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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 9:01 am    Post subject: Photo of a folded blade with polishing in progress.         Reply with quote

This is a detail shot of a folded blade (well, san mai construction actually) by Howard Clark. I've already done all the foundation shaping and am currently working in the kaisei stone. I took this photo because Mac asked about seeing the hamon in a folded blade. Well, the hamon is visible when the light is right even at this level of polish if the stone is used correctly and properly matched to the blade. So I took this photo but also because it shows a number of things.

I'll attach the photo at the end of the post. So go take a look now at the pic...

What you'll notice first is that the hamon is quite visible That's probably the most common hamon Howard will do on his folded steel. It is *very* distinctive of Howard's style on that type of steel. As a polisher I know this one is going to be very visible, very nice, and likely a joy to finish. It is very visible now which means the effects are deep and rich.

Other things to notice. Part of polishing is defining the various lines on the sword. Notice the ridge line in the bottom of the sword in the photo. That line should feel crisp. That is almost impossible to do at all on a belt, certainly impossible to do to the level of traditional polishing. That is attained by extremely precise polishing on a solid stone. Blade on stone. No rolling, no angle changes. Just working right up to but not on the line. With extremely precise angle control. Otherwise it gets rounded and loses the crispness. That has to be maintained throughout the polish and can be destroyed at any time with one careless stroke.

You'll notice the small more perpendicular scratches in the steel "under" the more diagonal, finer scratches. The finer scratch pattern is from my kaisei stone. We change angles on each stone to ensure that we can see that we've removed all scratches from the blade. And you don't just work until the scratches are gone. If you had poor form on earlier stones and put deeper scratches in one area the entire blade much be polished on each stone similarly so you don't develop dips or wobbles. The finish of a Japanese sword is so refined that reflective light will show wobbles instantly. On a roughly finish surface the light reflects differently and hides poor foundation work. The area pictures is where I was working on the stone when I called it a night last night. I'll finish the area and move down the blade a few inches and start up again in a little while. Hopefully by the end of the day today I'll have the entire sword finished on this stone. And I'm about 1/3rd done now. If that give you any idea as to the time it takes.

Other things... Ashi are visible (sorta) in this finish. Ashi are soft lines the smith inserts towards the edge. The idea was to create areas to absorb shock and to prevent the propogation of chips. Now Howard's stuff really don't need ashi because they're so bloody tough. But what most don't realize is that adding the ashi "affects" the hamon formation. It pushes and pulls the hamon around making it more interesting, more organic, more fun to study.

Finally, if you look *closely* you can somewhat make out the hada. Look where I added the arrow to point it out. It is subtle but starting to show up.

This is just a stone finish. No etching to bring it out. That's what it looks like with proper surface preparation and with really good lighting...

Hope you guys like it. Big Grin When I finish the blade I'll post a few more pics.



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Keith Larman
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Thomas McDonald
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 10:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Keith

Thank you !

That is really something ...... amazing how clear the hamon is at this point !
It will be cool to see it's progress , and what it will be like when finished !

I luv how you point out the various things to look for , in your photo's , really helps us folk with the untrained eyes !

Keep the great posts coming , Keith !

Mac

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Thomas McDonald
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Keith

Is the hamon effected greatly by the steels composition , or is it more a result of the clay & quench ?

Mac

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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 11:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thomas McDonald wrote:
Keith

Is the hamon effected greatly by the steels composition , or is it more a result of the clay & quench ?

Mac


Well, there's a question that's either very easy to answer, or very, very complex.

The easy answer is that it is affected by everything. The grain in the steel depending on how it was forged and depending on the clay, the heats used, the soak times, etc. can push and pull the hamon around. You'll see the hamon "track" the steel grain on some blades especially when done well.

The interesting aspect of this is something that I think most enthusiasts really don't understand. Those new to the Japanese sword see hamon. They see that line, the curves, whatever. But they miss the more subtle aspect of it all.

Remember that a traditionally made blade is made by piling up small wafers of high carbon tamahagane and welding that mess together. It is folded, welded, drawn out, folded again, welded again, etc. until the steel gets the consistency that makes for making a good sword. What is often lost on people is that if you look closely and know *how* to look you can see the experience and expertise of the smith in that very pattern. The consistency of the pattern, how it is formed, the tightness of the welds, the flow of the pattern. If you look very closely you'll often see blades with an itame hada (kind of like wood grain) but with what we call running masame on the edge (meaning parallel lines of grain running along the edge). Why this is important is that such a pattern means there are few welds along the actual cutting edge so it is less likely to "chip out" a piece during use due to an imperfect weld. But then in the rest of the blade the material is well folded and mixed to create a stronger "mix" of layers since the welds are doing in all sorts of directions.

The *skill* to get that kind of "well kneaded" look to the steel is actually quite rare. The steel as I said has to have a consistent pattern across it or else you'll introduce areas of potential weakness. Then the skill to pile various pieces of that stuff together to get that itame pattern on the skin sides of the blade, the masame only on the edge, maybe another pattern along the mune, and a softer, more shock abosorbant insert in the center of the blade. Remember this thing is only maybe a 7 or 8 mm's wide at it's widest point! And to have everything fall where it needs to fall with a consistent pattern and density across a blade that totals maybe 36 inches (blade plus nakago)... That's a whole lot of skill...

