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Iron clad katana WIP

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Hey everyone!


I want to acknowledge right away that what I'm doing here is questionable and very much non-traditional. In truth, I'm not quite ready for the challenge of a traditional blade made in a traditional way, but I hope to get there someday.


This project aims at taking what I learned from a wakizashi I made last year and attempting to 1) not make the same mistakes again (only new ones are allowed!), 2) improve on the technique I've been learning and developing for this particular style of blade, while 3) also aiming for a greater challenge. This katana's construction will be similar, with a twisted wrought iron cladding, because I ultimately want those blades to be a pair.


I began with a billet made of 7 layers of wrought iron (1/2" each) and 8 layers of O1 (1/8" each), for a total of 3" by 1.5" by 4.5". This will eventually be used for the outer layers of a san mai.




I welded these, then drew the billet out to about 30" by 3/4" square, before hacking it in two and twisting each half (CW/CCW), then flattening them to about 16" by 1/2" by 1". 




I surface ground one side of each and started working on a second billet for the blade's core. This one will have one central layer of 1095 (7" by 2" by 3/8") for the edge, surrounded by two layers of 15n20 (7” by 2” by 1/4” each). I welded the billet and drew it out to the same width and approximately the same length as the cladding billets, then ground both sides and prepared for the final weld.




This resulted in a 26" by 1" by 3/4" bar stock:




At this point, and if my math was correct, I still had a *lot* of extra material. Since I wanted to make sure that my core was centered before continuing, I ground one side of the billet and etched it. Everything looked good.


To help with my future profiling, I ground two 45-degree angles (see photo below), which I will flatten in the next forging step. Doing so will slightly upset the core on the side that will become the edge, giving it a better chance to line up with the final grind over the blade's entire length.


My goal here was to lower the chances that any of the 15n20 would end up dipping into the edge in the final etch. Although that steel will harden too, it is only meant as a cosmetic/contrasting layer to separate the core from the cladding, and perhaps in a misguided way, to take the visual role of a traditional hamon. I don’t want it on the edge.




I squared the billet and drew it out to the target width and height of my pre-sunobe stock: 1" by 3/8". This totaled 32", quite a bit more than I needed.




To guide the forging of my sunobe, I drew much inspiration from a video from “Old Pueblo Forge”. In the past, for tanto and wakizashi-sized blades, I have pretty much winged this stage. This is the largest billet I have ever dealt with, so I felt I needed a little more care.




I measured increasingly shorter sections, each of which will be of equal length once the sunobe is forged. The marks are fairly shallow (made with about 4 short strokes of the corner of a hand file) and will completely disappear as I forge each section to the same length, and to its respective target thicknesses.


Ultimately, this ended up removing all of the guesswork, and the lack of fumbling around trying to get the shape right probably saved the centering of my core. I was glad I took the time to think this through.


The near and far sections in the above photo are extra material. Despite the (massive amount of) forge scales, the several end-welds that were generously cut off, and the egregious grinding on the edge side, I still had about 8" extra on my final bar stock (now 24" by 1" by 3/8"). I’ll definitely adjust my quantities when I do this again, but for now, this feels very satisfactory.


And this is my sunobe, on a dry wooden root, because “art”:




At this point, the nagasa is 24.5". I’m aiming for a final 26.5" nagasa and 9" nakago (this will be on the short end of the range for a katana, but it is meant to be appropriate for me, I'm also on the shorter end :P)


I cut the tip at an angle, using the bandsaw to keep the layers alone. I of course could not resist looking at the end grain. You can see the slight edge upset at the top:




The blade cross-section isn’t quite right in this diagram since I hadn’t yet beveled the blade, but that gives an idea of where this is going. I’ll be leaving the edge quite thick (a good 4mm, or 5/32") to preserve some of the core thickness that the edge upset gave me. On the other hand, I’ll be aiming to be close to the final thickness on the spine: I want each side of the blade to cross as much of the centerlines of the cladding as possible for maximum pattern activity. Those will be things to keep in mind at profiling time.


Obviously, the twists aren’t laid out symmetrically. I’m OK with that. If previous similar blades are any indication, my beveling will introduce plenty of randomness in the final pattern anyway. I’m definitely not aiming for a perfectly symmetrically clad blade.


Last forging steps. I “flipped the tip“ and started forging the bevels. This will be a hira zukuri blade, so beveling was a fairly simple process, just more of it than I had done before in one go.


Here's a photo as I was getting started (the final tip ended up thinner than this, as I thought this was a bit too “bulky” for hira zukuri).




And this is the beveled blade, after an overnight bath in vinegar:




After a rough cleanup:




And after a dirty etch to check my san mai geometry:




I was really pleased because this showed that the core was still centered enough that I didn’t need to take any drastic measures. Success! (so far...)


