“I have discovered the secret of sword-smithing: hard work.” – A student’s Journal during their time at Dragonfly Mountain.

Marcus Ranum, who attended our Basic Forging Course last October, shared his experience as a student at Tomboyama through a day-by-day journal of the class.

Dragonfly Forge trip report – main page

His descriptions and photos provide an excellent peek at the 5-day swordsmithing processes taught at Dragonfly Forge to transform a section of wire rope into a wakizashi, a Japanese-style short sword. He also touches upon the frustrations and triumphs of learning completely new skills. Marcus also shares the secret to swordsmithing: hard work.

Thank you Marcus for documenting your time with us and sharing it.

Recommended Reading List

Although we are always quick to acknowledge that there is no replacement for hands-on experience, there is also a great deal of knowledge to be gained from books. Due to popular request, we have complied this list of books we highly recommend for reading on the subjects of Japanese swordsmithing, swordsmithing in general, as well as bladesmithing and knife-making in general.

The Art of the Japanese Sword: The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation

The Art of the Japanese Sword: The Craft and Its Appreciation by Yoshindo Yoshihara, and Leon and Hiroko Kapp (September 10, 2012)

It’s with great pleasure that we recommend a new book on the history and craft of the Japanese sword.

The Art of the Japanese Sword, the Craft and Its Appreciation by Leon and Hiroko Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara [Tuttle]covers much of the same ground as The Craft of the Japanese Sword, their first book. The new book goes into far greater detail in all areas and is accompanied by excellent illustrations and clear and concise text. It is also in a larger format than the earlier books and this makes for better reading and more detail in the illustrations.

I believe this book will have broad appeal to collectors and sword enthusiasts while also providing what can almost be termed a “shop manual” for those of us who practice the craft.

We recommend this book highly and salute the authors for their efforts.

The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Yoshindo Yoshihara and Leon & Hiroko Kapp (Jun 15, 1987)

If you can buy only one book on Japanese sword crafts, this is the one. There is an introduction to the history and development of the sword and a clear description of the physics and chemistry of steel. This book details the efforts of the swordsmith, habaki maker, polisher and scabbard maker and provides a clear overview of the courses taught at Dragonfly Forge.

The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way To Perfection by Jim Hirsoulas

This is an informative and entertaining book by my friend and colleague. While not specifically about Japanese swords it is loaded with information and tips of use to all who work at the forge, including data on steel and forge welding techniques. I highly recommend this one.

50 Dollar Knife Shop by Wayne Goddard

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Wayne’s book shows how it’s possible to build a simple forge and shop without breaking the bank. Wayne is the grand old man of the hand forged blade and most of us “younger” smiths have sat at his feet to benefit from his experience and generosity. The important lesson of this book is “get started”.

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Unveiling Dragonfly Forge’s New Mon

Dragonfly Forge is proud to unveil our new mon, which will serve as a logo for our business and swordsmithing school. Our mon features three dragonflies facing outward, enclosed, like the majority of mon, within a bold circle.

Mon are heraldic symbols of medieval Japan. Like European family crests, they developed amongst the aristocratic class first, gradually being adopted by commoners and merchants. They came into widespread use by the 12th century, especially for use in battle, seen on flags, armor, tents and other military equipment to help distinguish clan member from enemy.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868 Exhibit

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is currently featuring an outstanding exhibit: Art of the Samurai Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868. The ambitious loan exhibition will bring together 214 masterpieces, including 34 National Treasures, 64 Important Cultural Properties, and six Important Art objects, a number of which have never traveled outside Japan. The several meitō being displayed include the exceptional 12th-century blade called Ôkanehira, disputably known as the greatest of all Japanese swords.

The last day of the exhibit is January 10, 2010.

While we will not be able to attend ourselves, its currently seems like a worthwhile exhibit for anyone interested in nihontō who can attend. A collection this large available for viewing in one place is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So you want to become an apprentice swordsmith…

Some of the most frequently asked questions we receive are in regards to becoming an apprentice swordsmith. This article is meant to help answer many of the questions we are asked about apprenticeships.

Michael Bell undertook a traditional five year apprenticeship to Japanese master swordsmith Nakajima Muneyoshi. Michael ‘s teacher, Mr. Nakajima, was unique in that he learned all of the Japanese sword arts: swordsmithing, polishing, habaki-making, as well as the making of koshirae. Usually each aspect of Japanese sword-making is preformed by a specialist; a sword can pass through the hands of four or more artists before being fully completed. It was for this reason that he was brought to Oakland, California in 1963 by the Japanese Sword Society of the United States; Mr. Nakajima could perform all the different jobs necessary to restore old swords. In 1970 Michael Bell was introduced to Mr. Nakajima and shortly thereafter became his apprentice.

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