Naginata Blade Construction

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Part Three: Blade Polishing Techniques

Table of Contents

Introduction
Warning
Kaijitogi: Rough Polishing
Honnami & Fujishiro: Japan's Two Major Polishing Schools
Shitajitogi
: Foundation Polishing
Intermediate Polishing
Shiagetogi: Finish Polishing
Hadori and Sashikomi: Customizing the Hamon's Appearance
Conclusion
Jibiki: Glossary of Sword Terms
References

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Introduction:

After forging, heat treating, and rough polishing have been completed, the swordsmith is ready to hand the blade over to the expert polisher, or "togishi", for final polishing. It's during the final polishing process that the true artistic beauty of the blade will be revealed. Polishing, when done properly, will bring out all of the subtle features present in the blade such as the jihada (grain), the hamon (heat treated edge), the nie and nioi (fine particles of high carbon steel), and any utsuri if present.

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WARNING:

Do NOT attempt to polish a Japanese sword or naginata yourself. More blades are permanently damaged by amateurs attempting to polish them than by any other means! The art of blade polishing has been developed and refined over a period of at least 1,000 years, and is a highly complex process which is far more difficult than ANY other type of metal polishing. These blades are composed of thousands of layers of metal, all of which vary in their carbon content and subsequently their hardness. The Japanese use a combination of both artificial and natural (quarried) stones during the polishing process. This means that polishing is accomplished by both abrasive AND chemical means. Ordinary carbide papers, jeweler's rouge, cerium oxide compounds, "silver polish", etc. will simply not provide the same type of polish and will most likely ruin the blade. Furthermore, do not try to polish a blade by using a buffing wheel!!! This damages the steel by causing localized heating which then alters its microcrystalline structure.

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Kaijitogi: Rough Polishing

Before turning the blade over to the polisher, most swordsmiths give it a rough polish. This is done in order to firmly establish the blade's lines and geometry, and to make sure that no hidden flaws such as cracks or defective welds are present. The swordsmith, out of respect for his fellow craftsman, would not want to pass along anything less than a perfect blade. Using a metal file, the smith will also file the nakago (tang). This will be done in a characteristic decorative pattern; usually in the form of simple slanted lines. He'll use this pattern consistently on all of his blades, since it's considered one of his "trademarks" that can later be used to help distinguish his work from counterfeits. He'll also:

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Polishing Schools

There are currently two schools in Japan which teach the art of blade polishing:

Regardless of which school he attended, the polisher needs to be highly skilled in his ability to appraise swords. By simply looking at the blade he must be able to tell how, where, and when it was forged. Depending on the time and place in which the blade was originally made, it will respond differently to the stones used in the polishing process. The polisher must also be able to determine whether or not the blade can sustain another polishing. Since polishing is an abrasive process, the blade can only be polished a limited number of times before the polisher risks grinding thru the "jacket" steel, or through the hamon; thereby destroying the blade. It will take the polisher 10-14 days to complete the polishing process. If the blade is properly cared for, this polish should last approximately 100 years.

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Shitajitogi: Foundation Polishing

In order to effectively do his work, the polisher sits on a low stool directly in front of the polishing stone. Water, which is used as a lubricant, is located in a large bucket adjacent to the polishing stone. The polisher's right knee is tucked up almost into his right armpit, and his right foot rests upon a wooden clamp which holds the polishing stone in place. This posture enables him to exert pressure evenly onto the blade, and to carefully monitor the progress of the polishing. By simply lifting up on his right foot, he can release the clamp and change polishing stones quickly. Most students find this posture very uncomfortable to adapt to for the first 6-12 months or so.

The polisher uses a variety of stones, both natural and artificial, to accomplish his task. Listed below are only some of the BASIC ones. Since each blade has been made slightly differently, the polisher must make constant changes in his selection of stones in order to bring out the artistic patterns and features hidden in the steel. The first three stones are very rough and are only used on newly forged or badly rusted blades (it takes one to two days of continuous work to redefine the lines of a badly rusted blade). The stones typically used in this process are:

During foundation polishing, the polisher holds the blade with the edge facing away from him; moving it back and forth over the stone with short strokes. Depending on the hardness of the stone being used, the polisher may also incorporate a slight rocking motion during the stroke. He first polishes the mune, and then moves on to the shinogi ji, kissaki, and ji. In all cases, he starts with the end closest to the nakago; slowly working his way along the length of the blade then back down the other side. As the polisher moves on to the next finer stone, he changes the angle of the blade slightly so that the scratches from the previous stone will be readily discernible from those induced by the new stone. In this way, he'll be able to tell when he has thoroughly removed the damage caused by the previous stone.

After the polisher has finished the foundation polishing, the blade's lines will be firmly established and no further changes should occur in them. At this point the hamon is also beginning to become visible. This is more visible in Shinto and Shin-shinto blades since they tend to have a more pronounced hamon.

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Intermediate Polishing

The next step is the nagura stones. There are two type of nagura stones:

Following the nagura stones are the uchigumori stones. At this stage in the polishing process the hamon is clearly visible. Only natural stones will be used from this point forward. The polisher must now constantly watch for any defects inherent in them which could cause scratches. Uchigumori stones have a grain size of approximately 3,000 grit. There are two types of uchigumori stones:

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Shiagetogi: Finish Polishing

The stones used in the finish polishing process are in the form of paper-thin wafers. They are about one inch square, and are held in the fingers; hence the name "finger stones". These finger stones are actually small pieces of stone that have been glued to translucent paper and lacquered together. The use of the finger stones will highlight the subtle features in the steel, such as the nie, nioi, and utsuri. An entire day is frequently spent on just one stone. Some of these stones include:

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Customizing the Hamon's Appearance

The appearance of the hamon can be altered by the selection of either the hadori finish or the sashikomi finish. Some collectors, as well as many NBTHK judges, prefer that the hamon be white. This is done by polishing the area with a hadori (hazuya) stone. Hadori stones highlight the hamon by whitening it. However, in doing so, some of it's features will be clouded. For collectors that are more interested in seeing the details of the hamon, the hadori step is omitted and in its place a sashikomi finish is applied. This is accomplished by the use of a different type of nugui compound (tsushima, kujaku, or jitekko) after the jizuya step. Use of any of these nugui will selectively darken the ji, making the hamon stand out sharply in contrast; ensuring that all of the subtle details present in the hamon are clearly visible.

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Glossary of Terms

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Conclusion

After the blade has been properly polished, it's true beauty and luster should be quite visible, and trained observers should readily be able to see all of the subtle features present in the steel. The blade is now ready to be sent to the other craftsmen who will make the saya (scabbard) and kodogu (fittings). In the next article in this series, these crafts will be examined in more detail.

Written by Sue Kent
Southern California Naginata Federation

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Other Related Articles:

Part 1: Forging Techniques

Part 2: Heat Treatment and Tempering Methods

Part 4: Crafting of the Saya & Kodogu (accessories)

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References:

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