It was time for profiling:




And finally, heat-treating. The temperatures I'm using are focused on the 1095 steel that’s on the edge (as opposed to the 15n20 and O1, which are cosmetic). I did a normalization at 1575F and used the heat to pre-curve the blade since I’m going to quench in oil. I did 3 descending heats/stress relief cycles after that, then quenched at 1475F, with little to no soaking time (just enough to make sure the oven temperature had stabilized).


Going in!




What went well: 1) no flashing (8x40 tank of parks 50 at ambient temp) and 2) the blade had pretty much zero warpage, only a minimal amount on the tang, which was fixed in seconds. My past experience dealing with this kind of wrought iron san mai construction made me expect a potentially severe warp. None of that happened, and I was very pleased.


What went badly: this is me realizing I had just lost most of the pre-curve to the oil quench (look at my eyebrows, they're saying "wait, wha?"):




There’s a thread about that in the “Metallurgy and other enigmas” board. Long story short, I was misinformed, and though no clay would mean no sori from the oil quench, negative or otherwise. 



I wasn’t sure where to go from here, and I kept mulling over this... I took the time to clean up the blade and do a quick etch before finally deciding that I was not fond of the Kanbun era style. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly has its charm, but I wanted this katana’s lines to be somewhat in harmony with the wakizashi it is meant to be paired with, and that ain’t it.


So I went back to HT square 1, reset the pre-curve, giving it enough to compensate for the prior loss as well as the next. I re-normalized, relieved the stress again, and quenched a second time. I was much happier with the result. 


This is after a quick cleanup and a few corrections to the profile on the tang and the tip:




Given that I didn’t differentially harden the blade, I didn’t want the edge screaming hard, so I aimed for 57-58HRC with two 2h 550F tempering cycles (begging the question as to why I am using 1095...). My understanding is that this may still be a bit high for a non-DH blade, but the shallow hardening of 1095 combined with the still fairly thick iron jacket might actually have allowed me to keep the edge harder. I lack experience here, I’m afraid (please do set me straight!).


I’ve done some more cleanup of the profile since then, on the tip, spine, edge, and nakago, to help the lines flow a little better. I still have a couple of spots of decarb left here and there, a little bit of thinning of the tip to do, and I’ll eventually file-finish and engrave the nakago before doing the final etch.


So there’s still quite a bit of work to do, but the blade is pretty much at final shape and dimension: nagasa: 66.1cm (26"), sori: 1.5cm, moto-kasane: 0.7cm, saki-kasane: 0.49cm, motohaba: 3.1cm, sakihaba: 2.1cm, overall weight: 658g


This isn't the final polish and etch, but here’s a sneak peek:



Next to its little sister:




I'll be starting on the fittings, and I'll update this thread as I make further progress. Cheers!

Edited by Francis Gastellu
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Very cool, I really like the pattern of the wrought in juxtaposition to the usual appearance of most japanese blades

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That looks great.


It has the appearance of a topo map of a river running through a mountain gorge.


Good work.

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After 2 failed habakis...




... I think I managed to make one that will work.




1/8" brass stock, bent using the jig Walter Sorrells recommends.




Annealed a few times during the forming process.




Cut the notch at the munemachi and fitted as best I could.




Spent about an hour and a half hand filing because let's be honest, I had completely winged it the first few times, and it totally didn't work. Here I used calipers to measure the width and height of the cavity front and back, then filed to dimensions. This worked a lot better.




Fitting the machigane.




Ready to solder.






Cleaned up, and profiled:










I think it might still be a tiny bit too proud at the hamachi, which is a bummer because filing some more here will start opening up a notch.


I'll be doing a final polish later on but for now, I'm happy. I think :)



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Working on the tsuba. I started by casting a 250g puck of shibuichi to cold work. Following Ford Hallam's recommendations, I used "one and four" silver to copper (20/80, as opposed 25/75 or "one fourth"). I cast it in an open mold, because I have no idea what I'm doing.






That's a pretty ugly ingot, and I suspect Ford would be appalled :unsure:... Good thing I cast much more than I need, as this will require serious cleanup.




The beginning of a LOT of filing and scraping... 




Once I reached a clean surface, I started cold working to proper diameter and thickness.








This will do: 72mm wide, 74mm tall, and 5mm thick. I'll be upsetting the rim later on but keeping it with a shallow taper on the edge for the time being.




I finally started on the really hard part, the design.... this is hard for me (hence the glass of wine) because I'm not very good at drawing, but there's no other way to proceed... this will take a while before I end up with something I'm happy enough with to commit.


I have limited experience with "hon zogan" inlay techniques, so this will push me well beyond my comfort zone. Wish me good luck? :unsure:


Edited by Francis Gastellu
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Good luck

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"The way we win matters" (Ender Wiggins) Orson Scott Card


Nos qui libertate donati nescimus quid constat

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thank you both for your encouragement! Here's an update.


