Friday, December 31, 2010

Two new forges

After the demise of my last forge, I decided to redo them both. Luckily I found some Kaowool Cerachem 1430 C rated ceramic blanket and Kaowool Hardener (which is a liquid that hardens the surface of the Kaowool, so it does not decompose and leave fibers in the air) and some proper firebricks.

The first forge is a vertical Don Fogg type which I insulated with 5cm of ceramic blanket, and will be using for knife and sword forging, and maybe steel making (I might have to build a sturdier one though, if I want to do really long burns in it). By the way the metal container is an old oil drum I found at a scrap yard.

The second is a remake on my earlier, recycled water-heater, horizontal forge, which I lined with about 10cm of ceramic blanket  and which I'll be using more for welding mokume billets and welding in general. Even though the burner is not aimed ideally (I understand that it should run tangential to the inner surfaces, so that the flame forms a vortex) the domed top does make the flame turn, leaving fewer cold spots.
In the back you can see the torque plates for the mokume gane, and a small crucible for casting shibuichi; more on that later...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Failure by fire...

Well, things were going pretty well for a while, so for the sake of cosmic balance I had to suffer a setback. I tried making some homemade steel - oroshigane, the way Michael Bell taught me in Oregon, and things were going pretty well. Filled a graphite crucible with about 2 Kg chips of antique wrought iron and charcoal dust, sealed it with fire clay, and put it in a vertical forge. 


Managed to bring up to 1050 C degrees with just my atmospheric burner, but alas...


... after about an hour the whole forge was on fire, so I had to abort everything. The reason; back before I met master Bell I had built my two forges with the materials I could find at the time, namely rockwool and a fire cement used for building fireplaces. Well, it is proven now that these materials cannot stand forge temperatures. So I have to go out and look for some proper ceramic blanket and refractory cement to insulate my forge...

....better luck next time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mokume gane second attempt

Second attempt with 21 layers of alternating silver nickel, bronze, copper, bronze. 
Found out that this particular bronze melts at around 850 C, so I used it sort of like a glue between the other two metals. 
What I learnt is that temperature control in the forge is not as important as keeping a really reducing atmosphere in there to avoid oxidation and hence delamination. Also you really have to dig deep into the layers afterwards to get an interesting pattern.

Thoughts on next time, find a proper way to polish and patinate, as well as maybe use different thickness in the metals to get a more active pattern. Also maybe get a rolling mill...? (Gosh, more money to spend on machinery... this has got to stop. Or maybe I have to find a way to sell mokume gane to jewelers in Europe...)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mokume gane

I just tried my hand at making some mokume gane. Its still at an experimental phase so it has just a few layers, but it came out surprisingly good!
A press is pretty useful for consolidating the billet, and generally just pretty as you can see below.

Started out with 12 layers of copper, bronze and nickel silver, which had to be meticulously sanded and cleaned.

Stick them between some stainless steel torque plates, in a controlled temperature forge (by the way, this is my horizontal forge on a modified sidearm venturi burner going up to 1140 C at only 30 psi or 2 bar).

And voila, after some press work, forging, and sanding a pretty acceptable mokume plate. You might notice that no bronze appears in the final product, that's because bronze melts at around 600 C while the billets needs about 900 C to weld, so upon pressing it the, by now molten, bronze was squished out of the billet (ending up like really thin bronze wafers or chocolate chip like forms on my shop floor).

So the next try should maybe be without bronze and with a lot more layers... 
I'll keep you posted. By the way, for those of you that have no idea of what I am talking about, google mokume gane on wikipedia, 

or have a look at the following article "Mokume for the Bladesmith"

or another good post, from which the first image in this post originates

Addendum: I have come a long way since this post, but I see people being led to this one by google. For more info and details, you might want to check my other mokume gane posts such as the following:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Caterpillar yellow!

Well just another post on my progress, which is Seriously Slow (well I am just ordering or constructing parts for a new belt grinder, so I have little to show). 
In the meantime took some time to spray paint my press. The only yellow available was Caterpillar yellow, so here it goes. 
The Dexter-like setting was necessary so I would not cover my whole shop in a light layer of yellow...

Dexter lurking around the corner...?

Finished press. Cute, no?

