A modern bladesmith rooted in the old traditions

Nami ni Chidori Nagamaki

波に千鳥長巻

This blade’s journey started conceptually from conversations with the customer and physically with trips to the mines to collect the iron ore. The blade was born from the earth that so generously provides us with the raw elements necessary for its crafting. In my mind, there is as much beauty in the final refined product as there is in the original raw materials.

The iron was smelted from the rocks as the first step in the refining, separating the good from the bad using techniques which our ancestors have been using for over 2000 years now.

The smelting process is not perfect, just like nothing is perfect even though we strive to make it so. The raw bloom of iron needs further work to remove impurities and bring the carbon content to a range that will turn the iron into steel and thus allow it to become harder and tougher.

Creating the bar of steel for this blade took over 6 kg of raw bloom initially worked into three bars of which only one survived. In looking back, I think I already knew that that particular bar was destined to become this sword. The way the metal moved under the forging hammer and nicely came together told me that.

At that point the challenge came from the size of the forging. This is a massive blade and the space around the shop had to be arranged to deal with it. Yaki-ire (the hardening or quenching) is always stressful and in an instant, as the 1500 degree blade enters the water all the work from the previous months could end up in disappointment. But it did not. Not only the hardening went well, it went extremely well as the curvature produced by the quench was not only graceful but perfectly proportioned to the length of the blade.

From there on everything that had been set to motion in the previous months rolled down at a steady pace, creating the koshira and saya.

As for the koshira, everything was made from copper. From the habaki, to the seppa, fuchi, kashira and menuki. Including the additional rings on the tsuka and the tsuba. All of them patinated black. The tsuba and menuki were the key artistic elements used to reflect the theme of this blade: “Nami ni Chidori.”

The word nagamaki means “long wrap” and is reflected in the need to duplicated all preparations for tsuka-maki as there will be two “handles” in this blade’s tsuka.

Polishing metal that has been smelted, layered and forge-welded together multiple times and therefore has “character” or grain, what the Japanese call hada presents challenges and more so when you also try to show activities in the steel related to the separation between the hard edge and the softer spine, the hamon.

But it is satisfying in the end when most of the activities in the steel can be displayed. It is like an old-time photograph, the photo paper is exposed during the quench and the final photograph is developed during the polishing. I am dating myself saying this in an electronic era when photographs are digitally processed but I used to have my own darkroom and I can’t help the analogy for those who understand it. From the descriptive stand-point, the blade belongs to the Soshu den tradition. The hamon is ko-choji and gunome midare with yubashiri becoming tobiyaki. Ji-nie is prominent with nioi kuzure. The hada is itame with kinsuji, inazuma and chikei. Koshiba typical of the koto era. The boshi is kaeri fukai.

The final blade all put together is massive and impressive. Being myself a practitioner of Japanese swordmanship who had until now only handled sword-length blades or shorter, it is impossible not to see the purpose behind this blade.

波に千鳥 “Nami ni Chidori” is a classic Japanese theme that depicts the struggle of the plover over the waves. This idea was chosen to represent the meaning that this blade has to its owner and will forever be the soul of this nagamaki.