Touzai Tanto

Touzai (東西) can be literally translated “East West” and carries the idea of spanning across distance or covering and including everywhere. There is also a saying, “kokontouzai” (古今東西) which means for all time and all places, literally “old, now, East, West”. This project began with the concept of ideas from different times and places coming together in a specific way.

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

Though this piece is a classical tanto in most respects, there are some elements that reflect a more antique western aesthetic. The seed that began this project was the question of what would result if a historical Japanese knife maker working at a time when exposure to the west was very limited was asked to create a “western” style knife based only on a description.

The resulting piece retains the lines and techniques that would have been familiar to the maker, but incorporates the more obvious elements of the foreign style which would have been transmitted in the description. The wide guard and hardwood handle would have been immediately recognizable to a western traveler, but the construction of the scabbard and other fittings are quite eastern. In viewing the final work, it seems that this particular fusion of eras and origins have unintentionally captured many of the influences traditionally associated with the steampunk genre.

When we attempt to adapt a new style or design that is foreign to us, we tend to work from our own frame of reference, relying heavily on what we know as a foundation. The most obvious elements that differ from the familiar are the ones that tend to get emphasized and filtered through our own paradigm, often to the point of caricature. Similar to examples of pre-photographic illustrations of strange new animals from other lands, the interpretation is sometimes quite unlike the actual subject.

The raw material for this blade spent more than the last century as a leaf spring for a horse-drawn carriage. It is somewhat unusual to come across this type of steel and is a rare find. It appears to be a type of steel called “shear steel”, predating mass-produced crucible steel and the Bessemer process. The source pile is located on the former homestead of a blacksmith so it has a high proportion of carbon steel, saved for its value and usefulness in making tools and implements.

The blade was hand forged in a charcoal fire, shaped with files, differentially hardened using traditional water quench yaki-ire, and polished by hand with water stones to reveal an active suguha hamon with a deep turn back.

The kataki style handle was carved from Sapele wood and finished with several thin layers of fukiurushi to bring out the warmth and grain of the wood. The guard was forged from an iron spike salvaged from the sea and shows a wood grain like surface pattern. All other fittings were forged from reclaimed copper and given a traditional patina and ibota wax finish.

Local Nootka Cypress forms the core for the scabbard, and a stone textured surface created with natural urushi lacquer and dried tea leaves gives a rusty iron appearance to the scabbard. A bamboo peg holds all components of the tanto together and allows for disassembly to clean and polish the blade.

Blade construction is muku with a hira-zukuri profile and iori mune. The blade is approximately 9.25″ long, overall length is around 14.5″, and the overall length when sheathed is about 17″. Accompanied by a hand stitched reclaimed silk obi storage bag.

Specifications

長さ/刃長 Nagasa: 7 sun 7 bu 6 rin (235mm)
元幅 Motohaba: 8 bu 6 rin (26mm)
重ね/元重 Motokasane: 2 bu 5 rin (7.75mm)
反り Sori: uchizori
中心/茎 Nakago: 3 sun 6 bu 4 rin (110mm)
柄長 Tsuka: 3 sun 5 bu 7 rin (108mm)
拵全長 Koshirae: 14 sun 2 bu 5 rin (432mm)

形 Katachi: hira-zukuri, iori-mune
刃文 Hamon: suguha, bo-utsuri
帽子/鋩子 Boshi: ko-maru, nijuba
中心/茎 Nakago: futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana, signed near the tip
銘 Mei: hot stamped katabami-ken kamon
拵 Koshirae: chisagatana, issaku

Materials: Century-old spring steel, wrought iron from the sea, reclaimed copper bus bar, lightning rod, and waterpipe, Sapele, Nootka Cypress, leather, bamboo, tea leaves, natural urushi lacquer, rice paste glue

This piece is in a private collection in South Africa.

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

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

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

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

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


Process: Making the Touzai Tanto

scroll down or jump to the sections below:

Blade
Habaki
Fuchi
Tsuba
Tsuka
Kojiri
Saya
Urushi
Assembly


Forging the Blade

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Chisel-cutting the bolt and separating the century-old shear steel leaf springs from a horse-drawn carriage.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Forging a section of a spring into a rectangular bar in preparation for forming the sunobe.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Hot-cutting the end off the bar to create the tip of the sunobe. This technique ensures the grain of the steel layers flows along the edge of the tip. Note the future cutting edge is facing downward in the photo.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The sunobe is formed to allocate the correct volume of steel to each area of the blade, hizukuri begins and the bevels are created.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Hizukuri is the stage where the rectangular cross section of sunobe is transformed into the beveled and peaked-spined cross section of a blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Forging is finished. The only tool used to shape the blade to this point is the hammer.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Clamped in a sen-dai, a sen scraper and files are used to remove the forged surface and clean up the shape.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The blade is coated with a thick and thin layer of clay mixture to provide the insulation layer for differential hardening.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Immediately after yaki-ire, the blade has been born. Note the location of the small flake of clay that popped off the centre of the spine right as it hit the water, this will show up later in the polished blade as an interesting artifact of its creation.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Beginning the rough stages of polishing and shaping before making the fittings. The final polish will be done after the entire mounting is built and completed.

