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Terry Pratchett's Self-Made Meteorite Sword 188

Posted by samzenpus
from the x4-crit-modifier dept.
jamie writes "Fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett says he was so excited after being knighted by the Queen that he decided to make his own sword to equip himself for his new status... the author dug up 81kg of ore and smelted it in the grounds of his house, using a makeshift kiln built from clay and hay and fueled with damp sheep manure."
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Terry Pratchett's Self-Made Meteorite Sword

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  • by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:20AM (#33649426) Homepage

    I'm the least surprised that it was Terry Pratchett that made himself a sword.

  • Original Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by bjorniac (836863) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:21AM (#33649446)

    The article on which this news story seems to be based, complete with picture of Sir pTerry and his sword is at
    http://www.paulkidby.com/news/apr2010.html [paulkidby.com]

    • Re:Original Article (Score:5, Informative)

      by fast turtle (1118037) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:39AM (#33649800) Journal

      It appears to be in the Gladius Style (Roman Legion) and is a Short Sword. Keep in mind, this isn't the size of Excalibur or what Conan would use. Instead it's based on a practical design developed by the roman legions for use by Centurions in their shield wall formation. Practical and short enough not to interfere with your neigbors sword.

      • Re:Original Article (Score:5, Informative)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @11:01AM (#33650238)
        Partly correct. The Gladius was favoured by the Legions because it was short enough for the scabbard to be hung on the same side as the wielding hand. This prevents the act of drawing the sword from taking any more room than one man standing upright, maintaining their tight shield wall formation.

        Clever buggers, they were.
        • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @11:59AM (#33651388) Homepage

          You might want to try that before spouting it as fact.

          First, if you don't have room to draw a sword, how are you throwing the pilum that proceeds drawing it?

          Second, you can draw a sword from the left hip, point down, raise your hand overhead, then either stab straight from there or rotate it point up without changing your grip. You can do this in the tightest close order shieldwall, with a sword in excess of the length of a gladius. Been there, reenacted that, many times.

          Third, try drawing from your right hip. Go on, stand up and try it. If you draw in the natural orientation (thumb down), where does your elbow go? <Morbo>JOINTS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY</Morbo>. Alternatively, you can draw with your thumb up and then have to juggle the sword to flip it over. It's always a more awkward draw, under any circumstances, and never takes less room than drawing across your body.

          Where this myth came from, I have no idea, but I've yet to see any real world evidence that it's anything other than a myth, and that includes demonstrations from Roman reenactors trying desperately (and often hilariously) to justify it.

          • Re:Original Article (Score:5, Informative)

            by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @12:21PM (#33651752)

            Where this myth came from, I have no idea, but I've yet to see any real world evidence that it's anything other than a myth, and that includes demonstrations from Roman reenactors trying desperately (and often hilariously) to justify it.

            Ignoring the argument of why the Romans wore their scabbards on the right, there's plenty of conclusive evidence that they in fact did so.

            Roman art is, as usual, our best source of information on Roman culture.

            Look at this, for instance: http://www.romanarmy.net/images/Pages/articles/artweapons/artwep2.jpg [romanarmy.net].

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Swarley (1795754)

            Not that I'm any expert, but it was alway my understanding that the Roman Legion favored short swords because they spent so much time fighting the Gauls and other barbarian tribes around Europe who favored long and heavy weapons that needed to be swung for momentum or brought down from overhead, which left them extremely vulnerable to someone who closed in fast with a short blade. I thought the Gauls also favored chain mail armor, which is easier to punch through with a small blade than to chop through wit

            • Re:Original Article (Score:5, Informative)

              by Caerdwyn (829058) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @02:10PM (#33653348) Journal

              It's as much metallurgy as anything else. Until pattern-welding became widespread around 800AD, blades much longer than 24" just didn't have the strength needed in combat, particularly for swords intended for slashing motions.

              There are some excellent websites for smiths doing reproduction historical swords with well-researched historical techniques which make for a fascinating read (to nerds like myself anyway). Start with Patrick Barta at www.templ.net and Jim Hrisoulas at www.atar.com, then move on to www.myarmoury.com for hands-on reviews and photos.

        • Partly correct. The Gladius was favoured by the Legions because it was short enough for the scabbard to be hung on the same side as the wielding hand. This prevents the act of drawing the sword from taking any more room than one man standing upright, maintaining their tight shield wall formation.

          Clever buggers, they were.

          It's not that they were clever, so much, as the fact that they'd learned from their mistakes.

