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Making a Sue Bizen inspired Katana


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"Know your steel." That should be a mantra when trying to figure out hamon. To have a large batch of consistent steel (that will allow for multiple tests) and figure out its quirks in your own setup (which has its own set of quirks too) is the way to go.

Good for you, Austin.

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Once I was happy with my sunobe, I forged the tip back and started working bevels. I had to pre curve the blade as I decided to quench in parks oil. These pics will catch up to where I'm at now. Also

I've debated on whether to start a new topic for the new sword, but since it is the same project to me, and the discussion is still going, I think I'll just keep it all here for simplicity.   Realiz

Alright, after a lot of various life circumstances keeping me from starting sword # 2 (including my old forge being totally worn out and building a better one) I have finally got the ball rolling agai

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Wes, exactly! Just a bummer when you get to heat treat and things go down hill, but I guess it's an inherent part of the craft whenever you do something new.

 

Kevin, thanks for sharing that! I think this is the missing piece of the puzzle for me. I finally managed a decent hamon (over 3/8" high) after getting the steel a little hotter, but it still wasn't as high as I would have normally expected. When I have smaller knives I usually soak for at least 5 minutes, but did not think it would be that necessary with the 1075. Plus I had a heck of a time getting it all up to temp... I'm really wishing I had the space to build a charcoal forge again for this purpose, I'd feel much more comfortable controlling the heating with that than propane at this point. Really loved the last Japanese based forge I had.

 

Jesus, thank you for the input, I have followed your work for a long time and it's pretty neat to get direct advice and encouragement from you. This forum is great! I get new steel in Thursday (more 1075) and plan on making a couple of tanto or a wakizashi in addition to a fighting knife I'm currently working on with the same steel to dial in my heat treat before trying a katana again.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Again, thanks so much for sharing this thread with us! I'm beginning to study nihonto a little more in depth and this is a lot of help, not to mention inspirational!

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Thanks Caleb, I hope to share much more in the future! I have already started my work on katana 2, and have adjusted my forging techniques while working on tanto and other knives. I hope to share some more by the end of February, including some observations on forging straight that I think will help people new to Japanese blades. For now, here's a sneak peak of where I'm heading with the hamon :)

 

T knife 3.jpg

T knife 2.jpg

Hazuya finish on this knife to show all the hardening details

 

-Austin

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that looks really good. I am not sure what I am looking at on the tip in regards to the amount of hardening. Just not sure with the cloudiness of the hamon how much did or did not harden. It looks cool, though. i am not used to that style of finish on such a small knife, and I am lost, I think.

 

good work, though.

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Hi Kevin, what you are seeing was only visible after an hour or so with hazuya under very careful lighting, it's caused by ashi. All the extra details became invisable with smallest use of nugui (powder grit/dye of various recipes suspended in oil). In a typical hybrid polish it looks more like you're probably used to, bright white with a distinct habachi and pretty boring underneath the habachi. Hazuya work shows all the little details created by ashi, but hazuya also clouds the ji which makes the ji look white against the ha. Which is why in a full polish jizuya is normally used to make the ji clear again. Then nugui is used to selectively blacken the ji and whiten the hamon (sashikomi), or blacken everything and then selectively re-whiten the hamon with hazuya (hadori). I don't have better photos of that particular knife but I can confidently insure the quality of hardening from seeing and working with it in person if that was your concern. I wouldn't add as many full length ashi (keeps chips from hard impact such as steel on steel from being too large) on a modern work knife perhaps, this was a showcase fighting knife for a martial artist though. Also a bit of editing was done to the last photo to show the affect of the ashi which came across very hard to see on the raw photo. I mostly shared those photos to give an idea of what I'm working on, but those are very poor quality photos so I apologize for confusion because of that.

​Hope that makes sense

 

-Austin

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I've debated on whether to start a new topic for the new sword, but since it is the same project to me, and the discussion is still going, I think I'll just keep it all here for simplicity.

 

Realizing it would be hard to organize photos of forging techniques as I work (take tons of extra time) I decided to just show some things in diagrams. I'm currently on vacation, so I've got lots of free time to do that kind of stuff right now anyway :)

 

When you forge any single edged blade, you run into the issue of induced curvature due to the expansion of the edge. With knives, we use a preform with a negative curve to compensate. With Japanese swords this is not really a good option, so we must straighten as we go. I used to do this like the picture bellow, striking the edge then chasing out warps

Bizen Katana 1.jpg

 

Recently I've been working on learning to forge the mune better, whereas before I left it square and filed it to shape later. With doing this, I learned a much more efficient way to counteract the expansion of the edge.

