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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 8:05 am    Post subject: A Shinogi Zukuri Katana -- Custom Howard Clark 1086         Reply with quote

I have been asked to repost something about a sword I did recently for Ron Luciano (see, I got the name right, Ron...).

Ron purchased a shinogi zukuri katana polished in shirasaya from me a few months ago. Here are a few pictures showing the hamon and the overall blade once it was fully polished...



and



It's a little different in that the hamon runs a lot up into the shinogi ji. I decided to leave a lot of that unburnished since it was so interesting up there. Very wild hamon.

Ron wanted to have me mount the sword. And he really liked the silver fittings from Ted Tenold's Legacy Arts website. Ted is a friend of mine and he is making very high quality reproductions of good quality fittings. There are lots of reproduction fittings on the market but they are generally just simple castings of old parts with little care or attention paid to them once they're cast. Ted's fittings are also cast, but done with a very complex process and he utilizes traditional materials such as shakudo and shibuichi (shakudo is a gold/copper alloy, shibuichi is silver copper). Both these materials patinate to a blackish color that is quite distinctive for each. His fittings are carefully recut by hand after casting, patinated, and gold/silver inlay, plating, etc. is done for the highlights by a skilled jeweler. So they are very good fittings, very high quality, and look wonderful mounted on a sword. The fittings alone are worth more than most low level production katana.

Anyway, Ron decided on a silver set that Ted had made. These were a wave motif that really followed the hamon pictured above. It really showed the active, turbulent nature of the hamon.



Ron only wanted to go with the fuchi kashira and seppa from the set. So I contacted Ted and got the fittings. http://www.legacyswords.com

The next problem for me was finding matching menuki and a tsuba. Around that time I found a tsuba in Japan made by Shuji Yamamoto who signes "Tomoji". He is a modern tsuba maker in Japan and competes all the time in Japan. He is doing some very nice work. I saw this tsuba and e-mailed Ron directly since I really loved the match of the tsuba to the fittings. While waiting for Ron to reply I ended up ordering it anyway. I figured if Ron didn't want it that would be okay -- I liked it. It turned out to be a fantastic choice -- it is an amazing tsuba. Gorgeous.



Okay, that left me with deciding on menuki. We decided on some simple reproduction dragon menuki but due to various problems I was unable to get the menuki in a timely manner. I felt bad that I wasn't able to get what I wanted and had given Ron a completion date that was starting to slip because of it. So I ordered a very nice set of menuki from Ted Tenold. Cranes. I just liked the idea of the cranes gliding above the waves... Nice symbol...



At this point I was ready to go. I saved the shirasaya and started up new saya and tsuka. I prefer alder because it is available here in the southwest and it is very good for the purpose. I recommended he go with a roughly 11" tsuka given the blade and Ron agreed. Everything was carved and shaped, prepped, full same' wrap (very high grade same' I buy from Japan), black silk ito, black gloss saya with micarta parts (micarta is stronger than horn and I prefer it when possible unless it simply doesn't give the "right" look". Two holes were drilled for mekugi. Oh, almost forgot. Originally I was going to go with a small bit of gold highlight in the black gloss saya to flow with the gold highlights in the tsuba. But later on I felt that it was just too much. Japanese have a theme of understated elegance. Japanese swords *should* be organic. They shouldn't look machined, they shouldn't look "mathematical". And they shouldn't be overdone. Of course there are very garrish swords but those were "dress up and go see the daimyo" kinda deals. The sword worn "for real" would normally be more understated. Understated elegance. Shibumi. The gold dust in the saya would have just been a hair too much given the activity and beauty of the other fittings and the sword itself. And then the notion of just a deep black reflected the notion of deep, still water with the turbulent hamon of the sword inside and the waves of the fittings. And the birds in the menuki flying overhead. That made more sense to me.

So here's a shot of the saya and the fittings next to each other to sort of illustrate the point of the deep gloss contrast to the fittings. It also shows how the fittings have to be done such that each thing fits together dimensionally as well. The seppa shouldn't be oversized, offset, etc. Everything flows, ramps, and moves together. Otherwise it just ends up looking like parts thrown together with no rhyme or reason. Or no care in ensuring a consistent flow to the whole.



You can see the fittings reflected in the shine of the black saya. That was the look I thought worked best.

Here's the rest of the sword when finished.



The blade had a very nice, flowing deep sori (curvature). So the saya follows that shaping. The hard part was carving a tsuka (handle) that followed those lines as well, fit the nakago, fit the saya, fit the fittings themselves, and still "looked right". The tsuka was carefully given a tapering appropriate for the fittings style and mounting style. There are many possible shapes and combinations of fittings. The trick is getting them to work together.

A couple more glamour shots...