After settling on a design for the obverse side of the tsuba, and after practicing my background removal and inlay "skills", I decided it was time to finally break ground...


No pressure :P




And... no turning back. About five hours later:




I then cut out all of my inlays, here are a few of them (See here for details on my transfer method).




Yes, some of those are tiny. A little too tiny to be completely honest. Spoilers: I'm going to regret this. In fact, some were too tiny for me to cut with a jewelry saw (I'm sure it was possible, I just couldn't), so I carved a couple of them with a rotary tool instead:




Finally, I got started on the inlay work. First, the easiest one, the waning moon:




Next, I outlined all the remaining inlays on the tsuba's surface and raised the lip on their perimeters. Once this was done, I worked on background removal for each of them. Following the techniques I have seen, I hollowed out the backside of each inlay to reduce interference with any remaining high spot in my (definitely imperfect) background removal. I also curved each of them slightly such that setting them in place would end up pushing against the inlay walls, helping secure them.




After many hours of work (14 in total -- yes I'm keeping a tally), I managed to complete all the remaining pieces:




You can't easily tell from this photo, but the perimeters of the inlays actually look pretty bad. I tried for a long time to get back to a clean background, but the tiny inlays created several equally tiny and nearly enclosed areas that were just beyond my skills to clean up. Obstination would have jeopardized the whole piece and so I reluctantly gave in to the reality that I would have to texture the background in order to hide my crimes.


I first did some light carving on the bamboo, so it wouldn't look so flat, then I began texturing.


I gave it my best shot. It's not quite what I was thinking originally, but it's really growing on me. Ultimately I know that this is the best that I was able to give to this piece. I hope to improve beyond this in the future, but for now, I am satisfied.




In truth, I am secretly hoping that patination will improve how the whole piece blends together... At least I won't have to experiment with homemade recipes, as I was able to get my hands on the real thing... the fabled rokushō! (from Reactive Metals -- there is a thread from 2014 that mentions that they were not responsive back then, but I had no issue getting my order through).




Of course, before that happens, I still have the reverse side to do... :unsure:


Stay tuned? :)


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Wow!  I'm pretty sure I hate you.



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"The worst day smithing is better than the best day working for someone else."


I said that.


If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

- - -G. K. Chesterton


So, just for the record: the fact that it does work still should not be taken as definitive proof that you are not crazy.


Grant Sarver

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Geoff said it best! :lol:  The patination will pull it all together, I think.  I bet I couldn't see the imperfections with a #5 Optivisor, but the maker knows every one. Nice!

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8 hours ago, Francis Gastellu said:

Stay tuned? :)

ummm....ok.  If you insist, that it....

Nice work!

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RIP Bear....be free!


as always

peace and love




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Never fails.  Just about the time I start to think of myself as an artist, a true artist comes along and reminds me that I am a machinist. 


Most impressive sir!

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I am so impressed, I feel lowly! 

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C Craft Customs ~~~ With every custom knife I build I try to accomplish three things. I want that knife to look so good you just have to pick it up, feel so good in your hand you can't wait to try it, and once you use it, you never want to put it down ! If I capture those three factors in each knife I build, I am assured the knife will become a piece that is used and treasured by its owner! ~~~ C Craft

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I decided to take a break from the tsuba and get started on the fuchi. This ended up being more challenging than I had expected, mostly because of my lack of soldering skills. This butt joint kicked my behind repeatedly.


I started by casting some more shibuichi, hopefully to have enough for both the fuchi and the kashira later on. It turns out I failed to either form or solder the fuchi 5 times (cracks in the alloy, multiple bad soldering), and ended up re-casting a billet (twice because I had porosity issues on the second one).


Ultimately (and with some guidance from people much more experienced with those alloys than I am) I learned to work the billet cold until I got close enough to size to use the rolling mill for a final smooth 2mm thick sheet, 12.5mm wide and 94mm long, which I formed into a loop and soldered, along with a small copper square for reinforcement.






After some cleanup and final forming, I filed a copper cap and soldered it on.




Cleaned up:




It then occurred to me that the fuchi really needed to be visually tied to the tsuba. I didn't want anything too fancy, just something nice and discreet.


I cut and inlaid a little copper bird (conveniently, the fuchi stake combined with some thermoloc doubled as a rotating holding jig in the ball vise):




And I gave him a little bamboo branch to sit on, which I carved with katakiri chisels.




Kata-kiri is a chiselling technique where everything is done with single strokes. There's not really much room for do-overs, so it is a bit stressful.


And... sure enough... as I started carving one of the lower leaves, I hit a defect in the casting, an air bubble that caused the chisel to tear through the alloy. My heart sank.


