Following the Iron Brush
January 11, 2011 3:57 PM   Subscribe

English-born artist metal-worker Ford Hallam in South Africa recently completed a very special project - at the request of a patron-collector, he created a reproduction of a lost tsuba (Japanese sword guard), transforming scraps of raw metal into this exquisite object. The hugely interesting process was documented in HD video, and you can watch it on YouTube in two parts: [1] | [2].

Hallam does it the old-fashioned way - no drills, grinders, or other power tools. Photos of his other work is on his website, lots of backstory is on his blog, and he shares his techniques with other people on his forum - "Following the Iron Brush" - here. Bonus content! Hallam's brother Clive follows a similar path - he carves delicate netsuke, like this. [Website]
posted by woodblock100 (31 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Unbelievable. I love this.
posted by bz at 4:05 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gah, he's so unbelievably skilled and talented that he makes it look so easy. I took a metal working class and that shit is hard. Takes a lot of practice and patience. I am truly amazed at this.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:10 PM on January 11, 2011

wow. thats incredibly beautiful and highly skilled work there :)
posted by supermedusa at 4:13 PM on January 11, 2011

This is fantastic, thank you! The way he set the plate for the face, like setting a stone, but with the smashy step- I'm sure that for experienced metalworkers it's old news, but that blew my mind.
posted by pajamazon at 4:26 PM on January 11, 2011

This is stunning.
posted by kenko at 4:34 PM on January 11, 2011

Is the jeweler's saw a traditional Japanese metalworking tool?

It's interesting that doing it the traditional way is not all that different from what a modern metalsmith would do. It would have been initially shaped and polished with wheels, and you'd use a drill press to start the interior cuts (I suspect he did, actually. There's a very round hole shown as he's cutting it out with the saw.), but other than that...

That said, and maybe having gone to school for this has something to do with it, get a dremel, man.
posted by cmoj at 4:37 PM on January 11, 2011

But however he does it this is world class work.
posted by cmoj at 4:38 PM on January 11, 2011

Absolutely incredible.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:38 PM on January 11, 2011

I didn't want the video to end, I just sat here mesmerized.
posted by djeo at 4:46 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of craftsmen taking up the Japanese tradition. Even though this (2 part, other half on the page) isn't metal working I thought it was in the same vain. All the videos on that page are worth a view albeit only about woodworking.

This thread has made an otherwise shitty new year ok. It's much appreciated.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 5:26 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

All that crap in AZ, and now this. Humanity, you are a beast of many extremes

Thanks for this woodblock100
posted by Redhush at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2011

Fantastic, thanks for the post.
posted by Abiezer at 6:18 PM on January 11, 2011

The world needs more patrons.

This is beautiful work.
posted by maxwelton at 6:19 PM on January 11, 2011

Holy shit. I feel like a total slacker now. So much work put into one single piece.
posted by egypturnash at 6:57 PM on January 11, 2011

I sometimes visit a Japanese sword forum that Ford posts to and even the most tradition bound among us have the greatest respect for him and his work.
He has done very well in competitions in Japan and has a boatload of knowledge.
posted by Iron Rat at 7:01 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beautiful! I love this. Thanks for posting.
What is The Japanese Sword? Part 1, 2, 3
posted by various at 7:36 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lovely! It's good that there are patrons who appreciate and can afford to pay for skill and artistry like this, so that craftsmen like Hallam can afford to keep these skills alive.

I was sort of surprised at the approach, though - casting a solid disk, then polishing it mirror-smooth, then carving away most of that polished surface. I would have thought a metalworker would make a lost wax casting to get the rough shape first, then refined the details with file and chisel. Even if Hallam is simply adhering to the traditional methods, why did the original craftsmen do it this way? It seems needlessly time-consuming, so what am I missing here?

Lastly, can anybody read the signature he engraved on the back? I'm hoping his name is on there next to the original artist's.
posted by Quietgal at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2011

Thanks very much for this, and I echo what others have said:

The piece itself is exquisite.

Watching this was the most relaxing thing I've done in a week.
posted by exlotuseater at 7:50 PM on January 11, 2011

Not to get all meta or anything, but sometimes "needlessly time consuming" is the mark of a piece of craft.

I'm going to guess, though, that for this fine, delicate work you cannot afford to encounter a cavity or other flaw that might be present in a cast piece.
posted by maxwelton at 8:45 PM on January 11, 2011

needlessly time consuming ...

I can't resist this one, either! When discussing my own work with people who bring up the 'lack of efficiency' or 'how long it takes!', there is a very effective response:
If you like doing something, isn't it better if it takes a long time?
posted by woodblock100 at 8:51 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

fantastic, beautiful, exquisite, stunning, awesome...

I've run out of superlatives...thanks
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:56 PM on January 11, 2011

The non-cast approach and the meticulous preparation may have to do with the concerns about the consistent "take" of the eventual patina treatment. Just a wild-ass guess.
posted by bz at 9:49 PM on January 11, 2011

If it was a video of me making one of these things, there would be a whole lot more cussing and bloody fingers.
posted by pashdown at 10:38 PM on January 11, 2011

I would have thought a metalworker would make a lost wax casting to get the rough shape first, then refined the details with file and chisel.

It's done this way to make it strong. This piece, even if never actually used, is supposed to be a sword guard, so the metal should be as hard as possible. Forging the metal as he did here - hammering the poured metal into the desired base shape - changes the grain within the metal, compressing it and creating interleaving patterns, which makes it stronger.

Here's some more explanation: 1 (PDF), 2, 3.

It's also true that the two pieces wouldn't look properly alike if one were made with cast metal and one with forged metal. But the original was made this way for strength.
posted by dammitjim at 12:41 AM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Em.. Hello? Is this Ford Hallam? I asked you to replace my lost.. uh.. my lost... tsuba! Yes, thank you, that's what it's called. Well- Oh, you finished it? Oh... oh dear. Yes, I'm afraid there's something I have to tell you. Well, I found it. The tsuba. In the damnedest of all places really, underneath my cat's sleeping pillow. Hahaha. Yes, it seems Puddles took quite a liking to the tiger and its bumpy little stripes. Oh you added bumpy stripes as well? Oh, that's wonderful!

Anyway, if you could send it over that would be just great. You see Puddles took such a liking to the original tsuba that I'm afraid I can't separate him from it without making him rather upset. I'm sure with your reproduction he won't even know the difference!
posted by lemuring at 12:44 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could be because I've been up for over a day without sleep but watching those two videos was like some kind of profound religious experience.
Amazing work doesn't begin to describe what Hallam does.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:21 AM on January 12, 2011

That was amazing.
posted by flippant at 2:49 AM on January 12, 2011

that's a man with good, sharp tools.
posted by Makwa at 9:46 AM on January 12, 2011

Ah, hammering to harden the metal makes sense - even if this tsuba is purely decorative, its ancestors were functional and that's where the tradition comes from. Interesting, though, that craftsmen haven't jettisoned the "functional" steps even for ornamental items (swords have been obsolete, thus decorative, for a long time now). It sounds like you can only make one or two tsubas like this in a year, so you need patrons who can shell out some serious cash for your work if you want to make a living at it.

Thanks again for posting these gorgeous and fascinating videos!
posted by Quietgal at 10:24 AM on January 12, 2011

Breathtaking! Thank you for posting this- he is truly a Master, and I would give anything to apprentice with him.
posted by catrae at 3:10 PM on January 12, 2011

Metafilter: needlessly time consuming
posted by Redhush at 8:25 PM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

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