Nihonto No Ryu

Nihonto Japanese Samurai Swords

Rick Jachim’s Sword Forging

My rambles of a journey to become a swordsmith

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Dec—2010

Yes, after years of studying and collecting Japanese Nihonto, and several years of Rick Barrett “forge-ins”, I have begun the long journey to become a sword smith.  I was so inspired by working with SadaHito and Rick, that I have desired to create my own Nihonto.  Obviously I am not Japanese, nor do I live in Japan, or have studied there, so the swords I create will not be true Japanese Nihonto swords.  You must study for 5 years in an apprenticeship and then get approved and licensed in Japan, and then use the Tamahagane from the Nittoho Tatera operated under the NBTHK. This is not possible for me.  But I will strive to make samurai swords as close as possible to true Nihonto over time.  For now, I am taking baby steps in the learning process and attempting to gain skills and experience, and hence to learn the craft and build from my past knowledge.  My goal is to recreate Nihonto, or art swords.  I am striving for the metallurgical activities, which is where my joy is at.

I will be updating as I learn exciting stuff or make something worthy of looking at.

I built my forge for the most part, myself.  My furnace is made from fire bricks, and lined with ceramic fiber and cast a heat chamber tube.  My burner is made from pipe, have valves for air and propane gas, and is fed by an old bathroom exhaust fan I had lying around.  I works ok, I have forge welded, it does get to temp, but takes a while to heat up to that temp.  I so far have only welded a few blocks so far, but have not yet forged to a sunobe yet. 

 

My first try at making anything was a few sushi knifes.  The first cracked in several places on the edge, as I was eager and didn't temper like I should immediately, so I was not surprised by the result of failure; I knew better.  The second attempt to heat treat was better, but these blades as very thin, so are difficult to get the temperatures correct, so the hamon didn't follow the clay, but did come out.  This is odd steel from admiral, has high Mn, so the martensite is wrong, it is like little needles instead of nice spheres of nie and nioi, is what I assume. 

I am going for steel activity, so am focusing on using water and brine quench, and my own mix of clay, basically modified Santinite with my own secret stuff…..:).  So far I have only added ground wood charcoal to different %.  I heat the water/brine and am trying to heat treat at critical using a magnet approach.  I have a temperature unit and thermocouple I will someday install in my furnace to see what temp I am really at (furnace, not steel)  but in the mean time, doing it by eye and magnet.

I need to build a quench tank still, I have used plastic bins so far, and they suck, either too small or big.  This is a winter project on the list.   I built a bucket heater out of a water tank element and plastic pipe, sealed it up so I don't get electrocuted, it works nice for $10. 

I have a real old belt sander, it is too wide to get the proper curves in swords by grinding, so I do a lot of the finishing work now on water stones.  I actually prefer stones over sanding to get the best shape and control, but it takes a lot longer by hand, and the stuff I am making doesn't warrant the detail of traditional polishing.  I need to find a nice 2-3” belt sander, but shit, they are expensive.  That is the part with this fun hobby, everything is expensive and all adds up.  I try to be resourceful, and make my own stuff and do it cheap if can. Tools, tools tools, constantly buying tools, files, saws, anvils, tongs, chisels, planes, press….never ending.

I am doing this mainly for fun and the challenge, taking my hobby of Nihonto to the next level and trying to create something from nothing which hopefully someone could enjoy the art. 

I plan on doing everything I can in the creation, within my skills and tools available.  I am making some saya now, and tsuka for a couple of Rick Barrett blades right now. They have an interesting pattern of bloodstains from all the cuts in my hands!  A tanto I made in Oct at Rick B’s is extremely harp! It is an evil blade, I have never cut myself so many times on a blade EVER. Maybe I am just tired…

I will make habaki, shirasaya, maybe some crude/simple fuchi/kashira, maybe even try tsuba…. This all is tough for me, as this art hobby is just that, and takes MUCH time.  These crafts go back to the old days, when time was plentiful and resources were limited.  Now in our world, we have no time and unlimited resources to buy stuff to get the job done quicker.  Also, as an engineer, I constantly want to make the job more efficient or do things differently.  That is not the point here, so an internal struggle for me to do things the old traditional way.

UPDATE: Dec 2011

It has been a long year, and did not progress as much as I would have liked, but still cant complain.  Many changes throughout the year.  I did not forge this past summer, as it was too HOT!