I was somewhat able to go over it again (which is really a big no-no in kata kiri). It doesn't look terrible but those who know those things will definitely be able to tell! Note to self: run furnace with a higher fuel atmosphere.


Next, the kashira.



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I started working on the tsuka (handle) core a while ago, I just couldn't make much progress until some of the fittings were further along and I knew my final dimensions.




With the fuchi done, I was able to resume some of the work. Here I'm adjusting the fuchi-side to size, using the first knife I made a few years ago :)




And with that, the handle is back on hold.


For the kashira (buttcap) I started by making the punch and die jig. This was straightforward but not pretty. I used a die grinder for most of the die work, and I'm sure I'll be finding tiny splinters in the shop for weeks to come :(




I'll be working with a 2mm sheet, so I made the punch 2mm smaller than the intended final size. The die is very slightly over, by about half a millimetre. I ended up radiusing the punch a little more than in the above photo: tests with copper showed that this was causing quite a bit of stress. That worked with copper but I have only limited confidence in my shibuichi castings :) Ultimately I decided to go for a more rounded kashira anyway. 


I cast the ingot, cold worked it down close to size, rolled it flat to 2mm, and cut a 50mm by 32mm oval. In retrospect, that was a bit too tall and could have been slightly wider.


I oiled the jig and started punching. This is after the first annealing:




I annealed 3 more times. Definitely more than I would have needed with copper, but this is shibuichi... better safe than sorry.




Starting to see some tearing on the walls, time to call it. 




I cut out the excess, gave a slight curve to the underside, cleaned up the surface, and couldn't help but buff it shiny (i'll take it down to a matte 800 grit once I prepare it for patination).




I thought about whether I should make shitodome or not... they don't do a lot. Supposedly they help protect the ito (cord) that will go through in the final handle wrap, but ultimately they are mostly cosmetic and quite optional. I decided to make some because it'll be an opportunity to balance the color on the fuchi that the little copper bird will bring in with patination. 


I started by making one more set of weird looking tools:




I cut two pieces of 10oz copper, 1" by 1/2".




Each piece got rolled into a loop on the stake, and soldered:




Then back on to the stake for cleanup:




Then using the slotted backing plate, I punched out the lips:






With the final size of the shitodome confirmed, I went to the mill to cut out the slots. I used a piece of cardboard to hold on to the rounded side of the piece, and leveled it as best I could. It's not exactly easy to measure this thing with calipers, so I used my time-tested centering technique for odd shapes, which involves the use of my eye and a sharpie ;)




With this done, I was able to adjust the other end of the tsuka to size, and finally, to cut out a channel for the shitodome to go through.




Note that the handle is still very thick, it'll get thinned out significantly later on, to accommodate for the thickness of the ray skin and the wrapping cord (about 1/8 of an inch). Right now, this is essentially my target handle size.




I was eager to see it all test fitted, so I cut out and lightly decorated a set of seppas from a sheet of nickel silver:




I did a pretty poor job with the front seppa, so I'll be redoing that (maybe both, not sure how I feel about having used nickel-silver here), but for now this will do.




It's starting to look like a sword! Balance point is currently at just about 5" from the tsuba. There's not much more weight that'll be added at this point: ray skin, wrapping cord, and a couple of ornamental menuki, so I think this will work out nicely.





Edited by Francis Gastellu
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In the 18 years or so I've been on the forum, you're only the second person I've seen make shitodome, and your explanation and process pics are much more clear than the first guy some 17 years ago. B)


And stop laughing, guys, it's pronounced something like "Sheeto-domeh," not what you're thinking. :lol:  

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14 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

In the 18 years or so I've been on the forum, you're only the second person I've seen make shitodome, and your explanation and process pics are much more clear than the first guy some 17 years ago. B)


And stop laughing, guys, it's pronounced something like "Sheeto-domeh," not what you're thinking. :lol:  


Lol! Truth be told, this is the "easy" way of making them apparently, there's another method that involves making a second piece and soldering it instead of punching a lips. It gives a better fit and I almost wish I had done that. Almost. This will do :P


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20 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

And stop laughing, guys, it's pronounced something like "Sheeto-domeh," not what you're thinking. :lol:  

Uh-huh, sure that's how you say it.  Will you write a note explaining that to my IT manager when they find it in my search history?


Francis, dude, you are really starting to piss me off.  Your work is fantastic, and covers such a broad range of techniques. :P

I am truly impressed!

Edited by Brian Dougherty
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2 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:


And stop laughing, guys, it's pronounced something like "Sheeto-domeh," not what you're thinking. :lol:

Not sure that made it any better Alan :lol:

"The way we win matters" (Ender Wiggins) Orson Scott Card


Nos qui libertate donati nescimus quid constat

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