From the Garden to the Forest

A pair of outdoor knives forged from a single reclaimed hedge shear blade and finished simply and humbly in the age-old style of farming and foresting tools traditionally used in managing satoyama lands.

Satoyama are the managed forest areas that border the cultivated fields and the mountain wilds in Japan. Historically they provided fertilizer, firewood, edible plants, mushrooms, fish, and game, and supported local industries such as farming, construction, and charcoal making. The interaction of wetlands and streams are an important component of the satoyama landscape.

This project began as an experiment in efficiently turning a scrap of antique high carbon steel into purposeful and functional knives. The small knife takes its inspiration from the tosu, an elegant form of pen knife carried by scholarly nobility a thousand years ago. The large knife is based on the nata, a heavy camp knife or a light brush or bamboo hatchet.

The blades were both made from a very old German hedge shear blade (originally engraved “Made in Western Germany”). One of the benefits of accurate forging is that small amounts of seemingly unusable reclaimed material can go a long ways. The blades were hand forged in a charcoal fire, shaped with files, differentially hardened using traditional swordsmith style water quench yaki-ire, and polished by hand with water stones.

The handles were forged integrally from the same steel, wrapped with cotton cord, and sealed with several layers of natural urushi lacquer. Other than the polished edge bevel, all surfaces were left as-found or as-forged and finished with a coat of natural tung tree oil. The wooden scabbards were hand carved and lacquered with a natural and black negoro style to simulate natural wear along the edges and carved striations. A double cotton cord acts as a sageo for securing each scabbard as it passes through a belt or sash. Other than the steel, all of the materials used to create and finish these two knives are plant based.

Forging the Knives from Reclaimed Steel

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The shear blade split in two right behind the pivot. The piece to the left will form the large knife, the piece to the right will form the small knife.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The smaller piece of steel as-found, showing the deep cratering of many decades of weathering. At first glance it appears to be good for nothing more than the scrap heap.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Beginning to forge the oddly shaped steel tang scrap into a rectangular billet.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Approaching the sunobe for the small knife, all steel has been allocated by volume to a place in the final blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After forging the blade and bevels. The handle is untouched to show the effects of time.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Large Knife handle forged to shape and a new bevel forged on the blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The makers mark is partially visible and still reads, “Lifetime Guaranteed Depend, Made in Western Germany”, as did the head of the main bolt.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After hot filing to clean up the choil.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Cleaning up the bevels of the small knife by hand filing.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Using a sen scraper and files to clean up the bevel of the large knife.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The two knives forged from one half of an antique set of German hedge shears. The remaining half shown for comparison.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Coated with clay in preparation for hardening in the hon-yaki manner with charcoal and water.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Small knife just after quenching in the water. Note that the edge has straightened considerably.

Carving the Scabbards from Scrap Wood

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After the core is carved to fit the larger blade, the halves are joined with rice paste glue and clamped and wedged to dry.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The scabbard of the smaller knife encloses part of the handle as well and is carved accordingly.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After carving the exterior of the saya, with inspiration from the makiri. Following this, the lacquering process for the handles and scabbards will take several weeks and multiple stages to complete.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques

See more photos of the finished works here: Hybrid Nata and Hybrid Tosu.

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