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MALLEUS MARTIALIS

Simulacri di Armi Antiche e Coltelleria
Historical Blunt Arms & Cutlery
Via delle Fornaci 4 – 50023 – Impruneta (FI)
P.IVA: 06429000489
N. REA: FI – 627689
[email protected]
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Swordsmithing

Malleus Martialis Firenze / Swordsmithing
making-swords-21st-century

Making swords in the 21st century

This is the fourth episode of a eight-part interview by Carlo Cavazzuti and appeared in its original Italian version on Narrare di Storia. Making swords in the 21st century can be seen as a weird job. In fact, swordsmithing is easily associated with chivarly, duels of...

This is the fourth episode of a eight-part interview by Carlo Cavazzuti and appeared in its original Italian version on Narrare di Storia.


Making swords in the 21st century can be seen as a weird job. In fact, swordsmithing is easily associated with chivarly, duels of honour and war. Why anyone would need swords today?! Because many brave, passionate ones, as we do, still feed the spark, rediscovering and practicing historical european martial arts! But what does it mean to be a swordsmith in the 21st century?

Q7. The forge of a swordsmith in the 21st century definitely doesn’t look much like one you would have found in a medieval city. Can you tell us what the differences are?

Rodolfo: A whole treatise could be written to answer this question. I will try to be concise: it depends a lot on the production process used by each swordsmith. Certainly very few of us have a water mill, or a mallet and grinding wheels powered by it, but we have the electric power that compensates for the lack of them, as well as electric or pneumatic tools, ultra tech abrasives and what have you, to centralise the production chain in a single workshop; this production chain was once much more segmented and specialised.

Eleonora: There were certainly no computers that could be used to draw, nor all the apps that I use to manage my workflow, like a CRM, for example!


The industrial revolution before and the digital revolution then has changed everything. If our ancestors could look at us, we would be certainly alien to them!
But as a side note, working with different processes doesn’t mean swords are not authentic. This kind of vision corrupts the value and the effort all swordsmiths put in their work today.

Q8. Imagine we are in the medieval forge mentioned in the previous question. A noble gentleman enters and, placing a bag full of silver on the table, asks to have a sword made so he can leave with the good emperor Federico on the road to the Holy Land. What happens next? How would you proceed, and how is it done now, to make a weapon from scratch that can be used in battle? We don’t want to know the secrets of the trade, but just an idea of ​​how you would proceed, from order to delivery.

Rodolfo: To tell you exactly how a commission worked at the time of Federico di Svevia, I would have to have a lot more documented data available; during the centuries I studied from this perspective, between the 14th and the 16th century the city guilds were well-organised. Usually, the private commissions came through an entrepreneurial figure who distributed the work between the various artisans, as the work was much more specialised than as it is today. Today, the swordsmith is expected to be a carpenter, goldsmith, engraver and coppersmith, as well. In part, we have also acquired several of these skills at different levels in recent years, but it’s certainly not like having a team of experts who divide the work into different phases.

Eleonora: I can reiterate what Rodolfo said. To conclude, I can tell you how an order works today as I take care of customer service and design. If a customer chooses a piece from the sport collection, the options are already specified on the website and the order process is immediate. If, on the other hand, they go for a custom sword, whether it’s an artefact or for HEMA, the process is longer as I have to understand what the customer is looking for and if we can satisfy them.


Understanding the customer’s needs is a complex process which requires empathy and listening. You have to guide them through various ideas and proposals, and it’s really important to be creative and to know the subject both from the craftmanship and the historical point of view. So, studying the development of swords through history and swordsmanship is fundemental to connect the dots and offer a bespoke solution.

Q9. From receiving the commission to ending up with the finished sword in its scabbard, ready to be used by a nobleman, how much time do you need and how long did it take in the past?

Rodolfo: I can cite a precious testimony from the end of the 16th century where it’s said that a master weaponsmith from Brescia made 25 swords or 18 polearms in one day. Our production times are a little different. (laughs)

Eleonora: Of course, if we had a larger and better equipped workshop, even with automated processes, our production times and techniques would be different: but this is not our case yet, having built this company with little economic capital and a lot of human capital (hourly speaking), it’s all a work in progress! However, it always depends on the type of sword. Generally speaking, making swords can take anywhere from 8-10 hours for one, to weeks, to even months.


