BACK TO CONCEPT

PAOLO ABRERA'S INTRODUCTION TO THIS PROJECT

I had seen and admired this particular design of Antonio's for a hybrid sword on his website for some time so it was a great pleasure and privilege to be invited by Antonio and his client who wanted to see this sword made, to collaborate on this piece. More than simply a "tool", the dhakris spoke to me primarily as an art object. And it was an intriguing opportunity to be be both old and new, traditional and innovative.

Antonio's original concept brought forth a feeling of preciousness, and this was something I was keen to explore in my interpretation of the design. The sword's owner shares the same love for the "richness" of a palette of natural and organic materials that bring forth their own sense of noble richness finished without too many cosmetic treatments. To make the design more viable we chose to steer the choices of materials and finishes towards the "earthy and robust".
Ancient oosic, old wrought iron and Filipino "Kamagong" Ebony were chosen to express these qualities.

The design draws from shapes and mythologies of Moro kris and Laos/Burmese dha, but in my mind, de-contextualizes them into pure design elements; and that is how I have preferred to treat them. And what is born is a contemporary design that pays homage to these weapons but is one designed by purpose not fit into the rigid boundaries of these traditions but is rather, what I hope to be an exploration of a functional contemporary art object in its own right

Our materials. Steel, wrought iron, ancient walrus oosic and Philippine Ebony.

I started with an 11x1" 1/4" inch round of W2 steel. Carbon-rich steel in this size is too much work for on person to break-down by hand so...

...I pay a visit to a friend of mine. A beginning blade smith who wisely built himself a small power hammer. This makes breaking down the round stock into bar stock much easier. But still it takes me the entire afternoon to get it into the

pre-form stage. With the "sunobe" formed, I can now hand-forge the blade.

I start with the angular tip. I forge-in the distal tapers as I continue along the length to draw out the edge, and finally

taper the tang end.

Using a longer heat-treating forge, I cycle the blade to austenizing temperature then back down to room temp to normalize the steel and refine the grain. On the last heat I let it cool very, very slowly in the ashes in the forge to anneal the steel to make it easier to work. The finished forging ( and a similar bar of w2 that I started with).

I clean up the blade, refine the profile and set the geometry with files and a sen. Then, using the print-out that Antonio sent as a template. I incise the raised spine with the weathered shapes from the antique kris. It reminds me of ancient crevasses and canyons, cracks in the ancient earth.

The sword is ready for final heat treating. The blade is still straight at this point. I am going for a water quench on this blade. It is riskier but I think the graceful sori that you get with water is the way to go.

 
sample of butt.

 

PAOLO QUENCHING THE BLADE

if you are having problems with the video, click here to view it.

I preheat the forge.

- I Austenize the sword in finely chopped charcoal.

-After achieving an even heat along the blade, I quench in warm water.
I perform an interrupted quench. In the water for 4 beats, out for a couple, then back in the water for 4 beats again. It goes straight into my oil quench/tempering tank that has warm oil (about 250 degrees) to finish off the quench. This practice is designed to minimize the possibility of quench cracking but still achieve a differentially hardened blade.

-once the blade has cooled enough, I ramp up the temperature of the tempering rig to 400 degrees and keep it there for an hour. Then the blade is allowed to cool, then tempered again 2 times more after that.

The blade is clayed-up. No fancy patterns, just some "ashi" (those small teethlike projections in the clay) to keep the hard edge from chipping. The clay is thickest over the cutouts to avoid any hardening (and potential cracking) in the area near the cutouts, but quite thin over the rest of the spine.

The blade post-quench. Very gentle curve, about 1/2 inch "sori".

Thankfully there is only a slight warp after the heat treatment.
An inevitable fact on sword-length blades. It is the nature of the beast, i'm afraid...So I address it with a straightening jig. There are 3 points of contact on the jig, the single point opposite the two, push from the opposite direction of a warp/curve to correct it.

Grinding. Here I am puting the final edge geometry. It is a steep grind, not much "niku" as is the case with most SE Asian blades so it will be quite "sharp". This edge geometry also helps make this wide blade lighter.

Rough ground and ready for the handle work. As you see in the tracings (red tracing is original straight blade before heat treatment), the post-quench curve (black tracing) is very gentle. I will still have to adjust the angle of the "shoulders" of the blade to better match the resulting curve.

I do a quick etch to check the result of the differential hardening. This would be "suguha with some ashi" if we were polishing for hamon. Final finish planned will be a more plain hand-rubbed satin finish.

I clean-off the bark from the oosic section I have selected and prepare it to receive the tang and the handle fittings. It's nice and white under the bark despite its age.

Here I am drifting a hole into a piece of wrought iron that will later become the ferrules.

fabricating some accent rings from 92.5 silver.
 

These are the wrought iron ferrules, guard and plug for the handle end. The fittings and the plug add enough counterweight on the handle end to move the center of balance about 2.5 inches from the guard. The entire sword has heft but its a very fast-handling, neutral balance now.

the completed handle assembly with the oosic, silver accents and the wrought iron ferrules (still to be etched to reveal the grain).
I've decided I will dome the plug slightly and to leave it a little proud of the butt-end. The tang extension will of course be trimmed and peened.

