Black & Gold Katana
This blade represents an example of great collaboration between its owner and the maker. The owner of this blade had some ideas in mind as to what he wanted to see made and allow me free will to explore those ideas in any which direction I wished to take them. I must admit that I do my best work when I feel free to do what I feel is right. Along the way the initial budget was adjusted to reflect changes in the design that only serve the purpose of enhancing the final result. All communication between us was fluid and respectful, leading to the creation of a beautiful and practical sword.
Like most of my blades that will be used for practical purposes, they start as a round bar of W2 steel measuring 1 1/4″ diameter and about 9″ long.
The bar is taking to the forge and work at forging temperature until is drawn out into a bar first and finally into a blade “sunobe” which is the Japanese word for a “pre-form” that allows for more easily forge in the bevels and the actual blade form. You can see in the image the comparison in size from an 11″ bar to the sunobe. I bet you did not think that there was enough metal in that short bar to make a sword.
In the next step, the bevels will be forged in and the blade will be given a curve if needed based on the final curve desired and method of heat treat used. The blade is then roughly ground clean of all the forging scale.
The thermal cycling is what comes next. The steel is normalized then clay coated and hardened then ground again clean.
After rough grinding the blade on the grinder, I go over the surface by hand and polish the blade to 220 grit making sure that all the final shaping of the blade is done. At this point, it is possible to start working on the furniture that will dress the blade. In the Japanese style blade, the habaki is the key component that determines the fit and position of everything else, so it is made first.
With the habaki made, the saya wood can be split and carved to accept the shape of the blade. A particularly beautiful and rare long piece of tigerwood was chosen for this sword. When polished, this wood shows a contrast of color which gives it the appearance of tiger stripes.
For the handle, poplar is chosen for the core wood.
Blocks of water buffalo horn are mortised to the mouth of the saya and also at the end. The kurikata is also made of horn.
And as the wood is polished the tiger stripes become evident. Further work on the saya included lacquering a pattern with a design based on a single sakura mon.
Next the seppa and tsuba blanks are cut and fitted to the sword.
The tsuba blank will then be turned to the chosen design. Working on the design of the tsuba, although shown here in the middle of the crafting process, is usually the first thing that I do when I start to conceptualized the sword. I will take paper and pencil and start drawing based onthe ideas that come to mind inspired by the Japanese tradition and the owner desires.
The fuchi and kashira and made next, formed from copper flat plate rolled down to the appropriate thickness and embellished by engraving or carving.
The menuki are made next and then all the copper fittings are given a black patina.
As we near completion we can start to put some of these elements together. Starting with the tsuka, wrapped in ray skin and completed with the fuchi, kashira and menuki bound tightly together by the tsuka ito.
Along the way the blade has been polished to a high grit to reveal its hamon.
And finally everything is put together.