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Fabricating

Cottage industry

By Colin Linneweber

This story was originally published as a web exclusive and updated for the July/August 2016 Top WebEx issue.

‘Irish Mike’ Craughwell doesn’t need reality TV to weld and fabricate big giant swords

July/August 2016 - Although the first season of “Big Giant Swords” received both critical and commercial acclaim, the Discovery Channel still hasn’t announced its plans for Michael “Irish Mike” Craughwell’s show.

The program, which chronicled Craughwell’s exploits fabricating exotic and mammoth swords for customers under strict deadlines, premiered Jan. 13, 2015. Each episode lasted 42 minutes and the season concluded six weeks after its debut. The Discovery Channel hasn’t provided any updates since and it’s unknown if the show will be renewed. Regardless of its fate, the show’s star, Craughwell, attracted an enormous following via social media and his glittering reputation as a ingenious welder and metallic artist remains untarnished.

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For customers who want to "smash stuff," Michael Craughwell says he uses Hardox steel to fabricate large swords.

Born in Ireland in 1982, Craughwell studied sculpting at Cluain Mhuire Art College in Galway. Unfortunately, his classes didn’t concentrate on welding or metal fabricating so he claims he acquired minimal knowledge there as a student.

“I went to art school and took sculpture,” Craughwell told HNGN. “I learned a very small amount of metal work there. It wasn’t until after art college [that] I really learned anything. Ireland had this thing where, if you were unemployed for six months, they trained you in something else for free. I fit the criteria so they trained me to be a welder. It was a six-month course. I learned far more there than at art college and have been doing [welding] ever since.” He applied that training to work as a welder on bridges and building structures.

Craughwell later relocated to America and, along with his wife Amelia and two children, eventually settled in a small cottage in the woods of West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It was here on one of New England’s picturesque islands where “Irish Mike” unexpectedly gained fame. Inspired by video games and fantasy genres, Craughwell started filming himself welding the jumbo swords from scratch in August 2006. 

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Craughwell, above left, takes comfort knowing his swords are too heavy to be used as weapons. The man built a complete workshop outside his cottage.

Internet sensation

The unkempt, burly Irishman subsequently posted the videos on YouTube and he has now attracted about 341,000 subscribers and garnered roughly 28 million page views. As a bona fide Internet sensation and one of only three known individuals capable of creating such massive props, Craughwell began receiving order requests from customers across the globe. The swords retail for about $1,000 each but that varies depending on the level of detail and hours of labor.

Speaking with FFJournal, Craughwell explained why many clients contact him rather than a standard blacksmith and why he uses angle grinders with varying grits of sandpaper discs to hone a sword’s final edge.

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“A blacksmith will hold a sword blank and sharpen it on a floor-mounted belt sander,” says Craughwell. “Most of my blades are too heavy for that, so I clamp the blank down and use an angle grinder. Also, a blacksmith will try and make guards out of a single piece. I often have to weld many pieces together to make the crazy decorative elements on my swords.”

When not using scrap material, Irish Mike purchases stainless steel from Mid City Steel in nearby Westport, Massachusetts. But for customers who want to “smash stuff,” he’ll fabricate large swords using Hardox steel.

Craughwell takes comfort knowing that, because his swords average around 6 ft. long and weigh between 40 and 50 pounds, they are unlikely to be wielded as weapons. Craughwell says most clients order his designs for gaming conventions or as costume accessories.

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Above: Irish Mike's swords average 6 feet long and weigh 40 to 50 lbs.
Below: The iconoclast has earned a reputation as a brilliant welder.

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Despite the fickle nature of reality television programming, Michael Craughwell will likely be most happy merely fabricating and welding big giant swords outside his cottage in the woods. FFJ

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