Uzumaki means a spiral or whirlpool shape and refers to both the triple wave whirlpool shape of the bronze accent around the mekugi and the spiraling wrap of the gangi-maki handle. It also alludes to the cyclical nature of the history and journey of usefulness of the many materials reclaimed for its creation.
This tanto consists of sixteen individual parts that began as twenty two pieces, crafted from reclaimed items as diverse as Model T fender brackets from the forest and wrought iron salvaged from the bottom of the sea.
Materials for the koshirae include Model T fender brackets for the fuchi and kashira, a wrought iron timber bridge spike for the tsuba, a brass door plate for the seppa, and the double wrapping is reclaimed garment leather over shikagawa rawhide. The habaki was a heavy duty copper bus bar and the mekugi collar is a component of some reclaimed vintage handmade bronze jewelery from the Congo, smelted with copper from a mine in Katanga province.
The construction of the fuchi and kashira are based on a higo style that used internal tapers and mechanical joints rather than solder for locking the parts together. The surface of the wrought iron tsuba has been patinated with several courses of controlled rusting, burnishing with antler, and boiling in tea to convert the red oxide to black iron oxide. It is finished by sealing with a thin layer of natural urushi lacquer.
The saya is coated with a worn mokume-egaki or negoro style finish of traditional urushi lacquer. Several layers of natural and then black are built up and then selectively polished away before the final fukiurushi finish to create the feeling of a piece that has been used and cared for over many years. The wrought iron for the kurikata was salvaged from the sea and shows layering and tekkotsu texture. The buffalo horn for the koiguchi and kojiri was reclaimed from Canadian tourist trinkets from the 1980’s and the inside face of the koiguchi has bronze dust highlights embedded in the urushi surface.
From start to finish, the mountings for this small tanto were created with hand tools using traditional techniques.
Forged from a worn harrow tooth at an outdoor arts demonstration in Qualicum Beach, the blade was shaped with files and polished by hand with water stones at various demonstrations and events in the area. Blade construction is muku with a shobu-zukuri profile and a low iori mune. The blade is just under 5.5″ long, overall length is just under 10″, and the overall length when sheathed is just over 11″.
Nagasa: 4 sun 6 bu (136mm)
Motohaba: 8 bu 2 rin (24.5mm)
Motokasane: 1 bu 8 rin (5.5mm)
Nakago: 2 sun 8 rin (63mm)
Construction: shobu-zukuri, iori-mune
Sori: straight/very slight uchizori
Hamon: suguha, hitatsura
Nakago: futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana, signed near the tip
Mei: hot stamped Crossed Heart logo
Koshirae: chisagatana, issaku
Material: Reclaimed harrow tooth steel, copper bus bar, wrought iron bridge spikes, Model T fender brackets, brass door plate, Nootka Cypress, shikagawa, reclaimed garment leather, red Bamboo chopstick, reclaimed buffalo horn, vintage Congolese bronze jewelery, urushi
This piece is in a private collection in Florida.
The kashira contributes to balance and protects the end of the handle from damage. In larger swords it also serves to contain the wood core of the tsuka against splitting from the back. This kashira was made from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket. Because of the type of wrapping that will be used for the handle, it is held in place by a combination of kusune (pine resin glue) and steel clips rather than by ito wrapped through shitodome ana.
The fuchi is an important part of the strength and integrity of the tsuka, encircling the front of the handle where the stress from the tang is greatest, it helps prevent the wood core from splitting. This fuchi is made mainly from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket. Its construction is similar to the Higo style in that the copper tenjo gane is forged in physically rather than soldered to the sleeve. The band was created by forging a screw hole in the bracket to stretch it to the size of the handle.
Seppa are used as spacers or washers between components of the koshirae. Most often next to the habaki, but also on the other side of the tsuba. The basic construction is simply a flat sheet of copper, silver, or an alloy, an opening slightly larger than the tang, and is shaped to match the finished fuchi and saya outline. They may be thin or thick, and can have fileworked or chiseled rims. The final fit to the tang is achieved by using a punch to push out four lobes of metal in the four corners and then filing to adjust slightly.
