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The Japanese Blade-Technology and Manufacture

The Japanese Blade-Technology and Manufacture

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Published by samuraisword
The forging of a Japanese sword is a subtle and careful process, an art that has developed over the centuries as much in response to stylistic and aesthetic considerations as to technical improvements. To fashion these blades, the smith not only must possess physical strength, but also patience, dexterity, and a refined eye for the limits of the material and the beauty of a finished sword.
The forging of a Japanese sword is a subtle and careful process, an art that has developed over the centuries as much in response to stylistic and aesthetic considerations as to technical improvements. To fashion these blades, the smith not only must possess physical strength, but also patience, dexterity, and a refined eye for the limits of the material and the beauty of a finished sword.

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Published by: samuraisword on Aug 07, 2008
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The Japanese Blade: Technology and Manufacture
By Handmadesword.com PR Dept.www.handmadesword.comHandmadesword.com, the wholesale Japanese sword House All rights reservedThe forging of aJapanese swordis a subtle and careful process, an art thathas developed over the centuries as much in response to stylistic andaesthetic considerations as to technical improvements. To fashion theseblades, the smith not only must possess physical strength, but also patience,dexterity, and a refined eye for the limits of the material and the beauty of afinished sword.Japanese smiths traditionally use
tama-hagane
, steel produced in a
tatara
smelter from iron-rich sand. Modern smiths making Japanese swords in thetraditional manner still use this type of steel today, now produced in the lastoperating
tatara
smelter, located in Yokota, Shimane Prefecture. However, the
tatara
smelting process, though efficient, is not perfect and
tama-hagane
is fullof impurities and lacks a consistent dispersal of carbon content, the vitalingredient for turning iron into steel. Too little carbon and the metal will be soft,too much and the metal is brittle.
Kitae
: Forging the Blade
In order to correct and compensate for the quality of the
tama-hagane
, thefolding technique of 
kitae
was developed. First the smith selects suitablepieces of 
tama-hagane
and forge-welds them into a single block. This block
 
will form the outer skin of the finished blade. Next the smith begins thelaborious process of hammering out and folding the block back on itself. Theprocess yields two important results. First, impurities are worked out of thesteel and the carbon content is homogenized throughout the metal. Anexperienced smith can control with great accuracy the quality of the steel inthis way.Second, the folding produces the
 jihada
, or patterns, for which these bladesare so famous. Each time the block is hammered out and folded back, layersare formed. By folding only fourteen times, over 16,000 layers are produced.When the blade is finished, the
 jihada
is visible in the
 ji 
, the surface betweenthe edge and ridgeline. The smith can choose specific
 jihada
, such as
masame
(a straight grain parallel to the edge) or 
ayasugihada
(concentricallycurved grain), simply by varying the direction of folding. The block can befolded repeatedly in the same direction, in alternate directions, or crosswise,each method producing a different style of 
 jihada
.The outer skin, called
kawagane
, is then wrapped around a softer iron core, or 
shingane
. This combination gives the blade both the flexibility and the strengthto resist breakage under stress. Additionally, the harder 
kawagane
is better suited to sharpening than the more ductile core. The two layers are heatedandhammered out into a long bar. This welds the layers together and formsthe blank from which the finished sword is made. Once the blade has beenforged into its basic form, the smith uses files and planes to bring out the finalshape, followed by a rough polish. At this time, all the distinctivecharacteristics of the sword are present—a clearly defined profile, point, andridgelines, the tang, and an even, level surface. All that remains is for thesmith to prepare the edge.
Yaki-ire
: Hardening the Edge
The hardening of the edge is in many ways the most important, and the most
 
difficult, aspect of the sword-making process. It is the hardening of the edgethat gives the blade its ability to take and retain amazing sharpness. To beginwith, the blade is coated in
yakibatsuchi 
, a mixture of water, clay, ash, andother ingredients. Every smith has his own special recipe, often a closely keptsecret. The
yakibatsuchi 
is applied over the surface, thicker along the spineand thinner at the edge. Working in a darkened forge room using only the lightof the glowing coals, the smith carefully heats the blade. As the temperaturerises, crystal structures within the metal begin to change. The smith carefullyobserves the color of the glowing blade, and when the critical temperature isreached the sword is quickly quenched in a trough of water.At the critical temperature, around 750°C, the structure of steel changes toaustenite, a phase where carbon thoroughly combines with iron. When theblade is quickly cooled by quenching, austenite changes to martensite, thehardest type of steel. However, where the thick
yakibatsuchi 
was applied, theblade will cool more slowly, turning not into martensite but instead formingferrite and pearlite, which are softer and more flexible. Like the
kawagane
and
shingane
, this combination of hard edge and softer body is what gives theblade its desirable qualities.The hardening of the edge also creates a visible change in the surface of themetal. Depending on the way in which the clay mixture was applied, a varietyof effects can be produced. This edge pattern is called the
hamon
, and is oneof the most important aspects in the aesthetic appearance of a blade. Like the
 jihada
, each of these patterns has a specific name.
Suguha
, for example, is avery straight
hamon
, while
sambonsugi 
describes a zigzag line in clusters of three.After the hardening of the edge, if the smith is satisfied with the appearanceand quality of the blade, it is then passed on to the polisher, who will give theblade its final mirrorlike polish, and other craftsmen who will make the

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