Monday, November 29, 2010

20t Forging press finally finished!

Finally, the mini (20 tons) hydraulic press is finished! I sincerely hope 20t will be enough, but after downloading plans for a full hydraulic press, a 75lb air hammer, a mechanical power hammer, and a McDonald rolling mill, I realized than all those designs would require more time, knowledge and money than I have at my disposal currently. Hence I opted for an air over hydraulic press. You can find photos on this address
a full discussion of several isssues, and more photos here
and some videos of it in operation here

Total cost was about 1000 Euros, which appears pretty steep, until you start checking prices for used hydraulic presses (I got quotes in the range of 3000-4000 Euros)... Around 550 Euros is the cost for a single phase, 3hp, 100lt air compressor, 300 Euros for the air over hydraulic jack (the brand is Mega, which is Spanish I think), and another 150 Euros for the steel frame, return springs, and various odds and ends. Plus I was really lucky to have a friend who is a professional welder TIG the whole thing together (took us 6 hours, cost me nothing but gratitude to said friend, and about two hours of post midnight excruciating eye pain due to welder's eye...).
Also I figured I could also use the air compressor to build a small air hammer in the future.

Right now, since my cheap Chinese belt grinder went kaputt, the next project is to build a proper belt grinder... and THEN I might actually get to doing some real swordsmithing work. Last quote I got for a 1.5 hp belt grinder was over 1000 Euros, so I guess I will have to build that myself as well. Oh well...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Japanese sword etiquette

Again, since I have little to show in terms of my work (day job having taken over for the last few days), here is an excellent video on proper sword etiquette by Grey Doffin of the JSSUS (once you see it, make sure you load the second part as well).

Sword etiquette is really important; many times, non Japanese people just go grabbing a sword, touching the blade, waving it around, etc. I have even had people bang a blade of mine on a bench to see if it was really hard...
Even an amateur blade made by a gaijin like  myself does not deserve such treatment!

Such behavior, apart from being really rude, could also be dangerous. A Japanese sword is basically a really long shaving razor... not to talk about all the spiritual aspects, which is another subject completely.

The video is pretty long, and might be tedious for some people, but it goes to show how complex the subject really is.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Still not much time to work as I was out of town for a few days, so once again I'm only posting a link.

I recently started Iaido at one of the best schools here,, in order, both to get an understanding of how a sword is to be used, as well as to be able to legally make one (swords here are considered weapons by the law, essentially indistinguishable from firearms).

The video link is from a different iaido school than the one I am attending, but at that level of expertise that does not matter much.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Not enough time to work, so not much to show. I have actually been working on building a 20t forging press and experimenting at making mokume gane, but more on that when I am finished.

For the time being, here is some eye candy...
from an excellent site I came upon. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just to end a common misconception

There is a particularly common misconception that Japanese swordsmiths do not use power tools, and that everything is hand-made. Here is a video of master Hirokuni Hiroki (a mukansa level smith, that is a master of masters, mukansa means without or beyond judgement) using a power hammer. Japanese smiths are very strict about the quality of their work, but they are human just like us, and using a powerhammer doesn't mean that the work still does not require considerable skill.

As our iaido teacher eloquently put it, the famous smiths that have many apprentices can have them do the heavy work, whereas lesser known smiths, for lack of manpower, will use a power hammer.

Workshop tools

Just a glimpse of the multitude of tools necessary for carrying out all aspects of making a Japanese blade.

Japanese planes and saya chisels.

Various polishing waterstones (in this case synthetic trueing stone, 220, 600, 1000 and 3000 grit).

Metal working tools (mainly used for making the habaki) and some needed accurate measuring tools.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On a different note... The mystery of true damascus steel

Diverting a bit from Japanese blades, here is an excellent link to a very illuminating article on true damascus steel (as opposed to pattern welded steel which looks similar but is a layered composite of different steels). 

The subject might be a bit too much for non blade obsessed people, but I find it fascinating as it presents a whole different metallurgy of steel than that used by the Japanese. The technique was lost since the 18th-19th century, and is only now being rediscovered.
I am dreaming of making some myself in the future... 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Next phase of Tanto project

Now that the habaki is roughly finished I can go on with the next item, the scabbard or saya. 
Here is a video that gives an idea of what that is about...