As we deal both with “standardized” products and custom projects, times are really varying. We worked a lot in the last two years to define precise deadlines, setting the production with a methodical schedule, which allows to establish more precise times of completion. For example, a Sport sword can be already in stock, or take around 3 months to be delivered. An Armeria sword, on the other hand, can currently take from 6 to 12 months.

Q10. What difference is there in making swords in different eras? With new technologies, is it still so different to forge a medieval sword compared with a Renaissance or Baroque one?

Rodolfo: There are many studies on ancient forging techniques, and blacksmiths with much more expertise. Our friend Giovanni Sartori could be decidedly more exhaustive, as he specialised in this subject. Much, I think, has always depended on the metal-working method and on the ability to enrich iron with carbon, so I limit myself to saying that in different parts of the world and in different eras, techniques have been used that had the purpose of hardening and subsequently, heat-treating the metal. Conceptually, today we still do the same things, but we have simplified the steps, being able to procure particular metals that meet our needs.

If we had a larger and better equipped workshop, even with automated processes, our production times and techniques would be different

Q11. Is there a difference between forging a blade from the same historical period, but from a different place?

Rodolfo: Without a doubt, starting from the composition of the steel. For this, some production sites were more renowned than others. But then as we said earlier, each craftsman had his own formulas, which also certainly varied according to the raw materials available. If you consider Japan, for example, the master swordsmiths, not having the right technologies nor the mineral in abundance as there is in Europe, drew iron matter from the sand by process of extraction. Here in Europe, it’s always been done through the extraction of iron from the rock. Essentially, I believe it depended on the possibilities of supply of those who produced the blades.


The secrets of a swordsmith

The secrets of a swordsmith

This is the second episode of a eight-part interview by Carlo Cavazzuti and appeared in its original Italian version on Narrare di Storia. Did you miss the first? Go and check it HERE! In this section we will unveil some secrets of a swordsmith: craft or magic? Q3....

This is the second episode of a eight-part interview by Carlo Cavazzuti and appeared in its original Italian version on Narrare di Storia.
Did you miss the first? Go and check it HERE!


In this section we will unveil some secrets of a swordsmith: craft or magic?


Q3. What are the characteristics of a good swordsmith, and what makes a good sword?

Rodolfo: The answer to both questions is resilience and flexibility.

Eleonora: A good swordsmith, in my opinion, must have great humility, a good eye and must be a hard worker. A good sword, rather, must be the result of a series of considerations; without these, it will always be a bad sword, even if it’s aesthetically pleasing.


Swordsmithing is an ancient art, and bringing it back requires research, reverse-engineering and a full understanding of the construction logics.
An extensive data collection from museums and private collections and also comparison with the swordfighting manuals through history are an asset.
Many see swordsmithing as an Art, and it is in many ways, but Art is not the fruit of some genious creating the blades with his talent only.
Talent is nothing without constance and discipline.

You can be as talented as Gods, but if your hands are not guided by a strong, practical and constant mind, your art is pure exercise or a hobby. Beautiful, admirable, but it can't be really profitable in every sense you can intend it.

Q4. In some parts of the world, swordsmiths had a very elevated status, even more so for those who made weaponry; they were considered a cross between craftsman, magician and priest. Do you also feel a little like this?

Rodolfo: We are far from a tribal society, or in any case from a more analogical mindset, where villagers feared the bladesmith; for example, for the fact that he closed the windows of the forge to see the colour of the red-hot metal, it was insinuated that there was something evil there. Although there are parts of the job that require a certain manual skill and ours is actually a very modern context, the spirit with which we reconstruct some pieces in particular still holds some of that magic.

Eleonora: Well, it’s not as if the famous character of the bladesmith helps much! It’s well known that swordsmith families had very particular recipes, for example those for quenching or for enriching iron and making it sharper, that were similar to witchcraft formulas. For me, the magical component is essential: when you see a beautiful sword, there is a certain science which our ancestors would have called magic.


Our payoff has always been “It’s a kind of magic”, a quote to Queen but also to this beautiful process we embrace when we make a sword from rough.
You have certainly heard that Magic is unexplained Science. We like to think that in what we do, the way we do it, these two components melt together.
So our magic formula comes from the thirst of knowledge and devotion to work, in an esoteric balance between Alchemy and Chemistry, Physics and Intuition, Geometry and the instictual proportion of Nature. These are our “Secrets of a Swordsmith”.

