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
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.
Get 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
This 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.
Now 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.