Central Texas' master of swords
Austin's Sword Casting Guy teaches Bronze Age skills during classes
Swords are cool. That was pretty much agreed upon, from kids to parents and others who took a class on how to make blades like those from around the Bronze Age.
“I think it’s pretty cool to make a sword,” says Isaiah Arce, 15, who attended with his mom, Vanessa Arce.
On a recent Sunday, about 15 participants — primarily adults — attended the outdoor class, eager to cast swords out of aluminum.
Participants could make swords such as an Assyrian sickle sword, a Spartan sword, an Egyptian khopesh or a Greek xiphos, says Austinite Greg Wenderski, who leads the classes for his business called Sword Casting Guy. The Bronze Age-style swords made in his classes range from those used roughly around 2000 BC to 700 BC, he says. For his classes, he uses some “modern-day equivalents” to Bronze Age methods and materials.
Aluminum sword casting classes and bronze sword casting classes are offered, according to his website, swordcastingguy.com.
“I substituted the aluminum in the entry-level class because it is much easier to come by. ... It melts easier. It just works easier. More swords turn out successfully,” Wenderski says. “Bronze is more of a challenge.”
The classes have “a much wider audience than I anticipated,” says Wenderski, 48.
Diverse groups attend, he says, including home-schoolers, and fans of “Forged in Fire” and “Game of Thrones.”
“I get a lot of ‘Lord of the Ring’ fans,” he says.
Annabelle Woods, 17, of Houston, came to the class because she thought “it would be cool to have a sword.” She and her sister, Gabby Woods, 13, were in town to visit their grandmother, Toni Silcox. All three took part.
“I just like trying new things,” says Silcox, 65.
“I love swords,” says Solomon Loyd, 10, who came from Salado with his father, Sidney Loyd.
“I’ve always had a fascination with weapons,” says Kenn Roberson, 52, of Georgetown, who has a collection of swords. “I’ve been looking to make my own.”
HOW IT STARTED
Wenderski started teaching sword-making when he was a science teacher at a private school. Once a year, for several years, he demonstrated making only one sword, while students mostly just watched. But they loved it, he says.
Making the class more hands-on, he eventually started teaching it elsewhere. Then in 2015, he started Sword Casting Guy; it became his full-time business in 2017.
Casting means “pouring liquid metal into a mold,” he says. “It is the first method used to make metal swords.”
At first, he assumed it would attract mainly middle-schoolers. But adults into swords would approach him and say, “Well, I don’t have any kids, but can I come?” Recently he had a class of software designers “as a team-building exercise,” he says. People have flown in from Arkansas and Seattle.
“This is a really rare thing I’m doing,” he says.
Frequently, however, his classes bring in kids (they must be at least 7 years old, accompanied by an adult). He notes that it is not a drop-off class.
Classes are often taught at a downtown school, but people can also host a class elsewhere. Nowadays, he has been loading up his trailer of equipment and teaching classes in other cities. He recently taught 14 classes in three weeks in places such as Houston and Atlanta.
HOW IT WORKS
As the recent five-hour class gets underway, each person selects one of numerous pre-cut wooden templates for swords based on “historic Bronze Age patterns,” Wenderski says. These are flat, not sharp and about a quarter-inch thick, he says.
Solomon Loyd chooses to make an Indonesian kris knife (which is categorized as a dagger, not a sword, Wenderski says). Solomon says he likes “the curviness of it.”
Annabelle Woods says the sword she picked resembled one in “Mulan.”
“That’s my favorite movie,” she says.
Wenderski demonstrates each step, stressing safety precautions. He also talks about the history and science involved.
“I’m definitely approaching this class like a teacher,” he says.
Putting on safety goggles, each person then moves over to one of eight belt sanders to shape the edges.
“Some are double-edge; some are single-edge,” Wenderski says. “I tell them, ‘Don’t sharpen it sharper than the edge of a quarter.’ ... I don’t send anyone home with a sharp sword.”
With sawdust flying and sanders rumbling, this part is often popular with kids.
“Most of these kids haven’t used a belt sander before,” Wenderski says.
Soon after, each person takes a wooden box that unlatches into two equal halves. (The largest sword that can fit inside is 23 inches by 3 inches by one-quarter inch, Wenderski says.)
They fill both halves with a mixture that’s about 90 percent sand, along with clay and water, he says; this is where the wooden sword will leave its imprint.
Wenderski walks around offering feedback.
“That’s great. You were paying attention,” he says.
Carefully following several other steps, each person ends up having a closed box with “a sword-shaped hole in the sand,” Wenderski says. They also create a hole in the top of the boxes, where the molten aluminum will be poured.
Now comes the excitement.
“The hot metal stuff is where it is no longer hands-on for them,” Wenderski says. With class members wearing goggles and standing behind a table, Wenderski lights a small foundry.
“Of course, they did not use propane during the Bronze Age,” he says. “They used charcoal.” Once the foundry is heated, he puts inside it ingots of aluminum, each about the size of a hockey puck.
After the aluminum melts, he soon pours the shiny liquid into the holes in each box.
“I open them up within 10 minutes … and the swords are very solid by then,” Wenderski says. But still hot.
He offers compelling cautions: “If you touch it, your hands will sizzle.”
Wenderski says he always anticipates possible safety issues. Especially for younger groups, he emphasizes rules such as no fighting with swords and no running around.
“I’ve cast well over 2,000 swords at this point, and no kid has ever been burned with a hot sword,” Wenderski says. “It sounds dangerous, but it’s really not.”
Occasionally, minor things can go wrong in the process, though, he says. “This one has a crack right there … so we’re going to pour that one again.”
Once the swords have cooled, grinders are used for “surface finishing,” to create smooth, shiny swords.
This step brings out “the perfectionist” in Vanessa Arce, 39, to make it just right, she says.
Jake Yokubaitis, 13, says he likes Greek culture and swords “are just cool,” even though he discovered while using the grinder that “it gets heavy after a while.”
Afterward, each handle is wrapped in a long leather strip for better grip and to make it look authentic, Wenderski says.
Then, ta-da, they can show off their newly made swords with pride.
“This is perfect,” says Allen Gordon, 19.
In this class, sword-making can be a family activity.
Vince Carag, 54, says he and his stepson, Jake Yokubaitis, “were looking for something we could do together,” and they decided on this class.
Sidney Loyd says the class was a “good father-son experience.”
“I’m going to decorate (the sword) when I get home," says Annabelle Woods, who enjoyed getting to spend time with her sister and grandmother.
Participants also get to keep the wooden sword. Cost of the class using aluminum is about $90; the price varies for other types of classes.