Photo Cover: T.HEMA by Stefan Feichtinger

〈 Previous Episode | 1/8
Next episode 3/8 〉〉
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How to start a smithy and how to learn the skills of the trade

Previously we published the "Interview with the Swordsmith"; but as many of you are curious about us, our work and our skills, we decided to write a cycle of posts to tell you something more, and to share some tips too. This is the first episode...

Previously we published the “Interview with the Swordsmith“; but as many of you are curious about us, our work and our skills, we decided to write a cycle of posts to tell you something more, and to share some tips too.
This is the first episode of a eight-part interview by Carlo Cavazzuti and appeared in its original Italian version on Narrare di Storia.
We added a brief, more in depth comment about the topic.


In this section we will tell how to start a smithy, or swordsmith workshop and how we had to learn the skills of the trade.


Q1. I know you both from before you opened the smithy, so I know how you ended up here, but maybe our readers would like to know how someone ends up starting their own sword-making business. Can you tell us a bit about it? Why swords, in particular?

Rodolfo: First of all, thank you Carlo for inviting us to chat! While I was studying Medicine in Florence in the early 2000s, I was already spending time in the historical reenactment world . At the same time I ended up, like many, studying medieval fencing. I was initially eager, but not especially well-informed, and fencing had grabbed me for a number of reasons; the practicing tools, cold weaponry, had put a spell on me that I just couldn’t shake off, so much so that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of its construction methodologies and pursue it as a job.

Eleonora: I come from the world of Visual Arts. I graduated from the Fine Art Academy in Bologna and, at the same time, I dedicated 15 years of my life to singing, turning towards Belcanto in the second part of my studies. At the Academy, I moved towards photography and design, then going on to complete a year-long course in Interior Design after graduation. In 2011, I began to move towards historical fencing; I was always a bit of a lazybones and I wanted to take up a sport that intellectually stimulated me as well. Along this road, I crossed paths with Rodolfo (or as Maestro Fiore would say, we “crossed swords”). So, I decided to change course and from the singing on stage, I ended up in the smithy, or rather, I put my design experience to good use.


So, we had two very different backgrounds. No Business Schools, no business experiences on our shoulders.
How was it possible?
A little startup capital – it was little and we struggled because of it -, the right mindset and the willing to improve, starting from learning how to properly run a business, studying and redesigning its structure through time, along with the essential skills to build a high-quality product. In our case, also building a proper database to develop the various models, both catalogue items and custom works, was useful. And last but not the least: choosing the right colleagues to work with.

I learned from two great teachers called Trial and Error

Q2. I don’t think there is a school for swordsmiths (if there is, please do correct me and tell us where it is), so having someone who can teach in the workshop must be important. Were you ever a student to a swordsmith? Do you have any students of your own to teach the trade to?

Eleonora: Technically there are some courses every now and again, run by great swordsmiths like Peter Johnsson and Owen Bush. The secret to learning how to forge, however, is to be in the workshop with those who still hold and practice the artistic heritage of wrought iron and from there, develop a series of “tools” that lend themselves to the art of swordmaking. These “tools” come from the observation and study of original findings.

Rodolfo: Eleonora has just revealed the big secret! Still, it took me years to understand this triviality: in fact, I went to the workshop of a craftsman who dabbled in building replicas of weaponry, but 90% of what I know today I learned from two great teachers called Trial and Error. I don’t really have students, mainly because to have students I would need to be a teacher, and I don’t feel like one at all. I have apprentices, though, who work with me and share this dream.


You can learn whatever you want. It’s only a matter of determination and connecting the dots, by applying the principles of art. Discipline, measure – as for swordmanship – learning from your  errors: never be too sentimental towards your works. Not because they’re bad, but because they can be better. There’s always something to file, to refine, to achieve the next level. As the Mandalorian would say it: This is the Way! Or at least, this is ours.

2nd Episode 〉〉

Interview with the swordsmith

We're back on the blog! Would you like to know about us a little more? This is certainly not an autobiography, but a full interview about our work and obviously our approach to swordsmithing! After some time, we are ready to share our thoughts and philosophy....

We’re back on the blog! Would you like to know about us a little more? This is certainly not an autobiography, but a full interview about our work and obviously our approach to swordsmithing!

After some time, we are ready to share our thoughts and philosophy. Swordsmithing today is a very varied profession, but today like yesterday every swordsmith has his/her own secrets and processes to achieve the ultimate goal:

 

make the best sword ever!