And fwiw, Ron, you might have something else kinda unique. That may be the last handle I wrap myself. During the rewrap I tore up my hand as usual. Keeping all that tension in the ito requires a lot of rough pulling and wrapping of the ito around the hand under very tight pressure. So I get cuts and abrasions doing it, some from the ito, some from the same'. Well, the last couple times I've worked grinding same' I've had to wear a respirator -- I was getting sensitive to the stuff for some reason. My old asthma would kick up. Okay, I can wear a respirator -- its probably better that I do anyway. Well, about 2/3'rds through the day long ordeal of wrapping your tsuka I noticed my "tensioning" hand was swelling a bit. Hmmm, I must really be overdoing it today I thought. Well, I finished the tsuka and went inside and iced my hand. The next morning it had swollen like a grapefruit. And the abrasions were all terribly irritated. By the end of the day I had a raging infection and had to go to seek out medical help. A heavy dose of antibiotics and a good cleaning later I went home. It looks like I"ve developed a sensitivity to *something* in the ray (most likely) after all these years of handling it. It just built up over time probably from the inhalation of the fine dust. The abrasion of my skin from the ray and ito when wrapping caused massive irritation to my flesh. Next thing I knew I had swollen up (allergic reaction) and at the same time an opportunistic infection kicked in (hence the massive doses of antibiotics since it was so severe). To this day I'm still peeling off dead skin from my hand -- the secondary opportunistic infection literally killed a large amount of skin everywhere I got abraded by the ito or same'. I've got about 5 new cool scars from it. Weird, weird, weird. I've always suffered from some allergies and it looks like I've developed a new one. I'm going to try to wrap another one soon, but this time wearing some special gloves I just had made to protect my hand. I'm a bit skeptical that I'll be able to do a job on it that will satisfy me. So I might have to start sending all of my handle wrapping over to Ted for him or his apprentice Jesse to work on for me.

Interesting the hazards you run into in crafts like these...

But regardless, that's the story. And a first post of Japanese sword stuff to this new forum.

Hopefully I'll get some photos of a piece I'll be starting up soon. Maybe some "in progress" photos as I work on it. I won't photography everything (some methods I use with Howard Clark's particularly difficult blades were shared with me in confidence so I respect that from those who shared those things), but it will show an awful lot of what's involved.

Let me also suggest the book "The Craft of the Japanese Sword" by Kapp and Yoshindo. The book is a great book on the crafting of Japanese sword. It is not an instructional book but you will learn a lot from it. Frankly I wil reread it periodically myself and I usually get something new out of it each time. That's how it works in some areas. The more you learn the more you're able to learn. So keep learning and keep revisiting what you've learned before. Each sword is an adventure for me... I have the book linked on my site and you can also get it at Bugei trading, Amazon.com, all those places. Great book.

Keith Larman
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Thomas McDonald
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 12:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Keith

Thank you for sharing this with us ...... what a beautiful looking sword !

Everything just looks "so right" with it ! The hamon is gorgeous , just dancing on the steel !

Congrats Ron ! Mac

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alright. I just have to say something. You are going to get me in trouble here. The problem with me is that I've become very Euro-centric in my collecting by design, simply defined by pure economic limitations. Haha. You see, and you may not have guessed this, but I can get pretty compulsive about my hobbies. Limits must be set, or I'll end up poor and living in a box with only my "collection" to keep me company. At the end of the day, it's the true thirst for knowledge and new experiences, not the materialistic side that keeps calling to me.

The more exposure to fantastic work like this, the more I hear the calling.

Keith, just a quick question right now: Is there any place on the Web that shows more work from Shuji Yamamoto ("Tomoji" signature)? I absolutely love the composition of decorative elements on that tsuba and would like to see more work from him. The choice of fittings, despite being from different sources, is really excellent. There's a balance there than clearly is a result of your years of study and practice, Keith. Well done.

I don't post much about non-Euro stuff.. and I really don't own a lot of things beyond the European wares, but I have an intense interest in all of this. I surprised Patrick Hastings the other day with my knowledge of his own work. I guess I'm trying my best to stay a lurker in those areas, but I still soak it all up when I get exposed to it.

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Chuck Perino




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I love the 'tsunami' look of the fittings. Reminds me of the characteristic Tsunami Painting:


I also am a European collector who hears the beauty of oriental works on occasion!
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 1:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Mac as always. You're a good guy...

Nathan -- check out Tokugawa Art in Japan. Their website is... Let's see... Okay, here it is... http://www.sanmei.com/shop_e/enter.html. Select tsuba on the left and go to the last page of tsuba. That is where Mr. Yamamoto normally retails out his tsuba. He normally does copies of famous designs. But I've seen a few I couldn't place elsewhere. The tsuba for Ron is one of the ones I'd not seen before. I might have just missed it of course but it might be a design unique to Mr. Yamamoto.

