to the making BY JESUS HERNANDEZ

When I first saw Antonio's design for this project I immediately fell in love with it. It is the simple design for the aikucuchi fittings and the choice of materials that called my attention to it. The contrast between the black horn and the Amboyna wood should turn out great in the end. The only foreseeable difficulty is in the choice of attachment between the two materials.





The final choice of wood, Amboyna, was decided by the client, Jeff Larsen. The difficulty was in finding a long piece of the wood that was rich in burl figure as requested by Jeff and measured at least 23 inches long. Those pieces are so rare to find that it will make a clear statement for future generations when looking at this work and wonder about the uniqueness of a continuous piece of wood of this quality. For this reason, a choice was also made to stabilize the wood. Burl woods are notorious for their tendency to crack and warp over time. Stabilization was chosen to minimize those risks. As of this writing the wood has been cut in the sizes needed and send to the only facility that we were able to locate capable of processing such long length for stabilization.



The neat thing about my setup is its portability. Need is the mother of all inventions. This is so true here. Since I have a limited space for work and live in a residential area where it would be unsightly to have this kind of equipment on open view, most of my stuff is on wheels. So that I can easily take heavy equipment out and back in to my one-car garage shop.


This is a one inch diameter cable. MIG-welded at the ends to keep the threads from unraveling. Cut to lengths of about one foot. I love working with cable. It is always a challenge to avoid cold shuts since there are many surfaces to weld and inclusions can occur as a result of dirt or debris remaining in the cable from its previous use. I prefer to use recycled cable and do a good degreasing prior to welding.


I have recently built a new forge. Every time a build a new forge I am trying to improve on the previous design. This forge gets hot enough to melt a piece of graphite that I use to line the bottom as an flux resistant surface for welding. I have a detailed description of how I do my forge welding here.

In preparation for welding the sanmai billet I have clean up the cable steel bars with the grinder. A piece of 1050 carbon steel will become the core steel and the welded cable bars will be the jacket steel. Then it is all welded into one single bar and drawn out into a sunobe.

The picture above shows the bar drawn out to a 1 inch by 3/8 bar. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the sunobe itself. From the time I figured out how to forge a shape starting from a sunobe I haven't gone back to my old ways. The sunobe makes everything easier for me during the rough forging of the blade's shape.


I use a marker and draw on the surface of my old banged-up anvil the profile of what I am trying to make as a guide. Of course I found myself redrawing it over and over again as it erases from working on the anvil.

And finally here is the rough shape of the blade after forging. I set my drawing of the project beside to compare. I like to draw all projects on paper before I actually start doing anything. It is kind of my way of visualizing what I plan to do and it becomes a reference point for later.

These pictures represent the rough grinding of the blade. First removing the forging marks, then profiling the blade and finally grinding to 220 grit. I used to do this by hand with files and make the blade perfectly smooth and try to avoid any stress risers to prevent cracking during yaki-ire. Then I had a chance to see a blade of Yoshindo Yoshihara just before clay coating and realized that he was the least worried about stress raisers and guess what: he was right. You don't really need to be so paranoid about these little details.

This is a suguha clay layout. I decided on that after seeing the intend of the design to show the cable pattern above the hamon. I think this will bring that about. I have stepped away from using satanite. Not that there is anything wrong with satanite. I has done its job for me before but as I get more picky about the design of the hamon and I develop better control of this, I needed a more plastic clay. Something that will follow my spatula during the application process and will be smooth and not so bumpy. I have read the books about what the Japanese smiths use and I saw Yoshindo applying his clay and got a feeling for the plasticity of his mixture and I have now my own recipe trying to achieve those results.


Yaki-ire: It is the time when you prepare to give birth to the blade. For me it is a ritualistic process. I start by clean-up the shop. What better time than this, I will be making a mess of it later when I polish the blade. Then I get my water tank out and heat the water to about 110 degrees F. Get my heat treating oven out and preheat to 1550 degrees F. Then the blade goes in. I have enjoyed this oven design since I made it.
Before it used to be that I will have to keep going back and forth in the smaller forge where you could only heat one section of the blade at a time. This unevenness was responsible for warping and cracking of blades before. Some other makers can control the heating of the blade to critical temp by the methods of making multiple phases on the smaller fire. My hat goes off to them. I prefer to see a perfectly even and simultaneous temperature rising across the entire blade at the same time. For this particular blade everything went by the book.


I start by drawing the fittings in the computer to get perfect oval shapes. Then print them and glue them to thick cardboard paper and cut the shapes. Those will serve the purpose of guiding the profiles for translating to metal or horn. Then I select the pieces of horn and copper to be used and rough shape them. This project will use a total of 9 pieces: 2 copper seppa, copper habaki, horn tsuba, koiguchi, fuchi, kashira, kojiri and mekugi. I am glad we have words to describe each one of those things.

I have documented the making of the habaki in a tutorial.
The horn tsuba is finished. I like working with horn because it takes a nice polish. Even though not all pieces of horn are uniform, the whitish streaks produce a beautiful iridescence when highly polished that gives each piece a unique look. The seppa are finished out of thin copper plate and polished. From now on I can let go of my cardboard pieces and use the seppa instead to guide the rest of the profiling for the tsuka and the saya.

