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Japan and the art of the blade

Japanese sword. Vector illustration.The Japanese art of the blade is legendary. The forging process is subtle and careful, and was mastered over centuries to give the world stylish, aesthetically pleasing and functional blades that can be wielded with finesse and flair. To fashion the blades, smiths must possess superior physical strength, patience, dexterity and a keen eye to discern the limits of the material and maintain the beauty of the blade.

Forging the blade

Traditionally, smiths in Japan used tamahagane, steel produced from iron-rich sand in a tatara smelter. Even today, many modern Japanese smiths forge blades using the steel produced in the last tatara smelter located in Yokota, Shimane Prefecture.

This steel, however, has insufficient quantities of carbon, which is necessary to make the metal strong and durable. To compensate for the quality of steel, smiths have devised a unique folding method. Here, different blocks of tamahagane are taken and then forge-welded into a single block. This block forms the outer layer of the blade.

Then starts the laborious task of hammering the block and folding it multiple times to remove impurities and homogenise the carbon content throughout the metal. This requires great skill and accuracy, and helps achieve high-quality steel.

The folding process yields the jihada — patterns which Japanese blades are renowned for. Each session of hammering out and subsequent folding forms layers. Usually, the smith folds the metal 14 times to produce more than 16,000 layers.

The finished blade proudly displays the jihada, which is visible in the ji, or the surface between the ridgeline and edge. The direction of folding determines the kind of jihada a blade has.

The outer hard skin of the blade is called kawagane, which is wrapped around the ductile core called shingane. The two layers are then heated and hammered into a single block. This process also helps weld the two layers together.

After forging the basic form, the smith uses files and planes to give the blade its final shape. Now, all the smith has to do is prepare the edge.

Hardening the blade edge

Hardening the blade edge, or Yaki-ire, is the most difficult and important part of blade-making. The hardening process allows the blade to retain its sharpness.

The process begins by coating the blade with a mixture of water, clay, ash, and few other ingredients. This clay mixture is known as yakibatsuchi. Every smith has his own recipe to make yakibatsuchi and will not reveal it. After applying the mixture, the blade is heated gradually until it reaches critical temperature. Just by looking at the colour of the metal, the smith can determine this temperature. On attaining the right temperature, the blade is plunged into a trough of water.

The hardening process causes visible changes in the blade surface. Based on the way the clay mixture was applied, it produces a range of patterns, like hamon, suguha, and sambongsugi. If the smith is satisfied with the finish and quality of the blade, the polishing begins, and gives the blade a mirror-like sheen.

The Japanese blade is a masterpiece that requires expertise to achieve a perfect blend of art and technology. Imagine the results you will be able to achieve with a blade that is tough, durable and sharp. Look no further than Feather Hi-Stainless DE Razor Blades (10 Pack). They have the distinction of being among the sharpest razor blades on the market and above all, they are manufactured in Japan. The quality of the stainless steel and platinum coating ensure a smooth shave and durability, just like the Japanese blades from a bygone era.

Feather Hi-Stainless DE Razor Blades (10 Pack)

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