 

Step one is to forge the mune itself, which expands the mune slightly

Japanese forging 1.jpg

 

Creating a mushroom effect on the shinogi

Japanese forging 2.jpg

 

Then forge out the shinogi, taking care of the mushroom, and expanding the mune.

Japanese forging 3.jpg

 

By controlling the angles of mune and shinogi you now have an incredible amount of control over the amount of curvature you put in. A cool finding, it seems to work out with Bizen blades to have the exact same hammering angle between the ji, the shinogi, and the mune.

 

This was the practice blade for trying all this out. As far as I remember, the hammer never touched the edge. It's the same concept with hiro-zukiri as shinogi-zukiri, just forging the mushroom out at the same angle as the ji. Keep the correct angle with the hammer and the strike point high away from the ha to keep the curvature down.

20170124_194507.jpg

 

-Austin

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  • 2 months later...

Alright, after a lot of various life circumstances keeping me from starting sword # 2 (including my old forge being totally worn out and building a better one) I have finally got the ball rolling again! I am once again working with 1075 from New Jersey Steel.

Here is the sunobe (preform) finished yesterday:

Sunobe 2.jpg

 

Hizukuri got off to a bit of a rough start as I haven't forged since January... I finished half the blade then took some rest and went back at it the next day.

20170424_201801.jpg

 

I finished the rough forging today. Next I will go back over all the surfaces to make sure all planes are as smooth and flat as I can get them--that will help with the filing and scraping later. Going straight for the water quench this time, so the blade is only slightly curved at this point.

20170425_175055.jpg

20170425_175138.jpg

Blade is now 27.5" long, 1.5" longer than I wanted. The tang is 6.75" long where I was shooting for 6.5, so I'll probably lengthen the tang slightly to maintain the exact proportions I'm going for. With these short tanged Bizen blades the tang got progressively longer in relation to the blade from the 1400s to the late 1500s at a fairly linear rate. If the nakago is original, I've found you can actually reasonably date the sword based on it's nakago:nagasa ratio. Same is true of other schools due to the overall changes in fighting styles, though I haven't studied their proportions as in depth as the Bizen blades. I'm trying to stick in the time frame of 1530-1575 in Sue Bizen style as was the original goal when I started this project last year.

-Austin

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Looking good. From these images i can see i am not the only person in a suburban neighbor hood who forges out front of their house. Do your neighbors consider you a little cooky also? 

Following with interest. 

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Thanks Chris!

On Suburbs... they are certainly are not ideal! I am thankful that my neighbors have been very supportive. though I also have other more spacious places to go when I am planning on a noisy week (my whole setup is currently very portable). Some of my neighbors are close friends, most are gone at day jobs during most my forging hours. Lately I've been too focused on my main job (piano tuning) to do much smithing anyway, so the occasional day setup in the driveway isn't interpreted as such a big deal. Kooky... I have a feeling that a handful may think that! Most the men who've talked to me get real excited about what I do though, which helps me (a natural introvert) make conversation and get to know people I would never otherwise meet.

-Austin

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I have come very far in my research of these swords as it relates to the construction thickness wise. This due to finding incredibly detailed photoshoots on Japanese websites of sword dealers. I discovered the following:

  1. The originals were thick. The most unaltered example I could find still had a thickness of near .34" at the machi and around .216" at the kissaki after 500 years. Most the swords without bohi were around .3" at the machi and .24-.25" at the yokote, though I haven't found a blade without bohi in such healthy condition as the one I found with bohi.
  2. The precision of the shinogi beveling and distal taper is pure craftsmenship, particularly in the graceful way the beveled shonogi flattens out before terminating in the kasaki. Contrary to the way I first learned to make it, the leveling of the shinogi happens so gradually that viewed from the back you can not decipher much curvature (the tip doesn't look like a diamond). The bellow drawing even has more curve than some of the pieces I looked at, but is close to what I'm shooting for. Flattening the shinogi gradually allows for easier shaping of the kissaki and room for wear as the sword gets polished down.

Mune.jpg

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