Nephi notes that he "did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords" (2 Nephi 5:14). According to John Sorenson, in this verse "after the manner of it" does not refer to the material used but to the "manner of construction. That is, Laban's weapon was replicated in function and general pattern, but different material could have been used for the new weapons. The copies might have been metal, but need not have been. The reader should note that the phrase "after the manner of it" is also used in a parallel fashion two verses later to describe the manner of construction of the temple--it was like unto the temple of Solomon "save it were not built of so many precious things" (2 Nephi 5:16).
It is worthy of note that the Hebrew language meanings of the word translated "sword" in the King James version of the Bible include the idea that a "sword" does not have to be of metal. [John L. Sorenson, "Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe! in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, Num. 1, pp. 324-325]
After the Manner of Labans Sword Did I Make Many Swords
Nephi records that after fleeing his wicked brethren in the land of first inheritance, he settled his group in the land of Nephi. There he makes an interesting statement. He says: "And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did made many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us" (2 Nephi 5:14). One might ask, Did Nephi have metallurgical skills that Laman and Lemuel lacked? He had already crafted plates on which he kept a record of his people (see 2 Nephi 5:29-31) in addition to making out of ore the tools necessary to construct a ship according to the Lord's specifications (see 1 Nephi 17:9-10, 16). Could Nephi produce blades not only shaped like the sword of Laban, but metalically crafted to certain superior specifications? And by his statement was he saying that he personally made all these swords or was he teaching others these special metallurgical skills?
A recent article in Scientific American Magazine sheds some interesting perspective on the possible importance not only of Nephi's metallurgial skills, but his teaching of those skills to his people. John Verhoeven, an emeritus Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Iowa State University writes:
From the Bronze Age up to the 19th century, warriors relied on the sword as a weapon. Armies possessing better versions enjoyed a distinct tactical advantage. And those with Damascus swords--which Westerners first encountered during the Crusades against the Muslim nations--had what some consider to be the best sword of all.
Those blades, originally thought to have been fashioned in Damascus (which is now in Syria), featured two qualities not found in European varieties. A wavy pattern known today as damask, or damascene, decorated their surface. And more important, the edge could be incredibly sharp. Legend tells how Damascus swords could slice through a silk handkerchief floating in the air, a feat no European weapon could emulate.
Despite the fame and utility of these blades, Westerners have never been able to figure out how the steel--also used for daggers, axes and spearheads--was made. The most accomplished European metallurgists and bladesmiths could not replicate it, even after bringing specimens home and analyzing them in detail. The art of production has been lost even in the land of origin; experts generally agree that the last high-quality Damascus swords were crafted no later than the early 1800's. Recently, however, an ingenious blacksmith [Alfred H. Pendray] and I [John D. Verhoeven] have, we believe, unlocked the secret. (John D. Verhoeven, "The Mystery of Damascus Blades," in Scientific American, vol. 284, num. 1, January 2001, pp. 74-79)
[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]