Our Swords

The Blade

The blade is the heart of the sword.

Experience has shown that blades forged or ground from bar stock do not cut as well as those which are forge-welded, nor are they as strong.

Although the shinogi-zukuri style of katana and wakizashi is most popular, other styles such as hira-zukuri, shobu-zukuri, etc. are also available. Hi (grooves) in several styles can also be had.

Final grinding and polishing is done completely by hand on a series of water stones. This insures crispness of the lines and brings out the microstructure of the steel. This is a long and meticulous process and the final polish is done by a specialized polisher.

For the strict traditionalist and sophisticated collector, we offer blades made of handmade oroshigane steel, which is compositionally identical to tamahagane. These blades exhibit all of the color and characteristics of the traditional swords of Japan. We work in either the Soshu or Bizen styles. For short blades, we prefer the san-mai (three layer billet) method of construction, and hon-san-mai (four piece billet with iron core) for longer swords.

Billets of iron and steel are repeatedly folded and welded using clay and straw ash for a flux. Depending on size, two, three, or four billets are folded and then combined to make the blade. A large or complex blade may require as many as thirty welding cycles.

Our forged steel cable blades have been developed primarily for the serious swordsman. These are forged from steel cable and have remarkable strength and aggressive cutting ability.

Unfinished Blades

We also offer unpolished blades that can be mounted and polished by the customer. They are forge welded, heat-treated blades of cable. These are foundation ground and sharpened and the tang filed, signed and drilled for the handle pin.

Mountings

Our swords can be ordered in shirasaya or koshirae.

Japanese sword mountings consist of habaki of copper and/or silver, seppa, tsuba, fuchigashira, and menuki.

Some mountings are cast from original Japanese pieces. Others are cast from our own designs. We can also make traditionally forged and soldered mountings at additional cost.

We generally make our own tsuba, from simple plate to elaborate forged folded antique iron. A high art tsuba may have 80-90 labor hours or more, and be priced separately.

Saya are carved by hand from alder wood and fitted mortise and tenon with water buffalo horn at both ends, with kurigata of same material. Saya are then lacquered.

Tsuka are also made from wood, carved by hand, and then wrapped in same and bound in ito, available in many colors. The tsuka is then secured to the tang with one or two bamboo or buffalo horn pins.

Prices

Prices are based upon cost of materials and labor. It is difficult to very specific in listing prices, as each sword is unique. Generally, a fully mounted polished blade of standard-twist forge-welded steel cable would run anywhere from $6,500 to $9,500, depending upon embellishments. The same blade made from traditional hand-made steel would run from about $16,000 to $20,000. A katana of composite cable construction can run up to $20,000, once again depending upon embellishments.

Since each of our blades are unique and usually custom orders from our customers, we recommend you discuss your order with us over the phone.

When ordering a custom sword and all details as to length, etc. are determined, a deposit of one-third the agreed upon price is requested, with a second third payable after successful heat treating. The final payment is due upon completion.

17 Responses to Our Swords

  1. Hayate says:

    I wish to ask if you use modern style forge or the edo times

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      Although my father, Michael, has built and used a traditional charcoal-fired forge with manual-powered bellows in the past, today we use a modern propane gas forge with an electric “squirrel-cage” blower for the reasons of cost-efficiency, cleanliness, and convenience.

      • Kirk Crichton says:

        What size bottles do you use for propane? 100lb? I have an old forge my family found for me it uses coal and I enjoy useing it, but it is coal and I find myself working on the fire almost as much as a blade at times. I’m interested to know how much propane you would use in the makeing of a katana sized blade in the beinging form.

        • Gabriel Bell says:

          Dear Mr. Crichton,

          Thank you for your inquiry. We would love to have you attend our school.

          Yes, we use a 100 lb. or 25 gallon propane tank to fuel our forge fire. It is quite efficient; we can forge to completion at least two katana of forge-welded cable from start to finish. Of course, for more complex blades of traditional steel, which may require 12 or more welding cycles, mileage may vary.

  2. Hayate says:

    So do you use tamahagne or other metals

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      Although we generally specialize in blades of forge-welded steel cable (wire rope), for the traditionalist collector we do forge swords of handmade oroshigane (produced from carburized wrought iron and electrolytic sponge iron, denkaitetsu), which has the same chemical composition and is indistinguishable from tamahagane.

      Tamahagane from Japan is prohibitively expensive for us to import.

  3. Peter says:

    How well do your cable blades flex? Thank you.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Peter

      In terms of flexibility our cable steel blades don’t differ greatly from the traditional Japanese blade.

      Because of the differential heat treatment of Japanese swords the blade is considered “rigid”, and is not designed to flex greatly. The goal is to forge a blade that won’t bend or break. This is, of course, impossible as it must do one or the other when stressed.

      Our blades have some memory, and can be flexed to a degree and return to its original state. Beyond that they will bend. They are nearly impossible to break.

      I hope the above answers your question.

  4. Louie says:

    How old do you have to be to take the basic forging course?

