Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shibuichi diamond ring

Haven't been to the worshop lately, except to pack, as I am in the process of moving to a place with cheaper rent and closer to home.
But I have not been completely inactive.
Here is an engagement ring (yes, you guessed right) with a top quality 0.12 carat diamond set in a cast 25% shibuichi ring. The gray of the shibuichi is much better at bringing out the white light of the diamond instead of the usual white metals, silver and platinum, in my opinion at least.
The ring was cast, so that after patination no seam line would be visible, and the stone was set by a professional, then the whole thing patinated with Baldwin's patina and rubbed with Rennaisance wax.

It might have looked even better in black shakudo... but I'm saving that for the actual wedding rings ;-)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The burner to end all burners... and mokume twists

I haven't been to the workshop for about a month now. Those of you who have been reading international news know that Greece is under turmoil, and that is an understatement...
Over here it feels a bit like being caught in the downward spiral that drives the shit down the toilet.
Anyway, about a month ago I spotted a professional welders' supply store and had them make me a really powerful, proper burner. It runs off  a propane tank (at around 2 bar) and an air compressor (at around 7 bar), so it's a cheaper and safer alternative to a propane-oxygen torch. Really controllable too.

I, or rather we, got our first order for a pair of silver-copper mokume wedding rings, so here are a couple of pics from the twisting process.

Remember to anneal often. When in doubt anneal. Anneal till you get dead bored of it. This way you can make sure no harm comes to your mokume (and no, that is not a fissure in the right hand side of the picture above).

Lastly, remember to forge only after the silver mokume has dropped down to black heat, and you are set.

Until next time, or until this country implodes...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Japanese alloy mokume pendant and silver-copper ring.

Just finished this silver-shibuichi-shakudo pendant. Should make a fitting Mother's Day gift!
The patina was made with diluted Baldwin's Patina from Reactive Metals, so the shibuichi and shakudo have slightly brownish colors instead of grey and black.

Also I just made (together with a jeweler friend of mine) a silver-copper twisted mokume ring.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brief update - patterning mokume billet, etc

Brief update on what I'm doing: 

Thermal cycling the wootz ingot, 950C, 600C, 900C, 600C, 850C, 600C...

Patterning the silver-shibuichi-shakudo billet with a small drill

Test patination of above billet, once again the shibuichi and shakudo colors are exquisite

Twisting silver-copper bar to form a ring

Better photos when the last two are finished will be posted on my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Etsy shop!

I finally got around to set up my Etsy shop. You can find ready made billets for sale there, and I will be adding patterned billets, and maybe finished pieces later on. The first two, are a nickel silver, copper, brass billet and a sterling silver, copper billet. Thanks!

UPDATE: Etsy shop is dead as it saw little traffic. If you want to buy mokume billets or finished pieces, just contact me through the comments below and I will respond with direct email.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

First wootz melt!

Yesterday, March 25th 2011, marks the 190 year anniversary for Greek independence day, so I thought it would be an auspicious date to make some true damascus - wootz steel.
And I did!
Into the crucible went 800gr of mostly wrought iron, 570 gr of GG40 cast iron, and 10gr of Vanadis10 steel to add roughly a gram of vanadium. Some organic matter and a broken beer bottle for glass, and fire it up!

Below you see the setup for the melt. I used my huge forced air propane burner, and managed to melt it all in less than an hour. I have to get some protective dark glasses to be able to see what's going on inside the furnace, as at 1500 or 1600 C it's a bit like looking into the sun.

Anyway, here a closeup of the surface. I believe I can see some really fine dendrites! 
I'll cut up a couple of pieces and try to forge them out. Wish me luck.

Again, for those who have no idea of what I'm talking about, let's say that wootz steel in the true damascus steel, a technique that was lost somewhere around the 19th century, and only now being rediscovered around the world. 
Related posts:

and my previous post on the subject with a good Scientific American piece on true damascus steel

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mokume billets for sale

It has been some time since the last post, and it was mostly work-work-work. 

Today I sold my first mokume billets to a local jeweler! 

I 've decided to offer three types of billets, a more expensive 15 layer silver, shibuichi, shakudo combination, a common 15 layer silver-copper combination, and a more economical 19 layer copper, brass, nickel silver, brass combination, shown below. 

Dimensions are 45mm x 45mm, and thickness 7.5mm, 8mm, and 10mm respectively. Prices are per gram, and are as follows: 0.5 Euros/gr for the non-precious metal combinations, 2 Euros/gr for the silver-copper, and 4 Euros/gr for the Japanese alloys. These are about the same prices that the only European commerial mokume producer quotes. Due to the roughly 1.4 exchange rate between Euro and USD, they do seem pricey in USD, so I've decided (in the off chance that I get a client from the US) to keep the same prices in USD, so US customers roughly get a 30% discount.

Anyway enough with money and such. I have also worked both liquid state diffusion where the metals slightly melt before bonding, and solid state diffusion where the metals bond without melting. Of course, the Japanese swordsmiths of yore used only the liquid state diffusion process. For more technical details read the excellent Santa Fe paper below.

