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Picture of Turn a Katana Into a Cutlass

Ever since I was a pirate-obsessed child I wanted a real cutlass, but not just any cutlass, an 1845-pattern cutlass. Yes, 1845 is completely the wrong era for English pirates, but it's still the cutlass everyone knows from movies and storybook illustrations. You can see this in the screenshots I took from one of my favourite movies, the 1990 version of Treasure Island (probably the best pirate movie ever made...) As far as I'm concerned this makes it the quintessential literary pirate cutlass.

Unfortunately, originals are very expensive and no one makes a replica, at least not available in Britain, so I decided to make my own. But I don't have the chops to make my own blade so I decided to borrow the blade from a different sword. Katanas are about the right shape and are readily available (although the government is clamping down on them again this year *fume*) so I bought the cheapest one I could find, £50 delivered.

A katana blade is quite long, and the handle is much too long for a cutlass, so I cut the end off the tang with a hacksaw and further used a file to eat into the blade by a further two inches or so. This brought the actual blade length down to 25 inches which looks right to me. Because it was a cheap katana the cutting edge is not hardened, so it was easy to file.

To remove the hamon (the milky pattern along the cutting edge) I dipped it into a strong solution of potassium permanganate for about eight minutes. You can buy this very cheaply online because it is used for etching circuit boards. I used half a litre in a bit of PCV pipe. The blade turned completely black (and got very hot during the etching process!) but after sanding the oxide off with some wet and dry paper I was left with a pleasing antique-looking finish, and no hamon.

Step 1: Making the Hilt

Picture of Making the Hilt

The hilt began as a piece of 1.5mm thick steel. The piece I used was nickel plated because that's what I had, but it would have been better to use plain steel since the nickel coating messed with my blackeneing method (see later). I made a cardboard template and used it to cut out the shape with a hacksaw and file. I also drilled and filed out a hole for the tang to fit through.

To create the bowl or cup shape I used a piece of timber (a bit of fence post actually) and gouged a shallow depression into it. Placing the steel over the depression and gently hammering it with a ball-end hammer quickly caused it to curl up and take shape -in fact I was surpsied how easy this was! I also hammered the edges of the hilt over a piece of steel bar so they fold in the reverse direction, which strengthens the thin part of the hilt (in retrospect it would be easier to do this part first while the steel is still flat). Once I was happy with the shape and size I made another hole in the thin end of the hilt for the peg on the end of the tang to fit into (if this doesn't make sense see later for how it is all constructed).

I then filed and sanded out most of the hammer marks (at least on the outside of the hilt) which also removed the nickel coating (or so I thought).

Apparently Naval cutlasses were painted black. However, I'm somewhat skeptical that they used regular paint back then, so I used an alternative traditional method of blackening with boiled linseed oil. The process is simple: clean the steel thoroughly with wire wool and acetone to remove any grease. Then heat the reverse side of the metal with a blowlamp and paint the linseed oil (use boiled, not raw linseed oil) on the other side. When it gets hot enough the oil will start to smoke and 'bake' on. Repeat this a couple of times and you will be left with a durable black coating that looks just like black satin paint! I did get trouble with traces of the nickel flaking off as it heated up, leaving un-blackened patches. Fortunately this is only visible on the inside of the hilt and rust may hide it later, but I learned my lesson: use only plain steel!

АнтонБ15 months ago
Надо попробовать!
seamster6 months ago
This is great. I love the simple approach of just modifying an existing sword! Why start from scratch when you don't have to? Excellent work!