Pierre Nadeau, Japanese Swordsmith
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Pierre Nadeau swordsmith Wakayama Prefecture, Japan -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/320 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Pierre Nadeau
swordsmith
Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

As I noted in last week's “A Little Cold-Forging Metal Work”, I recently visited a craftsman in the art of traditional Japanese swordmaking.

I have no interest in swords as weapons, historical items, or even as pieces of art (such as seen in “A Few Japanese Swords of Note”), but I find how they're made to be facinating. (See this video for a superficial overview.)

Later this month, Pierre, a Canadian working in Wakayama, Japan, will take the test to be an officially licensed Japanese swordsmith. If he passes, he will be only the second non-Japanese in history to do so. My friend Zak Braverman became acquainted with Pierre through a mutual friend in the Japanese arts, and kindly invited me and Stéphane Barbery to tag along on a visit.

Pierre maintains his web site, SoulSmithing.com about his craft, in French, English, and Japanese.

Pierre's Smithy much brighter in this photo than in actual life -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1400 — map & image datanearby photos
Pierre's Smithy
much brighter in this photo than in actual life

Pierre's smithy was, as one might imagine, dark and dirty. The only light was from the windows, a single incandescent bulb, and the glow of a fire and 1000° metal...

Glowing Hot -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/160 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Glowing Hot
Basic Instruction -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Basic Instruction

Pierre was showing some basic hot-metal techniques to a visiting cold-metal smith, so he wasn't using his “real” forge, but rather a quick-and-dirty forge he made out of an old cooking-oil tub and cement. He was also using coke (the “pre-washed jeans” version of coal) for fuel instead of charcoal, for the same quick-and-dirty reasons.

Here's a photo of what his immediate work area looks like from his point of view...

Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos

... and some markup to show what's what...

Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/

The real forge is basically a narrow brick-lined pit in the ground, with a bellows to feed fresh air from underneath. The quick-n-dirty forge is like a simple BBQ (though a cement-lined BBQ) with a little electric blower. For fuel he can use coal, coke, or charcoal. Only charcoal is used for the real stuff, but for quick-and-dirty smithing (say, when he's making farm tools on order) he'll use coke, because it's much cheaper and easier to work with.

You can see his real forge in action a bit in the video at the bottom of this page on his site.

Notice that one removes their shoes before stopping up into the working area. It's a wonderful (and wonderfully Japanese) aesthetic to maintain an area of clean (physical and mental) amidst such harsh and gritty surroundings.

Pretending I'm holding a hammer in my left hand, camera in the right -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 @ 14mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 900 — map & image datanearby photos
Pretending
I'm holding a hammer in my left hand, camera in the right

Anyway, Pierre was showing the cold-metal guy the basics of shaping a sword, using an old hunk of flat scrap metal as a base...

Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 60mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 4500 — map & image datanearby photos
Pounding using a mechanized helping hand -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 66mm — 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
Pounding
using a mechanized helping hand

He makes many of his own tools, such as the little straw brush he's using above. He has a blog post on how to make them.

Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm — 1/80 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos

The phrase “strike while the iron's hot” came to life when his mechanical pounder thingie slipped a belt, leaving Pierre in a lurch with some iron that needed to be struck in a particular way before it cooled. Without missing a beat, he instructed that someone should grab a sledge hammer while he prepared the steel on the anvil...

Striking the Critical Blow -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/80 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Striking the Critical Blow
About To Lop Off a Wedge -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/200 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
About To Lop Off a Wedge

They didn't actually lop anything off, but rather, with some heavy blows from the sledgehammer onto the well-placed pointed hammer, indented the hot metal it enough so that with some quick but judicious hammering, he could bend back a wedge at the dent enough to weaken the fold, thereby allowing it to be eventually broken off. It all has to happen quickly, before the metal cools.

The Result -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/160 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
The Result

Of course, when you're taking pictures, you want to see flying sparks and dancing flames...

Stoking the Forge -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/160 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Stoking the Forge

Pierre then went to work on the little slug of pewter as seen in the cold-smithing post, while the cold-smither gave his hand a try at shaping the rough knife blank into something that resembled a knife. This involved many cycles of first heating it to glowing in the forge, then a lot of smashing on a wet anvil...

desktop background image of glowing-hot metal being hammered into a knife -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/40 sec, f/2.5, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Desktop-Background Versions
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desktop background image of glowing-hot metal being hammered into a knife -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/40 sec, f/2.5, ISO 1800 — map & image datanearby photos
Vertical Desktop-Background Versions
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Pierre's native language is French, which I suppose he doesn't get to use much in Japan (his smithy in the middle of nowhere, an hour from anywhere), so he seemed quite happy to chat with Stéphane...

Stéphane and Pierre -- Pierre Nadeau's Smithy -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 300mm f/2 — 1/320 sec, f/4, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Stéphane and Pierre

That evening, we all went out to perhaps the only restaurant in the town, for a really great meal....

Thumbs Up -- Aridagawa, Wakayama, Japan -- Copyright 2011 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 — 1/60 sec, f/2.5, ISO 900 — map & image datanearby photos
Thumbs Up

Right to left: the cold-metal worker Inamura-san, his friend Sawada-san, Stéphane, Zak, Me, Pierre.


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

This was really neat to see, thanks for sharing. I’m also quite curious about Pierre. What motivates someone to leave their home country in order to pursue swordsmithing, something that many of us in the West (and perhaps in Japan?) consider as being an archaic job turned esoteric art form? I have a lot of respect for people like that, because they likely faced a lot of skepticism and misunderstanding from people (such as myself), yet they still went and did what they wanted to do.

I see that there’s a section on his website that seems to talk about how he got into it, so I’ll give that a read.

— comment by David K on May 17th, 2011 at 11:47pm JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Interesting post.

So basically you were carrying: D700 (+MB10?), 14-24, 24-70, 24 f/1.4, Voitländer and the 300 f/2. Total weight? 😉

I don’t know, ask the trunk of my car. 😉 —Jeffrey

— comment by Gianluca on May 18th, 2011 at 6:27am JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

The CV 125 seems to be getting a lion’s share of action in your blog entries. I remember some great shots on the ZF 100 for a short stretch. Still in the camera bag or gone?

I’d only borrowed the Zeiss 100 from a friend (used it for these photos), but it’s what sparked my interest in a rich creamy medium-long manual-focus lens. I describe here how my interest in the Voigtländer developed. At this point a year later, It’s by far my favorite lens. —Jeffrey

— comment by ed on May 19th, 2011 at 12:51pm JST (6 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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