    • Gabriel Bell says:

      Dear Louie,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      Over the years we have had students in ages ranging from 13 to late 70s. We are happy to accept students under the age of 18, with their parent’s permission, of course.

  5. Kirk Crichton says:

    I would like to thank you very deeply. I saw an article in Blade a number of years ago on Michael’s work. It was the main inspiration for me to start trying my hand at crafting blades. I wanted to get in touch when I saw the story to see if he would be interested in teaching his art. I was blown away to remember your name again and find that you were doing just that. It will take me some time to be able to afford to make the trip and take the courses, but I truely hope to do so one day. Again thank you very much.

  6. Jessse says:

    Hello,
    I recently found a video of your swords and I found myself quite impressed with how traditional, beautiful and strong they appear to be.
    Ever since childhood, I have wanted to learn how to properly fold a katana as well as how to properly sharpen and polish a katana. However, as much as would love to do those things, I have not been able to find a proper teacher.
    Since a teacher has not been located yet, I have been putting my time and effort into locating the “perfect” katana. It appears that no matter where I look, I am unable to find one in a condition that I find suitable. The katana’s that I have come across thus far have been chipped or dulled and most of them didn’t have a real hamon line.
    With all of this in mind I was actually wondering about a few things. Do you have videos of your katana’s being used in a slicing manner so the sharpness of the blades can be seen? , also, on average how much is a sharp polished bare bladr
    And finally, how much are your classes?
    I hope to hear from you soon.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Jesse,

      As my teacher Mr. Nakajima said, “good swords are scarce”. This is still true today, especially with the huge influx of cheap swords from China.

      When searching for a sword there are several possibilities. One is finding a good antique blade, which if slightly damaged can still be polished and otherwise restored by a professional. This can also be an investment as it adds greatly to the value of the piece. This, of course, requires knowledge of what constitutes a good sword and whether it can be restored to health. A reputable dealer is to be desired if one is unsure.

      Another possibility is to commission a sword to your specifications, either from Japan or from one of a small group of trained swordsmiths in America. It may depend what you wish to use the sword for; if you plan to do a lot of cutting then a sword of modern steel may be preferable to one of tamahagane, whereas traditional steel is preferred for the classic look. Both steels can look “classical”, but there is a subtle difference.

      Over the 26 years I’ve been forging blades from steel cable I’ve done a lot of testing for strength and cutting ability. Ii also have gotten a lot of feed-back from patrons attesting to the quality, sharpness and durability of our blades.

      We have yet to do a video of cutting but have it on our “to do list”. Realistically, I don’t know how soon we’ll be able to get to it, but it would be a lot of fun to do.

      Best regards,

  7. Alex Damm says:

    Hi, I am not sure if this is a dumb question or not, but what is the difference between blades that have a folded metal look or blades that look very sleek and have no folds.? Between those two blades are there differences in prices?

    Thanks, I am looking forward to your response.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Hello Alex,

      Thanks for your question.

      When the Japanese sword was developed there were no steel mills rolling bar stock. Steel was made in a bloomery smelter that produced metal of varying carbon content and a component of slag. By repeated folding of the metal carbon was distributed more evenly and slag was reduced. This resulted in the patterning of the steel in the same way as pattern-welding in “damascus” steel does today, but its original intent was technological rather than esthetic.

      Modern steel making eventually allowed for the forging of blades from a single piece of homogenous steel which greatly reduced the labor and cost of making a blade, but at the cost of reduced cutting ability.

      There is much evidence to support the notion that folded steel has superior cutting qualities. The folding and forge welding of the metal traps small amounts of carbides between layers that gives the blade a bit of “tooth”, which enhances cutting ability.

      Homogenous steel lacks these qualities, but is used because it is so much cheaper to produce. That’s why the the bulk of WWll swords were made from modern steel. Compared to traditional blades they didn’t cut very well and were not highly regarded as weapons.

      The cost of a traditionally forged and folded blade is several times more expensive than a bar stock one due to the much greater labor involved as well as the extra skill required in the forging process.

      Our work with forge welded cable is designed to create a sword with the cutting ability of fully folded steel but requiring less labor. It also has the advantage of having a beautiful and active grain to the steel. In our opinion this adds to the enjoyment of owning a superior sword.

      I hope the above helps answer your question.

  8. Clark Mason says:

    I’ve always wanted a Dragonfly Forge katana…it’s been a dream of mine. I’m hoping to talk to you guys soon about acquiring one, but I’ll have to unload my Barrett katana first. Know any interested parties?

  9. Ian Ferguson says:

    I’ve been aware of Michael’s work since, I guess, around 1988 maybe 1990.
    knew then he was who I would look for once I could afford my piece. Of course, I have ” a ” blade, but it’s not ” MINE “.
    Anyway, there was something i saw on the news today about someone else named Michael Bell, and that prompted me to google you.

    question after reading this page since I’m surprised to find out you have switched to gas. When the day comes that I can order, are you still willing to forge only using wood and charcoal ??? I’m sure some people really don’t care, but it would matter.

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