This blade is a hira-zukuri wakizashi made from homemade steel. 18” nagasa. The steel was made in a traditional bloomery furnace and divided in two blocks. The first billet was used for the core of the sanmai sandwich. This metal was carburized. The other block of metal was compacted and then folded to create 360 layers of metal divided in two to make the jacket of the sanmai. 360 degrees represents a full circle which goes along with the “mushin” topic which I tried to reflect in this blade.
“Mushin” literally translates to -no mind- as in the flow of things that happens to look easy because of the level of experience of the maker which at that point does not need to think about what he or she is about to do. I don’t feel like I have achieved mushin but I am easily relaxing towards my best approximation.
I wanted simplicity in the fittings to go along with the theme. The handle was made from a single piece of hardwood carved with simple yet elegant curves. The ends of the wood were lacquered black to create the illusion that the handle is shorter than it really is. All the fittings were made from copper and given a simple texture to avoid clouding the overall design. They were blackened using a patina.
This project took a long time to complete for one reason or the other. Like most of my projects I had thought of making a sword cane a long time ago. The concept and the ideas floating in my head and slowly turning into reality with many “corrections” along the way to achieve in practice what my mind had seen a long time ago.
I attended school in the University of Salamanca in Spain. The original building founded in 1094 is the second oldest university still functioning in the world and its façade is a complex stone carving in a unique style called plateresque. The name of the style comes from the fact that it imitates the look of the work of a silversmith. In Spanish silver is plata.
Here is a picture of the entrance wall to illustrate this:
Legend says a freshman student would have to endeavor locating the carving of a skull in that façade with the unusual feature of having a frog on top without help from anyone in order to graduate. It is not known what was in the head of the stone mason who committed such an irreverent act of which the meaning and symbolism remains unknown.
Here is the amphibian in question:
And my poor rendition of the same:
And unsheathed like this:
The blade profile was based on the most common shape of Japanese sword canes: for most of the blade length is the typical profile of a Japanese katana in its hira-zukuri configuration and with a roof-peak mune except that it is skinnier and very straight. Zero sori. When I finished grinding the blade to shape and held it in my hand so used to holding full-length katana, I was shocked at how light it was. 400 grams. The point ends in a double edge both sides sharp. It seems to me that rather than cutting this profile is meant for thrusting. It will poke into things rather easily.
One difference compared to other Japanese sword canes is its length. This blade is unusually long at 29″ of cutting edge and and additional 7″ for the nakago.
The blade is a sanmai construction using 1050 steel for the core and folded cable for the jacket steel.
The stick is made of ash wood wrapped in tree bark and lacquered.
There is a latching mechanism to secure the two halfs.
And it fits comfortably in the hand.
A few more views:
I made the steel by pattern-welding three different types of steel, 1095, 1050 and 15N20. The billet was manipulated to create a somewhat organic-looking pattern. The pattern’s light reflection varies greatly from dark to light depending on the angle of the light source.I wanted to incorporate a touch of the Japanese bladesmithing tradition which I follow into this Western-style knife, so I included a “collar” -habaki- made of copper which has been carved in an intricate design of spider web and tree trunk. The guard is an old wrought iron anchor chain link which was forged down and bent to accommodate the shape of the habaki and was given a patina based on copper to match. The handle is made of ebony with a simple carving of a redback spider and is joined to the guard by a zebrawood spacer.
These two are a bit of a step in a different direction for me.
They are wootz steel daggers in two very different profiles. The curve blade was made using steel made by Jeff Pringle. The handle is a horse head design carved in hardwood and then lacquered black. The straight blade is made with steel made by Peter Swarz-Burt. Ebony and bone handle inlaid with gold leaf.
This blade is a hira-zukuri wakizashi made from W2 steel. It has a 17” nagasa. The blade was hand forged and hardened in the traditional Japanese way using a clay-coating to produce a differential heat treatment. This results in a hamon reminiscent of an enraged sea with very visible utsuri after the polish. The saya and tsuka are made from a unique piece of Indian rosewood which grain follows very nicely the curvature of the blade. The saya and tsuka are finished with water buffalo horn. The menuki are made in copper and carved to reflect the theme of metamorphosis or transformation depicting a caterpillar and a butterfly. The tsuba is made from iron and follows the same theme. All copper elements, menuki, kurikata, seppa and habaki have been patinated using the traditional Japanese technique called niage which uses rokusho to turn the copper into a warm brown/orange color.
This is the story of a sword. The blade began as a little seed in my mind after reading the book “Swords of the Viking Age” by Ian Pierce. As I turned pages 148 and 149, very much at the end of the book and having already seen many photographs of wonderful pattern-welding, I was stunned by two photographs depicting a sword found in Vehmaa and dating to the 8th century. My first impression looking at the photographs on both pages is that I was looking at two different swords but reading the brief notes I was further shocked in realizing that it was only one. Ever since I saw that blade I wanted to try and figure out how the pattern was created.
That was many moons ago. Then going back some three or four years I saw Jeff’s repair on the handle of a Viking sword and that sword and another were shown at Fire&Brimstone. When I held the one blade with the Petersen L morphology, I felt a more compelling need to try to make the Vehmaa sword.