Forging the Habaki

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Reclaimed copper bus bar is forged into a tapered jacket that fits snugly around the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The jacket is shaped roughly and then a small copper wedge called machigane is inserted for soldering.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A reducing atmosphere softwood charcoal oven is built and the copper heated carefully until the solder flows.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The piece is removed immediately and allowed to cool slowly. In addition to forming a stand while in the forge, the rusty iron wire provides tension while heating but doesn’t stick to the solder.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The habaki is cold forged to fit the tang accurately and then shaped with files and allowed to patina.

Fuchi, Koiguchi, & Seppa

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A small slice of thick-walled 1″ round copper bus bar forms the sleeve of the fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A large copper washer forms the face of the fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After several rounds of hot and cold forging, the two begin to resemble their final forms.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Careful filing creates the proper nakago-ana shape and fits the two tightly together. Oxidized steel wire holds the assembly together for soldering in the forge.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The kouguchi is forged to match the fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A ring-style kurikata is riveted in place on the omote side of the koiguchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Seppa are made from reclaimed copper bus bar, incorporating the hole at the end to form the nakago ana.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Most of the copper fittings roughly shaped and installed in order. The seppa will be cut to shape after the handle is carved and fit.

Forging the Tsuba

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Heating a sea-salvaged rod in the forge.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Forging a tsuba blank to accommodate the size of the soapstone pattern on the anvil.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After forging, the notches are filed and then chamfered for the copper sekigane spacers.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Reclaimed copper lightning rod is cut and cold forged into rectangular billets that just fit into the notches, and then tapped into place.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The excess iron is cut away using a hack saw.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The shape is refined by filing and then the piece is soaked for several hours in a vinegar and water solution to dissolve the scale and surface slag, highlighting the organic wood grain structure of the metal. Read more about making sekigane here: Making Sekigane for a Wrought Iron Tsuba

Shaping the Kojiri

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Copper water pipe is annealed, split, flattened, cut and bent in a wooden form.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Curved are laid out using antique springs and the copper is cut with shears and filed clean.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
As each section is finished it is bent closer to final shape.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After a final annealing, it is soft enough to be fit carefully to the tip of the carved wooden scabbard.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
All of the copper fittings are given a patina in a simmering bath of copper salts.

Carving the Tsuka

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Two Sapele hardwood halves are carved to fit the tang and then joined together with nori-urushi, a mixture of natural lacquer and rice paste glue. When cured, the outside of the handle is carved to shape, beginning with the fitting of the fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
When the final shaping is complete, the tsuka is coated with several thin layers of natural lacquer. The fukiurushi technique seals and protects the wood while highlighting the grain and imparting a rich, warm glow.

Carving the Saya

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The inside of both halves of the scabbard is carved to fit the blade and snugly secure the habaki.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The two halves are joined with sokui, rice paste glue and tightly wrapped and wedged until dry.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The koiguchi is fit in alignment with the fuchi and then the block squared down to final dimensions with a hand plane.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The rest of the scabbard is shaped with chisels and planes.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
As a compliment to the ring-style kurikata built into the koiguchi, an inset area is carved where the sash or belt can rest.

Urushi

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The scabbard is coated with a wiped-on layer of raw urushi lacquer and allowed to cure. Then a leather wrapping is attached with nori-urushi, a mixture of urushi and sokui.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Nori urushi is used to attach the kojiri to the tip of the scabbard and allowed to cure for several days.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The saya is coated with a layer of urushi and dried tea leaf powder (from reclaimed tea bags) is sprinkled on while wet to create a texture base.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
When cured, the tea is saturated with urushi and allowed to cure for several more days, creating small lacquer mountain peaks, a texture known as ishime-ji, stone surface.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A decorative highlight is built up on top using the same technique.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
When fully cured, the edges are enhanced with a small file and a thin coat of fukiurushi seals the saya completely.

Assembling the Touzai Tanto

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The natural Japanese waterstones used for the final polishing stages reveal some interesting details of the hamon that were hidden before.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The completed tanto blade and fusion koshirae ready for assembly. Century-old spring steel, wrought iron from the sea, reclaimed copper bus bar, lightning rod, and waterpipe, Sapele, Nootka Cypress, leather, bamboo, tea leaves, natural urushi lacquer, and rice glue.

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3.03022 cm
= 0.1 shaku(尺)
= 1 sun(寸)
= 10 bu(分)
= 100 rin(厘)

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