New Tanto Habaki

Just finished the second habaki for the Tanto. It took considerably less time than the first one, as I worked on the disc grinder instead of using just files. The lines came out much more consistent as well. It is still not perfect, but I guess perfection is the unachievable goal we aspire to.

Time to start working on the shirasaya
(resting scabbard for all you people not acquainted with the myriad Japanese terms).

Finished (but not yet polished) habaki

The habaki fits pretty well on the blade. Especially the lines in the back line up perfectly with the mune.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Proper Nihonto photograph

This is the best sword photograph I have found on a Japanese site.
It's worth loading the full size picture from the original site 
(10 Mb) to look at all the features a quality blade exhibits.

Friday, October 15, 2010

For all you short attention span people out there... another video Walter Sorrells

Some people may have accused Walter Sorrells of not making purely traditional Japanese blades, but he does not claim to, and that is besides the point anyway. The spirit of openness with which he shares information, and the collection of all aspects of blade making in detailed DVDs is admirable.

New project - Oroshigane

I seem to be starting new projects all the time, but they keep me interested I guess. This project is about making my own steel - Oroshigane - or Scrapahagane as some Westerners jokingly call it. In my case it is literally Scrapahagane as I am using scrap pre-industrial iron I have collected in the form of old nails, horseshoes,  door hinges, broken tools etc. I pound that down to flat pieces, then cut smaller (15-20g) chips from them, and fill a graphite crucible. When the crucible is full, add some charcoal, (maybe some vegetable matter, as some claim the extra hydrogen faciltitates carbonization) and fire them in a forge for several hours. Ideally I will have created steel (iron with carbon in it), and then I will have to stack it and forge weld it to a single billet. I have done this once under Michael Bell's guidance, so it should work, as long as the scrap I have gathered is indeed the purer pre-industrial iron and not some modern iron or steel (which contains a lot of manganese, etc, etc). To be continued...

Pile of scrap iron

Pieces flattened to about 1-2mm thickness

Crucible starting to fill up with iron chips

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tomboyama Forging School Wakizashi

This is a forge welded steel cable wakizashi I made while attending Michael Bell's swordsmith school. It is still in rough polish, so I guess it needs maybe another couple of months' work before it is completed.
It is a shinogi zukuri blade, that is, there is a ton of bevels and edges on the blade, which are pretty tricky to forge, and much trickier to polish without accidentally running over them and wiping them out (no way to put the missing metal back on). I have to be very patient and careful with polishing this beauty; no sandpaper here, strictly Japanese water stones...

Initial material right there in the center, a piece of 1 inch thick steel logging cable.

The blade during forging.

Right after filing it all to correct geometry (notice that at this point the blade is still straight).

Applying clay for the differential hardening.

The blade after water quench hardening and grinding (the blade is now curved).
Oh, somewhere in there was a ton of straightening the blade after it warped during the quench. I was to squeamish to take pictures as we all feared it might break at any moment...

Here is a photo from Michael Bell's site with the finished product. Looking really smug...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First sword blade - Tanto

This Tanto is a copy from an 18th century tanto I found on It is not forged, but made by stock removal from same White Paper steel blank as the previous knife. 

You can see it on a small blade stand I made out scrap wood that was lying around. 

Currently I am in the process of polishing it and making a new habaki, as I overground the first one, and the solder joint along the edge had a pretty unsightly groove on its top.

My first japanese style kitchen knife

Blade is Hitachi White Paper Steel core with 7 layers mild steel on each side (bought from dick-gmbh), handle ebony, ferrule is a piece of bronze pipe. 
Sandpaper polishing and light etch in ferric chloride.
The blade was actually forged from the blank, hence the interesting layer pattern (otherwise they would all run parallel).

My workshop


 Polishing table

 Belt grinder and polishing setup

Propane forge and makeshift anvil (piece of c60 steel)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Michael Bell Swordsmith

I actually managed to get all the way to Bandon, Oregon to attend a couple of seminars this September. Must say that it is worth it! Apart from the priceless experience, Michael is a great guy, and the whole setting is magical.
The video captures it pretty well.

You can read more about Michael's work and teaching on and

There is also another similar video on Michael Bell where mention of his Japanese teacher is made.