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First ever edged weapon, finished


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So firstly, let me say that I in no way claim this to be comparable to an actual katana made by some of you guys that I see here. Nevertheless, for a first effort, having never made so much a knife before, I am well pleased how it turned out. 

It is made from 6mm en45 steel, which I had laser cut to a profile I drew out on CAD. I then did some rough grinding with a 115mm angle grinder, followed by draw filling. I found the tutorial by Jeffrey Robinson aka Brotherbanzai to be very helpful. If he ever sees this, thanks Jeff!! I did a few normalisation cycles myself, mostly to straighten the steel as it came a bit bent from the supplier. I tried to harden it myself, but I think I may have had insufficient volume of oil, too low temperature or both. Anyway, I sent it to a professional heat treater, and they did a really great job, came back straight as an arrow!

I didn't use real ray skin, I just couldn't bear the thought of killing a ray only for its pelt. In the end I used white anti skid tape, and a nice yellow material from a local material shop for the Ito.

This sword is actually for a work colleague, who nearly killed himself with a stainless 'wallhangar' which he bought cheap, and went against my advice, tried to chop things with it. The inevitable happened, it snapped and luckily no one was badly injured. So, I thought I would try the challenge of making something acceptable, and at least functional. He hasn't seen it yet, so I hope the new owner will be happy with it!!

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Edited by Gareth Barry
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Some things I learned, which will hopefully improve if I do this again, will be to try to minimize forging scale somehow, as I think that grinding it out kind of left the bevels a bit uneven, whereas they were quite flat I think after drawfiling. The other issue is trying to hand sand hardened steel to get out all the scratches; man what a pain!! I am going to have to think of something more efficient!

The sori is also a bit off in shape. The reason for that is because in doing my research, I had read about negative sori toward the kissaki with an oil quench. Hence, I brought the tip up somewhat in my CAD drawing to compensate. Well, the sori didn't change at all, maybe because it wasn't differentially hardened, dunno?

I used Buffalo horn for the fuchi and kashira, as I wasn't confident in my brazing skills. The habaki is a piece of plumbing copper pipe, bashed and filed into shape. Thankfully it was about the right size, so I didn't have to join the copper at the seam at the ha side of the habaki.

Well, the real reason I am posting all of this is to get good feedback and useful criticism for the next one.

Thanks for looking, and any and all comments are very much welcome.

 

Edited by Gareth Barry
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Welcome, and congrats on an ambitious first piece!  I would suggest adding a few close up pictures of the fittings (like the transition from one material to the next, showing gaps - if any).  Those are the aspects that are hard to get perfect, and can really make or break the appeal to a piece.  Then people will be much more able to point out the good and the bad.  

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I really think that the things you mention justify my telling folks to start out making a few knives first. It is much easier to get a feel for grinding, polishing, fitting etc, when you don't have your eyes filled with so much steel. 

That being said, it looks like a pretty good first effort but Jerrod is right, the devil is in the details and it needs better pics.

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Not bad for a first attempt! Very ambitious for sure.

Try looking up wet/water forging, this will help you reduce forge scale (if you're using a forging technique and not stock removal of course). As for hand sanding, traditionally polishing was done using stones, but this takes even longer and is much harder to do generally. Hand sanding, although tedious, is really one of the better ways to go about polishing imo. And yes, you are absolutely correct, sori should only occur if your blade is differentially hardened. This is because pearlite and ferrite (the main molecular phases of unhardened steel) are very slightly more dense than martensite (the main molecular phase of hardened steel). If you look up slow motion pictures of differential quenches, you can see the blade first gets reverse sori because the edge cools quickly and becomes more dense than the hot spine. Then, as the spine cools and becomes more dense than the edge, sori forms! It's really quite cool, I highly recommend you check it out if you get the chance. For the habaki, I would really push you to try hard soldering. It can be pretty daunting at first, but it will really help the quality of your work and be a very useful skill to have for future blades. When I do habaki, I start with 1/8" annealed copper and use this homemade punch rig (the idea came from Walter sorrels own similar rig) to get it to fit over the spine. Then the machigane is filed in and the hagane is cold forged and soldered in, and a belt sander and files are used to shape and taper it. Personally I really like the horn fittings, and if they work I don't really think it's necessary to have them made from copper :) oh and if you ever really want to use rayskin, I think I've heard that there are a few places that farm breed them and use the meat and everything in addition to the skin. If that is a concern of yours

 

Anyway, I hope this might help a little, and I'm sure he's going to love it! Awesome gift idea and good execution on your part :D

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Guys, thank you so much for your comments, I have found this forum so incredibly helpful!

