How this blacksmith makes real swords for TV and movies

  • For over 30 years, Tony Swatton has been forging iconic arms, armor, and props for over 200 feature films, TV shows, and commercials.
  • Insider's Joe Avella dropped by Sword and the Stone in Burbank, California, where Swatton and his team forge and build swords and other weapons all day long.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories
Following is a transcript of the video.

Joe Avella: Believe it or not, there's a blacksmith in Hollywood who specializes in making real swords for films and TV. Yes, actual swords, for stars and stunt actors alike to cut, slice, and swing at each other. Sure, in some instances rubber swords are used, like when an actor does stunts that require falling. But as high-definition video has improved, using authentic-looking swords has become more important.

Tony Swatton: It needs to be real, so you can go in close, you can see it. And also, if an actor picks up a sword, he has that tactile feedback of the sword in his hand and working with it, as opposed to holding a baton and emulating on a green screen what's supposed to be happening. So, it makes a big difference.

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Joe: Jack Sparrow, Blade, Zorro, Peter Pan, and countless other movie stars use a sword as their weapon of choice. But to achieve an authentic look, plastic or rubber swords simply won't do. Forget about a prop house; these swords are created in a real blacksmith shop. The authenticity and speed with which these swords are made can only be done by a real blacksmith, like Tony Swatton.

Tony: I'm a smith. I'm a blacksmith, I'm a bladesmith, I'm a silversmith, I also work in copper and tin. I hit things with a hammer. So, that's basically my job.

Joe: Swords, made from real metal, being heated, beaten, grinded, beaten some more, quenched... Whoa! And polished, all for on-screen accuracy. For over 30 years, Tony's been making iconic weapons and armor in his shop, Sword and the Stone. He has over 200 feature films and TV shows under his belt.

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Tony: "Legend of Zorro" and "The Mask of Zorro," I made the principal swords for Antonio Banderas for Zorro. I did "Pirates of the Caribbean." I did "Pirates" one, two and three, and four.

Joe: He worked on the sword and that throwable glaive thingy for "Blade," as well as...

[screaming]

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Tony: I worked on "Hook." I made the hook for the movie "Hook," as well as the swords and background swords.

Joe: I know, it's not a sword, but he did the hook from "Hook," and that's pretty cool. It starts with production sharing their sword needs and working with the blacksmith on the design. It's also crucial to decide what the sword will be made from.

Tony: A lot of times, a film will contact me and say: "Hey, we have a movie, it's 12th century Scotland, and we need to make a sword. What would you recommend?" Or, "This is our design, how would you go about making it?" We kind of work together with the prop master, the costume designer, the set decorator, and the production designer. A lot of times I'll have an input into what we make. Zorro's sword, case in point, it was actually a curved hunting sword from the 1500s that was in the Tower of London, and The Wallace Collection in London and I cobbled those together and made it into a, more of a rapier, then shortened that down and embellished it with details from both swords.

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Joe: Once the design is decided, multiple versions of the same sword will be created, depending on how the sword will be used on screen. A more authentic real-steel sword is needed for close-up action shots, while an aluminum sword will be used for wider shots and sequences that require more movement.

Tony: This is the hero Jack Sparrow's sword. This is formed out of steel. Forged steel hilt, ebony grip. This is not a hero piece; this is a background piece. This is a stunt weapon.
Joe: This one feels way lighter.
Tony: It is way lighter. The hero piece is out of forged steel for the hilt and ebony for the grip. This is identical from here down. The blade is identical looking at it going up here, but this is made out of aluminum. This is an aluminum rapier. It's lightweight, it's dull, it's not gonna cut anyone, but it has great properties. Comes back to true.
Joe: I don't know why I flinched there. I was like, ah! [laughs]
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Joe: The sword starts as layers of dissimilar metal welded together. In this instance, some of the layers are made from an industrial band-saw blade originally used to cut down redwood trees. Yo! The metal is heated up, then hammered flat either by hand or power hammer. Then folded over and flattened a few more times. The sword is ground down to its shape and is heat-treated in an electric oven. This process brings the blade up to 1,600 degrees. And then it's quenched in oil. This hardens the steel. Without this stuff, the blade would crack or shatter while in use. After that, more grinding and polishing. Tony also makes the grip, hilt, and pommel. It's all put together, and voilà. You have a sword.

Joe: Seen here, my guy Bryan swings the real sword. Its weight and authenticity makes for a realistic-looking swing and action you can only get with a real sword. In case you couldn't tell, this is a pretty dangerous environment. Everything is either hot, sharp, or poisonous. Notice I'm not in any of these shots. That's because I'm behind the cameraman.

Tony: What makes me unique is the speed at which I can create these pieces. I'll put 35 swords together in a day for a film production. The most swords that I've made for a single production has probably gotta be "The Last Samurai." I made about 600 swords, predominantly aluminum weapons for the big battle scenes. But the crazy thing about that, I was working on both "Master and Commander" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" concurrently. So between those three productions, they did 1,000 swords.
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Joe: And with that, Tony's ability as a blacksmith, the speed, authenticity, and the detail with which he can create swords, is impossible to duplicate.

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