It's interesting how the modern approach relies on advanced technology, and really long bonding times but requires very little experience and care, while the old process is really quick but requires intimate contact with the material, a watchful eye and good timing. In the modern process you are guaranteed good results, but you have to wait, while in the old way you can do it in a pinch, but can easily ruin the whole billet if you are careless for a few seconds! Says a lot about the old masters...

Can't really say which technique I prefer, for the time being I do both, and time will tell. I am also twisting and flattening pieces to see how well they hold up, but more on that (with photos, I promise) later on.

UPDATE: I am still offering mokume billets for sale, just not through the Etsy shop. Just contact me below and I will respond directly through email, so we can work out what you need.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Workshop FINALLY finished!

Ok, here is a picture of the completed workshop. I have been working on it for some serious time now.
In order of appearance (well some are covered or can barely be seen), from left to right:
Working table
155 cm Belt grinder
Electric kiln
Buffer, circular grinder
Three propane forges (one for steel making, one upright forging, and one all purpose horizontal, with needed hood)
Japanese style anvil
20ton air over hydraulic press (under cover, see previous post)
Huge, old rolling mill (see previous post)
Jeweler's precision table saw
Smaller belt grinder (behind curtain)

The staircase leads up to a smaller area (this is a loft kinda space), where I will be building a togidai, and moving all work that requires extra clean space (like final polishing and woodwork).

I know this a tool gloat post, but it has taken me plenty of time and effort to set all this up. 
Not to mention some cash, and a lot of friends' assistance (especially an electrician friend from Switzerland who set up the inverter, the temp control panel for the kiln, and a proper switchboard for the rolling mill).

Ok, lastly here is a pic of the finished rolling mill, 
with new paint job, proper switchboard and safety accessories fitted.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Japanese alloys rule!

Got to hand it to the Japanese. They never cease to amaze me with their exquisite taste.
I just finished a silver-shibuichi-shakudo mokume gane plate, and the colors that came out after patinating itare gorgeous. 
The photo does not do them justice...
The silver appears almost white in contrast tto the alloys, and the alloys themselves display such warm colors, its amazing. 

By the way, this is a completely self-made piece, 
I alloyed and rolled the 15% shibuichi, and 2,5% shakudo. 
Anyway, I'm just going to cut it up, twist it and give it to a jeweler friend of mine to make a few seamless rings. Feeling I've reached a good point at mokume gane technique, I guess I can now relax back into some swordsmithing...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New (actually pretty old) machines.

This post could also have the title "Buying used machinery in a recession". The recession that is hitting my, IMF and ECB stricken, country is so severe, that several jewelry workshops are going out of business. Their old machinery, being too heavy to ship elsewhere, and not wanted by other struggling professionals, end up in scrap heaps. 
That is where I found the ones shown here. I am ashamed to quote the price I got them for. 
Suffice it to say that basically they were bought by scrap iron weight.

A huge powered rolling mill. First thing I need to do is install some finger protection...

Water-cooled precision table saw, and old electric kiln.

Basically all the heavy machinery needed to make mokume gane professionally, 
for the price of a few crates of beer...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Silver-copper mokume gane pictorial.

Just came back from the shop, where I made my first silver-copper mokume gane billet. It turned out really good, which probably means this combination is hard to mess up...
So here is a short pictorial of what I did.

You need pretty hefty torque plates made out of stainless steel. Paint the faces with yellow ochre so the metals don't stick to them.

11 layers of fine silver and copper.

Cleaning the faces and exposing fresh metal with a scotch brite pad. Works just fine, and is pretty quick.

 Clean off any grease by dipping them in acetone, then rinse with water and dry.

Making sure you don't touch the faces, stack them up between the torque plates.

Compress them as much as you can, and tighten the bolts again, to keep this pressure on the billet. 
In this case the pressure was over 1 ton/cm2!

Stick them in a small forge or kiln, with a small burner... you need to keep the temp below 778 C, where the eutectic alloy between silver and copper melts, and everything turns gooey. 

Let it soak for about an hour, turning it around occasionally to even out the temperature. Also try to keep a reducing atmosphere in the forge as much as you can (I found out it's important but not critical).
What is important is to closely monitor the temperature, hence a pyrometer is needed. Try to insert the probe between the steel plates, as close as possible to the billet.

Finally after some trimming and sanding here is a healthy billet without any delamination. Oh, I also presssed it once more after it dropped down to black heat.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Propane burners, old and new.

I have been pretty busy trying to find and negotiating used power rolling mills. A lot of jewelry workshops are sadly going out of business in this country, and there is a multitude of used machinery that if not resold will go for iron scrap. I think I managed to clinch a deal on an old massive power mill with 9cm thick, 20cm wide rollers for 500 Euros, which is quite a deal, if it goes through...

I have also been building new forges, one for melting wootz steel, and another which will be able to hold a steady 750 C temperature for silver mokume gane. The first one is easy, just build it as massive as you can; the second one is a lot trickier, as most forges and burners will easily overshoot that temp.

Another ongoing project is casting some shibuichi and shakudo. I cast an ingot of both, and have been running to and fro a guy with a rolling mill to flatten them out to 0.5 mm sheet. I will make a silver, shibuichi, shakudo mokume billet, once I have managed to make the 750 C forge...

