Here is a post from 2007. He was a bit reluctant to give me the skinny on how he made swords, sort of the point of this interview. Alas. But I ran a How-To in the next post, so, likely, I'll also rerun that here.
Today we are talking with sword smith Paul Binns, a 38 year old bloke living in the county of Norfolk, England, who happens to make swords and other weapons for a living. He can be found at http://www.paul-binns-swords.co.uk/index.htm
These days we're supposed to be making ploughshares, not swords. How did you get into making swords? Did you have a mentor?
I can’t remember why I started, probably because in the 70s there were no swords for sale so I started making them from a very early age, by hammering copper tube flat on kerbstones outside my house, later I progressed to flattening out leaf springs from cars to make rudimentary blades. I just picked up knowledge from where I could.
One would think that re-enactment groups would not constitute enough work for a present-day sword smith. Who are buying your swords and what are they doing with them?
Mainly re enactors but also museums filmsets and individual collectors who want a well made blade, made properly, perhaps they have an original in their local museum they want a copy of etc.
Can you take us through the step by step process of making a sword, from raw material to finished sword?
Depends on what type of sword, the techniques vary considerably across time, also re enactors have a different set of requirements entirely. But to be truthful I keep a lot of it close to my chest, too many importer types out there looking for info to farm out to India/China etc.
How does the process differ from then to now?
The main difference is in material quality. Nowadays a craftsman can look up steel and read the mill specs on heat treatment etc back then the material varied in quality greatly; carbon content, mechanical properties in the grain etc all were different from batch to batch, even from billet to billet from the same batch. For example, a bar or rod could have a soft centre and a hard, brittle exterior, the smith would have to follow his nose, so to speak, when working to get the best finished product.
I think it would be pretty easy to become enchanted with things medieval while living in England. It's all around you. But why do you think people from all over the world want these things, (including, of course, folks in the U.K.)?
I really don’t know, the re enactors need a reliable product that does not fall apart in use. The collector also wants this, but demands traditional working techniques as well. I suppose the sword is a symbol of times past, an anachronism that is aesthetically pleasing, and also something that has been around in one form or other since the Bronze Age.
Do you also make mail and armor? If so, what is that process like?
Nope, totally different set of skills, I can’t think like a tailor and make stuff fit anyway.
Was there a resurgence of interest since the Lord of the Rings movies appeared, or has the Dungeons and Dragons set always brought interested buyers?
Not as far as I am concerned, the Lord of the Rings is a great story, but it’s just an echo of the old stories and sagas... I am not interested in fantasy swords.
Things are a bit different in England than they are in the U.S. For instance, you still have guilds that have survived from medieval times to the present. Do you have to belong to a guild?
Interesting question, as I understand it the guilds are in the city of London, they are descended from the medieval guilds that existed to control quality and unfair competition, normally from foreign merchants. I am not in any trade guild, but funnily enough I am a freemason, the origins of which lie in the guilds of travelling craftsmen that built the cathedrals of Europe, specifically who carved the ashlar stone which formed the linings and facings of the buildings, whilst no longer operative, I suspect some of the old craft ritual has survived into modern masonry.
What was the most interesting or noteworthy sword or object you ever made?
I don’t think I’ve made it yet! Though I like the technique of pattern welding which is earlier than medieval.
What were some clunkers? In other words, is there some object you will never attempt to make again?
The first re enactment swords were behemoths of doom! I have such a relic in my shed somewhere, over 5 pounds in weight, no fullergroove for lightness, the hilt wound with copper electrical wire the pommel a Victorian doorknob!.. priceless..
Used to, but one good hand or arm hit and I’m out of business.
Swords are still weapons, even if they don't have a trigger or a bullet. How do you caution your clients?
I don’t.. Maybe I should! Seriously, no sales of sharps to under 18s also I like to sniff someone out that they are sensible, or belong to an established group or society.
Do you ever travel to medieval fairs to display your smithing skills?
Used to, but I am a manufacturer rather than a trader, so I have bespoke orders to do.
Tell us about medieval sword smiths. Would they have specialized or were they expected to make a horseshoe as well? Did they stay put or were they itinerant?
I don’t really know.. this is a best guess. Please bear with me. Manufacturing trades tended to grow up near to the sources of their needs , in our case iron ores charcoal and water power for driving mechanical hammers and ore crushing machines, apart from people working on sites of construction, the masters would tend to stay put. Blade smithing was above general smithing ;a master smith of the time would not be asked to do anything beneath him, it would be a waste of his time, besides the guild would probably forbid him to make things which he was not entitled to.. it was not a free market as such. Journeymen smiths did exist and travelled, but they were probably not allowed access to the top forges for fear of departing with coveted secrets.
You also make axes and spears. Tell us about those. From what period do you derive your designs?
These are underrated, a good axe or spear was a far more commonplace and familiar object than a sword for the majority of people, they existed in all time periods.
If someone were starting out in the smithing biz, what kind of advice would you give them?
Wear ear muffs, for everything always.
Do you feel you are part of the larger history of "men behind the scenes" of great events; a long line of craftsmen?
No, I am a modern man who decided to make these things. " tradition is a meteor, which, once fallen, can never be rekindled" as someone more learned than me once said.. once upon a time somewhere...
How many years can a smith smith?
Until he is dead or disabled, check out metal work industrial injuries though…and do your best to prevent them.
Is the next generation ready to move into place? Is anyone apprenticing with you?
Again, apprentices are not a modern option, within a guild system yes, the law is laid out, but now it’s a minefield.
Are there many women smiths?
Don’t know of any, don’t see why not.
What is your next project?
I’m just coming to the end of a lot of stuff for the Isle of Man museum. Don’t know what’s next.
Others have written books about making swords. Have you ever considered it?
I’m a smith not an author; besides, mean as it sounds I think people need to keep their best concealed, too many traders wanting to cash in and using the resources of the 3rd world as the manufacturing muscle.
Thanks for sharing, Paul. Paul’s too shy to tell his secrets so in the next entry we’ll see some traditional techniques for making swords. And remember kids, a sword is not a toy!