TO BLADESIGN

I have been pretty excited about this project for a long time and finally found some time to sit down and write about my experience with a custom sword designer and a custom sword smith.

review: look at something critically (transitive verb: to examine something to make sure that it is adequate, accurate, or correct). Other words to describe “review:”

      Study
      Examine
      Assess
      Evaluate
      Appraise

I will, however, write of my experience, as I feel I am more than capable of doing this.
 

I must say, when I started down this custom road, I was a newbie. Not having any experience in Japanese Swordsmanship, my discerning eye has always been to the craft as a connoisseur of art.
When I first met Antonio, it was over at Sword Forum International. Having been a member since the year 2000, I have always been fascinated with Antonio’s creative/innovative sword projects. I admired his attention to detail and the contemporary designs that he created. I imagined that if the Japanese blade smiths of several hundred years ago were alive today and still making swords, that their designs would be more of a contemporary nature, rather than staying with that particular style.

What makes someone choose a particular design or theme for their sword project is anybody’s guess.
My life, my career choices, my being revolves in the outdoors. Earth, fire, water, and stone.
What better way to express my love for the outdoors in shirasaya made of three different woods? I was not looking for traditionally made katana, wakizashi, tanto, saya, tsuka, etc. I wanted my three blades made by three different smiths in three different woods.

I chose Birdseye Maple for the tanto. The wakizashi is made from Amboyna and lastly the katana will be made from Bubinga. 

birds eye maple

amboyna

bubinga

For years, I have collected production swords. Also, for years, I have sold my production swords to get better production swords. It was not until I saw a rapier on Vladimir Cervenka's website and learned that I could customize a project, that my sword collection was starting to change direction.
A while ago, I asked Antonio Conceicao Junior to assist me with the concept and design of 3 blades; a Japanese-style katana, wakizashi and tanto. The first project that Antonio helped me with was a tanto; that is another story. (Please note – I had asked Antonio to design all three Japanese-style blades for me and he has an invaluable resource for me. His designs are unique, one of a kind and beautiful.)

After seeing Antonio’s Masters of Fire exhibition at the Macau Museum of Art, I was intrigued and awed at the talented contemporary blade smiths from around the world. I saw and admired Jesus Hernandez’s Ayasugi Dagger. When I looked at Jesus Hernandez's website and saw his Cable Bowie, I instantly knew that I wanted him to be the blade smith for my next project, a Japanese-style wakizashi.

Antonio introduced me to Jesus and we corresponded back and forth for several months discussing the possibility of this project. The internet in this day of age is a double edge sword. Too many times with this instant telecommunication, we expect people to answer our emails instantly. If they don’t, then we get annoyed. (Please note, I am not included in this category.) I can say that Jesus without a doubt is an honorable and trustworthy person. He answered my emails in a reasonable time period and he was excellent when sending me project updates or photographs of the project in progress. I digress for a moment; Antonio was just the same as Jesus. Both were very good in answering all my emails, addressing my concerns, and responding to my many questions. Both are professionals in every sense of the word.

The wakizashi wood, Amboyna, was chosen for its warmth, the beautiful color pattern, and exotic appeal. The steel, forged folded cable and san mai, was chosen for the beauty of the steel. The blade smith, Jesus Hernandez, was chosen for his ability to work cable, san mai and wood.

This project has been a wonderful journey. With both Antonio and Jesus guiding me through the process of design, wood stabilization, construction, etc, they have been great in helping me understand the complexities of this process, while documenting the entire process.

Anyway, back to the experience.

While finding someone to complete the project is no easy matter, unless you are an experienced martial artist or sword aficionado, the actual design, the specifications, choice of fittings, wood, etc. can be mind blowing. Antonio has been a member of many edged weapon forums for a number of years and coupled with his years of experience of design (clothing, jewelry, graphic design, swords and other edged weapons, etc.), he is more than capable to provide the utmost experience in design and creativity, as he is sought after by many for advice and designs. I, for one, when faced with a difficult decision or am at an impasse, rely on Antonio's knowledge, skills and abilities to help me decide where the project will go.

Antonio’s fee for design services includes his vast professional design experience (over 25 years) and his ability to not only work with his client to find out what they would like, but he makes many suggestions and has many options so your project will be a custom design and a unique sword. He designs the sword, the blade/saya specifications and even the mountings. Antonio has gathered an immense knowledge and database of blade smiths and craftsmen throughout the world and is able to suggest craftsmen from making the blade to those who can make and mount the furniture and complete all the finishing work.

I always remarked to myself when I saw Antonio’s contemporary designs, whether it as a sword, fittings, graphics, clothing, or exhibits from the Macau Museum of Art, I always enjoyed his work. I knew that someday if I could afford a custom sword project, than I would choose Antonio to design it for me.

