NEW HAMPTON, N.Y. –Through smoke and sparks and staccato banging from his anvil, John Lundemo forges swooping swords that look like they should be pulled from a stone, swung by a samurai or thrust on “Game of Thrones.”
The 60-year-old has carved out a niche making pricey blades that are inspired by history but liberally mix in elements of East and West, high art and Hollywood.
“I do tend to add my own flair,” Lundemo said in his shop recently. “Making exact copies, I don’t do.”
While not precisely like the weapons wielded by gladiators or knights, these razor-sharp weapons stretching up to 6 feet long and costing upward of $3,000 are built to be used –even if it’s for slashing milk jugs in the backyard.
Lundemo has been making swords for about three decades, about half that in his workshop 50 miles north of New York City. The forge, anvil and scalding oil tank speak to his craft. And the posters on the wall for the movies “Gladiator” and “Grindhouse” speak to his tendency to slice and dice details.
His $1,950 “Serenity” sword, for instance, is described online as drawing on classic German, Chinese, Japanese and Swiss designs. But the butt end of the handle, the pommel, was inspired by a sword in the 1993 martial arts movie “The Bride with White Hair.”
Movies, specifically the 1974 horror flick “Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter,” sparked Lundemo’s sword fascination as a young man. He began buying blades for mock sword fights with his brother. But there were problems with those steel swords.
“I was breaking them all the time. You know, halfway through a sword fight and your sword breaks, it’s annoying,” he said. “So I started making them.”
He forged blades in the back of a New Mexico jewelry shop and later after hours in the upstate New York sign shop where he worked. Those first swords stunk, he says, but he educated himself on the finer points of edge geometry, metal tempering and distal tapering, which refers to the blade getting thinner from guard to tip.
Over time, he established his brand Odinblades in what can be a cut-throat business. There is an army of sword makers who sell historical replicas, fantasy swords, “battle ready” swords for under $100. Online retailer Kult of Athena in Elgin, Illinois, for example, sells swords from more than 30 makers.
“It’s definitely growing,” said owner Ryan Whittlinger. “The market for higher-quality, functional items is better today than it’s ever been.”
The popularity of the HBO series “Game of Thrones” helps, but Whittlinger said a bigger watershed was the “Lord of the Rings” movies early this century, just as swords started becoming easier to buy.
So who buys swords in the 21st century?
Collectors and history buffs who hang them on a wall, “cutters” who want a sharp and balanced weapon for slicing jugs, pieces of bamboo or test dummies, and sword fighters.
Whittlinger said moviemakers and theatre groups account for some sales, too. The apparently racially motivated killing last week of a black man in New York City with a 26-inch sword illustrates the rare times when such weapons are still used for their original purpose.
Lundemo says he makes enough from swords for his wife and himself to pay the bills. They’re not getting rich, but the work has its benefits.
“The cool factor is way up there,” he said. “Cool factor 11.”