Sapele Satoyama Survival

An interesting challenge to forge a knife to fit an existing sheath. The leather sheath was part of an estate sale and was hand crafted by a custom knifemaker. With some careful planning and accurate forging it can once again serve a useful purpose. This knife should probably be considered the first official satoyama bowie, though there was one other potential contender in the past.

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 core of this project is a charcoal-forged blade, water quenched with clay and sharpened with waterstones, a satoyama bowie style knife that has the foundation of the Japanese sword. The steel for the blade came from a large file from my personal collection and the fittings are forged from a large electrical washer and reclaimed copper pipe. 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 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.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

The blade is about 8.25″ long with a 4.75″ handle, an overall length of 13.25″, and around 14″ when sheathed. The spine at the munemachi is 4.5mm thick.

Specifications

長さ/刃長 Nagasa (blade length): 209mm
重ね/元重 Motokasane (spine thickness): 4.5mm
元幅 Motohaba (blade width): 38mm
反り Sori (spine curve): uchizori/bowie
中心/茎 Nakago (tang length): 108mm
柄長 Tsuka (handle length): 119mm
拵全長 Koshirae (overall): 360mm

形 Katachi (geometry): hira-zukuri, iori-mune, with ubuha
刃文 Hamon (edge pattern): suguha
帽子/鋩子 Boshi (tip pattern): ko-maru
中心/茎 Nakago (tang): futsu, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana
銘 Mei (signature): mumei (unsigned)
拵 Koshirae (mounting): satoyama style bowie, issaku (sole authorship) except leather sheath

Materials: reclaimed file steel, Sapele wood, copper electrical bus washer, copper water pipe, susudake Bamboo, vegetable tanned leather sheath

This piece is available online.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.


Process

This blade was forged and yaki-ire performed at the museum forge. It began as an old file, waiting in the forge stockpile for years for a project of this exact size.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A rusted file which could no longer be sharpened by soaking in vinegar is the starting point.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Cutting the tip off on an angle using an old triangle file as a hardy, the tip will be turned up and the cut will form the last part of the spine.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Sunobe (pre-form) stage before beveling allocates the steel and decides the final proportions.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Hizukuri (bevelling) brings the geometry almost to finished dimensions by hammer work only.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The nakago (tang) is forged last due to the precise length requirements of this project.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The machi (notches) are filed in and the tang given traditional geometry.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The surface is quite flat due to careful hammering so only a slight surface cleaning is done with stones.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Applying the clay for yaki-ire, it will delay the cooling effect and produce a hardened edge with a tough spine.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Drying the clay over the coals before yaki-ire.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
After successfully surviving the stress of yaki-ire (quenching) the steel has now become a blade, note that the clay had already done its work before it fell off in the quench water due to movement of the cooling steel.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Removing the remaining clay with a mild steel scraper and washing with water.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A lovely proportioned suguha hamon with turnback at the tip.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A comparison of the sheath, the initial dimension sketch, and the final blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Cutting a large copper electrical bus washer for the guard.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
One of the fourths being forged into the shape of the guard.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The guard fit to the blade and a scrap of copper pipe forged into a ferrule.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Carving the inside of the Sapele block to snugly fit the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The halves glued back together and wrapped with leather cord.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Wooden wedges increase the tension and clamping force until dry.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Using a kanna (hand plane) to take the block down to approximate dimensions.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Kanna (handplane), kiridashi (carving knife), and coarse file to complete the shape and fit the ferrule.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Drilling the mekugi-ana in the tang with a hand cranked post drill.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Mekugi (peg) carved from susudake, a piece of smoked hardened bamboo that served for a century or more as part of the ceiling or roof in a kominka farm house.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Sapele wood coated with several layers of 100% natural tung oil and allowed to cure.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The ferrule is attached with nikawa (hide glue) and the knife is ready for assembly.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

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