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Another _Big_ Step!

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:39 AM, January 15, 2012 [Permalink]

Back on the first day of the year, I made a post over on my Woodblock RoundTable blog, catching up with bits and pieces of news. One of the items - just tossed off in passing - included this content: "... one day was a visit from a young craftsman who has some interesting thoughts on the steel with which our carving knives are made, and he brought over some sample blades which we 'cooked up' on my kitchen stove, but as he is not ready to make his endeavours public yet, he has asked me to refrain from blogging about it. More about this later ... (I hope!)"

Well, 'later' is here already!

The young craftsman I mentioned was the carver Sato-san, who did the work for the Senshafuda prints I published last year. He has been spending quite a lot of his free time doing research on the content of the steel used to make the blades in our carving knives. All the traditional carvers complain about the quality of the blades in recent years, but most of us have felt that there just wasn't much we could do about it. Making knives is a very specialized job of course, and our segment of the overall hardware market is extremely tiny. There are actually more people still making samurai swords than there are making knives like ours!

Sato-san's researches - and his tenacity at digging up information - led him late last month to a small workshop in one of the suburbs of western Tokyo. Here's a snapshot from the workshop:

Sato-san found that one of the men there shared his interest in investigating the various types of steel that could be used to make such tools, and some interesting discussions began, followed by some hammering of steel ...

For the past few weeks I have been testing out a blade from this workshop, one made and tempered to specifications set by Sato-san, and I have been mightily impressed. Not only impressed - worried. Worried that I might not be able to get a replacement, after this one is worn down!

Well, one thing led to another, and this little item may give you a hint about where we are going to take this:

That's his new Mokuhankan meishi (namecard). Yes, Sato-san is joining our team! (Part time, as he will continue his apprenticeship at the Takumi Workshop.)

Now 'Manager for Tools and Supplies' could have two meanings. Perhaps he will be arranging the tools we need for our own use. Or perhaps you can think of another meaning ...?

This is going to be fun!




Added by: Gary on January 15, 2012 10:48 PM

Gee, Mokuhankan is branching out into the hardware business! You'll have to convert another floor of your house into a forging shop, but then the forging furnace should warm up that basement nicely and you won't have to pump the heat from the attic space down any longer! :) Sato-san can run the newly tempered blades down and cool them in that stream you have running out back. Perfect! Side line's new name? 'Bull's Blades'. :)

Added by: Dave on January 15, 2012 10:56 PM

Well, the only forging we'll be doing here is forging ahead! We're going to be ordering the blades from this workshop, and will mate then with handles we're getting from a specialist maker. We haven't got the design of those worked out yet; this is going to take a bit of time.

The first offering will be a set of six knives/chisels in a custom-made paulownia box. It won't be the cheapest such set on the market for sure, but if we can pull this off, it'll be the best, by far!

And if that first attempt gets a basically good reaction from the market, we'll follow it with knives in other sizes, building up to a complete lineup.

Best guess at the moment (too early to tell, really) is that we might be able to have these ready in March/April.

Added by: Andrew Stone on January 15, 2012 11:15 PM

I'd be interested although the biggest hassle by far for the printmaker out of Japan is getting decent PAPER.
I'm having less success than you have in sizing my own and would be less inclined to keep pursuing it but for the lack of alternatives....any chance of hooking up with young apprentice papermakers to make paper specifically for you, us, (ME?).

Added by: Dave on January 15, 2012 11:27 PM

Paper is going to be tough. Getting acceptable 'raw' paper from Iwano-san is no problem; dealing with the sizing is a huge problem. I'm doing my own these days, as I have reported, but there is no way I can take on that job for paper for sale.

What I've been hoping, and waiting for, is for somebody out there to think about that upcoming 'hole' in the supply chain - the one that will appear when Misawa-san inevitably retires - and jump in. I think there is an excellent opportunity here; somebody who got good at sizing would just clean up the whole market.

But there is no way I can think about tackling that by hiring somebody and training them. I just don't have the resources for it. We're going to be stretched right to the limit (and beyond) over the next half-year or so, with all these new investments ... all of which are going to be carried on the back of my own print production until they can begin to generate their own revenues ...


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