Touzai Tanto

$6200

An elegantly mounted fusion style tanto, based on the concept of a meeting of worlds and eras.

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Description

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

See a more detailed account of making of this piece here: Touzai Tanto

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
Repeatedly heating the steel in the charcoal forge allows it to be slowly shaped by hammering.
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 hand hammer.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After final shaping with files, the blade is coated with a thick and thin layer of clay mixture to provide the insulation layer for differential hardening. After hardening the clay is removed and the hamon is checked with a Japanese water stone.
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.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The habaki is forged, soldered, adjusted to fit the tang, and then shaped with files.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The fuchi and koiguchi are forged from reclaimed copper bus bar and a large copper washer.
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.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Forging a tsuba blank from a piece of ancient iron from the sea. Copper sekigane are inserted to protect the blade and the excess iron is cut away using a hack saw. 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.
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. After a final annealing, the kojiri 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.
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
The inside of both halves of the scabbard is carved to fit the blade and snugly secure the habaki. The halves are joined with rice paste glue and wrapped tightly to dry.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Starting from the alignment and fitting of the copper koiguchi, the scabbard is shaped with chisels and planes.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The leather wrap and copper kojiri are attached with a mixture of rice paste glue and natural urushi lacquer 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. When fully cured, 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
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.

Read more about the making of this piece here: Touzai Tanto
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3.03022 cm
= 0.1 shaku(尺)
= 1 sun(寸)
= 10 bu(分)
= 100 rin(厘)