Echizen cutlery Echizen uchihamono
Years of practice and the artisan’s skill
Give a thin and light blade forged by unique techniques
Echizen Uchihamono are metalwork produced around Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture. Echizen Uchihamono are distinguished by their hand-finish using two unique techniques: “double layering” for knives and “rotated steel joining” for sickles.
Double layering is a forging and shaping method where two blade plates are layered and hammer beaten both from the top and back face. Since the thickness of the blade is doubled by layering, strong hammer beating is needed to effectively stretch and thin the knife blade. In addition, double layering prevents any fall in temperature, removing the need for repeated heating and resulting in less unevenness on the blade surface. The rotated steel joining technique involves beating steel into a slanted diamond shape blade edge by working out from the corner across the whole blade. This gives a hard, light, thin, and easy-sharpening sickle blade with excellent and long-term sharpness.
It is said that the origin of Echizen Uchihamono lies in the first half of the 14th century during the early period of North and South Dynasties when Chiyozuru Kuniyasu, a swordsmith in Kyoto, while looking for a suitable place for swordsmithing, settled in the present day Echizen City. He continued making swords along with sickles for the farmers in the area, and since then, Echizen has been famous for its agricultural tools.
In the Edo period, a blacksmiths merchant guild was organized under the patronage of the Sendai domain. In addition, collectors of urushi, familiar with the quality of the blades, sold hammer-forged sickles to supplement their income and took orders for blades from all over the country, as they ranged far and wide looking for lacquer trees. After entering the Meiji period, although the merchant guild lost the patronage of the Sendai domain and was dissolved, in 1874 Echizen sickles still accounted for nearly 30% of national production, and knives for about 25%. Since then until the Showa period, the development of the silk industry increased the demand for mulberry cutting sickles and knives and ensured the stability of the Echizen Uchihamono industry.
Over the generations Echizen Uchihamono artisans have maintained the traditional hand-finishing techniques, and still produce a range of excellent products, mainly knives, sickles, hatchets and pruning shears.
General Production Process
- 1. Preparing the steel
The steel of the cutting edge is heated at about 800°C and forged to the required size. Forging means to beat metal to shape with a hammer and strengthen the structure.
- 2. Inserting/Forge welding
A bar of iron has a groove cut in one face and the steel blade is inserted and hammer beaten to join the two together.
- 3. Expanding to the shape/Cutting to size
The flat part of the knife is shaped and cut to size.
- 4. Making the tang
The tang of the knife for affixing the handle is forged.
- 5. Stretching two layered plates
Stretching the two layered plates of the blade by beating both from the top and back face with a belt hammer (high-speed machine hammer) ensures the blade is evenly thinned. Since the thickness of blades is doubled by layering, the powerful belt hammer works well in this process; double layering also prevents falls in temperature with no need of repeated heating and giving less unevenness on the blade surface. This stretching method is a technique unique to Echizen Uchihamono.
- 6. Annealing
After the blade is heated at a temperature of about 800°C, it is allowed to cool down naturally in the air to stabilize the metal structure.
- 7. Removing mud/Rough smoothing
The surface of the blade is smoothed with a belt hammer while removing any matter stuck to the blade.
- 8. Finish smoothing
The blade is stretched straight by beating with a hammer.
- 9. Cutting to the shape
The blade is cut according to the desired shape and excess metal trimmed.
- 10. Quenching
After the blade is coated with mud and heated at a temperature of about 800°C, it is quenched by rapidly plunging to cool in water; this process makes the steel hard.
- 11. Tempering
To give durability to the steel, the blade is heated at a low temperature of 150 to 220°C for about 30 minutes and cooled down slowly to room temperature. Hard steel is brittle and broken easily, but tempering makes the blade durable.
- 12. Rough/medium sharpening
After the rough blade shape is ground on a coarse grain whetstone, the edge of the blade is sharpened in a transverse direction with a fine grain whetstone.
- 13. Blade Edging
The edge of the blade is sharpened carefully.
- 14. Finish Sharpening
After the whole knife is polished until shiny, the sharpened part is blurred with a blurring machine. The blade is finished after making a slight gap on the edge of the blade to prevent loss of sharpness; this is known as making a a koba and called kobaawase.
Where to Buy & More Information
Fukui Ceramics Center
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