          Prior to adopting the shorter swords, there was a fair chance that each man drawing his sword in the shield wall formation would kill the man to his left... And so the entire formation could be reduced to one man in the space of seconds. This only happened eight or nine times before they decided to rethink their approach.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        See also the "Katzbalger" sword carried by the Landsknecht mercenaries in the German provinces of the Holy Roman Empire (16th century). It also served the same purpose - a short blade for close combat when there no longer was room to swing pikes or the big two-handed jobbers. The hilt reminds me of some Frankish swords, though, so to me it looks like a modern version of an 11th century blade.

        But yeah, it's an infantry blade, not a cavalry one. Also looks like it has just the right centre of gravity for actu

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by somersault (912633)

      You mean that article dated "April 1st"? :s Though he's a very smart guy, I'm sure he would be perfectly capable of making his own sword were he so inclined :)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Somehow, I don't think he wrote an article largely about the death of his mother and his thoughts on assisted suicide as a prank.

        • Haven't time to read the article since I'm at work, but you have to admit he does have a warped sense of humour at times ;)

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Have you seen his monitor setup? I'm jealous, and I'm supposed to call myself a geek.

  • I hear it's a sort of greenish-purple.
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:27AM (#33649550)
    From TFA: " Wiltshire, west of London..." I know we are a very small country and Australia is a very big one, but not everything in this country has to be defined by reference to London. Wiltshire, from where I am posting this, is in the South of England. London is East of Wiltshire, and nothing whatever to do with this story, which is about a (very) English author who lives (sensibly) in Wiltshire.

    For the benefit of the rest of the world, Wiltshire is East of Redmond and West of Moscow...rant over.

    • "The South of England" is a pretty broad brush to use, I think "West of London" is useful.

      I live in Aberdeen (North of London).

      • by xaxa (988988)

        In my experience, most people in London would say they live in South East England -- at least if they're aware of anything outside the M25.

        Officially [wikipedia.org], there's only a South West and South East, no South. Unofficially, when someone says "South" to me I tend to think of not-especially-west and not-especially-east, e.g. Southampton, Portsmouth, Basingstoke, Reading.

        • by jd (1658)

          South is anything past the Watford Gap.

          • Including oddly Watford which is 60 miles south of Watford gap ....!

            Watford Gap is a service station near the Village of Watford in Northamptonshire ....

  • by zrbyte (1666979) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:31AM (#33649640)
    If I'm not mistaken coal is used in blacksmiths kilns to melt iron, at about 1500 Celsius. I'm wondering how he got those kind of temperatures with sheep manure. Maybe the manure had an octarine glow to it ;)
    • by confused one (671304) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:49AM (#33649994)
      Coal is a convenience. Long before coal was widely available, they used to use wood, charcoal, and peat. In a pinch you could use anything that will burn. The trick is to add oxygen (air) with a bellows, without which it's hard to melt iron even with anthracite coal.
    • I think it almost certainly got garbled by the media.

      If I remember correctly one procedure is that manure is used to add carbon to the blade to form steel rather than to actually heat the sword up: you put the blade in a air-tight box with a handful of manure and then heat the whole lot up to high temperature, and when you open the box after some time, the manure is apparently gone, but the carbon from it has soaked into the blade.

    • by dwye (1127395)
      > If I'm not mistaken coal is used in blacksmiths kilns to melt iron, at about 1500 Celsius. You are mistaken, however, as blacksmiths do not melt iron, which makes cast iron, but merely heat it up until it is very soft. The contaminants usually do not soften, though, and are easily (if you are as strong as a blacksmith or mechanical hammer) beaten out. Before the use of coal, a major part of a blacksmith's skill set was in picking wood to use, and in converting the wood into charcoal, which burned ho
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)

      Small-enough wood chippings and a decent pair of bellows can make a brilliant Iron-Age blast furnace. Indeed, this is how early metalwork and baked ceramic work was done. It is highly plausible that Sir Pratchett has refined the basic approach or obtained information from the excellent living history and archaeological communities that showed how to make such refinements. I am much impressed. Now, whether the iron was truly meteoric - that's a tougher question. Mind you, one could argue that it hardly matte

  • Wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iONiUM (530420) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:31AM (#33649662) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like he just made a real life Thunderfury [thottbot.com].

  • I've read countless interviews from authors (especially fantasy authors) who make a habit of forging swords, knives and making bows and arrows. I suppose it goes along with the territory. Even Paolini who wrote the Eragon books has tried his hand at making weapons.
  • I can't wait for RMS [xkcd.com] to get knighted.

