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Making Samurai swords the traditional way
Posted on Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 7:49 am
by IDMA Editor

Internationally-known swordsmith David Goldberg heats a steel bar to demonstrate the beginning stage of making a Japanese sword - photo credit Rick Macwilliam, Edmonton Journal

Master sword maker David Goldberg worked in an Edmonton blacksmithing shop last week to put the final touch on the tango sword he has been working on for about a month.

The close-combat sword worth about $3,500 was forged from pure iron and has a copper collar at its base that steadies the blade in its wooden handle.

The sword's handle is covered in stingray skin, wrapped in handwoven goat leather with a criss-cross pattern to give it grip, and is decorated with a hand-carved sterling silver fitting.

Goldberg worked Friday at Front Step Forge in east Edmonton, where he secured the final rounded piece of water buffalo horn to the end of the lacquered wood case that covers the sword's razor-sharp blade.

"Making the sword is a pursuit of love," Goldberg said. "The idea of making swords in modern times is an art form."

The former jeweller produces high-quality collector and martial arts competition swords as well as custom-designed artworks out of his Gold Mountain Forge shop in Pennsylvania.

He can spend months working on a sword. His collector-grade tanto swords are worth between $8,000 and $10,000. Goldberg even canoes to "a secret spot" to gather up the black sand iron he uses to make the blades, which are flexible yet strong and sharp.

"You're taking raw material and you're creating something that's functional as well as beautiful," he said. "I will not make a piece of art that I am not willing to keep myself."

In the late 1970s, Goldberg majored in three-dimensional design at college and planned to become a sculptor. Then he studied aikido self-defence, martial arts based on ancient Samurai ju-jitsu, or grappling, and kenjitsu, or sword work. Aikido inspired him to learn about Japanese swordsmanship.

Goldberg worked as a master jeweller and designer who ran his own jewelry manufacturing company. He then studied blade forging and eventually began studying in Japan, where he still visits regularly to hone his specialized skills.

Goldberg demonstrated his techniques on the weekend during a class offered through NAIT's continuing education program.

Mostly men registered for the class, although some women attended, said program assistant Tasha Spychka.

"The class filled up right away and we had to even increase the enrolment up to 50 students," she said.

The owner of Precimax Manufacturing Ltd., a custom machine shop in Edmonton, was one of Goldberg's students on the weekend. Pete Kool took up blacksmithing as a hobby a few years ago and makes custom blades that he gives away.

"It's always interesting to learn from a master sword maker," said Kool, whose grandfather was a blacksmith. "To really just take a piece of steel and fold it and craft something from nothing, it's beautiful actually."

A computer-programmed machine can make a blade, Kool said.

"But the real craftsmanship comes in when you take a piece of material, you heat it up and, with a hammer, forge it to the shape you want, controlling it that way. There's something pretty special about it," he said.

"It's a lot like a sculptor seeing a piece of stone and visualizing what's in that stone and making it come out."

The blade-forging class on the weekend came out of an idea from blacksmithing instructor Shawn Cunningham, who established a blacksmithing course three years ago with NAIT's continuing education program.

Photo of Samurai holding sword - picture credit Kage_Warrior,

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