Charcoal Preparation: Monochromatic Work of a Japanese Swordsmith
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knife and chopping block for cutting charcoal, at a swordsmith's smithy in Wakayama Japan
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/500 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Chopping Block
at Pierre Nadeau's Japanese Sword Smithy in Wakayama, Japan
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cut charcoal at a swordsmith's smithy in Wakayama Japan
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/40 sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Charcoal
in all its full-color glory
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This year has gotten off slowly for me, having woken up January 1st with a cold and all, but with “Inspired Artistic Temple Shot” and its followup, “Simple Temple Sliding Wall”, I seem to have a black-and-white theme going, so I'll continue that today with a post about charcoal, from last year's visit to Japanese swordsmith Pierre Nadaeu (the swords are Japanese; Pierre is Canadian).

All the photos on today's post are shown in full color, but the subject matter's lack of chromatic variety makes them feel more monochrome than not.

A swordsmith can use various things to heat the forge — such as gas, coke, and coal — but the most predictable (and hence “best”) results are when using charcoal. Charcoal is much safer than coal (breathing its dust doesn't cause cancer, for example), but it's a lot of work to prepare, so when I gave it a try, Pierre opted to have me use coke (a product of burning coal) rather than deplete his stock of carefully-prepared charcoal.

Visiting his smithy, you couldn't imagine that there could be a place even more dirty, but he prepares the charcoal in an attached shed that vies for that honor.

knife and chopping block for cutting charcoal, at a swordsmith's smithy in Wakayama Japan
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/320 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Fruits of One's Labors
big pile of black messiness
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On his blog he has a whole post about the preparation of charcoal, at first citing the phrase “sumi-kiri san'nen” which means “cutting charcoal, three years”, apparently implying that it takes three years of experience to get good at it. Pierre, in his characteristic self deprecation says that he's still really bad at it after five years of practice.

You can see the various stages of preparation in a video at the end of his post, replete with impressive clouds of billowing charcoal dust towards the end.


Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/320 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Love, Friend, Cute Teddy Bears
Pierre Nadeau summarized in a stool cushion

Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Raw Materials

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 300mm f/2 — 1/1250 sec, f/2, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
View from Outside
handheld, with my Nikkor 300mm f/2 on my second outing with it

Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/400 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
More Charcoal Detail

Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/200 sec, f/2.5, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
Further Back in the Shed
Charcoal, Straw, Sifting Pans

The charcoal and sifting pans are seen in Pierre's video, but he has a different blog post about the straw, which is used to make small whisk brooms that he uses while forging swords. The photo above is a mild transition from the black-n-white vibe, so let me continue adding color in showing the straw in use, as a bundled whisk broom just behind his hand in this photo:


Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm — 1/40 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos

He uses it to clean carbon(?) buildup from the steel, as seen in this photo from my original post about him:


Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm — 1/80 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos

After so much color at the end of last year (such as last year's final post or any of the bazillion fall-foliage posts like this), it was perhaps nice to have a few B&W posts, but I think I'm ready to get back to color again...


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

Funny, there’s a saying about shakuhachi that it takes three years to learn how to shake your head (“首振り三年”). I’ve been playing for more than a decade, but I think I’m not quite there yet. Maybe us white guys are just plain not very talented….

— comment by Zachary on January 9th, 2012 at 8:59am JST (5 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Very interesting photos, both for their content and their photographic technique!

— comment by Tom on January 10th, 2012 at 1:30am JST (5 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

love the charcoal screen saver! thanks!

— comment by stefan on January 12th, 2012 at 3:07pm JST (5 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink
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