I purchase blades of
various styles directly from modern smiths working in the Japanese
style. The smith I prefer to work with is Howard Clark of Morgan
Valley Forge. He is making some of the highest quality Japanese-style
swords in the world today. I polish the blades using a variety of
methods. I started with purely traditional methods, but modern steels
tend to look best with some modern techniques.
So I find that today
I use a variety of methods depending on the blade, the steel, the
heat treatment, and the look I'm going for. Some blades end up fully
traditionally done. Others are more of a significantly modified
hyrbid in nature. By that I mean that I remain mostly traditional
but have found that there are a few things that truly help with
modern steels like the 1086M and L6 used by Howard Clark. The bottom
line for me is that I enjoy working with swords and I try to make
each sword look as good as it can and my methods will vary according
to the requirements of the blade in question. I do not work on antiques.
Please don't ask, I won't do it.
In general I prefer to mount blades I polished. I must admit I'm a control freak and prefer to handle my projects myself. I am also happiest when given some degree of freedom to put together each project. Below is a saya I did with a dragon painted deeply inside the finish. In some light he appears, other he vanishes. The idea was to reflect the feeling of a dragon coming up from the depths of the ocean...
"Togi" is the Japanese word for polishing Japanese swords.
We often use the word polishing, but it really isn't a very good
translation of the word "togi". Japanese swords are very
precise, elegant, and complex blades. The best swords have an incredible
symmetry and beauty. The "polisher's" job is not just
to bring out activities in the blade or to remove scratches. Those
things are more by-products of a good polish. A good polish brings
out the shape the smith intended, cleaning up the lines, shifting
things subtly into position, moving lines, changing surfaces, and
basically bringing out the beauty of the smith's vision. This is
why a good polish is expensive -- there simply is no fast way to
accomplish this. There are polishers who only work to bring out
activities and get the edge sharp. That's fine if that's all you
want. But to me that's like spraying a new paint job on a car that
has dents and is missing body parts. The surface as exposed may
have a lovely sheen, but the car is still in need of repair. To
the untrained eye it may look okay, but to the experienced eye the
blade will look terrible.
When you're talking about newly made blades, polishers are more the
next step in the creation of the blade once the smith has set the
basic shape. Each and every blade I have ever worked on has required
reshaping to some extent. Sometimes the reshaping is minor
and subtle, something only another polisher would notice. Other times
it's fairly significant. This is because the polisher must take the
blade further in the polish and even the best looking blade at the
binsuido level (middle foundation) will have small issues that will
appear as the blade is taken further along in the polish. It might
be a misalignment of the ko shinogi on each side, it might be a shinogi
ji that's rounded and needs to be flattened. It might be a mune that's
not quite symmetrical or flat, it might be niku needing to be raised
up the ji surface, or it might be wholesale reshaping.
Inexpensive polishes are fine for gunto and production blades. But
there is nothing more disappointing than seeing a top notch blade
in a poor foundation polish. No matter how nice the finish, the blade
will have to be totally reshaped to bring out the true potential of
I also do all the mounting of blades I work on.
My good friend Ted Tenold of Legacy
Arts Swords has a marvelous article on polishing on his
website. Please go visit
his site and read the link on thoughts on polishing. Truly
worth the time.
"But the kanji for Summerchild is a girl's name!
Why did you name your site Summerchild of all things?"
I promised myself years ago that as soon as someone asked, I'd explain the origins of the name "summerchild". It has taken well over 8 years for that to happen. Amazing.
Years ago when I first started a number of people strongly recommended that I take on some "cool looking kanji" to give my site a nice Japanese feel. Sort of like taking on an art name or something like that. I thought that was funny because I'm most certainly not Japanese. And it seems that no matter how hard I try my brain isn't even wired for learning the language. I struggle along but about the best I can do is order sushi and beer. Anyway, my lovely wife, Gail, is something like a third of fourth generation Japanese American. She is of Japanese descent, looks Japanese, etc. but she is as thoroughly "Americanized" as I am. In other words, I do better ordering the sushi than she does.
The first part of this was that as a child growing up in Southern California I absolutely lived for summer vacation. I remember long days playing basketball, football, hiking, and everything else young boys did with my friends. And I have a strong memory of my mom forcing me to come into the house after a long day of play. And as she literally tossed me into the bathroom to take a bath I remember her saying "You really are a summer child." That stuck in my head.
Anyway, my wife's Japanese name happens to be Natsuko. Which is what the Kanji I use on my site means. Loosely translated Natsuko means "Child of Summer". When I found out what my wfie's name meant, it was always a sort of "karmic" thing to me. It also has a connotation of being female. And since Gail was the most important thing in my life at the time, I thought it was perfectly appropriate to put her name up as the name of my site. Besides, with all the people telling me I needed some "cool kanji" on my site to identify myself, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I used a girl's name. Would anyone ever notice? Or would anyone ever say anything?
So I named my sword polishing work "Summerchild". In honor of my wife, in honor of my youth, but also to see just how many people would even notice what it meant... Which just goes to show how good the original advice was about needing "appropriate" kanji as an artname of sorts.
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