have had the
experience of working with different blade smiths and each of them
have their own personality, which, as the significance of the word
goes, is unique. In other words, each smith - as much as each person
is a world in himself and is, by nature, incomparable.
As for Joe Walters, the impression that he transmits is that
of great openness, cheerfulness and a no-frills straightforward
Joe was born in Fond du Lac Wisconsin, in 1978, and has started working with blades since he was 13 years
old, in 1991 and Japanese-style blades for the past six years.
Forge was founded in 1998, the same year he
felt he was experienced enough to make his blades available to the
In his humble own words, Joe told me: I guess that makes
me one of those "young and aspiring blade smiths." I
know what he means by being both modest and wise, knowing there is a
long way ahead, but to me he has already passed the ranks of
aspiring blade smiths, while remaining young and talented
with 11 years of practice on his account. His picture holding
the finalized chokuto speaks for itself. A young and talented smith
exuding a very good aura of transparency.
And for those who are interested in the horoscope profile,
Joe Walters is a Pisces.
Joe further adds:
I like a modern approach to blade
smithing and swords, using today’s superior materials and scientific
understanding combined with traditional blade shapes and tried and
true techniques. I like every aspect of swords and knives and try to
treat every customer with courtesy, respect, and dignity.
The blade smiths whose work this talented smith admires most are the
late Bob Engnath, Don Fogg, Howard Clark,
Michael Bell, and Randall Graham.
While I know none
of them personally, the information they share through mail, posting
on web-forums, and through their websites speaks volumes for their
character and dedication to the preservation of the craft. Their
free sharing of knowledge has saved both myself and countless other
aspiring smiths years of trial and error, said Joe in
his own words.
The making of this 5160 steel chokuto was almost a saga of
great communication, which as the word implies, is composed of a two
way tuning. Therefore I decided to share most of the particulars of
the making of this blade with you all who may be interested in
reading it, also in the hope that Joe Walters great talent
and unique cheerful character will be fully recognized in the sword
community. It is definitely a pleasure to work with Joe
and in today's world, I see all reasons for acknowledging a talented
person as I don't see any reason for exclusion of the uniqueness of
António Conceição Júnior
across Joe Walters'
website about a year ago and noticed how interesting was his
approach to blades, his fittings and one of his swords in shirasaya
that had a deep sori.
At the beginning of the third millennium, I do not expect
that swords are made the same way they were some centuries ago,
nor do I expect that every Japanese style blade has to be made of
tamahagane, when chemistry and modern experimentation based on the
steel industry has developed plenty of different steels.
One pair of swords on Joe Walters website at the time drew my attention in particular, for the simple
beauty that came from them. It was a daisho that showed a katatemaki
(combat wrap) with only two or three
diamonds showing the same beneath, and the ito seemed like it was
bore a very contemporary rendition of an ancient look, while the tsuba was pretty small,
very much to my liking in its elegant simplicity.
THOUGHTS ABOUT SMITHS,
THOUGHTS ABOUT PEOPLE
Reading Joe’s range of services offered and the prices, I felt it
would be someone worth considering to work with in my next project,
as I am very much interested to be acquainted with different smiths,
as far as bladesmithing is concerned, since I am writing an article
on the subject. It is not a technical article, but rather a more
wider perspective under a symbolic approach. Well, that's me, my
preferences, and what interests me are appealing people with a
I have come across some whose lack of simplicity led me to
discard them from my mind and have never developed any kind of
correspondence whatsoever. My fault perhaps, but I follow that old
Dao deQing saying: A house is made of walls and roof,
but it is the void inside that makes it usable. In other
words, when one is full of oneself, there's no space left for
accepting anymore of anything else.
On the other hand I have met others whose different ways of
expressing friendliness and even great generosity kept me going back
to them. They all know I like them but don't worship them. I just
admire what they do to the best of their abilities, as I feel so
incapable of working steel. I have great admiration for people who
are worthy. And on top of it, for those who
work with steel and other metals such as sword smiths and jewelers,
as to a large extent they to operate a transmutation of materials
through one of the earliest discoveries of men: fire.