Vern, I hear you re starting smaller, ideally that's what I should have done. I have another friend who has since asked me to make some knives for him, so I think that will be the next step for me. Getting the blanks laser cut certainly makes the job easier.

Grant, I will bite the bullet and try some hard soldering. I am a physics teacher by profession, so I guess I could use a Bunsen burner in the lab to heat up the copper? Is brass an acceptable alternative?

I will try to take some better pics, at the moment all I have is my phone. The areas that I think needs the most improvement is the Ito wrap (didn't use hashigami) and the slight waviness of the bevels.

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Heating brass in close quarters can be unhealthy, use caution.

Since you are interested in Japanese methods and concerned about the leveling and finishing, bevels etc, I'd suggest making a sen to help with that part.

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Yeah just to clarify brass will work, but it has a zinc alloy which can be dangerous without ventilation. Read up on metal fume fever to make sure you don't put your health at risk. IMO copper looks much nicer and is easier to work, so if you can get your hands on some, it would probably be preferable. I'm not sure if a Bunsen burner will got hot enough, but it's worth a shot! :P  use EZ hard solder or something similar for your first time, it melts at lower temperatures. Good luck!

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So here are some (pretty poor) close ups, photography is NOT my strength!!

The thing that I am the least happy with is the "menuki" which are just cheap necklace pendants from a jewelry store. Well, since this is at best a characature katana, I guess it's acceptable lol!

The part that I am the most pleased with is the geometry of the yokote, that I was able to get it to be an actual bevel, as I was quite concerned about this area. It turned out to be simpler than I thought.

The tsuba I also got laser cut from a CAD drawing I did. I then dipped it in oil, and left in the oven on max for an hour, much to the annoyance of the SWMBO!

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Edited by Gareth Barry
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I think laquer, as I would guess that a black laquered saya would be what the recipient of this would imagine to be correct. One of my other hobbies is guitar building so I have a bit of experience with wood working. Personally, I absolutely hate painting over nice looking wood, but as I say, I think the recipient would prefer it that way as being more of what is common. I think I am already going a bit away from what the "standard" by using an Ito that isn't black?

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If, on rare occasion, I am painting over wood I use alder. It's cheap around here but when I have let the idea of making a katana wander through my head, I come to think it would be a great wood for a saya. A straight grained piece works easily. It also dyes well and "mimics" other woods if the user has experience with dyes and stains. I would bet, and will probably try fairly soon, dying it with a black analine dye, before laquering would make it easier. I have used a double coloring process on alder to mimic cherry and true mahogany.

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Alder and basswood are my first choices, I know them well from guitars, tight grain, easy to work. Unfortunately, they are quite expensive here (South Africa). The flip side is that other "exotic" timbers such as African blackwood, afromosia and tamboti are relatively easy to get hold of. I actually considered substituting Buffalo horn with African blackwood. In the end, my step dad runs a game hunting lodge, so Buffalo horn was also fairly easy to get.

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I like your idea of staining the wood black; I think that would satisfy the recipient as well as me the builder! Would still show the grain and look good, I see why you suggest alder as opposed to basswood, has nicer grain. Thanks for the suggestion

Edited by Gareth Barry
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Well done Gareth. If you fancy something a bit more challenging (which I suspect you might, given your first blade), you could look at combining the katana colours on the siya.

JPH did a tutorial on getting a cracking effect on the siya here. He does advise practicing on some scrap pieces first.

Edited by Charles du Preez
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That white non-skid tape really looks like rayskin from here!  In fact, everything but the habaki looks about right.  EN45 is an excellent steel for swords, but it takes some messing about to differentially harden for hamon.  Well done overall!

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Thanks Alan, I have learnt so much from reading your posts, I am so grateful for your encouragement! You are right about the habaki, upon looking at the pictures (I am away from home at the moment) I can see that it really is letting down the whole package. I guess that's why it's so useful to get honest feedback from experienced others. My other concern is that if I leave the habaki as wide as it is, the saya will have to be overly wide at the throat. I see from looking at pictures (I have never handled a proper katana, this is all going off research) that the edges of the habaki seem to be pretty much flush with the blade. So I guess I am going to have to learn to solder! The way I look at it, every skill learned on this sword for my friend will be useful for when I make one for myself one day.

Now I have a question which I hope you guys can answer, what are the typical cross sectional dimensions of a saya? From what I see on pictures, it doesn't seem to be much wider than the tsuka in profile( if that makes sense?) Also, what thickness should I plane the planks to before joining them? Is there any standard on this or is just eyeballed? In other words, do the outer dimensions of the saya match the dimemsions of the fuchi, more or less?

