Kominka Mountain Kotanto

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 but is finished in the simple and humble style of farming and foresting tools of 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 reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

The subtle and rustic appearance of hammer marks on the blade and hand-carved wooden handles 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 a reclaimed file, the wider blade profile of the mountain style kotanto is based on a kamakura sword and has more pronounced belly 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.

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.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

The generously-sized handle and scabbard are carved from local magnolia and finished with traditional fukiurushi lacquer to highlight the facets of the wood. A forged textured brass seppa with natural cord wrapped ferrule accents the handle and 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 over 4.75″ long, the overall length is 9″, and just under 10″ when sheathed. The spine at the munemachi is about 4mm thick.

Specifications

Nagasa (blade length): 124mm
Motokasane (blade thickness): 4mm
Motohaba (blade width): 30mm
Sori (curve): slight uchizori
Nakago (tang): 83mm
Tsuka (handle): 105mm
Koshirae (overall): 252mm

Katachi (geometry): hira-zukuri, iori-mune
Hamon (edge pattern): suguha
Boshi (tip pattern): maru
Nakago (tang): futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana
Mei (signature): mumei (unsigned)
Koshirae (mounting): satoyama aikuchi style, issaku

Materials: reclaimed file steel, brass doorplate, Magnolia, natural fiber cord, natural urushi lacquer, susudake Bamboo

This piece is available online.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.


Process

This knife was forged and underwent yaki-ire at the museum forge. It began as a very old file from the personal forge stockpile collection, made in Canada by Kearney & Foot.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
This blade began as an old file that was beyond resharpening due to rust pitting.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Kearney & Foot, K&F, Made in Canada
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Forged as part of a demonstration, the blade is almost fully formed before removing from the file.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The tang is forged after removing the extra steel, it will be used for another project.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A bit of hand filing around the profile forms the machi (notches) and cleans up the outline.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Adding the thin clay layer to delay the cooling of the body of the blade during yaki-ire (hardening).
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A watery slip layer covers the exposed steel to help prevent carbon loss during heating.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The blade cleaned of clay after surviving the stressful process of yaki-ire.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The strip along the edge is now very hard while the rest of the blade remains tough and ductile, the best of both realms.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A seppa (blade washer) cut from a reclaimed brass door push plate.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The opening for the blade is cut out with a chisel and filed to fit the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A slight relief is punched on the back side to improve the fit and the outside is filed to shape.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
After final fitting and coining the edge in edo style the seppa is ready for service.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A slab of Magnolia is sawn into a blank to form the tsuka (handle) and saya (scabbard).
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
It is cleaned up with a hand plane and the thickness adjusted.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A half-line is marked around all four sides in preparation for splitting the blank.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Carefully rip sawed in half as accurately as possible.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Flattened inside with a kanna (handplane).
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The handle and scabbard are cut from the halves of the blank and carved inside.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The tsuka halves are glued back together with sokui (rice paste glue) and wrapped to dry overnight.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The saya is prepared for carving and the outside corners chamfered.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The inside is carefully carved to fit the blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Glued with sokui and wrapped to dry, wedges provide extra tension and pressure where needed.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The handle is carved down to the size of the seppa with a kiridashi (carving knife).
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
All excess wood is removed with kanna (handplanes), from four sides to eight sides to sixteen and so on.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Nearing the final profile with very thin shavings and careful adjustments.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Using a small file and kiridashi to form grooves for the cord.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Drilling the mekugi-ana (peg hole) in the handle to align with the one in the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The mekugi (retaining peg) is carved from susudake, bamboo that has spent the greater part of a century as part of the ceiling or roof inside a kominka farmhouse, darkened and strengthened by the smoke from the hearth.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
After lacquering with several layers of natural urushi lacquer made from the sap of a certain tree.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Ready for assembly.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

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