Way of the blace by Mitja Kobal

Japanese master sword makers, had to find new ways for the finest blades in the world to come to the light after the katana - Japanese sword, had been proclaimed to be an illegal weapon after the second world war.

Japanese master sword makers, had to find new ways for the finest blades in the world to come to the light after the katana – Japanese sword, had been proclaimed to be an illegal weapon after the second world war.

Only rare and fortunate of the Japanese citizens can own a katanablade. These swords must be Japanese-made blades that are registered with the Nihon Token Kai (Japanese Sword Association) and must exhibit historical or cultural significance. A certificate of authenticity and ownership permit are necessary. In Japan, sword smiths are allowed to produce only two swords a month as cultural artifacts. Unlicensed swords or those made by unlicensed smiths are confiscated, and the owner may be charged with possession of an illegal weapon.

Therefore many former sword smiths with long family traditions, some of them quite far to samurai times, had to find new ways to produce what they know best – the blades. And they found it: all the knowledge and stunning craftsmanship went into the production of Chef Knifes. I was blessed to get a very close access to several master blade smiths, from north of the main Honshu island of Japan to the southern island of Kyushu to document the way of the blade. This series is just a glimpse, a brief dive into the world of heavy duty world of darkness, fire and ice, where very old traditional methods are being mixed with some serious state of the art modern tools and other procedures needed to ever improve the quality of the blade. The finest details are still made the only way possible, by the sheer skill of the blade smith and his silky rubbery hands battered by the time in the hellish environment. The effort, dedication, will and the ingenuity to produce a piece of art from a shapeless form of the hardest metals on the planet is unmatched in the world. The first contact was made, and the story will continue…

About Mitja Kobal

Mitja Kobal is an independent professional photographer born in Slovenia , now based in Vienna, Austria. He’s working across several fields of photography from documentary and portrait to industrial and architecture. He’s been also working as a Greenpeace photographer. It’s always a pleasure to do and live what you love and to do it with a cause. [Official Website]

Bladesmith is watching the steel color if its ready for forging

Hammer and the anvil, basic tools of the bladesmiths.

Stamped knives, waiting for further processing, heat treatment, grinding, rehandling and sharpening.

Laminated steel, welded together waiting to be forged. Typical Japanese knife steel construction of two types of steel, soft steel (jigane) for protection of the blade, and ultra hard steel (hagane) for cutting ability.

Bladesmith’s working space. Oven, power hammer, hammer, anvil and sitting bench are essentials for the most important process of forging raw steel into the blade.

Carefully observing colour and temperature of the steel in the oven is an important point in the process. All has to be in optimal condition before it can be forged.

Pine is the preferred wood for bladesmiths. Charcoal is very clean burning and is healthier for the ‘smith and the high carbon steel.

Hand striking raw steel into a form suited for the basic forging is a long and grueling process.

To form the base metal, a very hot bed of coals usually from pine charcoal which heats up to about a thousand degrees.

Laminating process. Hand welding a soft steel – jigane with a hard steel – hagane and preparing laminated steel for further forging process.

Hand forging the high carbon steel is no place for sissies.

A game of carbon and oxygen, steel and the skill.

Descaling is a metal cleaning process that removes unwanted surface deposits on metals to provide a smooth surface finish.

Whenever possible, protective gloves are off, pursuing the highest caution to details.

The spring based power hammer converts centrifugal force into vertical force using a clutch assembly and a toggle, using it requires precision. Too much force can split the steel and ruin the lamination.

Heat treatment, heating the steel blades and then rapidly cooling it in cold water/oil – quenching, is a mechanical process in which steel alloys are strengthened and hardened.

After quenching process, the blades are put in the hydraulic press for straightening.

Blade dipping and cooling in oil is an essential step in quenching method.

Power hammer forging by one of the youngest masters Tanaka-san.

Cold forging & correcting details.

Hot blade cooling down after initial forging.

Forging places are usually small & intimate, sometimes just big enough to fit in the “artist and the canvas”.

Bunka knives chilling before the grinding.

Detail of old unfinished blades. High carbon steel is super hard, but that means it is also easy to crack…despite the skills, there are always some casualties.

A sub zero treatment of the steel is a quenching process after heat treatment, it increases the hardness, toughness and reduces the internal stresses of the metal.
The steel blade is dipped into a liquid nitrogen of -195.79°C.

Cryogenic treatments are typically done immediately after quenching, before any tempering.

After the big freeze, to avoid cracking the steel blades are slowly warmed up.

Grinding on water stones is a delicate procedure, giving the knife it’s final shape.

Maximum and the right sharpness is achieved by hands only.

Bladesmith’s signature is done by the master bladesmith.
Special thanks goes to:
Oster Rob – www.osterrob.si – highly specialized dealer for Japanese knives and

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