A dry fit of the blade and handle assembly. It's now ready for the woodwork and final polish

The blade bed is carved unto the kamagong wood blanks.

The saya shaped and trimmed to size.

The scabbard ring fittings are made in one piece, by drifting some wrought iron to the rough size of the scabbard.

The inside of the rings are is smoothed-out and the scabbard is adjusted for everything to fit. A small step is carved on the saya so the ring stays put.

Finished scabbard ring. Once the fit is ok, the scabbard rings are shaped and trimmed to size.

Through repeated boiling and pressing, I form a thick section of horn into the desired shape.

I cut a tongue at the scabbard end and fit the flared kojiri.

The finished kojiri with the horn polished with a thin wrought iron butt cap attached. The horn has a lovely glossy texture. It isn't perfectly black but has some very interesting figure and a few imperfections that has a real natural and organic beauty to it.

 

The blade has a hand-rubbed satin polish. The differential hardening is only visible if the light hits it right, not very distracting at all.

 

Studio picture-full sword viewed from the handle

Studio picture-detail

Studio picture showing wrought iron guard, and the rhythms of the spine cutouts at this angle

Studio picture - sword and scabbard

Studio picture of sword inside scabbard

Studio picture - sword and scabbard

OLIVIER DELATTRE FROM PARIS - THE SWORD OWNER AND HIS COMMENTS

The Dhakris, from past to present…

I came to Antonio, about two years ago, with a lot of envy, and a lot of projects.
As a dreamer, I have always been attracted in swords, mainly for the adventure perfume they have. Of course, I have been a “child knight”, and to be honest, I didn’t really let my suit behind me across the years. So, as a sportive and artistic fencer, I’m also aware of the effectiveness of a sword, of its balance. Well, in a sense, I guess I’m looking for the perfect sword, somewhere between aestheticism and efficiency, as we all do.

As the wise man that he is, Antonio helped me to sort my ideas, and let emerge some of my feasible ones. The Dhakris was one of them. It was a special demand from me, because the Dhakris was not at all one of my personal projects in its original form, but Antonio was ready to give the baby to someone else, and I have to thank him for that. With Antonio and Paolo, we took the time to discuss the feasibility of the initial design, and to look for alternative solutions when it was needed.
Antonio
has an incredible experience, and a clear and sharp designer view, which is really helpful when you have to create something new with something ancient, when art is as important as efficiency. He’s a reflection of his times with clear opinions, but he’s also a gentleman, and always had the kindness to let me express myself, even if the Dhakris was a complete project of his own in the beginning.

About Paolo and the Dhakris, I could repeat myself, but I’d rather prefer to copy what I’ve already said to him in a mail.
Well... I have to begin with a "thank you", firstly, for the Dhakris itself. I took it in hands, and it has a powerful presence. Without a doubt, it's an exceptional piece. It is of course beautiful, and the materials we choose are just looking incredible. The mix between oosic, horn and wood offers something natural, essential, but with the modern touch of your finish and of this special look. The oosic handle has something sensual; it is an invitation to unsheathe the sword. Plus, the work you've done with the scabbard and fittings looks fantastic, really. It's heavy, but the balance gives its energy to the Dhakris. And, well, did I have to mention the precision of your work with the spine? It is a big part of its personality, even if I think that the Dhakris succeeds in the fact that we forget its origins to see it as a particular piece of its own.

Moreover, Paolo has been just exemplary in all things with that commission. He shares the pictures and facts of the process; he discussed every detail and has always kept in mind the customer's pleasure.

As you will understand as you read my words, this story is not just about swords and art, but also about people and encounters. I have been lucky, when Paolo and his lovely wife came to Paris for a short stay. We met, and we shared a nice day around the Musée de L’Armée, in Paris. So, we had the occasion to discuss our project, but also, we had the occasion to really meet each other. I’m not here to say all the good I think about Paolo, but let just say it was a very nice moment (well, at least for me). I got a sword in this story, but I also got some friends. Even when Paolo and I were desperately looking for a nice piece of oosic, as we were deeply attached to the original idea of Antonio and because Paolo was interested in working with that kind of material, I had the chance to meet Henrik Ussing, the man who provided me the piece. He was very kind and we had some interesting discussions at two occasions, in Paris, for different cutlery shows, and on the internet. He is absolutely a part of the story of this particular sword.

So, what is the Dhakris now? I guess it’s somewhere between the past, and our present. It is, of course, proudly showing its heritage, but it is different, new, as a child from different parents could be. It is a piece of art, a truly impressive sword, but with a taste of sharing and friendship. I learnt two or three things (well, I hope I did) about design, sword smithing and craftsmanship, and I enjoyed very much the journey.

This sword is a piece with a long story to tell, and its “catching look” will certainly bind me to narrate it again and again in the days to come to my guests. Plus, I developed a lot of new projects since then, and my imaginative creative process is certainly more mature. That is to say that the Dhakris turned me to the future.

Olivier D.

 

 

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