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. Antique fittings may also be carefully restored, modified, and reused. Once the fittings are prepared, the blade is ready for a Tsuka (handle) and Saya (scabbard).


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 crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A pair of seppa, one for each side of the tsuba, are cut and chiseled from a reclaimed brass doorplate.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The openings are filed to fit the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The seppa are slightly dished in the centre and trued flat.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Once the tsuka and saya have been made the profiles are traced and cut based on the location of the fuchi and saya in relation to the blade.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The openings are adjusted with a file or punch to fit the tang, given a bevel inside, and the rim filed and finished.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Silver and nickel-silver spoons serve as the raw material for these seppa.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The spoons are cold forged flat and cold chiseled to open a nakago-ana, then escapement files are used to clean up and enlarge the opening.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Test fitting on the tang before cold chiseling the outside to rough shape.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A texture hammer is used to create a surface pattern without removing any of the silver. Later in the process the seppa are filed to follow the profile of the tsuba and precision fit to the tang using punches and escapement files.

Tsuba

Tsuba for tanto are usually either non-existant or are relatively small. This leaves little room for embellishment so the focus is often on the rim, the profile, or the material itself. They can be made from either ferrous or non-ferrous metals, but generally have seki-gane (non-ferrous spacers) to keep them from contact with the tang if they are made from iron or steel.

The blank is forged to shape roughly and then the nakago-ana opened with a punch of appropriate profile, then filed and finished using traditional fire-texturing, patinating, and stabilizing techniques.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
This is wrought iron, an old form of bloomery iron produced up until about a hundred years ago, a small scrap off the end of a timber bridge spike that came from the forest. These lovely layers that are revealed by the fire indicate it may produce a surface look called tekkotsu (steel ribs).
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A punch designed to remove as much material as possible within the dimensions of the nakago-ana.
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 can be soaked 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 base patination is done, copper sekigane are hammered into place in the nakago-ana.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
After final patination the surface is cleaned of loose rust with an antler tip and then boiled in tea to darken it. 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.
Surface textures revealed by the process of yakite/yakinamashi.

Making Fittings

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. The most common method of fabricating the sleeve is a soldered loop with a small reinforcement over the joint at the mune. Another method, usually in iron, is to forge a solid loop by punching or forge welding. The tenjo-gane is most often copper and is usually fit in snugly and soldered from the inside or, in the case of iron Higo style fittings, a copper tenjo gane is forged in physically rather than soldered to the sleeve.

The kashira contributes somewhat 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. It is often made of iron or a non-ferrous alloy and may be tied into the handle wrapping or attached with nikawa (hide glue) alone. Tanto and wakizashi often have kashira made of horn, they should be attached with nikawa and either tied with the ito or reinforced by a horn tenon into the tsuka.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
This kashira was made from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket 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 an old sledge hammer eye using a formed punch with diameter smaller by the thickness of the material.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The domed shape at this point. Having no more material than necessary prevents folding around the edges.
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.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
This fuchi is made mainly from steel harvested from a Model T fender bracket from the forest. 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.
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.
Cold chiseling a scrap copper bar 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 and the rim is filed level. The nakago ana is opened up to its final size and shape.
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: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A small slice of thick-walled 1″ round copper bus bar forms the sleeve of this copper fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A large copper washer forms the tenjo-gane of the fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After several rounds of hot and cold forging, the two begin to resemble their final forms.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Careful filing creates the proper nakago-ana shape and fits the two tightly together. Oxidized steel wire holds the assembly together for soldering in the forge.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Cooling the fuchi after silver soldering the two parts together in the charcoal forge. The oxidized steel wire provides tension as the parts are heated but does not stick to the solder in the event of an excess.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged nihonto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The fuchi after shaping, polishing, and then etching in vinegar to texture the surface before patination.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
A piece of reclaimed copper bus bar is cold chiseled open to form a nakago-ana for this fuchi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Escapement files are used to form and clean up the approximate opening and the corners are cut off with a cold chisel.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The outside is shaped and given a slight angle to fit tightly into the forged ring, which also has a slight taper.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
The edge of the ring is forged slightly around the edge to lock both pieces tightly together and the excess will be removed with a file. The natural colours of the fired-copper patina will be left on the finished piece.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
This kashira was punched from annealed reclaimed sheet brass in a wooden form and has openings drilled and filed where the ito will tie through.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
This kashira is carved from horn and has a horn tenon glued into it. It will be attached into a mortise in the tsuka with nikawa (hide glue).

Restoring Antique Fittings

Working with antique fittings is both a responsibility and a joy. There are a limited number of antiques in the world and they should be used with respect to the craftsmen and tradition they represent. At the same time there are many lost and orphaned parts that can be made beautiful again by restoration and use in appropriate projects.

Restoration should be undertaken very carefully and gently, preserving as much of the original patina as possible and avoiding use of any harsh chemicals. Traditional tools and techniques include antler tips to remove loose rust without damaging patina, a clay mixture for inducing patina, boiling in tea for stabilization, cotton cloth for polishing, and ibota wax for protection.

Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Carefully hammering copper sekigane (責金) into an antique tsuba to fit and protect the tang.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Using scrap copper wire to fabricate the small inserts for the kashira.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Using an antler tip to polish away the loose rust but leave the patina from the centuries.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Using a special clay blend to repair the patina in the scratched or damaged areas.
Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
After boiling in tea to convert remaining red iron oxide to stable black iron oxide, the surface is polished with a soft cotton cloth and the patina is restored evenly to its proper antique colour and condition.

Tsukamaki

Although tanto have more variations than most other swords, 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 may even fit part way under the fuchi for extra strength and integrity, but in most cases stops at the edge of the fuchi. Samegawa may be left raw or lacquered for water resistance. The ito wrapping is often silk cord or leather.

Island Blacksmith: Hand crafted tanto koshirae made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
This samegawa is sealed with thin layers of natural urushi made from the sap of a certain tree.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A small tanto with a lacquered handle.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
A small tanto tsuka with lacquered samegawa and horn fittings.

Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
Wrapping leather strips over lacquered samegawa, using washi paper hishigami to support the wrapping.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged reclaimed knives made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques.
The ito ties into and through the slots in the kashira.

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 tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials
Chisagatana style tanto fittings awaiting the polishing of the blade and lacquering of the saya.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials
Kataki aikuchi tanto with ireko saya ready for the final assembly.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials
Parts in preparation for assembly.
Island Blacksmith: Hand forged tanto made from reclaimed and natural materials
Chisagatana tanto with leather wrapped tsuka.

See photos of finished tanto.