But what does this have to do with hamon?

Simple. The hamon should match and be harmonious with the hada. The hada will affect the hamon if done well. The hamon wil track the hada. A smith could put a certain hamon on a different steel style but it would likely simply not look right. What bugs me about a lot of the production katana coming from china from factories other than Paul Chen's are that they all look bloody well identical. Mr. Chen has adopted a grain style that mixes itame and mokume and a set of hamon on his blades that is actually fairly well matched. But the other chinese makers seem to have the exact same hamon, style, shape, feel, dimensions, etc. even if they're apparently by different factories (eh?). The hamon doesn't change even if the steel is homogeneous or folded. No matter the length of the blade. Heck, put them side by side and you'd swear they were sprayed on with a template and a can of spraypaint -- but the hamon is real.

What this implies is that the clay on these blades (or whatever they use) is in fact done with a template. And the blade heat treated such that they'll give a consistent result. Which explains the consistent curvature. And the same gunome hamon.

But there is no care, no matching of hamon to hada, no organic application of the clay, no concern with the blade's geometry, thickness, sweep, whatever. Which is one reason these blades look so terrible to so many collectors. Things just look out of place -- kind of like a set of SUV tires on a volkswagen beetle -- they don't match.

This effect is something I also see all the time in up and coming custom smiths. Customers want certain hamon but don't realize that all these things work together in a well done sword. So a big, honking busy choji pattern on a masame blade is just plain weird looking. And it shows absolutely no care in getting everything to match in the blade. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But when done without that concern the whole is a lot less than the sum.

Now with all that said... There is another issue. Getting a hamon on some steels really isn't all that difficult. With the right steel, the right preparation, well, it will happen. The bigger trick is getting a flowing, beautiful, controlled hamon. Howard is always talking about being a control freak -- wanting to make the steel bend to his will. What makes some of Howard's work so great is that some have amazing hamon -- active but controlled. Flaring, interacting, ashi spreading towards the tip, flowing with the shape of the blade, following the lines of the sword, even apparently aware of the varying thickness and geometry. That's where the skill lies. That's where we start to marvel at the hamon. Understanding how controlled it really is, how it actually follows the other aspects of the blade. In a sense you're seeing the "inside" joke of the smith. Seeing what he really intended, the thing he was trying to pull off. Rather than just seeing some pattern on a blade. You start to see the "structure" of the process in the steel itself.

Anyway, this long treatise on the topic is probably a bit too much too fast. But if you speak with old-timers and long time collectors what you'll hear all the time about nihonto is that its all about the "jitetsu". Which means the "nature" of the steel. That steel shows every hammer blow. Every fold. Every weld. If you know how to look. Then the formation of the hamon on that jitetsu is something you can appreciate as well. But it starts with the steel. Always.

Too many see just hamon. A pattern. A design. And some smiths just paint that hamon on or just let a random one form. But the really good smiths put a hamon down that reflects the sword it is built upon. They understand that the steel underneath is what matters. Then seeing the hamon working harmoniously with that steel, with the forging, welding, and kneading of that material -- that's what matters.

So what makes the hamon? Everything. But not all hamon area created equal. I've seen things on-line that people just oohed and aahed over that made me scratch my head. Because it reminded me of suv tires on a VW bug... Active, going everywhere, with stuff flaring out all over the place. But it was more a drawing than a functional, meaningful hamon on a weapon of that type. And then others I've seen on-line that people let pass without comment that amazed the daylights out of me. Sometimes a simple suguha ("flat line" hamon) is just astounding. The depth of the crystaline formation, the control of the line on an active hada, the ashi, the other activities... Amazing.

Someday look up Tadayoshi school. Usually you can find a picture or two of their stuff on-line. Their very fine hada, the suguha hamon that is so deep and rich because the hada allows for that kind of depth and clarity. The strong formation of larger, bright surface crystals which are a result of the carbon content and construction which allowed for higher heats with out compromising the blade. And you start to see how all those things work together to make the sword you're holding something more than just a piece of steel. You start to see how much went into making that thing exactly what it is.

It is all a study in and of itself. Some get down on Japanese Sword collectors because they seem to be snooty about antiques vs. stuff being made today outside Japan. I agree that we should see every sword for its own intrinsic value. And many smiths today (like Howard) are creating their own styles hence their own rules. But some things do not change. And seeing the skill of the smith in every aspect of the blade is still an important skill and with so many people aggrandizing what seem to me to be rather coarse and boring pieces, I wonder where it will all lead. The most important things are those that most seem to overlook by simply focusing on hamon. Or a long kissaki. Or a big curve. Or fancy grain. It aint' how much stuff you toss in, its what you toss in and how you make it all work together.

That's my huge, philosophical post for the day. Good night.

Keith Larman
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Keith Kipferl




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Aug, 2003 5:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's really interesting. Thanks.
I've known that there was much more to an oriental blade than first meets the eye but I didn't realize so much could be controlled by the smith. I'll be seeing them in a new way from now on.

(An edited/expanded version of this post with examples would make a great article for the archives.)
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