Autumn 2010 Swordcrafting Classes at Tomboyama, 2010 School Year Concludes

As the leaves of the Japanese maples once again began change to bright red in the crisp fall air, Tomboyama Nihontō Tanren Dōjō began winding up the 2010 school year.

In September, we hosted a Basic Forging Course and Oroshigane Seminar. Athanasios, the student who attended both, traveled from Athens, Greece to participate in our classes here at Tomboyama. Because of the difficulty of making such long distance travel arrangements, we were happy to schedule a special session of our Oroshigane Seminar for our Greek pupil as well. After returning to Greece, Athanasios has been busy setting up his own shop and has begun a swordsmithing blog, “Gaijintō”.

A specially scheduled Tsuka-maki (Handle-wrapping) Course was added in October. Our student, Thomas, learned and practiced the art of tsuka-maki by rewrapping the handle of his “dōjō cutting sword” with nice black silk ito.

We finished up the school year with the final of Basic Forging Course last week, November 1-5. Two students, Chip and Fred, attended the class, which was a later addition to this years schedule.

And now as the weather becomes colder and the rain more constant, Tomboyama now closes its doors for 2010. Winter storms can make travel arrangements problematic for students, many of which travel in from out-of-state. The winter break from classes also allows us to catch up with our own demanding workload.

If prospective students would like to make recommendations as to preferred dates for next years courses , we will happily take them into consideration as we now prepare for the schedule for the 2011 school year. The schedule for 2011 school year classes should be posted here online within a month.

We are looking forward the 2011 school year!

August 2009 Alumni Kajioshi and Bonji Courses, Oroshigane Seminar

September 19th, 2009

Last month, we were thrilled to have four alumni of Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo return to the school to attend our August 7-9, 2009 Oroshigane Seminar.

Unscheduled August 2009 Bonji and Kajioshi Courses

Three alumni joined us two days earlier for special unscheduled two-day classes in bonji and kajioshi.

Students Jeff and Allen carved bonji in blades they had forged themselves of folded cable and Steven studied blade shaping and practiced achieving subtle refinement of shape on the water stones.

August 2009 Oroshigane Seminar

“Oroshigane” is a Japanese term used of the processes a smith uses to adjust the carbon content of sword steel, and also used to  refer to the steel made from such processes.

For the seminar, we began with two forms of iron, electrolytic sponge iron and antique wrought iron, which we added carbon, through the process of carburization, to create steel.

Both electrolytic sponge iron and antique wrought iron are extremely pure forms of iron.  In Japan, electrolytic sponge iron is known as denkaitestu, and is sometimes used for oroshigane by swordsmiths who cannot attain tamahagane, or are interested in making their own steel.  Electrolytic sponge iron is literally “distilled iron”, a byproduct of the electric arc furnace.

True wrought iron is an antique form of commercially pure iron. Although many products are described as wrought iron today, such as guard rails and gates, they are made of actually made of mild steel and only retain that description because they were formerly made of wrought iron.  Because of it’s corrosion resistance, wrought iron was often used for marine applications in the past.  Like denkaitetsu, wrought iron is an extremely pure form of iron, although it is also high in silica.  It is distingiushable from mild steel by its fiberous grain.  Because it is no longer made on the industrial scale, wrought iron is sometimes jokingly called “unobtainium”.

Modern steel contains several alloyed metals and impurities, not found in nihonto.  Some impart desirable qualities or counteract the effects of contaminents.  Most important of these is manganese.  Manganese prevents phosphorus (an embrittler) from migrating to grain boundaries and creating weaknesses, and also promotes deep hardenig. But manganese also makes steel shinier and more reflective, two qualities which make an sword forged from modern steel different from a traditionally made Japanese sword and which are instantly discernible to a experienced eye.  By beginning with a very pure sources of iron and adding only carbon, we are able to produce a steel that is compositionally the same as tamahagane and visibly indistinguishable.


Our Oroshigane Seminar lasted a three days: the first spent carburizing the two forms of iron, and the second two days spent building two different billets of steel.

Three graphite crucibles were packed with alternating layers of crushed charcoal and iron.  Once filled they were sealed with refractory cement.  A layer of crumpled newspaper over the iron/charcoal prevented the cement from dripping down and introducing grit into what would hopefully become sword steel.

The three crucibles were then loaded in a propane fire specially built for smelting steel for a five hour burn.

The carburizing of iron to form steel is a product of both temperature and time.  As long as the environment is carbon rich (carbon can  be absorbed into iron as carbon-monoxide, but not as carbon-dioxide) , once the temperature has reached a high enough temperature, the carbon will precipitate into the iron.

The burn being done outside in direct sunlight made judging the color inside the fire very difficult, but the crucibles did appear to reach a light yellow color.  We estimate the fire reached a temperature of about 2100 degrees F.

The next day we eagerly opened the crucibles to examine our results.  Did we create steel?   The initial inspection indicated success!

We eagerly light the forge and forged out a spatula-shaped paddle out of wrought iron.  On this paddle, flakes of the now carburized electrolytic sponge iron were stacked and fluxed.  Then using first a hand hammer, and then our Little Giant power hammer named “Lulu”, we began forge-welding the individual piece of carburized iron into a usable billet.  Once the billet reached a large enough size, we cut a hinge in the middle, folded half over, and forge-welded the fold together.  This forge-folding process serves to evenly distribute the carbon through the steel, just as kneading bread dough serves to spread the yeast throughout.  It is this folding process that is also responsible for the grain or hada characteristic of Japanese swords.  However, because heating of steel to welding temperature causes “carbon loss”, the smith must weigh the refinement of the steel and grain with the loss of carbon content during this process, in order to produce a quality billet sword steel.