 

Some time ago, we were glad to be interviewed by Hema in Italia, an indipendent project aiming to spread the historical european martial arts culture of Italy.
Why Volume 1? Because we’ll share another interesting interview in the next months, but now:

Let’s start this journey! Have a nice reading.

 


Interview with the swordsmith – hosting Malleus Martialis

Hello, welcome! Who are you and what do you do?
Hi! We are Rodolfo Tanara and Eleonora Rebecchi, respectively smith and designer of Malleus Martialis.
The company was founded in 2014, to craft historical blunt arms and historical cutlery.
How did your career in creating medieval weapons and/or armour begin?
Rodolfo had the idea. For a decade, he had a great passion for everything that revolved around reenactment and swordsmithing. Then, experiencing living history and a renovated approach to historical fencing as a HEMA instructor, he laid the groundwork for the constitution of the company.
What are the greatest difficulties in making a sword?
The greatest challenge is that you have to build a huge know-how, that by the way differs from a swordsmith to another, also depending on the customer base. It may not look like it, but this niche is really varied! We deal with multiple materials, from steel to iron, to non ferrous metals, leather, wood, textiles. We have to be versatile and eclectic: we are smiths, leatherworkers, sometimes goldsmiths, sometimes woodworkers. In the past centuries, the process was more differentiated than today, there was a specialised production line, with highly skilled artisans, each of them in their own workshop.
But the most ambitious aim, for us, is to obtain adequate dynamic properties and improve constructional methods. That’s why research and development are the pillars of our company: we always think that there’s a lot to learn, and to do that, the company invests not only in tools and machines, but also in training and education.
In the world of historical fencing and re-enactment, what are the requests of your customers?
In our experience, reliability and an accurate design.
When it comes to the historical reconstruction of swords, what’s the difference in the making of a historical replica, and a sword made for historical fencing?
They are deeply different, but the design concept, the project philosophy and the dynamic ratios have to actually be similar or adjusted to the purpose.
Outside of the requests of your customers, what would you like to make?
Honestly we make what we love. From the entry-level to the high-end swords, we tend to support the customer during the process, asking a feedback during the creation of the sword, in order to share a successful experience.
How do you see the future of historical fencing and re-enactment?
Thank God, the future of historical fencing is not the future of reenactment.
For years, we have been used to heavy historical fencing tools, very far from the originals, and this has contributed to influence the perception of the sword as an object. We think that the fencer, in both fields, has to be educated and become more aware of his/her instrument, through a careful divulgation. We’re working in this direction, improving the website that now hosts a little educational blog. We also appreciate a lot the aim of this interview.
In the HEMA world, agonism is leading to a healthy sportification of the martial disciplines, also if it’s not completely mature and completely indipendent from some old generation concepts. We hope that the two branches of HEMA, the competitive one and the martial study, will be able to specialise more in their respective fields, and the ones who practice both will have the athletic and mental competences to divide them.
Let’s talk about funnier topics: what was, in the span of your career, the strangest request you’ve ever received?
Truthfully, they are many, and were very frequent when we started. From the self-defense blunt sword against burglars, to the damascus ice cream scoop, to the restoration of a “13th century Tunisian katana”…. But the list is wider than that!
…And what was the best request you’ve ever received?
We received many exciting commissions that pushed us beyond our limits, demanding a big effort in terms of both trials and skills. The point is to always be stimulated to improve ourselves, to no longer simply “craft things” but create art. It’s not easy to hang in balance between these two worlds, but surely the works from our “Armeria” Collection have a place of honour in our emotional history.
Now, a bit of advertisement, why should we buy your products?
As this is a difficult question, we preferred to leave it to some of our customers. A big thanks to them! Here follows a resume of the most representative answers we collected:
Malleus Martialis’ creations have a strong historical matrix, with a factor of realism and performance that is superior than the average. There is a right balance, always suited to the budget. The team is really careful with customer care and always tends to professional and quality improvement.

Conclusion

You did it!
If you survived the wall of text, you’re one of the bravests!
Swordsmithing isn’t only about making tools for fencing, we think that every sword has a soul.
We work every piece by hand so it’s very important to us to share our philosophy with you.
Our first interview ends here but keep up following us!
We’ll talk about our heritage and roots, because making swords and fighting with them is extremely funny, don’t you think? 🙂
We’d love to hear any thoughts or questions about this topic.
With love,
The MM Team

 

Malleus Martialis coat of arms

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