Tsuba for tanto are usually either non-existant or are very small. This leaves little room for embellishment so the focus is often on the rim, or the material itself. They can be made from either ferrous or non-ferrous metals, but should have seki-gane (non-ferrous spacers) to keep them from contact with the tang if they are made from iron or steel. This tsuba is made from wrought iron, an old form of bloomery iron produced up until about a hundred years ago. This is a small scrap off the end of a timber bridge spike that came from the forest.
Tsuka are split and carved to fit precisely around the nakago and then glued back together with sokui (rice paste glue). Then the outside is carved, taking into account the size of the fittings and the thickness of the wrappings. This one is made from a scrap of Nootka Cypress.
There are generally two components to wrapping a handle, the first being the shikagawa (rawhide) or samegawa (ray skin) layer which adds incredible stiffness and resilience to the tsuka, and the second an optional leather or cord wrapping to add padding, grip, and compression to the tsuka. When possible, the shikagawa or samegawa will fit part way under the fuchi for extra strength and integrity, but in this case stops at the boundary of the leather wrap to allow the rolled leather to sit in the groove. The style of wrapping is called gangi maki, a spiral of leather with a rolled front edge wraps from fuchi to kashira beginning and ending on the ura side. The kanji for gangi means a shape like steps, or the terraced shoreline near a seaport.
Shaping the Saya
The outside work is carried out using chisels, planes, and occasionally coarse files. The block is first squared up and then taken down to the rough dimensions. The shape of the koi-guchi (saya opening) is marked and carved and then the rest of the block is chiseled down to meet it. A plane is used to smooth and true up the surface and final sanding is done with tokusa (horsetail plant, equisetum hyemale, 砥草, “to” as in togi) glued to wooden blocks with sokui (rice paste glue).
Often horn or metal reinforcements are added to the koiguchi to counteract the pressure of the habaki. The method for the koiguchi is to carve away enough wood for the horn or metal to sit in its place. The habaki is used as a rough guide for making the opening in the horn, a kiri used to drill holes and then files to create the shape of the guchi. Horn is tough but not as hard as bone or metal. It can be carved with chisels or knives and has a grain-like structure to it. Depending on the design, sokui (rice glue) or kusune (pine resin glue), or a mixture of sokui and urushi (lacquer) is used to fix it in place.
Often horn or metal reinforcements are added to the end of the saya to protect from bumps and dings. Horn is tough but not as hard as bone or metal. It can be carved with chisels or knives and has a grain-like structure to it. Depending on the design, a square tenon or wedge is used in conjunction with sokui (rice glue) or kusune (pine resin glue), or a mixture of sokui and urushi (lacquer) to fix the kojiri in place.
Wrought Iron Kurikata
A friend of mine dives 50′ down holding his breath, sometimes he brings back old iron he finds in the ocean. This old piece of wrought iron has a nice low-res grain to it.
As the parts are finished, they are polished, cleaned, given a patina, and coated with ibota wax or tung oil to stabilize and protect their surfaces. The blade is given its final polish and then the tanto is ready for final assembly.
Shitaji, Preparing the Foundation
There are two distinct stages to using urushi (traditional Japanese lacquer, made from the sap of a tree). The first stage is to prepare the base material by sealing, filling, and polishing, and the second is to coat with a smooth finishing layer. Urushi is used in several ways to prepare the surface, first by coating and wiping off, known as fukiurushi, and also as an adhesive and gap filler when blended with other materials such as sokui (rice glue) and finely powdered clay and earth.
Each time a layer is added to the foundation, a minimum of one day is required for curing, and then the surface is wet polished and dried before adding the next. The goal is to seal the surface and fill in any low spots so the final layers of urushi goes onto a smooth and even surface.
Urushi, The Final Layers
There are several approaches to applying the final layer, depending on the desired finish and the style and skill of the artisan. One is to paint the last layer thicker than the foundation and middle layers and allow the urushi to settle out into a glossy surface. The other is to polish the brushed layer and then apply several coats of fukiurushi followed by a fine oil polish.
Each time a layer is added to the surface, a minimum of one to two days is required for curing, and then the surface is wet polished and dried before adding the next. The saya is placed in a warm and humid place, kept as dust free as possible, to ensure the urushi will cure properly.