A Few Masterpieces

“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.”

J.R.R. Tolkein

In this post your humble servant will present a few modern masterpieces of the blacksmith’s art produced recently by a single craftsman. I hope you are as thrilled as I am to know there is at least one craftsman left in the world that can produce chisels of this quality.

The Blacksmith

The craftsman that made these chisels is very unusual in that, unlike the frantically self-promoting, technically mediocre Hollywood blacksmiths such as Tasai, Funatsu, Kiyohisa, and the modern Chiyozuru gang, he is reclusive and shuns attention. Accordingly, I have been requested to not share any personal details about him, so please don’t ask. The fact is I don’t even know his real name just the brand he uses.

I won’t discuss why he is reclusive, but I will go so far as to say that he is self-employed, well-known in his chosen field, and that chisels are not his primary work product but only a sideline. He makes no more than 5 chisels monthly.

His business philosophy and blacksmithing techniques are interesting so I will share some details about them. He has four strict requirements that a Customer must satisfy before he will accept an order. The first two are business-related, and the last two are about the Customer.

  1. The Blacksmith sets the delivery schedule. Period.
  2. The Blacksmith sets the price. Period
  3. The Customer must be a professional worker in wood who needs and will use the tools the Blacksmith will forge daily. His track record must be independently verifiable. Amateurs and/or hobbyists, regardless of their skill levels, need not apply. Collectors are specifically unwelcome.
  4. Besides being expert in the use of chisels, the Customer must have a minimum level of skills, including the ability to make chisel handles and cut a high-quality Japanese plane block using only hand tools. Once again, this must be verified before an order will be accepted.

Your humble servant commissioned a few chisels from the Blacksmith many years ago and went through this same qualification process, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

The quality of his forging and heat-treat technique is unsurpassed producing a crystalline structure in hard steel that will take an extremely sharp edge, will hold that edge without easily dulling, chipping or rolling while cutting a lot of wood, and is easily sharpened.

But it is his metal shaping and finishing skills that are so awe-inspiring. Please notice the straightness and cleanness of the lines and planes, as well as the uniform and smooth curvature at the shoulders, and perfect symmetry. If Gentle Reader is unimpressed, I encourage you to make a full-scale model from cold wood before trying it in hot metal. I promise you will be convinced.

The Blacksmith uses only “free-forging” techniques, and does not employ the rough shaping dies other modern blacksmiths rely on to improve production speed. His forging technique is so sublime that the entire chisel is shaped to nearly final dimension by fire and hammer, not grinders and belt sanders.

He finishes his products using only hand-powered scrapers (sen) and files.

The performance of Blacksmith’s products are equal to or better than those of Kiyotada back in the day, and are more precisely shaped and more beautifully finished than those of Ichihiro (the Yamazaki Brothers) at their very best. They are simply the best chisels that have been made in Japan in the last 70 years.

Let’s take a look at four chisels recently completed for a Beloved Customer in the USA.

34 x 485mm Anaya Chisel

The Anaya chisel is an antique style used for cutting deep mortises and making other joints in large timbers. It is no longer commercially available.

Top view of a Anaya 34x485mm Anaya chisel
Ura view of 34x485mm Anaya chisel
Side view of 34x485mm Anaya chisel

57 x 485mm Anaya Chisel

42 x 490mm Bachi Nomi

The Bachi nomi is the equivalent to the fishtail chisel in English-speaking countries. The word bachi comes from the splayed tool used to play the 3-string Japanese shamisen, a banjo-type musical instrument. Here is a link to a video of two ladies using shamisen and bachi to perform a famous traditional song in Tokyo.

The Bachi nomi excells at getting into tight places to cut joints with acute internal angles such as the dovetail joints that connect beams to purlins.

There are several ways to resolve the angles at the tool’s face, but in this case the Beloved Customer and Blacksmith agreed on the most difficult, rigid and beautiful solution, the shinogi. This design has the advantage of maintaining a shallower side-bevel angle from cutting edge to neck return providing better clearance in tight dovetail joints.

