my personal version of Excalibur.
Then Blink YA Books photographed the blade and placed it proudly on the covers of each of my novels: MERLIN’S BLADE, MERLIN’S SHADOW, and now MERLIN’S NIGHTMARE. How cool is that?
If you are tempted to try this mad adventure, I suggest you take a class first, or at minimum talk to someone who has. I’ve proven it is possible to make your own custom fantasy blade … after all, the ancients did it, and you can too!
To learn more about Robert and his novels, go to his website at KingArthur.org.uk.