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Photos of my work.

1050 Daito by Bob Engnath

Fittings by Legacy Arts and Bladefittings

Polish, mounting, coordination, and general swearing by Keith Larman. ;)

Customer: Erik Tracy

September 2004


This is a katana in 1050 made by the late Bob Engnath. Erik Tracy (the customer and owner of the blade) asked Patrick Hastings of Bladefittings.com make the tsuba and habaki for the sword. The fuchi kashira and menuki were purchased from Ted Tenold's Legacy Arts line of fittings (now discontinued unfortunately). Tsukamaki was by Robin Ramirez through Legacy Arts as well (I have had to give up doing tsukamaki due to a dermal sensitivity to rayskin of all things). The rest... polish, mounting, tsuka shaping, design, etc. was my work.

First, just a few blade pics.

The customer started with a set of fuchi kashira with a moon/bird/ocean/night motif. The customer commissioned a tsuba from Patrick Hastings to match and had the habaki made at the same time. So to carry the night/bird/ocean/moon motif, I designed a variation on a classic Japanese mon to place in the saya finish. The idea was to carry the feeling of dark night into the saya with the mon glowing out like a golden moon. The mon were placed with gold dust and their visibility varies according to viewing angle as well as intensity of the light. This was intentional. The Japanese have a concept of understated elegance. And I wanted the saya to be understated in "normal dojo lighting" but to "show off" more under closer inspection. Here's a photo that tries to show that effect. Please note that it is very difficult to photograph such glossy effects. It looks best in hand.

The dark blue silk ito helps carry the notion of the water at night with the deeply lacquered full same' wrap underneath reinforcing the notion. Even the seppa were carefully custom made to fit into the overall feel of the existing fittings. Look at the image showing details of the fuchi and you'll notice the gold highlight lines. I did two set of seppa originally because the first set was a bit too thick and overwhelmed the design. So I built a second set to better fit the feel of the entire piece.


The entire flow of the kashira was certainly a challenge. This was a big blade with a very wide mihaba (height from edge to back) and fairly pronounced sori. Getting the angles correct was the beginning challenge followed by fitting the tsuka while still flowing with the overall feel of the piece. There are a lot of subtle details involved in getting these sorts of things to look "right", and this one was a major challenge for me.

And just the blade and polish itself... The following shots were rather "impromptu" shots I took one night. Not my best but they caught a lot of the "unique" attributes of Engnath's work.

Notice the profuse ashi in the next photo. This is very distinctive of Bob's work.

Notice the lines running parallel to the edge? No, they aren't scratches. This is something we sometimes see in Bob's work. Apparently he explained the phenomena to Ted one day as slight alloying elements in the steel being "squeezed" in area and stretched along the blade when it was rolled out at the mill. Remember, Bob didn't forge out his blades. So when he'd grind them then heat treat them, sometimes the "activity" in the hamon would track along with these impurities since they'd subtly alter the rate at which the steel would transform from one state to the other (sorry, simplest explanation I could come up with). Bottom line is that we see these things periodically as we do full blown polishes on his work. And the polisher has to be *very* careful in foundation not to "overchase" what *look* like scratches. With correct form, pressure, lubrication, etc. activity like this is visible even in early stones (you have to know how to look, but its there). The problem is that these parallel lines end up looking like odd grind lines. And you can scoop out a section of blade trying to make these "scratches" go away. They won't go away. Because they're not scratches but are actually distintinctive features of Engnath's work. It is good to be familiar with the peculiarities of each smith's work and methods.

You'll notice in the photo above that there is a hamon up on the mune. Yup, that is not a reflection or gunk on the blade. Bob would routinely apply clay along the mune of his blades to help control sori. And this blade was no exception -- the *entire* mune was splattered with hard material. Which made it challenging to get the mune crisp, clean and flat. And it is *very* interesting burnishing this stuff. It is very difficult working around that stuff... Especially when its so wildly all over the place. This is why polishers doing hitatsura blades traditionally left a lot of the burnishing alone...

And since the topic has come up this time and before, here's an additional photo of the kissaki. Notice the change in direction of the shinogi right at the yokote. That "point" is called the mitsukado. It is a geometric change in the shinogi zukuri shaping where the forward glowing blade then changes to form the kissaki. The shinogi goes forward relatively parallel to the edge up till this point then starts its "fan" back to the mune. Same on the edge if you look closely. This change in geometry that causes the shinogi to start curving back and the edge to start curving back actually causes the yokote to form in place. As long as all the geometry and shaping is correct on the blade's ji and surface of the kissaki these "features" install themselves in a sense. In other words, the ko shinogi, mitsukado, yokote, ha-mitsukado, etc. are NOT polished in; they "appear" when the surfaces are correctly shaped. They in a sense form themselves when all the surface are done correctly. So you don't polish the lines, the lines form *from* the surfaces. So you don't chase the shape, you make it happen.

It is very hard to describe the type of work that goes into doing this (or the amount of time involved).

People sometimes ask me why work like this is so expensive. I hope this page answers that question. There was a lot of hard work devoted to this piece. None of this was done with buffers, power tools, dremels, shortcuts, etc. No, this level of attention to detail is not for everyone. But it is what I love to do.

That's all for now. Enjoy the sword, Erik. It was fun.


Oh, and just for fun... My cat liked it too...


If you'd like to contact me, I can be contacted via e-mail at keith@summerchild.com.

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Copyright © 2004 by Keith Larman. Duplication or Copying prohibited without permission.