Louie Mills – Yasutomo – 康友 – Forging a Tanto

Recently I was invited to contribute to a project documenting the work of one of North America’s best-kept secrets in bladesmithing and the closest thing we have to a living (inter)national treasure. Louie Mills began creating traditional Japanese swords in the early 1980’s. Working with top Japanese swordsmiths to refine his techniques, he became known for the finest traditionally crafted Japanese swords made in North America. This project is the first after his recovery from a heart attack three years earlier.

Filmed by Tony Mann, edited by davej. Serious students of the forge can watch the rhythms and patterns of the full-length process here.

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oroshigane – 0:33 (making steel from pure iron and charcoal)
tanren – 1:24 (folding and welding the steel)
sunobe – 4:56 (blade pre-form)
hizukuri – 6:47 (hammer shaping)
ara-shiage – 9:15 (rough shaping with files)
tsuchioki – 10:04 (applying the clay)
yaki-ire – 10:21 (hardening)
finished blade – 12:14 (after inspection polish)
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“My interest in Japanese swords began around 1974. Enjoying working with steel, but unable to afford to become a collector, I decided to learn how to make them myself. I started by taking basic blacksmithing craft courses, followed by self-instruction through reading, pictures, and trial and error (mostly error). In 1980, I met the Yoshihara brothers at the ABANA conference which, subsequently, enabled me to work with them on three occasions (workshops and public demonstrations), where I learned the basics of traditional Japanese bladesmithing.” (from togiarts.com)

Louie was featured in an episode of Steel: The Works on The History Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3UILh0Nk4A

And his steel making process on Don Fogg’s website:
http://web.archive.org/web/20110918010558/http://www.dfoggknives.com/Making%20Steel.htm

…more information about Louie and currently available works can be found at http://togiarts.com

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Thanks to Tony for inviting me to be part of this project, and to Louie for allowing us to publish the footage and for being one of the pioneers of traditional Japanese swordsmithing in North America. ありがとう、康友 〜さん!


Some of the first “legit” western-made tanto I saw back in the early 1990’s were beautiful collaborative works between Louie Mills and Jim Kelso. These inspiring and elegant pieces featured blades forged by Louie Mills with wood and fine classical and fusion style metal work mountings created by Jim Kelso. I hope to see more work from these gentlemen in the years to come.

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