The handwork performed on this chisel’s face is simply amazing, but the hollow-ground ura is even more spectacular to those who know about this things.

54 x 540mm Sotomaru Incannel Gouge

The Sotomaru or incannel gouge is a strong and convenient chisel used for cutting joints in logs and rounded members on architecture. More information can be found at this link.

This is an especially beautiful example as seen the symmetrical confluence of planes and curves at the shoulders.

Conclusion

I hope Gentle Reader found this post informative. You will never find better examples of the Japanese blacksmith’s art outside of one particular museum. It is exciting to consider that there is still one craftsman alive that can routinely perform this level of work.

While your humble servant has praised these chisels and the blacksmith that made them highly, please do not make the mistake of assuming that I am soliciting orders, or even suggesting that commissioning them is possible, because they are simply not available at any price. Please don’t ask.

YMHOS

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, or thuggish Twitter and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May my ootsukinomi roll from my workbench and land cutting-edge down on my toes if I lie.

10 thoughts on “A Few Masterpieces

  1. Stunning workmanship indeed. A real honour to own such tools I’m sure. Hope all is well Stan. Warm wishes from the UK

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    1. Gav: Glad you enjoyed seeing them. I’m doing well, other than a shoulder that feels like it was kicked by a pony named Pfizer. I hope all is well with you and your lovely lady wife. Stan

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  2. Thanks for showing us this. Even to my untutored eye I can appreciate the beauty of the geometry and the precision of the ura. Great photos too. The bachi nomi would be a useful shape for us amateurs if your smiths could be convinced……
    Regards Ross

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  3. I am not a professional, not that good (average at best woodworker) and have 4 sets of quality chisels (enough for several lifetimes of use). The craftsman’s work is beautiful. I think what I like almost as much as the work itself is his strict policies. Good for him. I’m in the third act of my daytime career and very good at it (took lots of work). I find as I get older, I become less tolerant of putting up with crap. Maybe this is why I appreciate this craftsman’s approach to business.

    On a completely unrelated matter. You quoted Tolkein. Tolkein and TS Eliott were contemporaries at Oxford together and would routinely meet for a pint. They were both shaped by the horror of WWI. Knowing this, you can see it in their writing. Even think there was a movie made recently about Tolkein. Haven’t seen it but might rent it now that I’m thinking about it.

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    1. I am a fan of Tolkein. I have not seen the movie, but friends who have called it “insulting rubbish.” It seems that everything Hollywood touches turns to feces nowadays. “Dirty vessel” syndrome, I suppose.

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  4. The particular museum — the Takenaka Carpentry tool museum? I still have to visit, along with the Wako Museum in Yasugi, the Sanjo Blacksmith Dojoj, the Japanese Natural Stone museum in Kyoto, and perhaps the Hamono Museum in Sakai.

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    1. Dean: Yes, I meant Takenaka’s museum. I call it this because the owner and namesake is Takenaka Komuten, one of Japan’s largest and oldest construction companies, a company established 411 years ago in Nagoya to construct religious buildings. They are neither the oldest nor largest, however. I competed against Takenaka for many years, but nowadays supervise their work on my Client’s behalf from time to time. Takenaka considers itself an architectural design firm first, and contractor second, a unique distinction. They have a smaller version of their museum in Tokyo too.
      I’ve been to the Sanjo Kaji Dojo, but not the stone museum or wako museum. I had hoped to visit the stone museum this October, but there is still uncertainty about its operations in light of the covid hysteria, a disease that kills fewer people than bathtubs and stairs. I really need to get to Sakai as well as Gifu and talk with people about knives, but those of us who live in Tokyo are treated as if we were carriers of diseases more deadly than smallpox or bubonic plague and told to stay away. Better than Australia, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

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