But the fall was active.  First BIG change, I got tired of the many failures using water and brine to quench, so I went with Parks 50 per Rick B suggestions...and it worked well of course, being an engineered solution. I have not cracked a blade since.  I also built a new heat treat oven to bake them in, as opposed to using a small blast furnace.  It was very difficult to get even heat and not overheat, as the space is too small and in direct flame.  The HT furnace has made a big difference in controlling temps.  So finally on the way to making some quality stuff.  I have a pile of pieces in the works, from small tanto, waks, kitchen sushi knives for Xmas gifts in family, and a huge 31” o-kissaki katana! 

I have been using 1075, 1095, W1 and have some W2 waiting to forge out.  I have also made blades from odd steel sources, like railroad brake shoe keys, I forged out a layered billet and folded a few times.  Also forged out a few from other wear plate materials from the rail industry.(I work in the railroad industry so have access to RR scrap!)

I have also purchased a new belt sanding—huge difference! And have finally made a few tsuka and saya for the sushi knives and a habaki with my new MAP torch setup.

I have a long way to go, but am moving forward.  A few pieces made came out very nice, with interesting hamon for sunobe mono blades.  I look forward to the folded pieces, hopefully in the spring will start down that road.

I will be posting a few blades soon, over this winter, when polishing is done.

I have also chosen an art name as a smith, YoshiKazu, which I have chosen in honor of SadaHito.  I have always admired the Soshu and Gassan lineage and style of sword smithing, so have used Yoshi from and Kazu(Ichi) from various school members from the Enomoto Gassan lineage. The Soshu style is awesome and have always lusted at the magnificent wide and robust blades, o-kissaki, bold hada and flamboyant hamons and activities.  So this is my path and you will see this in my style of blades I am making.  Not sure if I want my name as Kazu or Ichi?? I like Ichi better, but it is not proper, though used in SadaIchi...he is a super smith to follow…. Update 2012—I have stuck with Yoshi Ichi !!

I need to pick an art name for my smith name.  I want to pick a traditional Japanese name, and combine my real name, Rick,or Rikku, into my mei.  I have to work on writing kanji, it is difficult as a westerner.

I also may put some of my stuff I make for sale, if it is worthy of anything.  Time will tell, or rather my development of skills as an artist or not.  In the mean time, I will be giving away stuff I make as gifts, hopefully if they

are free, but still junk, people my find some worth to it.

I also am preparing to make some fittings.  I am studying making mokume gane using copper, nickel,ect and will try my hand on forging soft metals.  This will be exciting!  My first habaki in rough form is coming out nice, not perfect, but will be much better than I thought for the first! I am excited to progress.

 

Below are my home made heat treat and forge furnace. My fire breathing dragons..to make the Nihonto ryu.

Below are slide shows of my building my forge furnace and first rebar heated and forged into wak test!

Also, my first swords and knifes I made and santinite clay and water quenched.  Most did not survive.

The wak actually did, but finally quenched in Parks oil.

Update Oct 2012—After making several long katana, and working with all my new tools, I am finally improving my skills.  The swords shape is being refined, habaki are improving, working on tsuba and I think the projects I have in the works will come out to a quality worthy of using and appreciating.  I am far from the high quality work I would expect from another sword smith, but my work is definitely improving.  All my hard work is paying off.

I should have several completed pieces in a few months.  I will be posting pictures of my progress and pieces once they are completed.

Last Updated Oct 31,2012

below

Update April 2012—I have finally progressed to getting a group of swords and knifes for SALE! I am finishing them up and will bring them to the Chicago Token Kai show to get some feedback on my work.  I already know the answer, I need much more work!  I am focusing on shape, so am currently forging swords from steel stock, to be used items, like kitchen knives, and cutting knives for martial arts, tanto, wak and katana.  Once more accomplished, I will get more into folding hada.  I have a few small starter billets I have folded waiting for moving forward. Maybe later this year or next year.  Folding is very difficult for me, as I only have a hand hammer, most smiths use large 100 lb impact hammers to move the steel.

Update MARCH 2014—Its been a few years since posting. Have not forged this past fall, and past few years away from swords a bit.  But hope to come back this spring making more.  Pulled out pieces in process from workshop, have a nice katana almost 30” long, 4” kissaki in process of finishing/polishing. Nice hamon, still needs final shaping, but has very good potential. Link of current pics are posted.  Also working on a few O-tanto, several are nice and have potential for keepers. Also, two katana are rough forged, need prep for yakire, they are progressing nice in robust shapes.