Ordering a production sword through a store is easy. You can walk in or even use the internet and purchase the sword. You have a limited amount of sword lengths, handle lengths and fittings. If you want to customize this production blade, then there are few people to send it to. But, depending on their backlog, etc, you may or may not be able to finish your blade in a reasonable time period. But if you want a custom sword, custom fittings, something that will cost more than a PPK and last longer in your collection than a top of the line Paul Chen, then using a custom sword designer is the way to go. One can appreciate the fact that their sword is unique and specially designed for them.

SPECIFICATIONS FOR WAKIZASHI

Blade Style: Hira-zukuri in Ô-Kissaki
Steel: San Mai with Forged Cable Steel so that the strands will look elongated and the core will act as a kind of hamon.
Nagasa: 21 inches
Nakago: 7 1/2" long
Motohaba: 30mm
Sakihaba: 28 mm
Motokasane: 6 mm
Sakikasane: 5 mm
Kissaki: 2.5 inches O-Kissaki
Habaki: Copper

Of course from the above link (Wakizashi), you can see the website that Antonio set up for me, all a part of the service that he offers.

After saving a sufficient amount of funds for the project, I contacted Jesus and explained to him that I have been considering a set of three (katana, wakizashi and a tanto) Japanese-style blades that are custom made by three different blade smiths. The three blades will be a part of my family as heirlooms and will be passed to my children as family keepsakes for generations to come. I primarily view these blades as objects of art, but also should be capable to perform functionally if needed.

After conferring with Antonio and Jesus, I needed to choose a wood suitable for this piece. I saw Amboyna was used on one of Jesus’ projects and I instantly knew that my wakizashi should be made of the same material. After talking to Jesus and discussing with him my choice for wood, we agreed that it could be done. Now the only problem was finding a piece of Amboyna large enough for this project. Jesus found a large enough piece for this project.

The Amboyna used for this project is pictured below and above. Because it is a burl, stabilization is a major concern. Wood is like any natural product and can crack, warp, shrink or even split; even after it has been shaped and properly dried. The process of stabilization minimizes that possibility, but there is still a chance that the stabilization process will shrink the wood, darken it or even deepen the color. I did not want to take a chance that when this project was finished, the saya and tsuka would crack, warp or split in 6 months or even a year. There are very few people in this country that can stabilize wood of this size. WSSI is the group that performed this.

The Amboyna burl has 12-14% moisture and I knew that this was too high. I relied on Jesus and WSSI’s judgment and experience for this part of the project.

I also explained to Jesus from the very beginning, I was in no hurry to have this project rushed. I would rather the artist take their time, as my project is least in importance to other things in life, like spending time with wife or kids, work, etc. I explained to him that he could also take “creative license.” I was going to own this piece forever and wanted to pass this to future generations of my family, so I wanted him to take his time with it and be satisfied and proud of the final results.

Jesus did a fantastic job with this project. Words like beautiful, magnificent, hypnotic, gorgeous, astonishing, rare, exotic, dazzling, fantastic, flawless, and spectacular come to my lips when describing this.

This project was completed in six months, from concept and design, to manufacture and shipment. So, the bottom line is that I would highly recommend Antonio and Jesus if you have a project in mind.

Jesus periodically submitted photographs and text to Antonio and me to document the progress of the wakizashi. This information was set up on a webpage by Antonio and can be viewed here.

   

Jesus made the fittings and even included a tutorial on the making of my habaki. It can be seen here.

Personally I think that Jesus is very conscious of his art and spends a tremendous amount of time perfecting it. He spends a lot of personal time, both at the job and on the computer, to make sure that the customer is informed. I would not hesitate to work or commission another project with Jesus or Antonio again, as they are consummate professionals.

This project has gone past my wildest expectations. This wakizashi is a magnificent piece of art. When this project was in its infancy stages, I showed some co-workers the design and kept them apprised of the progress of the project. You should have seen their faces when they had it in their hands. Their looks were priceless. All I heard from them was “museum-quality.”

Needless to say, I won’t be selling this ever, so please don’t ask. It will be passed down from Larsen generation to Larsen generation. I am very proud of Antonio’s and Jesus’ work and skills. Saying “Thank you” does not seem to fully express my appreciation for the work, sweat and energy that they have put in this project.

Domo arigato gozaimasu.
Jeff Larsen

TO WAKIZASHI CONCEPT

TO MAKING OF WAKIZASHI

Photographs and text are property of Mr. Jeff Larsen.
No copies are to be made without the prior authorization of the author.

 

Concept by BLADESIGN