Thanks again

Gareth from South Africa

Edited by Gareth Barry
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There's no real standard for saya. They pretty much always match the dimensions of the tsuba (handle) so that, when sheathed, the lines from the tsuba to saya remain smooth and "unbroken" I guess. If you've ever seen a shirasaya, you can hardly tell where the tsuba ends and the saya begins. The seppa should be the same size or slightly larger then the tsuka and saya. As for planing the planks, I normally start with 1/4" slabs I think, but it doesn't matter too much. Also, looking at your pictures, I think you may have the wrong idea about the concept of the habaki, the habaki is really the piece that holds everything tightly together and I don't think yours functions that way mechanically. I'd recommend spending some time researching the habaki and checking out pictures. Anyways good luck! :)

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I'm just now seeing this. Iooks really good for a first try! Need to work on those habaki making skills though. It's not hard to make habakis really. It's like riding a bike.... You get older and lose interest :lol:! Not really, it's actually one of my favorite parts. 

My first successful attempt is still hanging on a wall waiting for a fuller, one more polishing, and a new habaki. I'll get to it some day. One thing you don't want to do on the next one is get tunnel vision and just see the finish line. Take your time.

Use apropriate sanding backers. I learned that the hard way. You want a really sharp line between the spine and the primary edge bevel. You can't achieve that with a rubber sanding block. 

Walter Sorrels has tons of great videos on Japanese sword making on YouTube (if you haven't seen them yet). He's been a huge influence on me. 

You can do top notch work, the question is: are you willing to do top notch work? In other words, you have to be willing to put forth your best effort, and be really critical about things (down right anal about stuff) in order to turn out your best work. You can't settle for "good enough".   

Good luck on your next one, can't wait to see it!

 

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Guys once again, thank you so much!

Grant, you have confirmed what I was thinking regarding saya dimensions. This means that I definitely will have to redo the habaki, otherwise the saya will have to be overly large and won't look right. Although it doesn't look like it in the pictures, this "habaki looking thing" on my sword does actually hold everything together incredibly tightly, hence my initial reluctance to abandon it. However, it simply won't work because of the issues when making a saya. Thanks for pointing out the habaki as a problem guys, I am looking forward to trying to do a better job on that.

Zeb, thanks for your comment, and you are 100% right; one of my self critiques is that the bevels are too soft. I will take your advice re hard sanding blocks, hopefully that will help make sharper lines. And you are also spot on the money regarding not rushing the final steps, that is a big problem of mine, especially when excitement kicks in to see the finished product. Having a weekend away from home and looking at the pictures has certainly helped to calm me down, so I will take my time and get it as right as I can when I get back.

Another question, do you guys wet sand to make it go faster? I started by wet sanding, but got a fright when I saw just how quickly this steel corrodes. I know it probably really isn't a big deal, but having come this far i was loathe to make any fatal errors. 

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Oh wow, if you were only dry sanding I can see why you would think hand sanding is not the way to go! Dry sanding tends to clog up your paper really fast, and, like you said, water will corrode your blade, so I always use a few drops of 3 in 1 oil to lubricate while sanding. Works great for me and it should help you get out those big scratches a lot faster

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11 hours ago, Gareth Barry said:

Another question, do you guys wet sand to make it go faster? I started by wet sanding, but got a fright when I saw just how quickly this steel corrodes. I know it probably really isn't a big deal, but having come this far i was loathe to make any fatal errors. 

I like to wet sand with windex (well, generic brand ammonia glass cleaner). It’s a good lubricant and the high pH keeps rust from forming. It’s cheap too. Also, get good sand paper (I like rhynowet redline) and as soon as it loads up/wears out, switch to fresh paper. Abrasives cut using pressure, so a sanding block with a smaller surface area cuts faster (you need to switch the paper more too, and you lose some of the ability to follow flats, so find a balance). Ultimately, hand sanding is a skill, and you’ll notice you get better (faster, better results) at it with time. Hope this helps!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, today the sword went to its new owner, which gave me mixed feelings of elation to see how ecstatic the new owner was, but on the other hand sadness to see it go! 

Anyway, I'm the end I really did reach the limit of my endurance with sanding, I guess if it were for myself k would've gone further than 400 grit. There are many things that I will do a whole bunch better the next time around, particularly,

-flatter more even bevels

-a more consistent shape to the saya

-proper menuki

-a better job with the Ito wrap.

I used Buffalo horn for the kurikata, and African blackwood (dalbergia melanoxylon) for the koiguchi and kojiri, which seemed to work well, at least it smells better than Buffalo horn when cutting it!!

Well, here are the pictures. Once again, thank you so much to all for the kind words as well as wealth of information passed on.

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