Hello Everyone! Ilana here.
Below is part 2 of Julio Alonso’s guest post about his trip to Japan. Thank you for your patience!
If any of you have ideas for future content or guest posts, please feel free to contact me through the blog or at my email: ilanamartha1 “at” gmail dot com (spelling it out to avoid spambots).
I do plan to share Chris’s carpentry study group information from several years ago. I need to sift through it to see 1) if I understand it well enough and 2) if it’s useful without the commentary and support he offered when he ran the study group. If you were a member of the study group and have thoughts about this, please let me know.
My goal is to make as much information as possible available and to ensure that it’s understandable and useful, of course!
I still plan to have a memorial service for Chris, probably next summer – whenever a vaccine is widely enough available that travel and large gatherings are both advisable and comfortable for people. In the meantime, I continue to bring Chris’s legacy and memory forward as much as possible. The grief hasn’t really gotten less intense in the last couple of months, but there are more moments of joy, and I’m figuring out how to expand myself so I can hold it while also being present in my current life. That’s the work, right? Not to stop loving people who die, but to keep living while loving them.
Chris would be very happy to know you are still here on The Carpentry Way!
Now, onto Julio and many thanks again to him for his generosity in writing this post!
Now we are going to the forge. Here is Funahiro at the beginning of the work. Heating the wrought iron.
Funahiro, like most blacksmiths, works in the dark to better see the different colors of steel , which tells him the temperature range of the metal. The next step is to attach the sheet of hagane. Then, he uses a special powder between laminates, and heat it again.
It is very important to control the heat, which he can by watching the color of fire and embers. When necessary, he adds more carbon.
One thing that is necessary to create a fine steel is to make the molecules fine and even. That is one of the reasons to use the spring hammer and compress the steel when very hot.
When he is satisfied with the shape and temperature, he finishes this part of the process by soaking the blade at just the right moment in cold water.
These ones were pieces for chisels, nomi. Funahiro chisels are made out of very good white steel, sometimes called tansoko.
To shape the chisels, one accessory/jig is placed into the spring hammer.
Funahiro hit the blades with the forging hand hammer, and he frequently used it to cool the piece with water.
So sad I didn’t realize this photo was so blurry until later!
Next comes the refining process. Starting to create the nice and subtle ura, he uses a big wheel with sandpaper to make the hollow in the back, urasuki, and holds the blade with a wooden device that reminds me of a spokeshave.
Next he forms the hollow on the bevel side of the blade, kou, with a tool called a sen.
This tool can look like a woodworking drawknife but the blade is only in the middle, and it scrapes the steel more than cuts it. These sen are also use by japanese saw makers to scrape the sawplates towards the back from the teeth line to make the saw plate thinner than the sawset, thus better tracking in the kerf we cut and less friction to the wood, otherwise the saw plate could get stuck while sawing and be damaged or have teeth broken off.
Here is master saw maker Daizo Mitsukawa using the sen during a demonstration.
There are several sizes of sen, depending on the task; here are the ones at Funahiro’s workshop.
Funahiro giving final touches with files. Notice how a seventy year-old man adopts that stance on the ground to work – believe me, not easy. He told us he usually did ABS to keep in shape.
The last thing is to stamp his signature.
On another day he does the tempering process. For this, he uses another furnace in his workshop. He uses pine charcoal and a delicate attention to temperature. In the next pic we can see him “painting” the blade with a kind of liquid clay, called tonoko in Japanese. This liquid is also used by Edo style furniture makers when lacquering the wood surfaces with Urushi, the Japanese lacquer. This protects the steel from losing carbon in its structure and keeps it the right temperature.
To conclude the job, the blade is quickly cooled in a pit full of water just behind this furnace; it is in the floor and hidden by a piece of wood.
I want to share if I may…I can’t forget one of the nights we went to a ramen restaurant for dinner. Oh my gosssssssssssh, that was so delicious and tasty!!!!!! And the portions were really big.
During the viist, I was very happy to be able to discuss sharpening with Mr. Funatsu. He showed me his sharpening room, stones, and how he sharpens the blades. And then let me to try his stones and sharpen.
Here is part of his collection and the ginormous okudo suita – there is no money that can buy that stone if you ask. I just wondered how to flatten such a big surface. In this photo you can also see the blade I spoke about earlier, Tenkei sansui – he used it for a sharpening demonstration.
Using synthetic stones, naniwa vitrified series. Funahiro confessed to me that one of his favorite is a synthetic, a very humble one. I was surprised, but I learned that sometimes the cheap stones can be better.
Classic naniwa jyunpaku, called in the west “snow-white.” A stone favorite of Usui Kengo. I had this stone, but I sold it years ago because it develops spiderwebs, nothing important because it performs really well, but I always like to try new and different sharpening stones. Incurable addiction.
Let’s go natural! A variety of japanese natural sharpening stones (tennentoishi) came to me like a sushi buffet, now I know what paradise is, LOL.
Amazing beauty with traditional wrapping protection and cashew lacquer, japanese style base.
There was no need to, but Funahiro wanted to show us the difference between one standard quality chisel and one of his chisels. He started to cut end grain in a piece of cedar (sugi) and later let me try the cut with both chisels. You can make that in the photo and the edge still can work more.
At the end of my time there, I wanted to give a present to the family, so among other things, I gave Funatsu-san and Chiyoko-san a serving board made by me in Spain out of American cherry.
