Echigo-yoita cutlery Echigo yoita uchihamono
Practical beauty born of tradition
Craftsmanship and a reputation for carpentry tools
Echigo Yoita Uchihamono are blades produced for a variety of tools in the Yoita area of Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. They are smith forged, meaning red-hot metal is beaten to shape, and are distinguished by their refined sharp cutting edge and ease of use. There are 4 products designated as Traditional Crafts: planes, chisels, axes and adzes. These carpenter’s tools first earned their reputation from the many temple carpenters who since the middle of the Edo period used these blades and helped build this flourishing castle town. Echigo Yoita Uchihamono have maintained their high quality over the years and are known as hammer-forged blades with a definite cutting edge and are still used regularly by craftsmen today. In recent years, Echigo Yoita Uchihamono have manufactured household and outdoor goods and earned a reputation as practical and high quality everyday articles.
The origin of Echigo Yoita Uchihamono dates back to the Warring States period. In 1578, Naoe Yamatonokami Sanetsuna, a vassal of Uesugi Kenshin, took the sword smiths from Kasugayama to Yoita. Later, since the foundations of smithing had been laid by the Naoe family, guns were also produced as well as swords. Early in the Edo period, the Yoita area was further developed and flourished by the opening up of river navigation on the Shinano river. Then, in the middle of the Edo period, carpenter’s tools were added to the blacksmiths’ repertoire and fine works such as doinomi or hyobunomi were created. Later, early in the Meiji period, a swordsmith, Matsunaga Ryuminsai Kaneyuki began to make planes as well as swords, which led to Yoichi achieving nationwide prominence as one of the major production areas of carpenter’s tools. In 1986 Echigo Yoita Uchihamono were designated as Traditional Crafts in recognition of the area’s production of fine blades and the traditional skills, which are still being passed down the generations today.
General Production Process
- 1. Forging
An iron bar is heated in a furnace until red hot and then forged and shaped by beating with a spring hammer (electric hammer). The metal is heated at a high temperature of over 1200°C, then evenly beaten and stretched to harden.
- 2. Forge welding
The beaten iron is now treated with a forge welding agent, heated in a furnace and then forge welded with a length of steel by beating with a spring hammer. The steel will form the blade edge.
- 3. Normalizing/Forging
Normalizing known as shojun equalizes the structure of the metal and makes the blade durable and highly sharp.
Forging involves heating metal in a furnace, and repeatedly beating it to give the finished blade high durability.
- 4. Annealing Annealing softens the metal, making the next process easier to carry out. In order to prevent carbon from being lost, the metal is coated with mud, heated at a temperature of about 800°C and cooled down naturally. The mud is removed before rough finishing.
- 5. Rough finishing For rough finishing, a grinder is used to thin the cutting edge.
- 6. Okanarashi The blade is heated at a temperature of 400°C to strengthen the metal.
- 7. Patterning the blade The blade is patterned by beating with a patterned hammer.
- 8. Quenching/Tempering The purpose of quenching is to harden the metal to improve the wear and fatigue resistance. The blade is heated at a temperature of 800°C, cooled down quickly by plunging into water and then beaten to remove any distortions. Since quenching makes the metal hard and brittle, tempering is required. The metal is heated to a temperature of 150 to 160°C and then cooled down gradually. This procedure tempers the hardness and gives durability.
- 9. Sharpening/Blade edging The blade is sharpened on a grinder while being kept cool with poured water. Blade edging is also a kind of sharpening method in which a blade is sharpened according to its purpose.
- 10. Mounting Every blade needs a housing or handle, mounting is the process by which a plane blade is inserted into the plane board; chisels and knives have their handles attached to a tang.