Introduction

 
My name is Neil Burridge and this site showcases my work as a bronze sword smith. Over the last 12 years I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the leading archaeologists in the study of ancient weapons. This has enabled me to have hands on experience of the original artifacts and has greatly helped me in the understanding of their manufacture and the skills of the ancient metal-workers. In my work I strive to recreate the quality and elegance of the ancient bronze swords.

Apart from the design, the three qualities that you would look for in a bronze sword are, weight, balance and alloy, the level of skill Bronze age sword makers achieved with clay casting technology is stunning, and the fact that no one can match them today, is even more humbling.

Weight
Bronze swords rarely exceeded 800 grams, if it is over 1 kilo it is way to heavy, "it's a lemon". Due to the difficulty of casting swords in sand, most foundries will cast on the heavy side, and although the end results would look good in a glass case, they bare no comparison to a genuine Bronze Age weapon.

Balance
It is interesting that if you were to look at the balance point on bronze age swords, its much nearer the handle than you would expect, the blades taper evenly toward the point, and are not end heavy.

Alloy
The alloys used in the bronze age for swords, on average, vary from 8% to 12% tin and in later swords the lead content varies 1% to 5% depending on the tin content. My personal feelings are that the hardness of sword alloys could not exceed the hardness of the tools used in the process of edge hardening.


Sainte Anastasie sword.

All bronze age sword edges were hardened and sharpened at the same time, the edges were forged down to a thin, hard wafer. The work is so neat, its not easy to understand how they achieved it.

Over the past couple of years I have had some interesting interactions with archaeologists researching bronze swords. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that we only see bronze swords in drawings in one dimension, and have little understanding of their weight, balance and how they were used.

The first thing we would all say, when a bronze age sword was paced in are hands is, "it's so small", and they were small! It is only by the end of the bronze age that swords were getting any thing like the size we imagine, so 67cm would be a very big sword, and would probably weigh around 700 grams.

"What's so good about, my swords?"
I hear you ask. I cast my swords vertically in very hot moulds. This means I can cast swords at the right weight, it also means I get a better structure to the bronze. As the casting method is nearer the bronze age method, I use a 12% tin/copper alloy which is at the top end for tin content for a bronze age sword. This casts well and gives a nice stiff blade. I mix all my own alloys and never use soft silicon bronzes.


Reproductions of the sword from Scarborough Castle, in both "as found" and original appearance.

 

Hardened Edges
One of the most beautiful things about the bronze age swords are the recasso edges, which are forged in. All my swords come with hardened edges, done in the (forged in) bronze age method. The forging is quite time consuming and I believe I am the only person able to do this at the moment. I cast all my blade as near to a sensible weight for bronze age sword as possible, and tuning a mould might take me many days and up to nine castings until I am happy.

In recent television programme for the BBC, one of my bronze swords was repeatedly stuck against a reproduction of an early iron sword, in a test to show the advantages of iron over bronze. Even though both myself and Hector Cole (the iron sword maker) had advised the programme makers the that the bronze sword would do better than expected, they were very surprised. The bronze sword was more than a match for the iron, both blades received heavy damage. The ability of bronze to rapidly work harden under impact, and the lack of carbon in early iron swords must have created a bit of a technological stand off around 700bc. At this time the art of the bronze caster was at its height and iron working was in its infancy.

In my work as a bronze sword maker i try to catch the essence of sword making in the bronze age and get as close as possible to the originals.