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A medieval sword was a vital part of any knight’s or lord’s equipment. With medieval Europe always in a state of war blacksmiths would have to constantly supply knights with new swords. Therefore a major question to ask is how long did it take for medieval smiths to make their swords?
A simple answer to the question is that for rushed orders a professional medieval smith might be able to make a sword in about 1 week of work. However, that timeline is for a normal sword which was often made in bulk orders. If the smith was making a high-ranking noble’s sword it could take up to 6-7 months to create a medieval sword.
The timeline for blacksmiths to manufacture swords in medieval Europe varied greatly depending upon 2 factors. The experience level of the smith or their apprentices and the smithing resources the smith had access to. A large smithing operation in the high medieval period could rapidly produce low-quality swords for peasant armies, while a small smith during the early medieval period might take a week to manufacture one sword.
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Without further ado, here is how long it took for medieval smiths to make swords.
How Swords Were Used During The Medieval Period
Before we talk about how long it would take a medieval blacksmith to forge a sword we need to discuss how swords were used during the medieval period.
During medieval wars, a majority of armies would be armed with long weapons such as polearms and spears. The infantry of these armies were mainly peasants who were conscripted to fight. More often than not peasants would have to provide their own weapons and as such often just had a spear and a small personal weapon.
When we think of a medieval sword most people imagine a knightly sword in a sheath. This sword weighed between 2.4-4.0 lbs and was around 2.5 feet in length. This was the personal weapon of knights and lords. The Peasant infantry would be armed with crude personal weapons such as long knives and axes.
The peasants ‘sword’ was no more than a long knife of about 1ft in length and just effective enough to intimidate someone. Generally, It was not balanced and of poor quality craftsmanship. The knight’s sword on the other hand was made from better quality materials, balanced, tempered, and sharp.
However, the warfare of medieval Europe was based on 3 classes of combat. First, was the infantry line equipped with long weapons such as spears. Second, were the skirmisher and archer lines. Third, was the noble cavalry. The role of the infantry class was to provide a bulwark for the other two classes.
Since the medieval infantry was equipped with long weapons it was rare that personal weapons would have to be drawn. A 1ft peasants long knife would simply not be effective when having to face down another infantry line of spears.
Therefore it is important to remember that when we are talking about how long it took for a medieval smith to make a sword we are talking about personal weapons that would be used in last-ditch efforts. Swords were typically designed for either status or personal protection, the sword wielders’ status significantly impacted the smithing time.
Medieval Smiths Making Mass Produced Swords For Peasants
The first type of sword a medieval smith would get an order for would to be arm an individual peasant who has been ordered to serve in their lord’s army.
A medieval smith would be given an order to fill to create a sword for a medieval free-peasant. This sword would have to be of high enough quality to defend the peasant and nothing else. This type of sword would be of the lowest acceptable quality and would only take a couple of days to manufacture.
Here the medieval smith would take a raw iron or steel ingot and forge it into a sword shape. After this, the smith would hand the product to an apprentice to grind into a sharp blade and form the shape of the hilt. After this point, the smith would take back over and refine the blade until it was of good enough quality for the peasant.
These peasant swords were of the lowest quality and were simply designed for a peasant to have a personal weapon during medieval campaigns. During the late medieval period, swords became cheaper to manufacture, just about any medieval peasant could afford to have a basic sword for themselves.
During the early medieval period (500-900 AD), the fastest a smith could manufacture a sword would be around 1 or 2 weeks. This was for a basic sword that was of high enough quality to be called a sword and nothing else.
By the middle of the medieval period (900-1,300 AD), blacksmiths sped up the process of manufacturing medieval swords by mass producing them in bulk. This was where a smith would have several apprentices and hand off much of the process to them. Here smiths would be able to create an entry-level sword in about 2 or 3 days at the fastest.
By the late medieval period (1,300-1,500) swords had largely become redundant and were a status symbol of the wealthy. Most warfare at this point had moved on to heavy poleaxes and large powerful crossbows. By this point, entire armies were armed by kings and lords and smithing operations could be massive. Here a smith could create hundreds of swords in a couple of weeks with the help of advances in technology and a fleet of apprentices.
Simply put, if a medieval smith was making a low-quality sword for a peasant it would only take a couple of days or a week. Nothing was fancy about this sword and it was only created as a personal defense weapon. However, if the smith got an order from a lord or knight the timeline would increase significantly.
Timeline For Medieval Smiths Making Swords For Nobility
Remember, swords were typically designed to convey status for the wearer. While peasants might be armed with a basic sword or long knife the nobility of medieval Europe would demand to be distinguished with ornately designed swords.
These swords would take significantly longer to create by medieval smiths. The estimated time length for the creation of these swords would range from 1-7 months depending on the status and demands of the noble. For imperial swords manufactured in the late medieval period and used by kings in court, the process could take even longer at upwards of a year.
However, for the average knight or noble, the smithing process of their sword might only take about 2 months on average. This was because their swords were made to be of extremely high quality while also conveying their status to those around them.
A great example of these noble swords and the smithing quality can be seen in the legendary 9-11th AD century Ulfberht swords found around Europe. These swords came from the same smith. These swords were designed for the nobility and for some reason were extremely advanced for their time in regards to quality.
Manufacturing such high-quality swords for the nobility of Europe took time. On average if you were a knight or noble during this time you could expect to wait upwards of 2 months to receive your custom-made sword from the smith.
Other Factors Which Impacted The Average Smithing Time Of Medieval Swords
On top of the status of the sword wielder, several other factors could impact the speed at which smiths would manufacture swords. While there would be several factors here are the 2 largest which could impact medieval smithing time.
The Experience Level Of The Medieval Sword Smith Or Their Apprentices
From the middle medieval to the late medieval period most smiths had a team of apprentices working underneath them. Most medieval smiths would touch the sword only three times during the entire process. Outside of that, the apprentices would handle a majority of the work.
For those who are interested in the medieval process of smithing a sword, the general steps are below.
The medieval smith would handle the product initially by assessing the quality of the ore or ingot. After this, an apprentice would fire and hammer the ingot into an initial sword shape. Here the smith would take back over and assess the product and begin to refine to the raw sword. After this process, the smith would then hand the sword off to another apprentice who would further reheat the sword again, refine the shape, form the hilt, begin to sharpen, and add any additions. After this step, the medieval smith would then take the sword and provide a final quality control check.
As we can see it would take a team of people to create a medieval sword. Therefore one of the major factors which impacted the smithing time of a medieval sword would be the experience level of the smithing team.
A good set of apprentices and a master smith could drastically reduce the time required to smith a good medieval sword. A bad ‘team’ could create considerable waste and cause delays in the entire process.
Quality Of Resources The Smith Had Access To
Contrary to popular belief medieval blacksmiths wouldn’t just take any old iron ingot. Often smiths would form a close connection with one or two sources of raw iron or steel ingots. The metal that regional blacksmiths used was often sourced from the same mines due to its reputation for high-quality ore.
Sometimes due to variables outside the smith’s control, the ingot supply from these ore towns would be unable to reach them. This was caused by either conflict, a lack of ore coming from the mine, or sometimes natural disasters.
As such one of the major factors that would impact the smithing time of medieval swords would be acquiring the raw resources themselves.
There you have it; an entire article going over how long it took for medieval smiths to make swords.
Medieval smithing techniques are a fascinating subject of research. Many of medieval history’s mysteries can be solved by people looking closer at the economics behind the medieval smithing of weapons. Any prospective graduate students looking for history topics to research will find substantial research opportunities here.
Here at The History Ace, I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing it around the web.
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