Process of Mounting a Tanto Blade

Once the habaki is made, it is time to consider the handle mounting furniture to complement the blade. Depending on the final vision, this may include several metal parts such as tsuba (hand guard), fuchi (ferrule), kashira (pommel), and one or more seppa (washers or spacers). In addition, the wood core of the tsuka (handle) may be wrapped in layers of rawhide and leather or silk cord. While the main purpose is functionality, the style of each of these components may range from austere to decorative and each should harmonize with the overall work.

Fittings may be made from steel, iron, silver, copper, or one of its alloys. A combination of forging, chiseling, soldering, filing, and polishing or hammer planishing is used for each component and then patina is applied to the final surface. Once this process is finished, the blade is ready for Saya, a scabbard.


Kashira

The kashira contributes to balance and protects the end of the handle from damage. In larger swords it also serves to contain the wood core of the tsuka against splitting from the back. This kashira was made from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket. Because of the type of wrapping that will be used for the handle, it is held in place by a combination of kusune (pine resin glue) and steel clips rather than by ito wrapped through shitodome ana.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The bracket from a Model T fender from the forest.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Cut off with a cold chisel.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Hot chiseled to a rough oval shape and hot punched through a ring to start the rounding process.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The view from the other side.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Hot punched through a slightly smaller opening, this time an old sledge hammer eye with a nice shape to it.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The domed shape at this point. It will go one more time through a slightly smaller hammer eye using a hardwood punch.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Filing off most of the excess save for the two tabs.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The tabs are forged and filed to shape and the surface filed, smoothed, and then hammer textured before heat bluing in the forge.

Fuchi

The fuchi is an important part of the strength and integrity of the tsuka, encircling the front of the handle where the stress from the tang is greatest, it helps prevent the wood core from splitting. This fuchi is made mainly from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket. Its construction is similar to the Higo style in that the copper tenjo gane is forged in physically rather than soldered to the sleeve. The band was created by forging a screw hole in the bracket to stretch it to the size of the handle.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Another bracket from the Model T fender from the forest.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The last screw hole is cut off with a cold chisel, this little bit will become the sleeve around the handle.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Second round of forging, using a tapered punch to spread and then forge against to create a torus shape.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Third round of forging, it has the correct cylinder shape and just needs to be stretched out evenly.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Fifth round and getting close, now it is forged on the tip of the anvil horn. Note the kashira for size reference.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Seventh round, perhaps, this is the final size and shape, it will be filed inside and out to even things up.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A reclaimed copper bus bar is annealed in the forge. The lovely colours are naturally occurring oxides from the heating and water cooling.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Cold chiseling before rough filing the profile.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Cold chiseling the nakago-ana.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The edge is tapered to match the taper inside the sleeve and carefully filed down until it sits just below the lip.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The lip is peened down over the rim of the tenjo gane, locking it in place against the tapered inside of the sleeve.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The rim is filed level and the nakago ana opened up to its final size and shape.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The outside of the sleeve is given its final shape by filing.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Before and after.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After drawfiling smooth, a tiny ball peen is used to texture the surface of the steel. It will be heat blued and then given a coat of tung oil or ibota wax to stabilize the surface.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The fuchi kashira pair ready to install on the tsuka.

Seppa

Seppa are used as spacers or washers between components of the koshirae. Most often next to the habaki, but also on the other side of the tsuba. The basic construction is simply a flat sheet of copper, silver, or an alloy, an opening slightly larger than the tang, and is shaped to match the finished fuchi and saya outline. They may be thin or thick, and can have fileworked or chiseled rims. The final fit to the tang is achieved by using a punch to push out four lobes of metal in the four corners and then filing to adjust slightly.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The seppa are cold chiseled and then filed from a sheet of brass reclaimed from a door push plate. This tanto will have two, one for each side of the tsuba. Note the shape of the nakago ana before fitting.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The seppa after fitting. They will be given a final polish at the time of assembly.