On the final day of the seminar, we proceeded to perform the same process as the day before, slowly building up another billet of oroshigane.  Only this time the billet we built was comprised mostly of wrought iron, only a small percentage was denkaitetsu.  This billet was also folded three times.

Although we seem to have had great initial results from the August Oroshigane Seminar, until we forge, heat-treat, and beginning polishing a water stones a blade made from our oroshigane, we will only have partial confirmation.  Michael and Gabriel Bell both plan to continue, each continuing to fold one of the billets and forging an blade, in order to gain further knowledge.

We hope to have some exciting results to share as soon as progress continue

So you want to become an apprentice swordsmith…

An article regarding apprenticeships has been posted at our website,

“Michael Bell undertook a traditional five year apprenticeship to Japanese master swordsmith Nakajima Muneyoshi. Michael ‘s teacher, Mr. Nakajima, was unique in that he learned all of the Japanese sword arts: swordsmithing, polishing, habaki-making, as well as making koshirae. Usually each aspect of Japanese sword-making is preformed by a specialist; a sword can pass through the hands of four or more artists before being fully completed. It was for this reason that he was brought to Oakland, California in 1963 by the Japanese Sword Society of the United States; Mr. Nakajima could perform all the different jobs necessary to restore old swords. In 1970 Michael Bell was introduced to Mr. Nakajima and shortly thereafter became his apprentice.”

Continue reading here…

Most Frequently Asked Questions

What are students required to bring to class?

Students should wear work clothes that can be stained or damaged, with no synthetic fibers (cotton is best), and closed toe shoes. Safety glasses are available for use here at Dragonfly Forge, but students can bring their own if they would like.

Do I have to find my own accommodations? Do you have any suggestions?

Dragonfly Forge is not able to provide accommodations for our students ourselves. Many options are available, however, in the nearby towns of Coquille and Bandon, both of which are 20 minutes away. More possibilities are also available in the city of Coos Bay, 30 minutes away.

The town of Coquille is a sleepy little logging town slightly inland in the Coquille river valley. For accommodations there is only really one option, the Mrytle Lane Motel, which offers very reasonable rates, and has had nothing but good reviews from our students who have stayed there.

The town of Bandon is located at on the southern Oregon coast at the mouth of the Coquille River. The coastline offers wonderful scenic beaches and Bandon’s small “Historic Old Town” gives visitors a chance to stroll and shop. Bandon has also become known worldwide for its first-class golf experience, thanks to the famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. A list of accommodations in Bandon can be found here.

Other options for your accommodations during your visit to Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo can be found in Coos Bay. Coos Bay and its connected twin city of North Bend, form the largest city in the area. Students looking for a “larger” city can search for hotels there, but students who would prefer being 10-15 minutes closer to the school usually choose something in Coquille or Bandon.

What about campgrounds that are nearby the school?

Bullard’s Beach State Park is the campground closest to our school.  The beautiful park is located on the north side of the mouth of the Coquille River, across the river from the town of Bandon.  It is about 8 miles away from the dojo. Bullard’s Beach also offers yurts for reasonable rates, and the yurts are quite nice.  The park offers several different services, visit the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department’s Bullard’s Beach web page for more information and to make reservations online.

What is the airport nearest the dojo

Students who wish to fly to Tomboyama Nihonto Tanren Dojo can use the nearby Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, airport code OTH, located in North Bend. The Southwest Oregon Regional Airport has multiple daily flights to/from Portland, OR and San Francisco, CA, serviced by United Airlines. Students can book flights online at

What is the school’s address?

Dragonfly Forge
88321 North Bank Lane.
Coquille, OR 97423

We can also be contacted by telephone at: (541) 396-3605

How do I get to Dragonfly Forge?

From Coquille: Take Highway 42 heading West towards Coos Bay, turn left onto North Bank Lane. Dragonfly Forge is located between mile markers 7 and 8. Our driveway is marked with the sign that says “Japanese Swordsmith”. Follow the steep driveway to the top.

From Bandon: Take Highway 101 heading North, immediately after crossing the Coquille River turn right onto North Bank Lane. Dragonfly Forge is located between mile markers 7 and 8. Our driveway is marked with the sign that says “Japanese Swordsmith”, however this sign is difficult to see when coming from Bandon, so students should be on the look out for a large house with a white fenced field and pond with horses and a stable on the left; our driveway is around the next corner, also on the left. Follow the steep driveway to the top.

From Coos Bay/North Bend: Take Highway 101 heading South. Take Highway 42 heading towards Coquille/Roseburg. Turn right onto North Bank Lane. Dragonfly Forge is located between mile markers 7 and 8. Our driveway is marked with the sign that says “Japanese Swordsmith”. Follow the steep driveway to the top.

Note to students: The half mile driveway up the hill on which Dragonfly Forge is perched can be a little disconcerting to those unfamiliar with country roads.  If you would like to call us at (541) 396-3605 to make arrangements for you to park safely and we can shuttle you up the driveway.

When does class begin and end?

All of our classes run from 9 AM to 5 PM on the dates of the session. We will break for lunch, which is provided.