Hand-made and perfection

This is something that I struggle with on a frequent basis. My swords are entirely hand-made, there are no CNC-machines or other computer-guided devices. A set square, a compass and a set of old calipers (my grand-father‘s) are my only technical devices for measuring stuff. And me eyes of course. I tend to do a lot of eye-balling. I would say that I spend as much time looking at my work as I spend actually doing something (grinding, filing, etc).

It is inevitable (or is it?) that despite my best efforts, there are small inconsitencies and variations in my pieces. This is generally seen as to be expected in hand-crafted items. Yet I struggle immensely to not go nuts about that. It is often said that our modern mind and eyes are so used to immaculate machine-made items that we can‘t help but look for the same perfection in everything. I don‘t know, maybe. If we look at originals, it does become obvious that they must have had a different mind set. Even the highest quality swords (just to stay on topic here, this goes for a variety of objects) often display such obvious asymmetry that it would be utterly impossible to sell the same sword nowadays. Didn‘t seem to bother them back then and I don‘t believe they wouldn‘t have been capable of „doing better“.

Nowadays, „hand-made“ is very often used as an excuse for shoddy workmanship. I lost count of how many times I‘ve seen or heard someone praise a sword/knife saying how it was all hand-made and by necessity rough and rustically looking. I don‘t agree with that. Hand-made doesn‘t mean shoddy. The human hand is capable of incredibly intricate and precise work.

Shoddy isn‘t what comes to my mind when looking at high quality originals either, despite their often obvious visual flaws. On the contrary, I find those flaws are not bothering me, I in fact like that touch of the human hand there. So what‘s the difference? A wavy line is a wavy line, right? How can something be poor work here but give the piece character there (as it is often said)?

Quite frankly, I don‘t know. Is the origin different? Lack of skill or carelessness in one situation, skillfull and experienced yet quick, maybe rushed work in the other? I guess it‘s possible that sword makers had to work quickly back then but I think it‘s more complex than that. Is it linked to the quality or quantity of the flaw? A little tiny wobble may be forgiven but a in-your-face asymmetry may not? That sounds tempting but it can‘t be the main or only reason. What seems like a small irregularity, almost unnoticeable to a beginner, often is blatantly obvious to a master. So where would we draw the line between what‘s acceptable and what is not? More specifically, and that‘s where I struggle, where do I draw the line? What flaws should I see as inevitable and inherent to the craft and what as not acceptable?

Here‘s my problem. I want to recreate historical swords. I want to recreate the way they handle, feel and perform. However, I could never bring myself to make a sword with a so obviously crooked fuller or wandering spine as seen on the IMO nonetheless beautiful pieces that inspire me. So what am I doing? A modern interpretation of the theme, in accordance with my modern sense for aesthetics? Not sure that‘s what I want to do… I apologize for the rambling and lack of clear structure. Just something I think about… comments welcome.

2 thoughts on “Hand-made and perfection

  1. My friend, I personally think that a sword’s functionality takes precedence over its looks – at least when we’re talking about battle ready swords, and not wall hangers.
    So the answer is simple: as long as a sword’s flaws don’t adversely impact its performance, they don’t really matter that much.
    What’s left are the aesthetics of the sword, and those are inherently subjective.
    For example, some people hate hammer marks on their swords, while other people love them. There is no right or wrong here, just like people’s taste in music or films or books etc.
    So I guess you’ll just have to make your swords the way *you* like, and just hope the customers also like them – unless, of course, somebody hires you to make an accurate replica of a particular sword, down to the crooked fuller and wandering spine…

  2. Thanks for your comment. I do hope I am not hired to make an exact replica with all its faults… I would be faced with a dilemma… but yes, I believe all I can do (and all I want to do, really) is make swords to the best of my abilities. I need to live with them and put my name on them after all…

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