I received the amboyna after it was stabilized and selected a piece for the tsuka and the saya and started to carve out the hollow for the nakago. As I started chiseling I encountered a couple problems. There are some voids in the wood that the resin did not fill. They are a minor problem since I can use superglue to fill those in. The other problem is more serious and is inherent to any burl wood. The stabilization has made the wood less brittle but not completely. Since there is no defined grain in the burl wood, even the sharpest chisel causes chipping of the wood rather than a clean cut. The chipping is not a problem for the nakago but unfortunately it will be a problem for the saya. The channel that I carved does not have a smooth surface. The solution to this is to carve a larger channel and line it up with a piece of poplar. Poplar is what I normally use to make saya and is a nice soft wood with good grain that is very close to ho (magnolia) wood. After I glued the poplar I carved it to the shape of the sword. This will not be visible outside. It takes more time to do it but I think this is the best solution to make things right. I should had anticipated this problem but I had higher expectations from the stabilization process to prevent this issue. Unfortunately it did not. On the other hand the stabilization process has made the wood heavier and stronger and is not likely to warp or crack in the future. In the end this will be even a better saya.

The amboyna and the poplar wood. The amboyna is carved and waiting for the poplar lining

The poplar lining for the saya

This shows the saya sections carved and lined with poplar.


This will be the design of the kojiri and kashira based on a computer drafting.



I start by removing any remnants of the yaki-ire on the grinder with a 220 grit clean belt. Then I move to a hand sanding process. Starting from one step back at 120 grit in one direction, then 220 in the other, then 400 straight along the blade, then 600 at an angle, 800 at opposite angle, then 1000 straight, then 1500 straight, then 2500. At that point I test the blade for sharpness by slicing paper which it does quite well. Then I use a hybrid polish to imitate the Japanese process of finger stones. I use a combination of steps that include lemon juice, vinegar, paste polish, pumice, Windex, Fantastic and nugui. The final results that I obtain are very similar to the Japanese but using modern methods. It will show a distinct hamon and the pattern in the hada from the folding process. Then there is the other way that I use on Western style blades. That consists of dipping a very clean blade at 1500 grit polish in a diluted Ferric acid bath for 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the depth of the etch that I want and then

 neutralize with ammonia and clean up the rust with paste polish (usually Pikal). The result is very different and because of the deep etch, it cannot be undone without having to start over from 120 grit. This is the method that I used when I made Antonio's hybrid bowie. The hamon completely disappears doing this but a blade made in sanmai construction will have a fake hamon look to it from the separation in contrast between the 1050 core steel and the cable steel of the sides.

What I chose to do with Jeff's blade is the Japanese style polish first. I wanted to see how it will look that way and most important I can always proceed from the Japanese to the Western style polish if need be but not the other way around without having to start the sanding process all over. When I finished polishing Jeff's blade I was so impressed with the results that I felt it would be a better look for the blade in the end to leave it that way and I consulted with Jeff to see what he wanted to do. The pros of the Japanese polish is that it looks almost like tamahagane, the cable strands are only subtly showing on the hada and it retains a hamon. The pros of the Western style polish will be that the cable will pop out and the strands will be readily visible but it will loose the milky hamon although a pseudo-hamon will appear at the demarcation between the 1050 steel and the cable steel. I showed Jeff examples of both types of polish and I showed him pictures of his actual blade after being polished in the Japanese style and he has chosen to stay with this polish.

The full blade polished the modern Japanese way. Good contrast and definition.

The blade went through the paper shave test. And it slices through a paper roll easily. Very sharp.

The tsuka was completed after quite a bit of experimentation on a scrap piece of the wood. Since it is my first time working with wood that was stabilized with this kind of resin and I did not know what to expect, I had chosen to test different ways of finishing the wood and the horn aiming at the best result. In the end the wood stabilization resulted in a beautiful finish for this amboyna burl wood.

The wood is roughly shaped with rasps and finally hand sanded from 120 grit to 220 to 400. Then the voids in the wood are filled with superglue and when needed with epoxy mixed with dust from the sanding of the wood and occasionally with little chips of the wood itself. Then re-sanded to 400 grit, then 600 grit. At that point I used a clear coat application that is followed by sanding at 600 grit. Several more coats and moving up on the grit to 800, 1000, and finally 1500. Then buffing comes to give the final shine.

After completing the tsuka, I drilled and corrected the orientation of the mekugi ana and made a horn mekugi that will be inserted at an angle to secure the blade in place. Everything fits nice and tight. I put the seppa, tsuba and habaki together to see what the final look of the blade will be.

I carved the mei after doing the yasurime (filing marks on the nakago). I chose to write my name as I always do for all my Japanese style blades in Katakana and Kanji. It says "Made by Jesus" in one side and "Spring 2006" on the other side. The date is inscribed in the modified modern dating system.




Concept by BLADESIGN