A NEW CHOKUTO
It came a time that I decided that my first mu-sori stick
chokuto by Cicada Forge
had to go. There is no particular reason for me to leave a wonderful
blade with a very unique hamon. I just felt it had its time
with me and should proceed its own journey. I wanted a new
one. And I have found my buyer (whose name I will not reveal) to be
a very interesting person and am working with him in developing a
new approach for the blade.
I wasn’t very much concerned at
the beginning into having a hamon present at the blade. I was more
concerned with its power to cut and had decided that it had to be a
hira-zukuri blade. But while this may be true, it emerged
from me the need for beauty combined with practicality. So I further
asked Joe Walters for a hybrid polish that would show the
clay temper and my request was promptly complied with, while being
informed that Joe would go for a much welcomed suguha hamon.
Many people will have their preconceptions or prejudices about a stick sword,
but I have dedicated myself to study what one can do with a chokuto
in a realistically way, turning it into a defensive weapon that is by
no means to be
called a ninja-sword or a zatoichi stick.
My aim was and is to have a blade
whose purpose is never to be drawn. It is indeed the paradox
that make sword arts what they are, at least how I view them. Yet the bokkuto-like
is for me both the supreme simplicity and the utmost complexity as
the chokuto in shirasaya is mainly to be doubled as a stick able to
hit rather than to be drawn.
After some consultations, a good friend pointed me to Joe Walters
and I emailed him enquiring about his availability to work on a
chokuto. Joe’s reply was prompt and very friendly, and I must
say I was surprised that he was acquainted with my
that I had a very short time frame for it, for reasons pertaining
only to me and to Macau. Joe, under very special
circumstances, asked if July would be okay for me. This
place about mid-June, and I was amazed by Joe’s reply.
In a wink, we
settled the price, the specs and we quickly discussed some technical
details. The blade would have my favorite 25 inches nagasa while the width
would be reduced to 2.8 cm.
After some hesitations I called Joe and told him I finally decided
for a piece of maple burl in dark brown color. I have always been
attracted to burl, but wanted to consult Joe Walters for how
much punishment could a normalized burl saya take. We further discussed the need for a lack of
rattling of the blade, the proper hold of the habaki by the saya,
the epoxied nakago for a 10 inch tsuka and a little trick on the
tsuka to find the ha without looking, just with my hands.
I am still surprised by my own obsession with beauty, wether it
is jewelry like, or understated. What I mean is that I could have an
even more discreet chokuto, avoiding attraction, and this has been
discussed. But in the end I gave up to my urge for beauty that the
burl would provide to the shirasaya...
Joe immediately found a piece of maple at e-Bay and pointed it out to me.
I agreed promptly and left a message with his kind wife saying
to please go ahead and the wood was secured.
By Sunday, the 16th of June 2002, maybe roughly 10 days
after we started talking, Joe sent me the first photos of the
chokuto in 5160 steel from a bar stock 3.2 cm wide which would then
be ground into the narrower final width.
The blade to be had been
already profiled and ground, getting ready for further refinement of
shape with the sanding belt, which gave it its final hira-zukuri
The dips and waves left by poor grinding, according to Joe, would be
removed by draw filing. The vertical scratches represent a low area
left by the grinding belt, the steel file will even everything out
for a very smooth and consistent cross-section and will leave a
finish of about 120 grit.
I could feel from the pictures that Joe sent me that, it is
going to be an extremely aggressive blade.
This is now a picture of an oversize blank, as Joe called it, ready
for heat treating, when a slight curvature is expected during quench
but the smooth finish left by draw filing will prevent any stress
risers that could cause cracks in the quench.
I am totally amazed at the speed at which Joe Walters works, as well as the
cheerful mood he puts on his emails or on his conversations over the
phone. I have been fed with pictures and explanations as the
blade advances. It is not easy to make a chokuto, as the blade tend
to curve, but Joe has prepared himself anticipating how the steel
would behave by oversizing the blank.
The next day, I got another picture with the blade showing a
nice kissaki. The picture above shows the sugata after the quenching.
