Walk through the process of bringing a new Dawson sword design to life

Swords are just cool.

Get your hands on a real, usable one, and you’ll feel instantly transported to a different time. A cooler time. You’ll find swords of some style in nearly every old martial culture around the world, and we take inspiration from them all.

Swords are some of my favorite pieces to design and build, but they do take a lot of thought, planning and work. First off, we design each one to be a 100% usable. That alone requires an attention to detail that just wouldn’t be necessary if they were intended for display only. One of the trickiest things to get right is the weight and balance. A sword obviously has a much longer blade than a regular knife, and yet they need to balance in a similar way. The goal is for the sword to feel light and fast in the hand without compromising strength. You don’t want to wear yourself out just trying to counterbalance the blade’s weight. We believe the edge is what should deal the primary damage, not blunt force trauma.

Step One: Inspiration & Design

I’m a huge military history nerd, so...

...usually my inspiration for a new design comes from actual historic blades. Sometimes the final piece ends up being a modernized combination of a few different aspects of similar swords. The first step in the process is sketching the design onto a really big piece of poster board. Then the family passes it around, trying to imagine how it will feel, look, and balance in real life. We hem, haw, erase and re-draw, until we finally end up with something we like and think will translate well into real life.
The next thing is trying my much-maligned design on a real piece of mild steel. It’s just a blank at this step, so no handle, no grinding, just the shape. But even so, you can tell a lot about some of those most-important aspects I mentioned earlier: weight, balance, and speed. Things you might not have noticed in a drawing come vividly to life, good and bad. Sometimes the hilt or ricasso needs to be longer or wider, sometimes the blade needs to be shorter or the guard bigger in order to get the look and feel exactly right. So back to the literal drawing board. It’s a process.

"Though I’ve been in the knifemaking business going on twenty years, there’s still a curve for learning to grind the ins and outs of a new design. It takes skill and time to get it right."

Dennis grinds a Dark Knight sword
Once we finally have a design we’re satisfied with, it’s time to build one for real. It’s important to start with a quality steel, one that’s going to be tough, flexible and hold a razor-sharp edge. We use American-made CPM-3V powder steel for most of our blades, and CPM Damascus for a select few. CPM is phenomenal stuff, even beating out D2 for edge retentionI talk a little more about CPM-3V and why we chose it for our knives here, if you’re curious.
Shaping a hand guard
After cut-out, the blade is ground and heat-treated, which is all done in-house. Though I’ve been in the knifemaking business going on twenty years, there’s still a curve for learning to grind the ins and outs of a new design. It takes skill and time to get it right. It’s all too easy to spoil a subtle curve or blunt something that you intended to be angular.
And always, everything is being weighed in the balances of real-world usability. Does this feel awkward? Too heavy? Poking/chafing my hand? Underbalanced? Overbalanced?

It’s kinda dangerous to walk behind someone grinding a new sword design in our shop, because you never know when they’re going to stop and take an experimental swing.


The next stop is the handle or "hilt". By this point the overall outline of the handle is set, but the shaping, notches, grooves, palm swells and other etc. of the scales have yet to be worked out. The handle directly affects the weight and balance of the finished piece, so which material to use, whether to add bolsters or a pommel, and how exactly to shape it is considered carefully. We work with a wide variety of handle materials including a slew of stabilized woods, bone and tusks. We also use G10 and different types of Carbon Fiber.
Nearly always, the handle of a Dawson sword is overlaid with either cotton silk or leather wrapping, and there’s a few reasons for that. The motion of actually using a sword or machete is completely different than the motion you use with, say, a hunting knife. Swinging a sword involves powerful downward or cross-body motion, which by its very nature includes a pretty decent amount of forward force as well. When your hands get sweaty and tired, this extra layer of material not only makes the grip more comfortable, but helps keep the sword from flying out of your hands and impaling something other than your target. Awkward, that.
Windstorm, handle detail

Finally, the fun part

And then comes the best part. Once we’ve laid a razor sharp edge on that bad boy, we like to take it out and put it through its paces in our backyard or in one of the pine forests near our shop in Prescott Valley, AZ, USA. Wood, tatami, plastic jugs and bottles, gourds, melons, various meats – they’re all fun and useful gauges of a blade’s effectiveness.
And that’s the story of how a new sword comes to life at Dawson Knives. Anything I forgot? Questions? Let me know in the comments!

Speaking of new designs, have you checked out our newest sword design, the Cyrus? Just released for our 2020 collection, this Persian-style, scimitar-inspired blade is a lean, mean, slice-your-arms-off machine. Have a look here!

16" Praetorian
Tokugawa, tsuba detail
Highwayman, w/ heat anodized s-curve guard
Saigo, blade in CPM Damascus



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