Katana Related Questions answered by Pierre…

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I think that in many ways Nihonto evokes certain emotions in people. There is always an answer why people like them. Some people adore them for the fine pieces of art that they are. Other people have very strong sentiments regarding Nihonto, and have a special meaning why they love it, or what it does to them. My question is really a dubble question:

What does it do to you when you help create a blade, and when does your feeling tell you when something is in your eyes a good piece?

This is a very interesting question. Actually, Kawachi Kunihira’s book, The Art of the Japanese Sword, starts with this sentence: “When you look at a japanese sword, what do you feel?”   It is exactly the same thing. The swords are always the same, but each viewer will have a different reaction. Some people find them scary, others cool, others yet powerful, some people think of discipline, the way of the warrior in life, others yet think of killing and cutting people down, others see pure art.

I cannot really pretend that I help create a blade. The work that I do on some swords is purely technical and all the aspects that actually influence the quality of the blade are done by the (my) master. Imagine a chef, and he needs to make a great sauce. He might ask you to cut carrots and another guy to pour water (and these guys will become very good at cutting carrots and pouring water, among other things all necessary to make a sauce), but only the chef will make the sauce. When the apprentices become chefs, they make their own sauce!

As for my feeling… hmm veeeeery tough question! I am so intimate with swords that my feeling is complex and always changing. If I stick to your question, that is, what I feel when I see a really good sword, well I can say it is something etheral, like the sword was not made my a human. Perfection in anything always inspires this feeling, I think. I want to produce this kind of work, but maybe I never will!
The more I advance, the more picky I become. Less than divine perfection is not enough. I enjoy every sword, though, but my observation becomes more rethoric, less emotional. Swords that really move me, I always feel that I want to meet the guy who made it!

What would be a simple coposition to make the hardening clay and what type of commercial steel is better to try to forge our “first sword” (or folded knife or some just for starters)?

The first part of the question : 3 parts clay, 2 parts pulverized polishing stone, one part charcoal.

Hmm.. I don’t know western steels at all! If you can find them, Hitachi Materials’ Yasuki steels are the best (those commonly called “white paper” and “blue paper” and “yellow paper”). If you can find some Yasuki white #2, it’s a very very good cutlery steel. Otherwise, you can shop for Sweden steels, they have been famous for a long time.

But you know what? They are still expensive. Steel is expensive. There are so many old steels lying every where, please recycle and practice! Your best bet is to find old files and work from there. Many people make great knives from files. Go to flea markets and buy old rusty files for cheap!

In any case I suggest you start working with carbon steels. Forget alloys or stainless for now.

What is the real purpose of the habaki and why is it such an important part of the blade. How about the placement of the mune and  ha machi. I see lot of swords where they don’t line up, is that a normal thing ?

That is a very important question. The habaki is indeed critical. Well, a very simple and practical answer is: What happens if you remove the habaki and put the sword in its scabbard? The sword will not hold! The habaki’s purpose is to keep the blade secure in the scabbard, that’s it! That’s why it’s tapered: it wedges against the four carved out corners inside the scabbard.

Otherwise, there are many types of habaki and many approaches to their use. Most traditional swords have their machi in line, but it is true that I have see some swords with the ha-machi a bit higher. I  don’t know exactly why, but I feel it might be to allow to fit a cheaper habaki 😉    It’s easier to fit the habaki if it doesn’t have to wrap around the edge, so maybe only cheaper swords have their machi not in line?!
I will ask around!