As you saw in the NW chapter meeting minutes this month, we were fortunate enough to have Mark Morrow in town to do a demo for us. Mark grew up near Harrison, but now lives in New Jersey. He is still an active member of BOA, and was, in fact, a past president.
Mark makes his living as a swordsmith, and has built quite a reputation for himself. I have heard more than one expert claim that there is not another one-man shop in the world that can compete with the blades produced by Mark.
So we were very fortunate indeed to have Mark volunteer to demonstrate his trade to us in the form of a naval cutlass. As Dale explained last month, a naval cutlass is similar to a cavalry saber, only shorter and thicker to allow for the thicker melee and the need to clear away rigging, etc. on a naval vessel. A cutlass has edges on one side and on both sides near the point.
I arrived late, and when I arrived, the initial blank already had a tang and was already tapered slightly along its length. Mark was putting the point on the tip as I walked up. Mark was a wealth of information about every aspect of the process. For example, he pointed out that the point had a slight curve on the back side too—a historically accurate detail necessary for scabbarding the weapon without damage.
He also discussed the techniques that were used in wielding this blade in battle, how they were stored aboard ship, and the differences between an officer’s blade and those stockpiled for the crew.
Much to my surprise, Mark did not then start tapering the cross-section of the blade. Instead, he used a fullering jig very much like a Smithin’ Magician to set a deep fuller along the length of the blade.
Because the fuller was on the spine edge, the expanding metal gave the blade a reverse taper, curving inward toward the cutting edge. I don’t believe anyone expected this.
At a certain point of fullering and curvature, apparent to Mark but not to the rest of us, Mark began drawing out the edge of the blade. Did I mention that this was all done with hand tools and strength of arm alone? Mark has power hammers in his shop, but seemed perfectly at home moving the metal the old-fashioned way.
Much to my surprise, the drawing out of the edge straightened the blade right back out, ending with the proper cutlass curvature. All without any forcing of the metal into position. It was easily apparent that Mark has been doing this a while.
At lunch, I asked Mark how long he has been blacksmithing (he began at thirteen). When I asked him about the first thing he ever forged, it was, of course, a sword. He wanted one of his own, and couldn’t afford even the cheap props available in magazines, so he made his own.
Of course, someone asked how much the blade he made today would go for. Mark said that, after adding the guard, hilt, and pommel, and polishing the blade, the cutlass would sell for around $2400.00.
Not bad for a boy from Harrison!
Robert Fox, BOA Editor