Steve Shimanek

Old Japanese Sword Rescue

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I recently bought this from another blade smith, who took it in trade for some blade work. He said it had been used for brush cutting by the person he got it from (not the best use obviously.) The photos show a lot of problem areas, not the least of which was the amateur grinding to "sharpen" it; 2 major delaminations near the sharp edge, 6 or 7 major bends, reduced point area, etc. The shape pointed to a potentially old sword, so i took a gamble on it, though i didn't pay much for it. After a couple of sessions with the roughest traditional water stone, I believe it to be an older traditionally made blade. The first photos are from the seller, as it arrived; i will post additional photos as the work progresses. Nihonto are a specialized area; i do not recommend just anyone to try their hand at restoration.

geoffsugata.jpg

geoffkissaki.jpg

geoffkat.jpg

geoffblister.jpg

geoffnakago.jpg

geoffnakago2.jpg

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Lots of challenges on this blade due to condition and abuse....blade was straightened, proper geometry restored, and brought to the best condition possible. Rescued from the fate of being turned into a tanto or cut up and restacked by the previous owner, and being used to cut brush by the owner before that. Seems to be a Sue Bizen kazuuchimono mass produced blade from the mid 1500s.

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nakagoresto2.jpg

nakagorev.jpg

Last 2 photos....

sugatafixed.jpg

sugatafixed2.jpg

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That is a big improvement!

 

"Watcha gonna do with that 400 year old sword?" 

"Mmmmm, cut the hedge back some, maybe clear some weeds."

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It is a bit tired and beat up, but deserving of being treated with some dignity and respect; this is the second blade i have I have bought /rescued with the help of the same bladesmith. The other one has turned out much better as the starting condition was not as bad. Being in the Pacific Northwest, he comes across these blades and i am in the right place to acquire them on occasion.

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The maker was what I was curious about. Could you please post a picture of the characters? 

Pnut

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I do not think it is signed by a maker; either it is obscured by rust, signature was cut off when shortened, or it was never signed... when more rust is removed i will be able to see if there is a signature, but it is doubtful.   My guess as to manufacture is posted above and is the best i can do currently.

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I might be imagining it, but there seems to be a slight 'quench line' above the edge? Especially towards the tip? 

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I seen the post with the maker listed. Mid 1500's is what made me think it would have a signature or armory marking. Great job restoring a poorly treated tool. Why a person would misuse an old sword like that is beyond me. It's like blocking a broken window with a four hundred year old etching. 

Pnut

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That blade reminds me of several WWII officer/noncom swords, I have had the pleasure to work on. None of them had any signature mei. You did an excellent job bringing it back to life.

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14 hours ago, Bo T said:

I might be imagining it, but there seems to be a slight 'quench line' above the edge? Especially towards the tip? 

Bo T; there is a hamon and boshi (hardened tip and edge) on the sword, but it is difficult to see unless you know what to look for.....most hamon are more obvious, but this one may have faded from excess heat when it was abused by grinding, or never had much visual pop from the beginning when it was made...it is hard to say which.

As to the lack of signature: is is possible  that this sword was longer when it was made, and the signature was lost when it was shortened; or, it was never signed at all and was issued out of an armory for the cannon fodder troops; or, there may be a signature hiding under all of the rust.

Thanks for the comments.

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As mentioned before, I too was wondering if it may be an officers sword. But a good find anyway.  Glad you could rescue it.

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When I mentioned cannon fodder troops, i was referring to the Sengoku period in Japan in the 1500s; how it came to the US is unknown, but i think it likely it was captured in WW2 and was a GI bringback....as such, it would have been carried by an officer. The Japanese NCO swords were machine made from modern mill steel, not made traditionally as this sword was. Thanks for the comment.

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I’d love to know whether you’re going to make a traditional tsuba for it.  I tried watercasting copper and other non-ferrous metals a while ago and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I understand that a traditional tsuba starts life as a water cast disc of copper/brass/silver which is then hand engraved. Great that you’re breathing new life into it. 

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Actual traditional ones can also be real wrought iron and a varied mix of various alloys and metals.

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Well there you would be wrong; as the smith didn't make them. They were all made by experts in that particular item.  Single Authorship is a rather modern concept. 

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There was a specialist for every stage of Japanese sword making from making the steel, forging the blade, polishing and sharpening, and making the furniture. 

Pnut

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Much like swords were made in medieval and renaissance Europe as can be seen by how many different guilds were involved.  The "cutler" was the seller of the finished product and often did the subcontracting of the various processes as well as the final assembly.

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In ancient times in japan, there were habaki made of iron, but since at least around 900 ad they have been made of copper, occasionally solid silver or gold, and sometimes covered with those materials. Tsuba were occasionally made by the swordsmiths, but this was not common, particularly from the later 1500s on. As TP and Pnut state, the various parts were usually made by specialists, even in Japan today. Western people like myself have limited access to these specialists (or the desire to pay for them) and so try to replicate their work, usually with limited success:blink: I will be making a habaki and putting the sword in shirasaya; i have too many projects at the moment to make a full koshirae for this sword, as i have other koshirae projects ongoing for other swords currently.

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The rust on the nakago (tang) was excessive, so i used a couple hours of electrolysis to reduce and stabilize it with a decent result:

nakaclose1.jpg

nakaclose2.jpg

nakaclose3.jpg

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