Forest Kotanto with Antique Fittings

The core of this project is a charcoal-forged blade, water quenched with clay and sharpened with waterstones, an outdoor knife that has the foundation of the Japanese sword. The aikuchi mounting is in the rustic kura style and includes antique fittings from swords carried centuries ago.

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

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

The subtle and rustic appearance of hammer marks on the blade and hand-carved wooden handle finished with natural urushi lacquer made from tree sap—reminiscent of hand-hewn beams in a kominka farm house that are darkened by years of smoke drifting up from the irori hearth. A hand crafted tool for adventure that would be very much at home in the field, forest, or mountain landscape.

Forged from antique carriage spring, the blade profile of the forest style kotanto is based on the tip of a classical yoroidoshi tanto and has a takenoko shape with slight drop point. The temper of this high carbon steel blade has been left relatively hard in order to hold a keen edge for tasks such as wood carving and hand work. This particular combination of steel and heat treatment is well suited to users who require a good edge and are willing to take care of it.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

The tang is constructed in a similar manner to a Japanese sword requiring only a single bamboo peg to hold the knife assembly together. In addition to the sense of beautiful simplicity, this design allows the knife to be taken apart for cleaning, polishing, detailed cutting tasks, or major resharpening work.

The handle and scabbard are carved from local magnolia and finished with traditional fukiurushi lacquer built up in multiple coats to darken and deepen the look of the wood. Four antique Edo period sword fittings are incorporated into the mounting of this knife—the copper habaki (blade collar, a most rare occurrence), brass seppa (blade washer), brass fuchi (ferrule, carved and inlaid with silver), and brass koiguchi (scabbard mouth). The removable peg is carved from susudake, a piece of bamboo that served for a century or more as part of the ceiling or roof in a kominka, darkened and hardened by decades of smoke wafting up from the irori hearth.

The blade is just under 5.25″ long with an overall length of about 10.25″ and 10.75″ when sheathed. The spine at the munemachi is about 5mm thick.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

Specifications

長さ/刃長 Nagasa (blade length): 132mm
重ね/元重 Motokasane (spine thickness): 5mm
元幅 Motohaba (blade width): 24mm
反り Sori (curve): uchizori/takenoko (reverse curve with narrowing tip)
中心/茎 Nakago (tang length): 98mm
柄長 Tsuka (handle length): 112mm
拵全長 Koshirae (overall): 275mm

形 Katachi (geometry): hira-zukuri, kaku-mune, with very slight ubuha
刃文 Hamon (edge pattern): suguha
帽子/鋩子 Boshi (tip pattern): maru
中心/茎 Nakago (tang): futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana
銘 Mei (signature): mumei (unsigned)
拵 Koshirae (mounting): satoyama kura style aikuchi, issaku (sole authorship) plus 4 antique parts

Materials: antique carriage spring steel, Magnolia, antique fittings, natural urushi lacquer, susudake Bamboo

This piece is in a private collection in Hawaii.


Process

The forging of this blade was documented both in photography and video by Jordan Wende. The wakishinobe stage of lengthening and preparing the sunobe were done on the last day of forging at the island kajiba, and the hizukuri stage of beveling was finished and yaki-ire performed at the museum forge.

See the photo essay of the wakashinobe and sunobe stages and watch the hizukuri and yaki-ire stage video below.

Island Blacksmith - Crossed Heart Forge
Using a two-handed mukozuchi sledge for initial drawing out and rough shaping.
Island Blacksmith - Crossed Heart Forge
A thin layer of water on the anvil during the later stages of forging keeps the scale from building up.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
A suitable block sawn from a large slab of air dried magnolia, seasoned for several years.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
Marking a splitting line all the way around the outside.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
Sawing down the center and flipping the block every few strokes to keep the cut straight.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
The block is held down by standing on it with both feet.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
After splitting and planing smooth the block is divided into handle and scabbard, then the insides carved out to precisely fit the tang and blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
Building up the layers of natural urushi lacquer using a technique called fukiurushi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.
The thin layers of natural urushi allow light to travel through showing the grain of the magnolia.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from antique steel.

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