I never had a hira-zukuri katana blade except for my ex-maple burl chokuto although my requests were different.
A Hira-zukuri katana is, in my opinion, one of the most devastating combat weapons, specially when it is finished to a very sharp edge.
My main aim is to have a very fast, sharp katana with a 14 inches tsuka in katatemaki wrap. I use 14 inches because it is based on the 1/3 handle 2/3 blade proportion which has proven to me to allow for a very maneuverable blade with and extended cutting power as opposed to a concentrated cutting power with shorter tsuka.
This is, of course, a very personal opinion.
Therefore I decided to commission Walter Sorrells this piece.

click on thumbnail to enlarge

SPECIFICATIONS

TORI-ZORI
Nagasa: 28 inches
Motohaba: 30 mm
Sakihaba: 28 mm
Sori: 0.5 inches
Kissaki: O kissaki
Motokasane: 6 mm
Sakikasane: 5 mm
Nakago: 13 inches
Hamon: wild choji-gunome
Steel: 1075

I hope that a 1075 steel can be used for this sword. It should be a very light sword, with very moderate to no niku. It is a sword that has to rely on its sharpness and be very beautiful. It is not aimed for hard targets. Walter's opening has always been excellent.

KISSAKI TEMPLATE

I did this template to convey the kissaki shape I wanted and it worked very well.

AIKUCHI MOUNTINGS

This is a general view of the mountings in a katatemaki with 5 diamonds in each end. Some dying of black in both ends may be needed to achieve the desired effect.
The buckeye burl with blackened ends and a rounded black horn kurikata will provide a very beautiful looking katana.
 

As things developed Walter could not find a burl piece long enough for the saya, so we needed to create an alternative that was feasible.

INTERESTING

I knew aikuchi mountings were historical, but couldn't expect to come across one while I was browsing the net. I like the feeling of the flow, slightly interrupted by a small tsuba. My design was not to copy history in the 21st. century, but rather an aesthetical option of my own, that was defined well before the discovery of this picture.

SIMPLE FITTINGS

SOME THOUGHTS
I prefer designing my own fittings using contemporary designs, rather than traditional designs. My many years as a designer, art director and photographer have given me a unique and invaluable insight to contemporary design. Many people are satisfied with traditional fittings and swords, and that is fine for them. But what is important here is that the customer is always happy. In this case, I am extremely happy.

-The set of fittings is very simple. Since it is an aikuchi style katana, the tsuba should be in deep blackened mild steel, protruding from the copper seppa only 8 mm all around, and with a 5 mm thickness.
-The fuchi should be also black and 1.8 cm of length, with a 1.5 mm copper wire.
-The kashira should be 2.5 cm long with the same copper wire decoration.
-The seppa is also in copper and just plain.
-The menuki is just a 8 mm diameter copper tube cut in half and decorated with two blackened wires the same 1.5 mm diameter. The length should be 45 mm.
Everything is to be very simple.

As the fittings are about finished, here are some pictures of the fuchi, the kashira, the menuki and the copper kurikata that I decided in the end.

How everything should be put together.
WROUGHT IRON TSUBA IN THE RAW

Walter sent me two pictures of a wrought tsuba he is doing for the aikuchi mounting. It is a precious thing and we will discuss it further so as to see how it will be blackened.

BUCKEYE BURL

The early original idea of dying the burl for the entire saya.

Here is a close-up of the placement of the kurikata with the black paint still in its early stages.

SAYA ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS:
I kept this part of the dialogue with Walter for readers to understand the different options depending on the availability of materials.
This is an alternative for the saya, still using buckeye burl.
The diagram below shows exactly how I usually have my kurikata placed. It is at 1/6 th. of the entire 30 inches length of the saya.

Now if we divide the saya length in 3 parts of 10 inches each, the kurikata will still be in the center of the first third on the koiguchi end. Therefore it became clear to me that we could use two parts to make a saya. See below.

