Brass Mountain Kotanto

The core of this project is a high carbon blade, charcoal-forged from reclaimed steel, 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 drop point shape. This blade has a forged fuller on the ura side and the very wide blade profile of a larger katana. 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 hardwood 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 sharpening work.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

The generously sized handle (katana diameter) and scabbard are carved from local magnolia and finished with traditional fukiurushi lacquer with polished undertones of black to highlight the facets of the wood. Reclaimed brass and (ww2) aluminum sword fittings meet the blade and the handle is capped with a kashira (pommel) forged from reclaimed brass door plate. The removable peg is carved from a reclaimed hardwood chopstick, possibly Ebony or Rosewood. The ura of the saya features a bit of live edge and a buffalo horn koiguchi reclaimed from an antique katana reinforces the scabbard mouth.

The blade is just under 4.75″ long, the overall length is about 9.75″, and 10.75″ when sheathed. The spine at the munemachi is about 6mm thick.

Specifications

Nagasa (blade length): 118mm
Motokasane (blade thickness): 6mm
Motohaba (blade width): 33mm
Sori (curve): uchizori (reverse) with drop point
Nakago (tang): 94mm
Tsuka (handle): 116mm
Koshirae (overall): 274mm

Katachi (geometry): hira-zukuri with forged bo-hi (fuller) on ura, iori-mune
Hamon (edge pattern): suguha
Boshi (tip pattern): maru
Nakago (tang): fusion, kuri-jiri, one mekugi-ana
Mei (signature): mumei (unsigned)
Koshirae (mounting): satoyama aikuchi style, issaku (except for four vintage/antique fittings)

Materials: reclaimed file steel, antique buffalo horn fitting, reclaimed brass and aluminum fittings, reclaimed brass door plate, Magnolia, natural urushi lacquer, reclaimed hardwood chopstick

This piece is in a private collection in Maine.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.


Process

This knife began as a very old file that was pitted by rust and no longer sharpenable. The blade was forged and underwent yaki-ire at the museum forge as part of the artist in residence program.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
This blade was forged from an old file that was beyond resharpening due to rust pitting.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The sunobe (pre-form) establishes the thickness and taper of the spine as well as the proportions of blade and tang.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
At this point the shape has been formed entirely with a hand hammer.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The stress from forging is released by heating carefully and evenly and allowing to cool to air temperature.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
After filing in the notches and cleaning up the profile slightly.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The rustic forged fuller, made using a curved punch, follows the spine on the ura side.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Some draw filing in the sen dai (staple vise) to clean up the edge but leave the rust texture and file teeth on the upper part of the blade.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The tang is an unusual form which will allow the handle to flow from the drop point style blade.
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.
The inside of Magnolia block halves are carefully carved to fit the nakago (tang).
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 block is planed down to dimension with a kanna and then carved to shape using kiridashi (carving knife) and planes. A shoulder is carved to fit the ferrule and then the handle is shaped to flow from it.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The reclaimed brass kashira (pommel) is carefully fit and the handle carved to final shape.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A kiri is used to drill 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 hardwood that looks like a type of dense rosewood or ebony.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The halves of the scabbard are planed smooth and marked for carving.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
Carving the inside of the scabbard.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
After the sokui has dried, the outside is shaped to include a small detail of live edge Magnolia on the ura.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
An antique buffalo horn koiguchi (from an Edo period katana) is repurposed and fit to the scabbard mouth.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The koshirae ready for lacquering with natural unfiltered urushi.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
A look at the live edge on the ura side of the scabbard.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The second layer of urushi is black (made with iron oxide) and is selectively polished off to show carved facets, then two more layers of natural (brown) over top create a subtle macassar ebony look.
Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.
The horn koiguchi and brass ferrule and pommel are glued with nikawa (hide glue) and the finished parts are ready to assemble.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

Island Blacksmith: Charcoal forged knives from reclaimed steel.

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