Here is what Joe did: he clay-coated the blade and hardened
the mune upon quenching to stop the curving.
Joe Walters was able to keep the specifications I gave him
within the limits though 5160 steel does curve
significantly after quench in
water, and Joe decided he would continue to use this 5160
which would have a very nice sori.
Joe had to go on a trip, and he was kind enough to let me
know, and came back on July 3rd. late evening. The
photos below are already taken after he resumed his work.
Joe did a special handle that fit into the sword's nakago
tightly to make handling 1.500 º F temperature a little safer. Here
we see that the blade is getting ready for another step of
what I like to call the Alchemic Process.
The salt pot seems very much like a volcano with dried
white lava around, another step from the entire process of
making a chokuto a terrible weapon. Each part of the workshop seems
like the world of an alchemist...
The blade is fed into the molten-salt-filled tube and allowed to
come up to temperature, then cooled in still air. This process is
repeated 4 times to normalize the blade, a process which refines the
grain structure, prevents warpage in the quench, and makes for a
The blade is then quenched into warmed oil and later tempered
to reduce brittleness. Yet another step of the laborious process of
changing the properties of steel to one's own specific wishes.
what the blade looks like prior to rough finishing on the belt
According to what Joe has told me in our
exchange of emails:
There is practically no
makes this blade like a 25 inch straight-razor. It slices deep
with the lightest pressure, yet is tough enough to cut with if
need be, definitely recommending you stick with tatami.
I won't even pick
this one up without my kevlar gloves on! This blade
exhibits *excellent* flexibility and toughness. The weight is a scant 1 pound, which should bring the
total weight of the blade when mounted into the handle to
about 2 pounds even. The balance point will probably be
about 3 inches forward of the habaki. The blade "floats" and
has a *very* alive feel to it.
understood the type of blade I was looking for. And obviously neither
he nor I were looking for a blade that can cut gun barrels. The hira-zukuri,
is so sharp that Joe himself decided to protect his hands with
Kevlar gloves. Then there is the lightness of the blade,
another issue I raised, to which Joe complied in a very
significant way. When I called him after receiving these
pictures, Joe told me with his friendly soft laugh, that he
had already finished making the habaki.
I must say that I am definitely captured by this young blade
smith. He is
charming, friendly, absolutely dedicated to his work, and I shall say that we
have been enjoying working together in this project. We have exchanged links
between our websites and I am fascinated by how Joe works,
because his pace is pretty much the same as in Macau. Very
On top of it I find him to be extremely practical with his
work on blades. He aims for performance blades as a priority and I
am already thinking of one other myself, in a few months.
Those who know me, know that I do acknowledge
talented persons and feel a very special joy in finding
them and proclaiming how good they are. And if they are young, I
have even much more reason to rejoice.
I'll take this opportunity to explain why my reviews go
online so quick. Mostly because I keep getting pictures and I start
writing parts of the reviews until I receive the blade. Then I take
some final shots and just add some more information on the revised
text and place it online.
With Joe Walters it has been an extremely efficient
exchange of information and also of pictures sent my way.
THE MAKING OF THE HABAKI
THE MAKING OF THE SAYA AND TSUKA
Then, after final touch up the chokuto was ready for
These are the pictures that Joe took prior to
shipping the blade to me. I received them on July 16,2002 my
knew that the saya would have to be tight, and Joe had
devised a way to ship the blade so no extra pressure would be
exerted over the saya's mouth to avoid any climate changes affecting
the way the saya would hold the
He also ensured that the wood would be fully normalized before
starting to work on the saya.
In short, a deluxe treatment for
a sword collector who had some time problems that Joe fully
THE CHOKUTO SPECIFICATIONS
mentioned before, the blade is a hira-zukuri with a 6mm
mune, a scary double sized chisel like blade with very little
niku taking the most advantage of the 2.8 cm width
at the machi and a slight, very slight taper of 4
mm at the end.
Nagasa is 25 inches, my favorite chokuto length.
Polish is a working polish for a blade that is made specially
for cutting. I would not want to have a high polish for it.
These are the
first set of pictures taken of the chokuto immediately after opening
it from the box.