Anyway, just to keep this blog going here are my two propane burners. My old sidearm burner, with a 1.0mm (ignore the 0.8 in the photo, it does not work) gas port. The cast iron nozzle has to be switched with a proper stainless steel one, as it is deteriorating fast.

Here is my second, more powerful burner I finished today. It is a forced air burner, using the same gas feeding head as the previous one, but built out of 1.25 inch plumbing tube, and a 2 inch blower (I really like the BLOWER stamp on it; as if it looks like it could be anything else).
The whole thing look like a huge faucet, only, it shoots out fire!!!

Here is a useful and necessary detail, a flame holder made out of a 0.75 inch tube held inside the bigger tube by radially arranged screws. Some people go without it, but I could not keep a steady flame without one. 
The flame of this one is massive, and by controlling the blower speed one can easily switch between an oxidizing and a reducing flame.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Silver-shibuichi mokume gane.

Here is another mokume gane post; yes this is still a sword smithing blog, but mokume gane seems to be the thing that will be paying the bills in the future, so I have to develop it. 
Here is a really good example of a silver, shibuichi, shakudo seamless ring (I did not make it), that shows the nice patination colors one can achieve with these alloys. For anyone interested, you can buy this ring at 

I cast some 25% shibuichi the other day, and had it drawn out to 0.5 mm sheet, and went ahead and bought some 0.5 mm silver sheet as well, so I should be able to try my hand at some silver-shibuichi mokume.
Also ordered some Balwin's patina from

Shibuichi crucible in the forge.

Shibuichi casting setup.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New mokume billet.

Once again the day job has taken over for a few days, so I could not get a single day's work at the forge. 
Still here is a pendant that a jeweler friend of mine fashioned from a brass, copper, nickel silver mokume billet I forged. Looking better every time.

I also forged a 19 layer nickel silver, iron billet, and have been testing its strength, and trying to make a seamless mokume ring from it.
Looks like I might have to do some mokume billets and sell them wholesale to jewelers around here; it could at least earn me the rent for the shop, which would be nice...

Also I figured out I'll have to build my own rolling mill to flatten out the billets. I keep paying 5-20 Euros for every billet at a local shop, and also asked the price for a commercial rolling mill; 800 Euros for a Durston manual and 3800 for a power mill. I figure I should be able to build a decent powered one for less than 500, so I'll go for it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Japanese style anvil.

Once again a tool building post. I asked around for an anvil, and found a Ridgid-Peddinghaus 35Kg anvil going for about 550 Euros. I also checked various scrap yards for old anvils, but found none; I have seen some in the workshops of metal welders (I guess it is their grandfathers' anvils which they don't use or know how to use, but keep anyway) but they wouldn't part with them.

So I surfed around the web and figured out that the Japanese smiths use just a big block of steel. I also read that AISI 4140 steel will work, heat treated or not, so I managed to find the closest Uddeholm steel equivalent from a local Uddeholm dealer, namely Uddeholm Impax, a low Chromium-Molybdenum-Nickel steel. Had it professionally heat treated to about 52 HRc and voila!

Dimensions are 11cm x 26cm x 16cm, and weight about 35 Kg. Cost, 200 for the steel and 85 Euros for the heat treatment. Still pretty steep, but half the cost of a commercial anvil. 

And the hammer rebound is AMAZING!!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Just inspiring!

Feeling immense gratitude to Ford Hallam for sharing his knowledge and passion, and for being an inspiration to metalworkers at large...

A short documentary film that follows classical Japanese metal artist Ford Hallam as he recreates a lost masterpiece tsuba by a 19th century master.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Finally, belt grinder is nearing completion!

At Last!
Today I managed to assemble my belt grinder. It still needs a few hours tweaking and adjusting things, but on the first test run it worked like a charm. After a forge, hammer and anvil, a belt sander is THE most useful tool in the shop.
For people who do not know, it does not look like much, a couple of pulleys with a belt... 
Let me tell you, this has been the MOST time consuming machine to build, and I still have before me the tricky part of micro-adjusting it.

Details: 2hp 900 rpm 3 phase motor, 1 phase to 3 phase inverter with adjustable speed, 155cm belt, 20cm rubber contact wheel, machined aluminum crowned pulley with a scrap Subaru ball bearing.

Cost, approximately 700 Euros: 150 for the motor, 150 for the inverter, 70 for the contact wheel, 200 machining, 50 for the electric installation, and another 80 for odds and ends.

The design I went with after looking at tons of different designs on the net (
was a simplified version on one I found on an excellent set of youtube videos:


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year, and a real treat from another blog

Pierre Nadeau is an incredible Canadian who is probably the only westerner swordsmith apprentice in Japan at the time. You can read more about him at the following address.

For this year, Pierre Nadeau is intending to keep a blog on how he will be constructing a short sword, with weekly posts of every stage of the process.

Should be fascinating!

Also, here is an excellent video posted by Pierre Nadeau about a week ago 
on how to build a simple Japanese style charcoal forge. 
For all you purist buffs out there...