Raised on a diet of Conan the Barbarian, Dark Crystal and Krull, Galway City local and “strict vegetarian” Michael Craughwell fell in love with fantasy weapons as a kid of the 80s. When he saw Mad Max, a light bulb went off. "Everything in Mad Max was made out of junk. And I could get junk", he told a room full of kids and crying babies at his local library. In 2007, Craughwell was commissioned to make a life-sized replica of the Buster sword from Final Fantasy 7. When he posted the pics and videos online, the Internet did the rest. Or as he puts it, “a whole subculture of people crawled out of the woodwork and started contacting me.”
Nowadays, Craughwell spends his time making giant swords to order, swords likely to have British health and safety authorities foaming at the mouth. We contacted him to find out more.
So how did you get into making crazy swords? Did you always fantasise about being a blacksmith?
I'm not a blacksmith, but I guess you can’t stop people wanting me to be. I always envisioned/hoped/dreamed I’d be some guy making medieval weapons in a hellish post-apocalyptic future. I started making weapons out of old junk. At some point it became easier to just make things from scratch than to find stuff that was already kinda weapon-shaped. Watching Mad Max 2 = pointy pants. Lord of the Rings = half mast.
And are they officially the biggest swords in the world?
I mean, there are pieces of sculpture that are bigger (giant swords sticking out of the ground, those two giant swords that used to be/still are outside Saddam’s house). Mine seem to be the biggest swords you can find video evidence of people trying to use. The Guinness Book of Records people haven't returned my silent, heavy breathing phone calls.
Do you have a day job as well, or is this it?
I work part time for an artist called Barney Zeitz. He’s taught me lots of different tricks for working steel that I’ve used extensively. I helped him upload a youtube video once.
What kind of music do you enjoy making swords to?
I’ve been listening to DethKlok a lot recently. They seem to get the joke – which is probably why heavy metal purists hate them. Rammstein are good too.
Michael Craughwell with Soul Reaver
Favourite sword so far?
I like the one I made from a giant band-saw blade (see Mad Max fetish mentioned above). It’s the most dangerous/useful sword I’ve ever made, and it’s made from junk! Last I heard it was loose somewhere in New Jersey.
And the heaviest?
54lbs (24.5kg). The one from the video featuring the large muscled man.
Is it true you slipped a disc in your back carrying one of them?
Not really. That whole thing was supposed to be a humorous setup for the reveal that the cameraman was in fact a guy with a chest made out of steaks. But I got so many heartfelt 'get-well' messages that it made me feel like a big bag of shit.
Any genuine work-related injuries?
Loads. I get set on fire, UV irradiated, sliced and mashed on a weekly basis. I once spent a couple of weeks looking like The Lizardman, because I held a piece of metal while another guy welded it. My entire face took first-degree burns. Then it peeled off. Yesterday I had to pull yet another shard of metal out of my eye with a rare earth magnet.
How do you choose what swords to make? Is it based on orders?
Orders. I do enjoy making these things, but with two kids I couldn’t afford to just spend all my free time making them unless someone was bankrolling it (I hear I’m quite affordable – handsome too).
And if you could make any sword in the world?
Pyramid Head’s Great Knife, from Silent Hill 2. His helmet too. People have come close to commissioning it in the past, they all chicken out at the last minute. They don’t want to be held responsible for birthing it into the real world.
Craughwell with his Buster replica (Final Fantasy VII)
How long did it take you to make the Final Fantasy VII Buster sword?
I dunno, like 20 hours (spread out over five or six weeks).
Could you give us a quick breakdown of the process?
I make sketches/examine the source material, then I make the thing. I’m a professional welder, so if you don’t know how to weld and grind it’s pointless me saying “I weld and grind it”. People often get ideas about me pouring molten steel into moulds, or taking giant red-hot swords out of furnaces and striking them on a giant anvil with a giant hammer. None of these things occur.
How much did it sell for?
USD800 + shipping.
The Rebellion (Devil May Cry)
What about Devil May Cry?
USD950 + shipping.
And Soul Reaver? Who bought that one?
Some guy from Ohio. I like referring to him as the Ohioan. He’s bought three of my swords so far.
Most of the swords seem to be video game-inspired, are you a big gamer?
I used to be. Not that I’m against them now or anything - I just don’t seem to have the time. I also prefer games people consider dumb. Things like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. God of War, GunGrave: Overdose. You know the type, killing machine vs. hordes of really incompetent bad guys.
Do you need some kind of license to make all these swords?
I hope not. Shhhhh...
And who buys them, generally? Comic, video game and fantasy fans? Samurais?
Cool people. You could be cool if you bought one too, readers! Gamers mostly (although the distinction between a gamer and a person will probably be meaningless by the time the ink dries on this). No Samurais. They’re not cool enough.
Do you meet them first or just post them off?
Just post them off. The time period between me getting a deposit for a sword and finishing one is usually a couple of months – crazy people that just need something sharp to punish filthy sinners with usually don’t have the attention span required for that kind of arrangement. Or money. Money’s a big factor. Lunatics usually can’t afford my stuff.
Turned down any weird orders?
There is no order I would turn down if the price was right (other than, I don’t know, child-sized cages or similar). One guy wanted to swap a bunch of porn magazines for a Buster sword once. He told me this through a message he sent me on the Internet. Why would anyone with Internet access need a porn mag?
Favourite sword-wielding hero?
Conan. He is the man.
Worst use of swords in a video game or movie?
I get asked about these things called Keyblades (from Kingdom Hearts) every so often. I’d make one too, if I was paid. But I’d feel kinda silly when it was finished. They’re neither a key nor a blade. You know how a pirate sword has this thing that goes over your hand to protect it? Imagine if it had two of those on opposite sides of the handle. It makes no sense (well, I guess it makes it look more like a key…).
What are you working on at the moment?
A stainless steel version of Gut’s Dragon-slayer from Berserk. It’s going to England. You live there.
For more info and to order yourself a sword, look up Mr Craughwell on Flickr and YouTube.