Out in the Texas countryside near Austin, down a narrow road not far from the legendary Salt Lick BBQ restaurant, next door to a ramshackle spread guarded by a German shepherd, stands a forge making what may be the best swords in the world.
Here in a state more accustomed to quick draws than parries, Daniel Watson is creating swords with blades so strong and sharp that one cut through 26 mats in a Japanese competition, shattering the previous record.
At first, no one believed a sword could do that. The reaction? "I must be cheating," he laughed.
Watson owns Angel Sword, a company he formed over 30 years ago. "We are the oldest, largest custom swordmakers in the United States," he said. Watson designs, hammers out and finishes every piece. He sells 300 to 500 swords a year, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $20,000. Most customers are men. "In some ways, it's masculine jewelry."
Watson's fascination with swords began as a child, when his father gave him a sword brought home from World War II. But it wasn't until he was in his 30s that he started Angel Sword because, "I was bored as an engineer."
In the forge he built with his father in 1981, Watson and a team of eight to 10 employees create swords using $500,000 worth of traditional and modern tools. The average piece takes 100 man hours to make. His showroom displays patents for technologies in metallurgy. "I developed a thermal processing for steels that changes the hardness-toughness ratio of steel for a wide range of applications," he said.
Exercising his scientific and artistic sides brings Watson pleasure: "It lets me harness my passion with my intellect and create something very unique." His workshop is filled with swords of every size and style — samurai swords, broadswords, rapiers, swords made of purple steel attached to hilts with rubies. He said he can always tell which TV show or movie is popular by the type of sword people are choosing.
The first few years of the business were a trial by fire. Watson spent more money than he made, "Let's say $3,000 to $5,000 a month going into the business." He traveled to study under sword smiths in Spain, Japan and the Philippines. Then when his own swords started winning competitions, business picked up. He currently has a five-year backlog of orders. "I'm doing something that makes me very happy — for me that's a core success," Watson said. "I also make money out of it. That gives me the security to continue to be happy."
Occasionally, there are accidents. "One of my men was not following the rules," Watson said. The man had put a sword in a vise and then bent over to pick something up off the floor. "As he stood up (he) backed into the sword, and it came through the front of his arm." The worker recovered.
As for the name Angel Sword, Watson picked it with a specific aim in mind. "I'm creating something which has the potential for misuse. Angel Sword is a gentle reminder that there's a proper use."
Finally, don't even bother asking him to pick a favorite sword. "In works of art, you create, and you let it go," Watson said. "The best sword has always got to be the next one."