Tag Archives: blacksmith

Props for the Weekend

Gamora’s Godslayer – Guardians Of The Galaxy – I lost track of the “Man at Arms” show for awhile. It turns out they’ve rebooted it as “Man at Arms: Reforged.” The original show saw Tony Swatton use forging, blacksmithing, and metalworking techniques to build real metal versions of movie and video game weaponry. The new show is the same, just with a different shop. I have a lot of episodes to catch up on, but I definitely wanted to share this one where they make Gamora’s sword from Guardians of the Galaxy, since it is such a cool blade. You can pick up a lot of techniques by watching them work.

Twin Cities actor blows the whistle on ‘unsafe’ theater production – The production of “Medea” at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis is described as having a three-to-four thousand gallon pool with a 30 -foot long exposed electric circuit along the drip edge. I can’t quite picture that in my head, but it was scary enough to get the actors to call Equity and shut the production down.

The Creature and Special Effects of Alien: Covenant! – Adam Savage’s new life involves visiting every movie set and playing with their props. It’s not a bad gig. Plus, as a former model-maker/prop builder, he knows what kinds of questions to ask to make these videos more informed than your typical “behind-the-scenes” featurette that’s slapped together at the last minute.

Tips of the Week: Wire Splicing, Table Saw Router, and Flea Market Brainstorming – Make Magazine publishes a short list of tips and tricks every week, and I found this week’s collection particularly useful.

Forging the Sword from the Hobbit

I’ve pointed out Tony Swatton’s video series in the past; he is a blacksmith for film, television and theatre, and in this short series, he recreates famous weapons from films, video games and other pop culture using real blacksmith and metal-working techniques. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is a great one to start with: Swatton forges the sword “Sting” used by Bilbo in The Hobbit.

Friday Night Links

Tomorrow, August 17th, I will be exhibiting some props at the Burlington Mini Maker Faire in North Carolina. I wrote up some more details about it a few days ago. There’s going to be Stormtroopers, robots and even a space launch. That’s right, they are going to launch a balloon into (near) space from the mall parking lot. I never thought I would live to see the day I could type the previous sentence.

The Library of Congress has a massive collection of digital images and photographs from throughout US history. It is an incredible resource for finding or creating specific paper props or for general research. I use their newspaper collection quite a bit.

I’ve linked to a few of blacksmith Tony Swatton’s videos in the past; he has a new one up where he creates Link’s Master Sword from the Legend of Zelda series. The result is an amazingly accurate replica of a sword which exists only in a video game, built out of the materials which a real life sword would be made from. It is far more intense than the Master Sword I created a few months ago, but then again, I don’t have a whole team of specialized metal artisans working in my shop.

Here is an article on Patrick Drone, the props master at the University of Michigan. In recent years, he has begun working at Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, where he maintains a fleet of early Model T and Model A vehicles. He says the work is not unlike that of a props shop.

The guys at Tested recently visited The Hand Prop Room in Los Angeles to tour through their 1,000,000+ props. I often wish I lived close by to a props rental house that contained everything; then again, I probably don’t have the budget for that. I guess I’ll have to make my own.


Make Magazine has a great slideshow on “Ten Tips for Drilling Better Holes“. It is a good reminder that even seemingly simple tasks can have a lot of considerations in achieving a good result. While I would not take anything off the list they present, I would add one: be sure the drill bit will not hit your hand as it exits the other side of the material (or if it slips off).

I saw this over at La Bricoleuse and had to share: it’s a Rit Dye color chart. Choose the color you want, and it will tell you which Rit dye or combination of dyes will give you that color. Now, a lot of other factors go into achieving certain colors on particular fabrics, and Rit is not the best dye for all types of fabrics, but it is readily available at most local stores and easy to work with in a pinch, and this chart is a good starting point for many colors.

I just stumbled on a cool blog called the “Creaturiste’s Labatory”. He has a post on oil clay vs water clay in terms of sculpting, though many of the other posts are useful and interesting as well.

This is pretty cool: The official licensed replicas of props from Doctor Who are being manufactured by the same prop maker who builds them for the show.

Finally, here is a very cool video of Tony Swatton forging one of the swords from the series Game of Thrones. He has a number of videos showing the making of other weapons as well. It’s amazing to see the mix of tools and techniques he uses for hand-forging custom weapons at the pace which the entertainment industry requires. Though he mainly does film, TV and theme parks, I’ve heard his name mentioned in theatrical circles as well.


This past Saturday, I headed out to Efland, NC, where Dick Snow was teaching blacksmithing. It was another meeting with the Alamance Makers Guild (the same group that visited Roy Underhill’s shop last week). I’ve done various metalworking projects before, but never straight-up blacksmithing.

Dick tends the fire
Dick tends the fire

Dick had his coal forge fired up that morning. He also has a propane forge. He was telling us that while a propane forge does not need tending like a coal forge, a coal forge can get much hotter. You need that extra heat if you ever want to forge weld. We weren’t doing any of that, though; our lesson that day was making nails.

Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy
Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy

Dick teaches nail-making to new blacksmithers because it encompasses three of the basic techniques used in almost every blacksmithing project; drawing the steel out into a taper, cutting it to length and hammering it to give it a head. In the photograph above, you can see him cutting a red-hot rod on a hot-cut hardy. Sometimes called just the “hardy”, this tool is basically a wide cold chisel that sits in the anvil’s hardy hole. The tool sitting on the left of the anvil is the nail header. Because the nail is tapered, it only fits through that square hole to a certain point. You cut the rod a little above that point, then smash it down with the hammer into a mushroom-shaped head.

Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique
Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique

I would say the trickiest part of blacksmithing is all of it. I usually think of metal as the material you use for precision machining, and other materials are used for more organic and artistic construction. Blacksmithing, on the other hand, is where metal is used like a fluid, sculptural material. Even something as simple as making a nail is difficult to do consistently, at least at the beginning. I made about 6 or 8 nails, and none of them matched each other.

Refreshing the fire
Refreshing the fire

I’ve often thought it would be cool to use hand-forged nails in the furniture I build. You can find plenty of plans to make your own forges online, all the way down to a tiny brick-sized forge which can only make nails.

Hammering out a taper
Hammering out a taper