Alternative 1 uses two separate parts of buckeye burl, 1/3 dyed with a black wash and with a rigid separation from the remaining two thirds of the saya.
Alternative 2 uses also two separate parts, but the first part is black lacquered wood with a copper kurikata to match the whole metal parts, while the remaining part requires only 20 inches long buckeye, since the last drawing shows one of the possible ways to join both parts, in both alternatives 1 & 2.
Copper kurikata: I am now very attracted by the copper kurikata for both versions... Then everything would make more sense. Seppa, kurikata, menuki, and fuchi-gashira all have the same color of copper in different proportions.
Solidity of Saya: This is the only issue that we need to ensure. Possibly it is better to have an inner lining to which the two parts would be glued.
Saya finish: It is a display saya, so clear lacquer for overall finish.


THE MAKING OF THE BLADE

The sunobe above and the sugata below

RECEIVED SEPTEMBER 6, 2005

Here is the blade before clay application while below the blade with clay.

Here the blade after yakiire.
PREPARATIONS

Long Fuchi-Gashira after soldering. Copper to be blackened.

The Fuchi and Kashira after soldering. Amazing the colors that copper takes under heat.

buckeye burl and alder inserts in preparation for saya making

Templates for routing. Requires tremendous accuracy

Here's a last photo of the saya prior to profiling

RECEIVED NOVEMBER 11

hamon detail

Omote side

Ura side

nice uncropped photo

Here is the first view of the wood work, the saya still without the horn parts and the finishing.

An almost step by step registration of the evolution of the saya

Now the burl wood jumps out with the lacquer. Walter has removed the copper kurikata for lacquering and masked the horn parts.

Finished mountings.

The blade and the saya

Side view

RECEIVED FEBRUARY 28 - A HANDS ON REVIEW

After a remotely long process of eight months, the sword arrived in my hands safely packaged.
I must say that as the sword was being slowly unveiled from its layers of packing it revealed itself as the full materialization of my entire concept. Every aspect of the sword, from mountings to the tsuka length, to the aikuchi style that I chose since the beginning, to the layers and layers of lacquer that were finally buffed into a shiny appearance that highlighted the appearance of the wood, everything was the consummation of my concept.
I like the sword very much and was expectant about seeing it in my own hands. It feels good, everything has a feeling of preciousness, of something patiently done, with utmost care.

A MATTER OF TASTE?
For some reason, all bladesmiths and other craftsmen that have participated in the creation of all the swords I have designed, both for me and for customers, have honored me by working without questioning, as I mostly felt the trust was mutual and in an adult and mature world, that is what counts among grown men.
Is this some kind of novelty, the use of buckeye-burl in a saya? No, it isn't. Then what's the big fuss? Well, no one is doing a fuss. It just came to my mind the old saying that taste is a personal matter.
I think that to those who satisfy themselves with a hamburger or a cup of noodles, it certainly is a personal matter.
To those who would care to stop and think about taste as part of the aesthetical expression of artists, designers and all who dwell in the creative world, it is first of all a cultural heritage. Contrary, or in addition to Kant's subjectivity (because it can be mass induced) and universality of beauty (or ugliness) I would prefer to reflect briefly about topical or ethnical beauty as opposed to universal beauty.
Topical aesthetics relate to a specific culture -- such as for example -- Aboriginal or Maasai cultures. The amount of information concerning the aesthetics that are closely related to symbolism (hence the cultural heritage element) is not available to outsiders to be able to decipher the notion of beauty in as much as the beauty of the Venus of Willendorf is more conceptual, therefore transcending the visible. It is located at the level of significant intelligence, not of consumerist beauty, or otherwise called mass beauty, which is, by consequence, its own self-anihilation.
Nor are aesthetics or the sense of beauty discussable at the level of the hair parlor clients and their fugacious light conversation.
I aim high within myself, yet I aim without other aim but to see the aesthetical exercise -- which is not an invention -- complete and to my own satisfaction.

