Carter’s training at the elbow of a Japanese master smith shows in his shop.
Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated with blades,” ABS master smith Murray Carter writes. “Why some blades would cut and others would not was a mystery to me that I felt compelled to solve.
“A chance encounter at age 15 with a karate instructor began my love affair with Japan. A trip to Japan, when I was 18 years old, led to an unexpected encounter with an amazing man, Sensei Yasuyuki Sakemoto, who I would come to learn was the 16th-generation Yoshimoto bladesmith and whose family custom forged samurai swords for some of Japan’s most influential feudal lords. My relationship with Sensei Sakemoto led to a unique six-year apprenticeship, and upon its completion, I was asked to continue on in the 420-year-old family bladesmithing tradition as the 17th-generation Yoshimoto bladesmith.”
Murray was off to the races. “I worked as a village bladesmith for 12 more years, constantly availing myself to other industry experts to glean what I could, and spent many long hours in the forge putting my newfound skills and knowledge to practice. I introduced my handforged Japanese kitchen knives to the Western market in June 1997 and achieved the ABS master smith rating in June 2001. In 2005, I moved to Oregon and have been busy plying my trade ever since.”
His shop is steeped in Japanese knifemaking history and his equipment reflects it. He begins with his forging hammer. “The Sakamoto-Shiki Japanese Spring Hammer is a 25-kilogram version,” Murray notes. “This particular hammer is the last-ever spring hammer to be manufactured by Sakamoto Ironworks in Tosayamadacho on the island of Shikoku, Japan. Blades are forged both hot and cold under this spring hammer. The 25-kilogram ram strikes the steel with enough kinetic energy to actually heat up the steel as it is being forged. One of our spring hammers has forged over 40,000 blades to date without breakage or malfunction.”
Next up is his rotating waterstone. “Keeping with traditional Japanese bladesmithing methods, handforged blades are quenched fully thick and then blade geometry is ground by hand on the rotating Japanese waterstone,” he explains. “When purchasing stones from Japan was no longer possible, Radiac Abrasives, Inc., from Salem, Illinois, stepped up and fabricated this stone for us.”
Murray’s forging hammer bears little resemblance to American fare. “The Japanese tagane hammer is made by brazing a carbide bit into a regular hammer,” he writes. “This is a specialized tool skillfully used to straighten bent homogenous steel knives after hardening. It is hammered into the concave side of an unwanted curve in a blade, and the carbide bit penetrates the surface of the metal and moves a tiny bit of steel in either direction, perpendicular to the length of the bit. Handforged saw blades before the days of disposable saw blades used this straightening technique heavily.”
For further blade straightening Carter uses a simple yet effective tool. “The mage-bou custom made ‘bending stick’ with slots of varying thicknesses is used to straighten hardened laminated blades,” he observes. “The bent blade is forced true via the lever and fulcrum effect. Care must be taken not to snap a stiffer blade by applying too much force.”
Sometimes it just takes experience and a good eye in lieu of hi-tech. “The brass hammer and wood stump are used to fine tune the straightening of blades after heat treatment,” Murray notes. “It’s probably the most-used workstation at Carter Cutlery. The convex side of a curve is placed face-up on the stump and judiciously hammered with the brass hammer. Examining by eye the effects on the blade after each single hammer blow is the most effective way to do it.”