    Of course I believe he'd have to become a subject of the Queen to do so, and given his predisposition, I doubt he'd be particularly inclined to do so.

    • Americans can be knighted, Ronald Reagan was knighted.

      Besides RMS might not want one after Bill Gates got his

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/01/29/uk_knighthoods_for_foreigners_what/ [theregister.co.uk]

      Though it was in recognition of Gates charity work, not computers.

    • by VJ42 (860241) *

      I can't wait for RMS [xkcd.com] to get knighted.

      Of course I believe he'd have to become a subject of the Queen to do so, and given his predisposition, I doubt he'd be particularly inclined to do so.

      He just needs citizenship of one of the Commonwealth realms [wikipedia.org] - these include Canada & Australia; I don't think he'd mind being subject to the Queen's jurisdiction in that sense, but I doubt he'd accept a knighthood even then. He wouldn't be the first [wikipedia.org]

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        And he'd have to move. Americans can't have dual citizenship.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          LOL. In theory, yes. In practice -- have you ever asked some naturalized U.S. citizens if they renounced their other citizenship(s)? I don't know of any who did the latter, even though I do know many of the former.

  • by digitalsushi (137809) <slashdot@digitalsushi.com> on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @10:46AM (#33649944) Journal

    This past weekend I put a huge steel ninja sword I got for 12 bucks into a campfire we were having, and it glowed red after a short few minutes. I easily bent it into a full U shape.

    This simple, moronic drunken act made me feel connected to countless other drunken, moronic ancestors before me, all equally intruigued by how fire is able to temporarily confuse physics. I suppose this is why alchemy makes sense, since some form of math has to work inside of a fire. Still, I felt very enlightened to hold one of the four elements so close to my will and desires.

  • ...but it's more likely he'll forget where he hid it.
  • - "I thought swords had to be straight."
    - "Perhaps they start out straight and go bendy with use. A lot of things do."

    (Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures)
  • Far future. Civilization has collapsed. A small band of likable people are fending off bad people.
    One of the good people stumbles upon Sir Terry's home and discovers a magic sword allowing him to fend off the bad people, get the girl, live happily ever after.

  • What are the to hit and damage modifiers? Since its magical I assume it would be more than +1 in both categories.

  • I should hope it's a really nice sword. I recall watching a national geographic or discovery channel thing that described how iron was extracted from pete moss. Fascinating stuff... okay almost completely unrelated, but using ancient techniques to make ancient weapons interests me.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      I don't know who this Pete Moss guy is. He seems to be either a DJ [discogs.com] or a rock musician [myspace.com] depending on which guy you're referring to. He doesn't seem to be into heavy metals. I'd say it would be far easier to use peat moss

  • Meteorite? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Looking through the article, I'm seeing that he dug up iron ore; was the deposit meteoric in nature, or was there just nothing meteoric about it at all? Where do the meteorites come into play here? 81kg of meteorite is a hefty chunk of material...
    • One of the articles on this said that it mostly was just ordinary ore, but he tossed in some bonafide meteorite iron as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      His website says ...

      "made from iron ore he collected on Salisbury Plain (with the addition of a little bit of ‘thunderbolt iron’ from the Sikhote Alin meteorite to give it that special extra-terrestrial ‘something’),"

  • lame (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Charliemopps (1157495)
    Real swordsmiths have been doing this for years. You can easily order Damascus steel forged from the iron of meteorites at dozens of websites. Just do a google search. Just like his books he's taking the great works of others, copying them and pretending he's created something new. It's the one ring! I mean sword!
    • by canajin56 (660655)
      Yeah, he could have ordered a sword online. But he didn't, he mined the ore, smelted the ore, and forged the bars into a sword (with help from a blacksmith). And, are you thinking of Terry Brooks, author of the highly derrivative Sword of Shanara series, which is basically LotR but with a sword? Seems like you are. Even if it was about Terry Brooks, greater curmudgeons than yourself have spent all day on Slashdot shitting on the work of others, work they could never ever do themselves. Try to be origin
  • by SengirV (203400) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @11:59AM (#33651380)

    Three cheers for Anglachel!!!

    Sorry about your sister though, was she good?

  • I always liked him as a comically kitschy author--I like really bad fantasy and skiffie.
    He went out and did it.
    Doesn't matter what "it" is (OK, maybe not infantaphagia or similar...)--kudos to anyone these days who gets off their butt and goes out and does it.

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