I decided to tell Funahiro one of my wishes, that he would build a set of custom chisels for me. I couldn´t be happier when he agreed to make them. But you know this takes time, a very long time. The type of chisels I always wanted are ones called komaru nomi, that others like Kiyohisa, Kanetake or Chiyozuru have made before. I want these chisels only for paring, that’s why I ordered them with white oak long handles. You can see them here.
I have seen this type of chisel in the west too, made by Ashley Iles.
And the last photo from my time there, before saying goodbye, with my friends in front of the workshop.
I think there’s no need to explain the level of happiness in my soul, the photos and text speak on their own. These kinds of experiences are unforgettable but also hard to say thank you for enough. I keep a deep feeling of gratitude in my heart, and I just want to be able to visit the Funahiro family again and thank them again, because I’m afraid it will be difficult for them to travel to Spain, where I would be pleased to be a servant to them.
If this story sounds like a miracle (at least to me), you won’t believe what I still have to say. Funahiro gifted me with several presents: a set of flowers made out of kanna shavings in which Mrs. Chiyoko is an expert, a nice tenugi (japanese towel), an amazing T-shirt with Yousui blade motif….
And I was blessed to work with honor with this GORGEOUS set of ten chisels made by Funahiro, too much for a mere mortal like me. These chisels are named Genjyu Funahiro.
And you can watch in the next link to see the polish on the wood they can achieve.
Finally, I just would like to share the hand tools I have got over the years from these two awesome blacksmiths, Funahiro and Kiyohisa, which Chris Hall once introduced to me like a fantasy. From Funahiro, besides those chisels above, I have got Tenkeikanna, here.
And Koushun kanna.
And from Kiyohisa I have the set of chisels (oire nomi) from Kezuroukai, a couple of kanna and three chisels more, 24mm, 42mm and a wonderful 75mm.
These kanna are kamon-kiyohisa, which is the family crest, you will know it by the three points above the signature. White steel is a type of high carbon steel and is very difficult to forge, but Mr Watanabe is extremely good at forging that kind. Kamon-kiyohisa is white steel #1. You may have heard or read before that with Japanese steels, it doesn’t matter what steel something is made from, but the blacksmith who forges it is what makes the difference. And that’s a big truth – choosing the steel by its name sometimes is not the point, more important is to know if the blacksmith is good forging that type of steel.
A fluffy close up shaving, out of Oregon pine. You may find 3 numbers in Kiyohisa blade: 150º, 135º and 100º. And also no number. Those degrees point out the tempering temperature. I don’t think one is better than another, but as with many things, to me it’s a matter of taste, which often must be based on the type of work you do. High temperature gives finer steel that you can get sharper, lower temperature results in a tougher steel with a long edge life but, it’s harder to sharpen. Since I don´t have machinery and I have to mill and square up wood from the beginning truly by hand, I try to avoid very hard or exotic wood species. I use conifers and medium hardwood, although I like rock maple very much. I am sharing this because that is my reason for preferring high carbon steels – very pure tools that get sharper edges than steels that are hard to sharpen and don’t give as fine an edge. Another reason for my choice is that I don’t use sanders or sandpaper because I finish wood only with kanna.
This blade is 42mm wide. Note the chip breaker is not made by Kiyohisa, although it is good laminated steel, it is not so fine and beautiful as the one made by the same blacksmith, in the bigger blade.
Blade of 70mm wide next to osaegane with Kiyohisa signature. There is a small story about this blade – I will brief. As you already know, I have a deep love for Kiyohisa’s work, and I always tried to find and get, if I could afford, one of his blades. I was lucky to find the 42mm kanna in a shop by chance, but finding a 70mm one, which is the standard of a kanna for japanese carpenters, was really impossible. Every seller told me the same as what Chris earlier did: you have to order it and wait for 3 or 4 years for it to be completed (beside paying a high price). While traveling through Japan and visiting a lot of tool stores, I went to one I knew that sells a high percentage of Kiyohisa blades. I asked them, a gentle married couple who run this shop, to sell me one of the blades. They immediately but very politely, refused the deal telling me the same I have been explaining. I picked up some items, sharpening stones, and a couple of chisels. And I kept on, with watery eyes, begging them to sell me one blade because I knew I will never have another chance to get that kind of blade, they went to the back store for a while and then went out. The husband brought one brand new Kiyohisa blade with a chipbreaker wrapped in anti corrosion paper. They didn’t say a word and put the blade in my hands, I asked: can I buy it please, please ? And then he showed me a notebook with a huge amount, long list of orders of customers waiting for their blades like that in my hands now. After making me understand the value and magnitude of that blade, they asked me to promise I would never tell anybody they sold to me the blade. I was about to cry of emotion, and of course I have never told anyone their names, I am sorry but you understand I will keep my word firm and never break the pledge.
And this is one of the big values that Japanese carpentry means to me: commitment.
It seems this post has become longer than I imagined when I began to write it, but you know, many beautiful memories of these years come to my mind. I hope you liked it and it turns out to be useful in some way, and not too boring LOL.
Above all else, my goal for writing this is to make a humble tribute to my dear and admired friend, and mentor for many, Chris Hall. I also think this is a thank you to his wife Ilana who was so kind to ask me to write it, I hope it throws to you any smooth and warm feeling with positive thoughts.
It has been a big pleasure and honor, and I will always be very thankful to Chris for everything that means so much to me. I don’t want to disturb anyone, I am sorry to say I am not a religious person, but wherever you are Chris, please wait for me because if in this life I couldn´t, I want to meet you when my day comes.
Thanks and my best wishes, peace for all.