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.