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Tools for Satoyama - Making the Mountain Kotanto

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working away at things...but time to emerge from the shop for a few minutes and post...




Satoyama are the managed forest areas that border the cultivated fields and the mountain wilds in Japan. Historically they provided fertilizer, firewood, edible plants, mushrooms, fish, and game, and supported local industries such as farming, construction, and charcoal making. Balancing the interaction of wetlands, streams, forests, and fields is an important component of the satoyama landscape and allows for sustainable use of the rich resources they offer.



About the Tools for Satoyama Project (more: islandblacksmith.ca/2016/03/tools-for-satoyama)


The Tools for Satoyama project is inspired by this mutually beneficial interaction between humans and the natural world, a robust way of life that sustained both for centuries. Among the goals of the project are contributing to the growing awareness of the satoyama concept, sustainable practices, thoughtful approaches to intentional living, and related historical learning.


The four styles of kotanto knives designed for the project are named for the four main areas found within the satoyama landscape: stream, field, forest, and mountain. In addition, the forest and mountain models also come in a full sized tanto configuration. Some of the core characteristics of the knives produced for this project are the reclaimed and natural source materials, use of traditional techniques, and a humble and simple style of carving and finishing.


About the Mountain Kotanto (more: islandblacksmith.ca/2016/08/process-making-the-mountain-kotanto)


The wider profile of the mountain style kotanto is inspired by a kamakura sword and has a more deeply curved tip (fukura-tsuku) and shorter drop point. The simple and humble mounting style is inspired by the age-old style of farming and foresting tools traditionally used in managing satoyama lands.


Project Overview Video


Edited by DaveJ
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Hizukuri: Forging the Blade


watch the longer real-time video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tFPLH05Aqc



The raw material for this blade comes from a reclaimed harrow tooth salvaged from a farm in northern Alberta. Shown after the forging stage, all shaping done by hand hammering.



After hand filing to define the machi (tang notches) and clean up the profile.

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Yaki-ire: Hardening the Blade




After hardening the blade with a traditional clay and water method. The thicker clay layer on the body of the blade insulates the steel, causing it to cool slower and form pearlite/ferrite. The thin slip layer on the edge increases the surface area, causing it to cool very quickly, forming martensite.



The bevel is ground down until almost sharp, and the blade surface is cleaned with hot vinegar water to remove remaining forge scale.



This particular harrow tooth seems to have been made of an old piece of shear steel, a rare form of pre-industrial steel used up until about a century and a half ago.



The characteristic layers of a shear steel hada can be seen along the edge where the waterstones have polished the bevel.

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Tsuba: Making the Guard



One-fourth of a silver-plated copper bus bar bracket is forged to shape. The round hole in the center is reshaped and drifted to create the nakago-ana shaped opening for the tang.



Hand filing adjusts the fit snugly to the shoulders of the blade.



The rim of the guard is filed to an oval profile and given a hammered finish.

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Tsuka: Carving the Handle


watch the longer real-time video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPPFoQ1I_oQ



The inside of the handle is carved to fit the tang snugly, then the halves are joined together with rice paste glue. When dry the shape of the guard is used to create a shape and the handle is carved to match.

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Saya: Making the Scabbard


watch the longer real-time video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvLFrP6DNhE



As with the handle, the scabbard is carved to fit the blade with saya-nomi (scabbard chisels) and then joined before shaping with kiridashi (carving knife), and kanna (hand plane). A kurikata (cord loop) is carved from Maple and wedged into a keyway.

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Urushi: Wrapping and Lacquering


watch the longer real-time video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGVCgaF7IYA



The first layer of natural urushi lacquer is wiped off leaving a thin sealing layer in the pores of the wood.



When fully cured, the handle is wrapped tightly in natural cotton cord to provide strength and grip texture.



The scabbard is also strengthened at key points with tightly wrapped cord.



The cord is saturated with natural urushi lacquer and allowed to cure for several days. Several additional coats of urushi are used to create the final surface, each requiring several days to cure.



Reclaimed tea powder is used to give the scabbard an ishimeji stone texture. Multiple layers of urushi are used to seal, saturate, and create the final surface appearance.



The handle is polished with dried tokusa (horsetail) and then sealed with a final layer of fukiurushi.

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Final Assembly


watch the longer real-time video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyFtrcWlYzk



Carving and fitting the mekugi (bamboo peg) that will hold the entire assembly together.



When all of the components are complete, the blade is given its final honing and the knife is ready for assembly.









The blade is just under 5.75″ long and the overall length is about 10.25″. The spine at the munemachi is about 5mm thick.


Nagasa (blade length): 144mm

Motokasane (blade thickness): 5mm

Motohaba (blade width): 30mm

Sori (curve): uchizori

Nakago (tang): 102mm

Tsuka (handle): 110mm

Koshirae (overall): 285mm


Katachi (geometry): hira-zukuri, kaku-mune

Hamon (edge pattern): suguha

Boshi (tip pattern): maru

Nakago (tang): futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana, signed near the tip

Mei (signature): hot stamped katabami-ken kamon

Koshirae (mounting): satoyama hamidashi style, issaku


Materials: reclaimed harrow tooth steel, copper electrical washer, Nootka Cypress, Maple, cotton cord, natural urushi lacquer, tea leaves, Bamboo




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I have to say that I enjoy your WIPs more than anyone else's David. Entertaining and informative in equal measures. I love the knife as well and love the fukiurushi coated cord wrap especially.

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Dave - I just love the whole thing. The idea (I used to work in an Ecology/Aquatic Bio lab using wetland models to process waste before I switched to Psychology for the MA/Ph.D). It was a difficult decision.


The care and attention to detail that you lavish upon the things you make is wonderful. If there is a way for the bladesmith to impart her or his spirit into the work, this is surely it. Thanks for documenting everything so closely also.


I have spent a little time on other forums, and I think one of the main things I do, without meaning to, is offend some of the people who focus on what they call Modern Tactical Knives. Things that have machine finishes and such, but that are named in the Japanese tradition. You see where I am going. My ideas just don't fit everywhere (but I am making a 31" jian mostly with filing rather than grinding at present, so I am not exactly efficient).



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I have been watching these videos on YouTube, and I must say they are a real joy to watch.

I like the real time footage it is really peaceful to watch, and I have also learned a thing or two.


I admire your purposeful way of working and your dedication to work only by hand and with reclaimed materials.

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  • 2 weeks later...

@the professor - very cool, we need more folks who care about and know that kind of stuff...glad you have the eye for those details in the classical style...and keep filing!


@pieter-pauld, @wesley, @grpaavola glad to hear it, thanks!

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Awesome. As I wrote in that other thread of yours, I love your work.


What I was wondering: After quenching the blade, you tempered it in the forge. How did you estimate the correct temperature (and time)? You sprinkled something (water?) on the blade, is seeing how it evaporates the way you judge if it's hot enough?


Very interesting.

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  • 5 months later...

@Lukas MG i was trained to use surface oxide colour, but with certain steels/blades for differential yaki-ire the tempering level occurs is before the colour kicks in...i mainly rely on "feel", colour, but as an additional check use the sprinkling technique though i do not consider myself qualified in it at all...others do it better...the best way to learn the right sound/movement of the water dance is to practice with a steel scrap at light straw and listen/watch over and over many times in a row until you get the right level each time (you will need to sand the steel bright each time for the correct colour)

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