His descriptions and photos provide an excellent peek at the 5-day swordsmithing processes taught at Dragonfly Forge to transform a section of wire rope into a wakizashi, a Japanese-style short sword. He also touches upon the frustrations and triumphs of learning completely new skills. Marcus also shares the secret to swordsmithing: hard work.
Thank you Marcus for documenting your time with us and sharing it.
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.”
“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.