Photos of my work.
33 Inch Nagasa L6 Hira Zukuri Daito by Howard Clark
Fuchi kashira and tsuba by Howard Clark
Tsukamaki by Jesse Pelayo
Polish and mounting by Keith Larman.
This one was a lot of fun. It is a monster of a sword.
It started when Howard Clark and I were having a conversation about making a sword that would really pushing limits. Hira Zukuri blades in katana lengths were fairly unusual historically because the thinner cross section made them very susceptable to bends and breaks. Any "off angle" cuts and you'll likely damage the blade. Many of those competing at tai kai today using today's thinner shinogi zukuri blades are frequently seen straightening blades in the background. The extra sharpness and smoothness of cutting the thinner blades offer is generally offset by a loss of strength to forces off angle.
So we decided to make a very long hira zukuri katana with a thinner cross section. It was made out of L6 steel and given Howard's careful heat treatment to create a bainite body and martensitic edge.
And I can personally vouch for how sharp the thing is. It likes to bite polishers...
I have to also point out that the photos of the hamon are under optimal lighting in a room with few reflections. The second photo below was taken at an angle to make sure nothing was reflecting from the dark room into the ji. So it makes it look very dark. That is optimal light for viewing these things but in person the blade is much more subdued.
I had a tsuba made by Howard a few years ago in my personal collection. This one seemed to be the perfect sword for that tsuba. Howard had used different pieces of scrap iron and steel, rolled it up, and cut out a tsuba from the face. It was a subtle piece but had a marvelous look of the eye of a hurricane if you looked closely enough. This was the perfect tsuba for the sword. So I asked Howard to make a set of fuchi kashira to match both the tsuba and the particular needs of this sword. I made the seppa from solid, fine silver. I used rather thick pieces given the overall size of the sword. The edges were radiused to help build a "ramping" from the various parts to help with the overall flow.
The tsuka was particularly difficult to shape and build. I had to have Howard build me slightly oversized fittings to accomodate the very wide hira zukuri blade. And even with using fairly deep machi the nakago was still rather wide. This left me *very* little wiggle room for inletting the wood to accomodate the rayskin and the wrap. And shaping was going to be difficult because the nakago simply didn't allow me any room to make mistakes. I spent a great deal of time constantly measuring, comparing, carefully carving and shaping. I didn't want to "blow through" the core into the nakago channel and that was a constant concern. I utilized a high grade samekawa from Japan, full wrap, seam visible on the ura (I didn't want to have to accomodate the space for an overlapped wrap on the ha or mune given the lack of room). Once the tsuka was carved, rayskin applied, and then everything measured out and marked for wrapping it was sent to Jesse Pelayo. He did a fine job with the tsukamaki in the silk ito. Menuki are mounted gyaku-te as per the preference of the owner. The menuki are double sakura mon in shakudo and gold. Nice set.
The polishing of this sword also turned out to be a major challenge. The lenght of the blade, the flatness, the width of the ji surface, and the overall thinness of the blade made for some long days for me. And in finishing polish I was surprised to see all sorts of "stuff" appearing in the ji that I had never seen before in bainite swords by Howard. The thinner, wider cross section seemed to result in a very interesting formation of utsuri like material in the ji. It truly is a reflection of the hamon but Howard and I both are at a loss to explain exactly what it is we're seeing in this piece. Here is a photo taken with lights trying to make the effect visible. I originally took this photo to show Howard what I was talking about when we had discussed it on the phone.
The saya was originally just going to be brown with a leather inlay for grip. As I worked on it I decided to do something a bit different on the saya to tie in better with the coloration of the silk ito (which is a red-black-brownish tone). So the saya starts as a deep brown with gold dust in the finish. It gradually darkens until it is virtually totally black with the gold dust also fading out at the same time. It created a rather interesting effect as you can see in the photos below. You can also see some of the very odd utsuri like "mistiness" in the ji of this blade. There is a band of clear steel between the utsuri and the hamon then another band that gets more pronounced around the mune. Very interesting effect.
All in all it was a really fun project. I hope to see it "in action" someday. If there is ever going to be an L6 that could get bent, this would be the one. It really pushes the limits of the material and sword design. But that was the whole point right from the beginning. And I must admit I learned a lot polishing and mounting this one. It challenged me in a number of unexpected ways.
And now, my favorite photo of the sword. As I was getting ready to pack the sword up to ship it to the owner my daughter asked if she could hold it. She sees a lot of swords at my house but this one was so big she just needed to hold it herself. She is almost 6 years old and about average in height for an almost 6 year old girl. It gives you some idea as to the size of this sword.
Sarah Keiko Larman. Age: 5 and three quarters (if you ask her that's what she'll tell you). Aug 16, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 by Keith Larman. Duplication or Copying prohibited without permission.