Tsuba

Tsuba for tanto are usually either non-existant or are very small. This leaves little room for embellishment so the focus is often on the rim, or the material itself. They can be made from either ferrous or non-ferrous metals, but should have seki-gane (non-ferrous spacers) to keep them from contact with the tang if they are made from iron or steel. This tsuba is made from wrought iron, an old form of bloomery iron produced up until about a hundred years ago. This is a small scrap off the end of a timber bridge spike that came from the forest.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
This is the bit before starting, it was a gift from John McGeachy, a fellow blacksmith, who cut it off as part of a test to see how well the old iron would forge weld where it had cracked.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A couple of rounds of forging spreads it to about a fourth the thickness and four times the area.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
These lovely layers that are revealed by the fire are the edge look I am after for the finished tsuba. They are called tekkotsu (steel ribs).
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The nakago ana is partially drilled, then cold chiseled and filed to shape. A bevel is removed by cold chiseling to allow the seki-gane to lock on.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The outside is cold chiseled and filed roughly to shape.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Once the final shape is filed, drawfiled, and planished, the tsuba soaks in a fire with a strong air blast to reveal its inner workings again. The high heat and oxidization reveal the tekkotsu and a combination of wire brushing and dipping quickly into water removes the scale while it is being heated. This heating process is known as yakite or yakinamashi.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After the fire, any remaining scale, seen here as dark stripes, is removed by soaking in a weak solution of vinegar and hot water.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The omote side showing those lovely layers that have been in there all along in the iron.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Copper seki-gane hammered into place, round two of the rust patina. Hung above warmed vinegar in a mostly closed jar, another layer of new red rust begins to form.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After several hours in the jar and a couple rounds of removing the flake rust with an antler tip, the patina begins to look like older rust.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After burnishing with the antler tip, a traditional way to gently restore rusted iron pieces without damaging the patina.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After boiling in tea to darken the surface. The tannins in tea react with the red iron oxide to form more stable black iron oxide. This is a similar finish to traditional cast iron kettles, tetsubin.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A layer of fukiurushi, urushi lacquer applied and wiped off, reacts with any remaining red iron oxide to create black iron oxide and helps to seal the surface.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A final layer of urushi brushed on very thinly to give some of the warmer tones of raw urushi and add some shine to the surface.

Tsuka

Tsuka are split and carved to fit precisely around the nakago and then glued back together with sokui (rice paste glue). Then the outside is carved, taking into account the size of the fittings and the thickness of the wrappings. This one is made from a scrap of Nootka Cypress.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Bound with leather and wedged overnight to dry. The leather gives a nice even pressure even when the starting block is not square and true.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The fuchi is used as a starting point and the mouth is carved down to fit it.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The kashira sets the measurement for the end of the handle and wood is removed between the two.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After some calculation adding the thickness of the fuchi and kashira and subtracting the thickness of the rawhide and leather wrap, the excess is removed. This is the ura so a double layer of rawhide will rest here in a style of maedare gise that countersinks both ends of the rawhide.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The omote, showing the tsukigata carved oversize to accommodate the layers of wrapping that will go over it. Tsukigata were originally designed to make room for the end knots to sit lower for standard wrapped handle styles, however they are often included on the omote side of unwrapped handles as well. My theory is that they serve as a reference point for the position of the handle and direction of the blade by feel. On a tanto length handle, the pinkie finger sits right in the groove on the cross draw.

Tsukamaki

There are generally two components to wrapping a handle, the first being the shikagawa (rawhide) or samegawa (ray skin) layer which adds incredible stiffness and resilience to the tsuka, and the second an optional leather or cord wrapping to add padding, grip, and compression to the tsuka. When possible, the shikagawa or samegawa will fit part way under the fuchi for extra strength and integrity, but in this case stops at the boundary of the leather wrap to allow the rolled leather to sit in the groove. The style of wrapping is called gangi maki, a spiral of leather with a rolled front edge wraps from fuchi to kashira beginning and ending on the ura side. The kanji for gangi means a shape like steps, or the terraced shoreline near a seaport.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The double channel style maedare gise allows the shikagawa to sit flush with itself on both ends of the crossover. Here the rawhide has been soaked and bound until dried in the exact shape of the tsuka.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
When dry, it is removed, glued on with sokui, and bound again to dry in place overnight. Any bulges or inconsistencies in the surface are pared off with a chisel and then, because shikagawa is much smoother than samegawa, it is scored all over with small cuts to give a better tooth for the glue to bind to.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A paper pattern determines the exact shape of the wrap, this leather is scrap from a reclaimed vest.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The leather is pasted with sokui (rice glue) and rolled as it is wrapped tightly around the rawhide. The ura side showing the initial crossover and the final travelling off under the kashira clip.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The omote showing the rim where the kashira clip will grip. The mekugi ana was drilled and adjusted before applying the leather wrapping.

Before final assembly, the next steps in the process are Carving a Saya, and the Final Blade Polish.


Assembly

As the parts are finished, they are polished, cleaned, given a patina, and coated with ibota wax or tung oil to stabilize and protect their surfaces. The blade is given its final polish and then the tanto is ready for final assembly.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Matsuyani (Pine resin glue) is spread in the kashira, then it is tapped into place with a wooden mallet and heated to activate the resin glue for a final seating. Urushi or nori-urushi are also used for this type of attachment depending on the fit of the parts.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The steel tabs are peened into place and lock into the rim around the tsuka. The fuchi slides into place against the rolled bead of the leather wrapping. An accent collar made from a piece of vintage Tanzanian bronze jewelery is attached to the mekugi-ana with nori-urushi.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The carved top of the bamboo mekugi is lacquered and sits just below the surface of the uzumaki accent. See more finished photos here: Uzumaki Kotanto

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.


See more photos of the finished Uzumaki Kotanto.