Our radio segment on the Jefferson Exchange, March 8th, 2016, with Geoffrey Riley is available for listening on the JPR website.
An alumnus of our dojo wrote about his experience here in 2015 during a Basic Forging Course.
“The course is not easy per se, but it’s deeply satisfying. I’d even say it was meditative. You’re able to comfortably lose yourself in the task at hand, while also earning a deeper appreciation of just how much time a steady hand takes to develop. At the end of the course, you have a living blade that you yourself have shaped and created, and a wealth of knowledge. It’s a beginner’s level course, but you leave empowered and equipped to return home and continue your education via honing your skills until you can return to Coos Bay for the next class.”
One can read the whole entry on his blog, The Parlous Professional
“Hidden on a hillside along the Coquille River, not far from Bandon, world renowned craftsman and Dragonfly Forge founder Michael Bell practices an art more than a thousand years old: Japanese sword making.”
A few months ago an alumna of our school, Chrissy, wrote an entry in her blog about her attendance at Dragonfly Forge’s swordsmithing school. She had contacted us inquiring about auditing the Basic Forging Course, as she was an author seeking firsthand experience in the process of forging a sword. Although she attended the school in 2007, prior to the construction of the current larger dojo, her description of experience is very kind and complete.“Several years ago, when I was writing the first draft of Forging the Blade, I realized that I needed to learn something about making swords. Duh! In Chapter XIV, which is about the major arcana card, Temperance, a goddess (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Brigid) forges a magic sword for Molly, the main character. She uses Molly’s blood to bind her to the blade. As the sword is forged, Molly is also forged into a warrior. I figured that forging a blade would be a perfect metaphor for Temperance. This is a key chapter in the book, and to make it work, the reader must totally believe in the drama of a piece of steel and a teenage girl being forged into sentient, magical weapons. The Internet couldn’t give me the information I needed to write a believable chapter. It is an amazing tool for gathering bits and pieces and finding out where to get more, but it couldn’t tell me what a forge smells like, or how a furnace sounds, or how it feels to hammer a piece of steel into shape.”
Those who are interested can read about her experience can check out her blog entry ,“Truth or Fiction? or Yes, I’m Still Working with Temperance.”
Although we are always quick to acknowledge that there is no replacement for hands-on experience, there is also a great deal of knowledge to be gained from books. Due to popular request, we have complied this list of books we highly recommend for reading on the subjects of Japanese swordsmithing, swordsmithing in general, as well as bladesmithing and knife-making in general.
The Art of the Japanese Sword: The Craft and Its Appreciation by Yoshindo Yoshihara, and Leon and Hiroko Kapp (September 10, 2012)
It’s with great pleasure that we recommend a new book on the history and craft of the Japanese sword.
The Art of the Japanese Sword, the Craft and Its Appreciation by Leon and Hiroko Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara [Tuttle]covers much of the same ground as The Craft of the Japanese Sword, their first book. The new book goes into far greater detail in all areas and is accompanied by excellent illustrations and clear and concise text. It is also in a larger format than the earlier books and this makes for better reading and more detail in the illustrations.
I believe this book will have broad appeal to collectors and sword enthusiasts while also providing what can almost be termed a “shop manual” for those of us who practice the craft.
We recommend this book highly and salute the authors for their efforts.
The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Yoshindo Yoshihara and Leon & Hiroko Kapp (Jun 15, 1987)
If you can buy only one book on Japanese sword crafts, this is the one. There is an introduction to the history and development of the sword and a clear description of the physics and chemistry of steel. This book details the efforts of the swordsmith, habaki maker, polisher and scabbard maker and provides a clear overview of the courses taught at Dragonfly Forge.
The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way To Perfection by Jim Hirsoulas
This is an informative and entertaining book by my friend and colleague. While not specifically about Japanese swords it is loaded with information and tips of use to all who work at the forge, including data on steel and forge welding techniques. I highly recommend this one.
50 Dollar Knife Shop by Wayne Goddard
Wayne’s book shows how it’s possible to build a simple forge and shop without breaking the bank. Wayne is the grand old man of the hand forged blade and most of us “younger” smiths have sat at his feet to benefit from his experience and generosity. The important lesson of this book is “get started”.
An esteemed alumnus of Tomboyama, Jeff Adachi, recently performed an emergency repair for a fellow iaido classmate. The owner noticed a rattle and it turned out the habaki had almost completely split. Somewhat surprisingly, the failure to occurred down the mune side rather than at the solder seam. It was probably the worst condition habaki Jeff had ever seen. Continue reading Habaki Replacement and Tsuba Repair by Tomboyama Alumnus
The article is authored by Don Fogg, an outstandingly talented bladesmith, and more importantly a true gentleman. It is a interesting and informative read for anyone fascinated with swords and their construction.
As acknowledged in the article, swordsmithing is quite different from knifemaking. Although forging a knife is an excellent way to learn hammering, forge-welding, and heat-treatment, a sword poses some additional difficulties.
Although the article does not focus specifically in the Japanese style, it is full of useful information for anyone looking to learn more about swordsmithing in general, and much does apply to Japanese style blades.
Surely students of the dōjō will notice several differences between the methods, tools, and techniques and those described in the article. Obviously, at our own swordsmithing school we instruct students in our own method of forging Japanese style swords. But we are also quick to emphasize that students should do what works best for them.
For those truly interested in learning swordsmithing firsthand, we would of course recommend taking a class at our swordsmithing school, Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dōjō, which, although not mentioned in the article, is the the only school of its kind in the world. We would suggest students begin with the Basic Forging Course.