Therefore, getting back on track, the act of creativity is by no means an invention. Creativity is the manipulation -- in the most constructive and ethical sense -- of cultural elements aiming towards universal aesthetics that are not mass consumed. It aims to use one or two elements to express itself without being bound by too many established repetitive mass accepted rules, otherwise know as clichés.
For this wonderfully made sword, a hira-zukuri that is as sharp as a sword can be, the buckeye burl played an important element in the dialogue between its rich grey and dark and brown colors and the emergence of copper as an interventive metal and coloring element.

It is perfectly visible, in its materialized state, the unconventional use of a copper kurikata in an area of the saya that is all lacquered black in such way that it is reflected in the saya's surface. The same theme continues on this angle of the sword with a double seppa, added by Walter in a very intelligent way, as he could foresee the need to isolate the aikuchi tsuba further, finely interpreting my intentions. Then the fuchi has a 5 mm copper wire, and part of the menuki is still visible with the double wire.

Another angle shows how the copper was played against a black background while the kurikata announces the beginning of the burl.

This view shows the striking presence of the habaki. The double seppa shows how the copper is used in combination with a small tsuba for a powerful statement of copper, framed by a wrought iron small tsuba. Aesthetical choice is omnipresent in a most conscious way. As a designer I try not to repeat myself, and for miles, my opinion on my work is extremely demanding while, in humbleness I listen to the opinions of those of goodwill that I recognize capacity to analyze.
This (apparently) massive display of copper leads to the Nature counterpart that Walter so beautifully highlighted.

A detail of the buckeye burl meeting the black and the lighting reflected in a glamorous way, provides the hint for how the surface is finished.
THE BLADE
I have the sense that I have not spoken so much about the blade, but Walter has added so many beautiful pictures of this superb hira-zukuri that the images speak for itself. Due to my traditional ratio of 2/3 blade and 1/3 handle, the blade is very light and maneuverable and my aim, far from cutting tatami, which would be absolutely possible due to available speed and blade resilience, and it can flex quite a bit. I prefer to concentrate myself in cutting rolls of newspaper because it requires much more subtleness. I will try to register some events in the future.
Meantime, the sword fulfills me as it is the exact materialization of its concept, and for that I am grateful to Walter Sorrells and his also brilliant workmanship, intensive communication and pen ship.


WALTER SORRELLS IMPRESSIONS ON THE TEAM WORK
 

Artists are not natural collaborators. We tend to be a cranky, self-absorbed bunch.

But collaboration has its rewards. At its best, collaboration unleashes the strengths of a number of artists, resulting in work that’s better than any of the collaborators could do on their own.

That’s what we were aiming for with this sword. As with all art, some aspects of the project succeeded better than others. But on the whole I think that together Antonio and I achieved what we set out to do.

Antonio had a clear initial vision for this blade – some of which was realizable and some of which was not. The original design called for a saya entirely made from buckeye burl. Unfortunately burl is extremely fragile, and very hard to find in large pieces. Antonio and I discussed various options and arrived at a saya that is actually constructed of six different pieces of wood. The result, I think, was satisfying esthetically, but more robust than the initial design. The buckeye created innumerable difficulties. But the result – which can only be partially appreciated in a photograph – is extraordinary. This wood was the heart of Antonio’s design, and is by far the most remarkable aspect of the mounting of the blade. I can’t really take credit for it. As a craftsman, my job wasn’t to "make it beautiful" but rather to liberate the intrinsic beauty of the wood.

One of the interesting parts of working with other creative people is that they think of things you don’t. The copper kurikata, for instance, came out wonderfully. The idea seemed odd to me initially – but in fact it really pulls together the various copper parts of the design. There were quite a few other aspects of the design that were like that. The long tsuka and the small tsuba were both unique aspects of the sword that I would never have thought of. Antonio's design has a coherence about it that came about because he designed the blade and every aspect of its mountings as an aesthetic whole rather than a grab-bag of parts.

Antonio’s talent is for taking traditional designs and then rendering them in entirely new ways. It was a pleasure letting Antonio lead me to some places that my work would never have otherwise gone.

Thanks, Antonio.
Walter

 

 
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TO INTERVIEW WITH WALTER SORRELLS

Joint project by Walter Sorrells Blades and BLADESIGN 2005-2006

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