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Hand forged traditional knives from reclaimed materials.

Island Blacksmith - Spring 2015

News from the Forge

The charcoal bin is full after the last few days' work cooking, chopping, and it's hammertime! This issue features a double release, a pair of aikuchi tanto that were forged from the same piece of century-old steel. The common theme was one of texture and form, tying in very traditional aesthetics with subtle variations on blade polish and lacquering techniques that incorporated some very interesting ingredients!

Last month I was invited to contribute to a project documenting the work of one of North America's best-kept secrets in bladesmithing. Louie Mills began creating traditional Japanese swords in the early 1980's. Working with top Japanese swordsmiths to refine his techniques, he became known for the finest traditionally crafted Japanese swords made in North America. This video documents his first project after recovery from a heart attack three years earlier: Louie Mills - Yasutomo (康友) - Forging a Tanto (filmed by Tony Mann).

Please visit the website at and follow us over on Instagram to see photos of work in progress, life on the island, and things that inspire.

Kuromatsu Tanto: an exploration in texture
Kuromatsu Tanto: an exploration in texture

Kuromatsu Aikuchi Tanto

The Kuromatsu tanto with koshirae is named for a species of Black Pine (黒松) that grows near the seaside in Japan. The bark changes from grey to black as the tree matures and ages, symbolized here by the contrast of the smoother texture of the blade with the leathery texture of the darker scabbard respectively.

Designed around the concept of an exploration in texture and form along with Kuromon Aikuchi Tanto, this piece has roots in ancient samurai aesthetics and inspiration from the natural world.

The exterior is finished with a leather textured natural urushi lacquer surface made with the crushed iron oxide reclaimed from discarded kairo, Japanese hand warmer packs.

See the finished work here:

Learn something new everyday!
This shear steel tanto has a motohaba of 26.5mm

Japanese Vocabulary

Haba, or specifically motohaba, (元幅 ) refers to a distance or width (haba) at the point of origin or base (moto). In the case of tanto this measures the width of the blade from spine to edge right at the machi, the notches that mark the transition to the tang.

While not a rigid rule of thumb, my research of historical works has shown a fair degree of consistency with the standard tanto motohaba to nagasa (blade length) ratio of about 1:9 or 1:10.

Read a discussion on the captivating nuances of classical tanto geometry:

Kuromon Tanto: an exploration in form
Kuromon Tanto: an exploration in form

Kuromon Aikuchi Tanto

Kuromon can be translated as “the black gate”. Designed around the concept of textural exploration as a companion project to Kuromatsu Aikuchi Tanto, this tanto with koshirae is a bold yet restrained piece that has the austere simplicity that appealed to the refined tastes of working samurai centuries before the Edo period.

The solid silver mekugi is shaped like an iron kugikakushi (釘隠), a large nail cover found on a traditional castle door or gate, and is a symbol of protection.

The exterior is finished with a charcoal polished natural black urushi lacquer surface, selectively distressed and oiled to give the feeling of a long-carried and well-cared-for piece.

Follow the complete creative process or see the finished work here:

Classical Tanto Geometry: Blade & Kissaki
Classical Tanto Geometry: Blade & Kissaki

'Smithing Secret

Contrary to popular perception and terminology in the west, a classical tanto tip does not abruptly change angle in relation to the rest of the edge but instead flows seamlessly from it.

The geometry of a tanto blade is simpler to describe than the tang, though it has more subtleties and nuances. The three main characteristics I focus on in this article are tip shape, spine thickness, and bevel geometry.

Learn more about the geometry of the classical tanto blade construction:

In the shadow of Mt. Arrowsmith,
deep in a forest clearing,
away from the things of man,
there is a place where blades are born
of earth, and air, and fire, and water.

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