Chinese Sword Making
A History of Sword Making
Swords have played an integral part in the military history of almost all world cultures. Chinese culture is no exception. Sword making began in the Bronze Age and eventually ended up in the development of iron forging techniques centuries before similar techniques were practiced elsewhere in the world. Swords were integrated into Chinese martial arts, resulting in the introduction of modern steel swords for competitions and exhibitions.
Bronze swords were manufactured in China as early as 4,500 years ago. Swords and sword-type weapons often made from bronze included the dagger-axe, featuring a hooked blade, a halberd, or long handled sword, and various length, shapes, and thicknesses of hand held swords. Mid-period bronze swords were often made from two different alloys of bronze in the same sword. This allowed for a harder bronze on the edge with softer bronzes for ornamental details. Swords of this period
Sword ornamentation was, and still is, very common in China. Early bronze swords were often ornamented with wraps and cages of gold, silver and precious stones, many of which still exist in museum and private collections. In some cases, a second alloy of a different color was cast into the sword blade to create patterns and textures. In many cases, short swords have lengths of brightly colored cloth or tassels attached to the hilt to serve as a visual distraction in combat. Later iron swords blades often had ornately cast brass and bronze handles with brass and bronze ornamentation on the scabbards.
Iron was initially used for exotic weapons in the 11th century BC when very special swords were forged from bits of iron meteorites. By the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, between 776 and 221 BC, iron work moved from meteoric iron to iron smelting techniques. The smelting of this period resulted in a carbon iron that was less brittle than pure cast iron. The Qin Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) invested heavily in iron smelting and forging resulting in an eventual centralization of carbon iron swords and weapons in areas near the imperial army. Iron swords were often set in bronze and brass handles inlaid with gold and silver and jade or other precious stones.
Steel swords have largely replaced iron in the manufacture of swords in China. Steel sword manufacture began around the 10th century A.D.. Because of the difficulty of manufacturing steel, steel swords were reserved for the upper echelon of Chinese military personnel. Although swords are no longer used as a weapon of war, steel came into common use after the advent of firearms as a primary form of weapon, steel has proved to be more durable and lighter in most exhibition and ceremonial use. Many modern steel swords are made of exquisite etched steel with intricate handles and hilts.