September 19th, 2009
Last month, we were thrilled to have four alumni of Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo return to the school to attend our August 7-9, 2009 Oroshigane Seminar.
Unscheduled August 2009 Bonji and Kajioshi Courses
Three alumni joined us two days earlier for special unscheduled two-day classes in bonji and kajioshi.
Students Jeff and Allen carved bonji in blades they had forged themselves of folded cable and Steven studied blade shaping and practiced achieving subtle refinement of shape on the water stones.
August 2009 Oroshigane Seminar
“Oroshigane” is a Japanese term used of the processes a smith uses to adjust the carbon content of sword steel, and also used to refer to the steel made from such processes.
For the seminar, we began with two forms of iron, electrolytic sponge iron and antique wrought iron, which we added carbon, through the process of carburization, to create steel.
Both electrolytic sponge iron and antique wrought iron are extremely pure forms of iron. In Japan, electrolytic sponge iron is known as denkaitestu, and is sometimes used for oroshigane by swordsmiths who cannot attain tamahagane, or are interested in making their own steel. Electrolytic sponge iron is literally “distilled iron”, a byproduct of the electric arc furnace.
True wrought iron is an antique form of commercially pure iron. Although many products are described as wrought iron today, such as guard rails and gates, they are made of actually made of mild steel and only retain that description because they were formerly made of wrought iron. Because of it’s corrosion resistance, wrought iron was often used for marine applications in the past. Like denkaitetsu, wrought iron is an extremely pure form of iron, although it is also high in silica. It is distingiushable from mild steel by its fiberous grain. Because it is no longer made on the industrial scale, wrought iron is sometimes jokingly called “unobtainium”.
Modern steel contains several alloyed metals and impurities, not found in nihonto. Some impart desirable qualities or counteract the effects of contaminents. Most important of these is manganese. Manganese prevents phosphorus (an embrittler) from migrating to grain boundaries and creating weaknesses, and also promotes deep hardenig. But manganese also makes steel shinier and more reflective, two qualities which make an sword forged from modern steel different from a traditionally made Japanese sword and which are instantly discernible to a experienced eye. By beginning with a very pure sources of iron and adding only carbon, we are able to produce a steel that is compositionally the same as tamahagane and visibly indistinguishable.
Our Oroshigane Seminar lasted a three days: the first spent carburizing the two forms of iron, and the second two days spent building two different billets of steel.
Three graphite crucibles were packed with alternating layers of crushed charcoal and iron. Once filled they were sealed with refractory cement. A layer of crumpled newspaper over the iron/charcoal prevented the cement from dripping down and introducing grit into what would hopefully become sword steel.
The three crucibles were then loaded in a propane fire specially built for smelting steel for a five hour burn.
The carburizing of iron to form steel is a product of both temperature and time. As long as the environment is carbon rich (carbon can be absorbed into iron as carbon-monoxide, but not as carbon-dioxide) , once the temperature has reached a high enough temperature, the carbon will precipitate into the iron.
The burn being done outside in direct sunlight made judging the color inside the fire very difficult, but the crucibles did appear to reach a light yellow color. We estimate the fire reached a temperature of about 2100 degrees F.
The next day we eagerly opened the crucibles to examine our results. Did we create steel? The initial inspection indicated success!
We eagerly light the forge and forged out a spatula-shaped paddle out of wrought iron. On this paddle, flakes of the now carburized electrolytic sponge iron were stacked and fluxed. Then using first a hand hammer, and then our Little Giant power hammer named “Lulu”, we began forge-welding the individual piece of carburized iron into a usable billet. Once the billet reached a large enough size, we cut a hinge in the middle, folded half over, and forge-welded the fold together. This forge-folding process serves to evenly distribute the carbon through the steel, just as kneading bread dough serves to spread the yeast throughout. It is this folding process that is also responsible for the grain or hada characteristic of Japanese swords. However, because heating of steel to welding temperature causes “carbon loss”, the smith must weigh the refinement of the steel and grain with the loss of carbon content during this process, in order to produce a quality billet sword steel.
On the final day of the seminar, we proceeded to perform the same process as the day before, slowly building up another billet of oroshigane. Only this time the billet we built was comprised mostly of wrought iron, only a small percentage was denkaitetsu. This billet was also folded three times.
Although we seem to have had great initial results from the August Oroshigane Seminar, until we forge, heat-treat, and beginning polishing a water stones a blade made from our oroshigane, we will only have partial confirmation. Michael and Gabriel Bell both plan to continue, each continuing to fold one of the billets and forging an blade, in order to gain further knowledge.
We hope to have some exciting results to share as soon as progress continue
An article regarding apprenticeships has been posted at our website, www.dragonflyforge.com.
“Michael Bell undertook a traditional five year apprenticeship to Japanese master swordsmith Nakajima Muneyoshi. Michael ‘s teacher, Mr. Nakajima, was unique in that he learned all of the Japanese sword arts: swordsmithing, polishing, habaki-making, as well as making koshirae. Usually each aspect of Japanese sword-making is preformed by a specialist; a sword can pass through the hands of four or more artists before being fully completed. It was for this reason that he was brought to Oakland, California in 1963 by the Japanese Sword Society of the United States; Mr. Nakajima could perform all the different jobs necessary to restore old swords. In 1970 Michael Bell was introduced to Mr. Nakajima and shortly thereafter became his apprentice.”