Traditional Japanese polishing techniques are not that accessible to the average person. With all due respect to its great qualities, it requires an enormous amount of time in the waiting list of most of the traditional polishers.

Hybrid polishing utilizes other less traditional methods or a combination of both, depending on the type of approach each person has on the matter. But we have come to an age where traditional polish can coexist with other most modern approaches in the same manner as different steels have been created away from the traditional tamahagane.

I stand behind the belief and principle that a finished blade coming from a bladesmith's workshop has been ground to a very high level of perfection as geometry is concerned and therefore it is ready to be polished. However I do know that with time, my views will change, so these are my present views which I am sure will evolve.

Polishing in an unconventional method is, therefore, bringing the steel properties out by removing layers of skin that was created at the bladesmith's  mechanical belt grinding machine, which seals the steel.
First of all you must gather plenty of patience an time to dedicate to each session. This is very important for achieving good results. Second, you must learn to free yourself from the eventual fear of working the steel's surface by scratching it.

et yourself a set of sandpapers for metal starting with 220, 400, 600,800, 1.000, 1.500 and 2.000 grits.
Have some white vinegar, a small butane torch, a ruber vise or clamp, a working table, and a totally flat number of ceramic high wattage resistors that can be used for holding the sandpaper.

Working the surface
his is a procedure in which you will open the steel's surface. Start with 220 grit sandpaper and procceed with long strokes through the lenght of the blade. Work until the entire surface of the blade is evenly sanded. It is very important that you can achieve an even sanded surface. remember that you must work the Shinoji-ji as well as the remaining parts of the surface separated by the Shinoji-suji, namely the Ji and the Ha so as to bring the activity out.

Once you have seen an evenly scratched surface which should be by now even on both sides of the blade, get back to the first side and use 400 grit sandpaper. You are now going to use perpendicular strokes to the earlier ones. Be prepared to get your mind to be tuned into this new movement. The sandpaper's work now is to remove all the previous longitudinal scratches and be substituted by these new set of finer sanding that is to be as even as possible. Be patient and keep inspecting the blade until you see that you have removed all the previous grit marks. It is a very slow and time consuming process and you should be prepared to face it. Remember to achieve same results in both sides of the blade. Do not hasten yourself. Take your time. For a polishing lubricant you may want to use Windex, which is a glass cleaner composed of water, ammonia and a little alcohol.

Now you will go again to a lenghtwise movement with the 600 grit sandpaper and will again use this grit to remove the earlier marks completely. This is an alternating process. By now your eyes and your hand movements should be well acquainted with the hand-arm movement.

Next you change into 800 grit using the same perpendicular movement that was applied with the 400 grit sandpaper.

From 1.000 grit upwards you will now only use lenghtwise movements, each grit removing the scratches from the earlier one. Finally, and with the use of silicone based oil lubricant, you will  continue moving the sandpaper block in one direction in order to minimize scuffs and swirling effects.

The same procedure should be applied to polish the Mune.

Once this is all done, clean the surfaces with alcohol and place the blade on a clamp or two taking care in protecting the nakago from the vise surfaces by using leather or thick cardboard, while the blade itself will be hanging horizontal to the floor.

Use the torch to heat the blade so that the steel will open up  a little and will better accept the etch.



As a matter of precaution you may want to cover the other side of the blade's surface with a layer of polishing paste, thick enough to mask any etching solution to go to the other side. Just make sure you will not blemish the surface to be etched.

ow procceed to etch the blade with a mixture of vinegar, water and dish detergent heated in the microwave almost until boiling point. Use a cotton swab the size you feel more confortable with and start painting the entire surface of one side of the blade so it will always be covered with the etching solution, by repeatedly passing the cotton swab over the blade's surface. Every now and then, use the butane torch to keep the blade warm with slow passes to make the acid cut better.

After a 3 or 4 repeated etchings you will be able to see the hamon very clearly. A black or dark gray oxide layer will form on the blade's surface, indicating saturation. It is time to remove the blade, wash it and then use Pikal metal polish and Flitz to remove the oxides, clean with alcohol and repeat the entire procedure until you are satisfied with the results.

If your blade has a yokote, use tape to mask it and counter polish the kissaki lenghtwise with the use of 1.500 and 2.000 grit sandpaper with oil to achive the desired result.

Be prepared to spend long hours. My personal advise is to choose a period of several hours to which you can dedicate your time to finish at least one grit on one side of the blade and then use a little tape and tape it to the sanded side writing down which grit you used so you will not forget before you find time again for your next polishing session.

I must acknowledge Brian Van Speyebroek for sharing all this information with me. I know I am free to pass it around as this is also Brian's wish.

This picture sent by Brian and fully authorized by him to be shown, is from a wakisashi made of 1086 steel by Howard Clark and obviously hybrid polished by Brian through the process describe above.

Note how shiny can the non-active surface be and how well the hamon and other activities can also be brought out. It is always a matter of experience and practice.


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