And Chuck. Yup, those stylized waves are actually quite a common theme in sword fittings. If you look at Bugei's "semi-custom" Hanwei sword line, the "wave" model, you'll see some very nice wave fittings. Ted Tenold (http://www.legacyswords.com)also has another set of fuchi kashira on his site with deeply carved waves. That set is *fantastic* as well. Ron liked the silver so we went with the other ones. But the other set would have worked really well too. I personally haven't been a major fan of wave themes but it really worked well with this sword in particular.

And as a general comment... We often get bogged down looking at features, measurements, weights, balance points, and so forth. We sometimes seem to forget that one thing that is most important -- the "presence" of a sword. The one major benefit of going with someone like Howard Clark is that the man *knows* how to forge out a katana that *feels* magnificent. If you don't burden him with too many specs he can make a sword that really does have that "alive" feeling. There are times when handling swords that I'll feel that the sword is just dead weight. Sometimes a production sword can capture that elusive feel, but its usually a sort of fortunate accident. But when someone like Howard does one of his swords to *his* liking and it is mounted up right trying to retain that feel, man is it a wonderful thing. All the pretty stuff aside, all the time, all the care, whatever, it all has to come together in a sword that just wants to cut. A sword that has presence. A sword that gives you *that* feel when you hold it. A sturdy, serious, no-nonsense feel. This sword has it.

I rarely take my swords out to show other people. This one I took out to show a good friend and very high ranked iai sensei I know. He handled it and commented about how alive it felt. It really is a complex thing and I don't know if its something that can be captured in the numbers, measurements, weights, etc. that we all look at. Or maybe its just something primal about the guy making the blade, hammering it, feeling it, swinging it, hammering it again, and over and over and over again.

Can you tell I really like this stuff? Big Grin

Back to work. The celebrex is kicking in and I've got bills to pay...

Keith Larman
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Thomas McDonald
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 3:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Keith

Speaking of stats ...... a few questions !

Might you have a breakdown of what this piece spected out at ? ( if not this kat perhaps another ?)

I realize the numbers dont always give you the total picture, but I'm curious how a fine tuned, finished , katana like this stacks up ? Also, what sort of weight does an average HC blade lose when you take it from rough to finished ?
And do you, as a rule, weigh each component , notate it's stats, just for your own records, etc?

Again, awesome job ! Thanks in advance , Mac

'Gott Bewahr Die Oprechte Schotten'
XX ANDRIA XX FARARA XX
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 3:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thomas McDonald wrote:
Hi Keith

Speaking of stats ...... a few questions !

Might you have a breakdown of what this piece spected out at ? ( if not this kat perhaps another ?)

I realize the numbers dont always give you the total picture, but I'm curious how a fine tuned, finished , katana like this stacks up ? Also, what sort of weight does an average HC blade lose when you take it from rough to finished ?
And do you, as a rule, weigh each component , notate it's stats, just for your own records, etc?

Again, awesome job ! Thanks in advance , Mac


Actually in all honest I usually don't do much of any measurements. If I'm selling the sword I'll put all that out because that's what folk want to know. But otherwise, well, for me its all about feel in the hand. If you're a practitioner, you need to worry about length and probably sori. Then you worry about how it handles (do you want big, heavy, and massive, or do you want really fast and light or something in between). But I've found that all those things really are subjective because I"ve measured out things and been surprised how heavy a very fast blade really was. Or how light a real clunker ended up being. I can somewhat get a notion based on stats, but I'm usually more interested in who made it as the first point. That will tell me a heck of a lot more about how it will handle.

Keith Larman
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 3:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, forgot one thing. The weight loss is minimal. Howard forges to shape and does so *fantastically*. As an example today I'm working on finishing the first stone on a san mai katana by Howard. Gorgeous piece, shobu zukuri. Howard had finished it up to binsui. I took it all the way back. I wanted to crisp up some lines, fix a few dips in the tip area especially, and recontour both sides at the tip. And to fix a few little wandering areas of the shinogi. So while I could have just polished it as is (and most wouldn't notice any difference), someone who knows their stuff would see the shortcuts and the things that were missed. Some things cannot be addressed. Most swords will have a few of those things. Its all judgement of what you fix.

But I spent about 4 hours reworking just the tip on a stone that's probably about 400 grit. The steel is do damned hard it takes all that time to just shift a line by a few mm's. And the loss of material would probably be hard to measure. But its easy to see the difference.

Like most things in life a large part of the value is in taking something to the furthest it can go. Good enough works for some things. But doing it totally correctly simply takes a lot of time. And not much material is removed, but it can have a profound effect on how it looks, how the light reflects, and the way the blade draws and resheaths.

Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 3:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting ...... thanks Keith !

Hey , gotta out in left field question ( can't remember if I asked you this before, but ..... )

Do you have any examples of hamon on a pattern welded blade ?

Mac

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Ron Luciano





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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2003 4:49 pm    Post subject: Thank you Keith!         Reply with quote

Hello Keith,
It was nice to see this post after a long Monday! Thanks to whoever ask to see it! I must say this sword is a pleasure to behold. Keith, I am VERY sorry to hear about your hand. Through all of our discussions about this sword project you have really put your heart into this, and I truly appreciate it! I cannot add anymore to your eloquent summary of it's creation other than to say that yes, it does have it's own soul, and yes it does feel very much alive. Simply amazing!

Best regards,
Ron

I have not tarried in long journeys over the surface of the sea, nor have I feared the threats of enemies or wild beasts, O strong leader, Maurice, go well good friend; I discern through such sweetness, the beauties of the country life, a safe return and nobility. Lift high the wine vessel. Such things are worthy of remembrance.

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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thomas McDonald wrote:
Very interesting ...... thanks Keith !

Hey , gotta out in left field question ( can't remember if I asked you this before, but ..... )

Do you have any examples of hamon on a pattern welded blade ?

Mac


Well, I'll tell ya what I'm gonna do... I'm working on a san mai blade by Howard right now. I will be photographing it for Bugei when finished since they want new photos for their catalog. If they okay it I'll post a few photos when its done (it's not my blade). The san mai has the pattern welded steel skin and the one I'm working on now... Wow. Fantastic hamon and its super visible right through the kaiseido stone already. If I get a chance later today I'll try to get a shot of that.

I'm also planning on working a tanto of Harlan's in since its such a small little guy. It might be a few weeks but its a tiny little pattern welded guy too. Different hamon on this one I think (hard to tell right now). Howard's hamon vary according to what he's doing, how he's feeling, etc.

Keith Larman
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Keith Larman
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 8:22 am    Post subject: Re: Thank you Keith!         Reply with quote

Ron Luciano wrote:
Hello Keith,
It was nice to see this post after a long Monday! Thanks to whoever ask to see it! I must say this sword is a pleasure to behold. Keith, I am VERY sorry to hear about your hand. Through all of our discussions about this sword project you have really put your heart into this, and I truly appreciate it! I cannot add anymore to your eloquent summary of it's creation other than to say that yes, it does have it's own soul, and yes it does feel very much alive. Simply amazing!

Best regards,
Ron


Ron-- the most important thing for any of us on the craft side of things is that the customer is happy. I'm always nervous when I send out a blade. In part now because I worry that the expectation level can get set way too high. Some of us work very hard to do our very best, but nothing is ever perfect. Ted is always teasing me that I worry about the things that only another polisher will notice. But then again, I watch him do the exact same thing. I have a great advantage in that I get to see, handle and study fantastic historic swords myself. I'm looking over a tokubetsu hozon papered (really big deal in Japan) tanto in fresh polish. I get to study it, see how they did what they did, etc., and try to apply that to the area I work in.

Howard's steel is difficult at best to polish. It isn't too difficult if you're not worried about proper shaping, crisp lines, good contrast, etc. It is very difficult to get that last little bit of "oomph" out of his blades. The very high carbon levels, the vanadium carbides in his 1086, the fact that the grain size is freaking near microscopic all make for a marvelously performing weapon, but amazingly difficult piece of steel to shape, polish and open up. The whole point of the polish is to "open a window into the steel". Or maybe a better analogy is to form a lens on the steel so you can see in. Most finishes I see on these things are more like painted on. When you start to feel like you're actually looking into the structures, well, that's what's cool.

Anyway, you were integral in the making of this sword. Your willingness to go for the better fittings, your willingness to tell me your preferences, and I greatly appreciate your trust in allowing me to follow my judgement. Not all customers do that. And I understand when they don't. But I truly appreciate when they do allow me some freedom to work. And that means it is as much your work as mine. And I really do appreciate that. I wish all my customers were like that.

So a big thanks to you, Ron. Doing swords like that is exactly why I got into this craft in the first place. And why I go out and do it every day with cut up hands, a sore back, a tight neck, and wondering what possessed me to leave a lucrative desk job to do it. Okay, I don't wonder that very often and certainly not very long. I miss the money, but I love my work. So thanks. You make it possible.

Keith Larman
http://www.summerchild.com
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Keith Larman
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Posts: 237

PostPosted: Tue 26 Aug, 2003 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mac...

Just took a photo of a folded blade that I'm polishing right now on the kaisei stone. I'll start a new thread with the photo...

Keith Larman
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