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Starting on something fishy

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I finally managed to scrape together enough time to start work on another tsuba.

This one is actually more of a practice piece to try a few concepts. The base plate is going to be iron.

I'm hoping to be done by next week, more proper pictures by then.

I recently went angling (not fishing since I didn't actually catch anything), hence the fish theme.


Oh well, back to work I guess



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  • 3 weeks later...
The fish are looking good, Marius. I'm partial to fish themes - can you perhaps take a few more in-progress images as you work, with some expanded discussion of the process?


I managed to document most of the project.


For this exercise a 6mm mild steel plate was used as base material. The outline was drawn and cut out. An access hole was then drilled to accomodate the saw blade for cutting the opening for the nakago.



The fish taking shape.






The plate is polished and the outlines of both fish marked with a scriber.



The outlines are cut and the rims raised.




Using chisels the material is carved away to seat the inlays. Punches are used to push more of the rim material up. The rims will later be pushed back down to hold the inlays in place.





Fish with eye inlayed and basic relief carved.



The reverse is engraved with waves and clouds theme.



The fish ready to be fixed in place.



The rim of the plate is then peened over to create a raised border around the imagery.



Tools used: Bow drill, jeweller saw, needle files, escapement and rifflier files. Iron carving chisels, scrapers and punches


The following stages will be the patinating of the tsuba.

At the moment there are a few more urgent projects in need of attention but I'll see when I get around to finnishing this tsuba.



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Guest ford hallam

Hey Marius,


that's looking pretty impressive. keep this up and I'll have to make a trip out to Stellenbosch and break your thumbs! ;)


Nice to see your adoption of the classical approach to inlay, you did a nice job of raising the edge of the inlay area. One thing though, you may find it easier in future to inlay the blank into the ground before actually carving up the inlay ( ie; the fish ). That way you won't have to fiddle about trying to secure relatively delicate bits of metal while you carve them.


cheers, Ford :D

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I'm watching and learning. Just made a google search for tsuba and found a complete philosophy about it. Interesting. And nice work you do there. Always envy the knife makers for their craft, hope one day I will be able to do sth like that, too. I mean, at least in a workshop or so, not of your quality.

Thanks for showing the process. Wish you luck for the next fishing tour, I will have to wait at least another 3 months here, till perchpike season is on again ;)



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  • 2 weeks later...

Aloha Marius,


Karl Carvalho here. I am new, and catching up on prior posts. Just asked about metal carving tools over on Jim's waterfall thread. I have ordered chisels from Japan. Choices were "red" or "blue" label. I was told blue was for iron work. Maybe they contain tungsten or vanadium or something. Have you tried them?

Your tools are hand-made? Is that alloy available from someone like toolanddie.com?

Thanks for the step by step. Very neat work.





Aloha Dan,


Had a class last month where we did sen zogan (line inlay). Practice was 20G brass inlay into copper with very fine Japanese "red" label chisels. Wondering if "blue" label would work for iron?

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Had a class last month where we did sen zogan (line inlay). Practice was 20G brass inlay into copper with very fine Japanese "red" label chisels. Wondering if "blue" label would work for iron?


Hi Karl,

I they are the chisels I am thinking of...

Ford told me initially and through experience of using them it becomes obvious. I have some Reds here and they are not meant to be used as chisels but rather as punches and such. They deform under the hammer and will not hold a cutting edge. The Blue ones are hardened High speed steel. They are the ones meant for cutting. They don't deform much at all under the hammer. Both types are good to have on hand since much of the Japanese metal work is done with various punches as well as Chisels. Displacing, pushing, and burnishing metals are as important as cutting.


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Guest ford hallam

Morning all,


just to add a little to Patricks post, which is absolutely correct of course.


The red blanks are actually tool steel, they are supplied in a soft state so you can shape and hardened then to suit your specific needs. I usually shape as needed, heat in a blue flame 'til the bottom inch is cherry red then quench the red part in water, I don't put the whole tool in, just the red bit. Once the colour has gone I withdraw the tool from the water and allow the residual heat in the tool to "temper" the punch.


The blue ones are , as Patrick said, High Speed Steel, or as the guys in Japan called it; Haisu. :D You can preshape these on a grinder and not worry about losing hardness if the steel blues. Final shaping is done with a diamond file and Arkansas stones etc. I use both types on steel. Red is non-cutting and blue cuts.


regards and stuff,



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