Mokume gane (pronounced mo-koo-may gah-nay) is an ancient Japanese metalsmithing art, used originally in the production of samurai swords. it literally means wood grain metals In this process there are alternating layers of contrasting metal, (usually a minimum of 10 - 20 layers) which are bonded into a single billet and then cut and shaped to form ring material. The result is a beautiful artistic pattern.
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History of Mokume Gane
In Japan from the late 1600s through the mid 1800s the samurai sword transitions from being a tool for fighting battles into a symbol of the warrior class. While retaining its truly awesome functionality as a weapon in the hands of a skilled samurai it was the quality and amount of decoration of the swords handle and sheath that became an indicator of ones social status and wealth. The level of craftsmanship demonstrated in many of these sword furnishings is second to none. The sword smiths who made these weapons developed a wide array of techniques for use in the decoration of these swords. The traditional technique of mokume gane (moku = wood, me = eye and gane = metal) was one such technique It was invented by Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master metalsmith from the Akita prefecture, who used it for the adornment of samurai swords. Using the mokume gane technique the smith would create laminated metal billets that were fused by heat and pressure. The billets, composed of various combinations of gold, silver and copper alloys were forged, carved and finished to produce uniquely patterned metal stock which was then used to fabricate parts for the samurai sword furniture. Mokume gane as traditionally practiced was a very difficult process to learn; this was partly due to the difficultly of successfully fusing the metals and partly due to the skill required to forge the laminated billet down to useable material without delaminating it.
How Mokume Gane is Made
The lamination process involves clamping many layers (most often somewhere between 10-30 layers) of selected nonferrous metals between steel blocks and heating the resulting stack in a kiln. With carefully controlled conditions the combination of heat, pressure, and protective atmosphere allow the layers fuse but not melt. The resulting fused stack of metal is then forged and rolled to reduce its thickness. The unique patterns are created by hand carving down through the layers in the laminated stack and then forging the carved laminate to flatten it out. The process of carving and rolling is repeated many times to create the finished pattern. The patterns formed in this manner are almost like a topographic map, showing the depth of the carving into the original laminate.
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