Visit to Mr. Hiromune Takaba, Japanese Samurai Swordsmith

A huge part of the inspiration behind TOG Knives was a visit I made to a Samurai Swordsmith in Seki in 2004. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Here is the email I sent home to friends and family just after I’d met him:

———————————-

Today I had the ridiculous honour of meeting a swordsmith. His name is Hiromune Takaba. He is one of 18 swordsmiths in Seki city which is about 30mins drive from Gifu where I’m based once again. Seki is one of 7 towns in Japan where katana (Japanese swords) are made. This meeting was only possible because Mr. Takaba happens to be a good friend of Mr. Furuta, one of the bosses at the Oribe Design Centre where I’m designing a range of kitchen knives for a Seki-based company.

Visit to Swordsmith to see Katana being made

Visit to Swordsmith to see Katana being made

Recipe for Katana Blade

(estimated swordsmithing time: 3 months)

1. First, make sure you are from a swordsmithing family. There are seven in Seki and probably a similar number in the other six towns. If you aren’t from one of these families, then forget it.
2. Collect steels from all over the world (including nails from 750 year old Japanese temple) – Sweden, Australia etc. From this steel the Japanese steel will be made.
3. Melt 100kg of steel in Japanese charcoal fire so it combines with charcoal and air and increases the carbon content. This is called Tamahagane steel. You will need 20 large bags of Japanese charcoal.
4. Break up into small pieces and repeat process many times.
5. Repeatedly heat and quench this steel in cold water.
6. Break apart steel to examine crystalline structure.
7. Repeat step 5 until you judge (with your 40yrs experience) the crystalline structure to be correct.
8. First forging process: repeatedly stamp small pieces of steel on firebed until all the air is squeezed out. Your 100kg of steel should have reduced to 1kg – the amount you need for the katana blade.
9. Main forging process: forge 450g of tamahagane steel 12 times, 375g high-carbon steel 8 times and 375g low carbon steel 6 times.
10. Pile these three types of steel together and forge a further ten times. Carefully monitor steel throughout forging process. You now have your Japanese steel (Watetsu).

To make blade:

11. Heat and stamp Japanese steel with hammer or stamping machine to form into rough blade shape.
12. Fold steel on itself 150 times to produce laminate structure, forging at low temperature and quenching each time. Any more than this and the sword is too soft and cannot be forged.
13. Continue to shape blade using a small hand hammer. Never remove any steel as it is too valuable. You should have estimated the amount of steel correctly at the start.
14. Apply ‘Yakibatsuchi’ Japanese soil to blade (but not cutting edge)
15. Fire at high temperature to harden steel. Soil will emphasis pattern created by forging process.
16. Put the blade through a tempering process.
17. Sign blade with your name and the date.
17. Send blade for sharpening and polishing (he doesn’t do this part of the process)

Then 40 other people are involved in making the handle and scabbard. A traditional scabbard is coated in Urushi laquer. This natural material is only available twice a year. Six coats are needed and it takes a long time to dry. So lacquering the scabbard takes three years. The decoration on the circular piece of metal between blade and handle is so intricate it can take three years to engrave. The entire process may typically take six years. The sword can then be sold to a rich foreigner for around £30,000.

This is real. I met the guy and he explained this process. To me. I feel so privileged it’s unbelieveable. I’m still reeling.