It took me the best part of a year of on and off reviewing my original notes on the pattern and developing new ideas to sort out how could it be re-made. Aided at times by a 3D CAD program to determine the composition, layer count and arrangement of the rods, I was able to figure out the individual patterns but not quite able to determine how where they put together and the transitions from one pattern to another realized. One day when I least expected it, I came up with a plausible solution and even if it is not how the original was made, I was happy enough with the plans to make some billets and get ready to test my thoughts in the fire.
I used 1095 and 15N20. About 6 kg of steel to begin with and run the tests I wanted with enough material to spare. I made core rods and edge rods. The edge rods were 1095 and W2.
The five rods that were to become the core of the blade needed to be twisted and/or manipulated to very precise dimensions. The day I did the twists I had two pages of carefully detailed directions as to where to start and stop each twist and how many turns to do. It was nerve wrecking as any one single mistake would have thrown the pattern off. Everything needed to line up as close to the layout directions as possible.
The next issue was to figure out how much material to remove from either side to expose the pattern exactly where it was intended and for most people who have done this, they would realize that the pattern is shown at different depths on different sections on both sides of the blade.
The most dificult weld was the last. Attaching the wrap-around edge to the core had to be done when the billets were ¼” thick and there was no wiggle room for any offset as it would simply ruin the carefully develop pattern.
Unfortunately, the first sword did not show the correct patterns after grinding as a result of miscalculating the depth. The blade was very interesting in itself but not was I was going after. So a second blade was started and with the gained knowledge from the previous one, the patterns were pre-arranged where after grinding they will show at the correct depth.
So now it was on to profiling on the grinder and heat treating. The blade look really pretty dressed in its tempering colors.
But it had a little bit of a warping towards the point which I tried and tried to straighten at tempering temperature for a couple days. Finally I thought I had straighten it just to come in the shop the next morning and see that that curve had come back to some degree after cooling. I thought that it was such a little curve that I put it in the vise cold and tried to fix it. The blade broke in two.
Too bad as the pattern was for the most part there. The serpent section was not as tight as I wanted but everything else was right on. The next week instead of feeling pity on myself I went back to the shop to make a new set of billets for a third attempt. Although for a day or two I did walk with my head down.
Third time’s a charm. I had the sword I wanted with the correct amount of tightness for the serpent and although one of the chevron sections did not have the correct spacing, it was close enough. I was not planning on hilting the blade or making a scabbard but I needed some sort of sheath to keep the blade in so I made a wooden one and it looked so nice that I was compelled to finish it with a leather wrap and lambskin liner. At that point there was no turning back from making a hilt for it too.
The blade itself is 950 grams and the length without the tang was 32 ½”. Width of 1 7/8” at the base and tapering from there. Polishing the w2/1095 edge to show contrast was a bit tricky and ended up using a method similar to the Japanese polish for the edge.
I had a smile on my face when it was finished.
Here you can see how subtle the edge pattern is.
For those interested in trying to figure out the pattern-welding, the following two images are composite images made in Photoshop by combining many sectional pictures. The proportions of the handle and blade were a bit deformed by the program but the pattern is more easily discerned. You can click on the image for a larger version.
My respect for the smith who made the original sword is enormous. I don’t think that I actually followed the process that he used to make his sword in making mine. He knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. Thanks to all my friends that help me in one way or another through questions and answers on the making on the different parts of this blade. You know who you are.
This is a pattern-welded Viking style sword. There are 5 twisted rods on each side of the core arranged 3:2 and 2:3 to make each side a bit different and two additional rods to make the edges.
Length is 31.5 inches for the blade. Weight 1.2 kilograms blade. 5.8 cm width at the base tapering to 4 cm. 5 mm thick at the base tapering to 3 mm.
Type H hilt made of laminated iron and copper.
This is a W2 steel katana hand-forged in a traditional Japanese style of differential heat treatment to produce a vivid hamon with some utsuri. Nagasa is 27.5 inches.
I immediately fell in love with the concept and tried to bring the Mt. Fuji theme into a tasteful design. All the fittings were made of copper which was patinated using the niage technique based on the use of rokusho. The tsuba is iron with a sukashi design. The iron has been also patinated.
The saya is poplar with many layers of lacquer. The koiguchi has been reinforced with a copper ring to prevent the saya from splitting during noto and to ensure a tighter fit to the habaki less likely to be affected by environmental changes or movement of the wood given the restriction created by the metal.
This blade was an experiment carried out to demonstrate that a blade can be hardened while it is fully sharpened and not crack during the quench.
The hamon flows with the profile of the blade as there was no clay used when the blade was quenched.
The habaki is copper and so are the seppa/spacers and the guard. The knife is part of my “East meets West” style. The handle is water buffalo horn and padauk wood finished with Tru oil.
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, saya and completing the long wrap which is what nagamaki stands for. 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.
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.
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 struggle of the plover to keep away from the sea which hopefully honors the desires of the customer. The saya is further decorated using an original samurai mon that depicts that idea.