Japanese Metal Carving with Patrick Hastings

by Metalwerx on July 8, 2014

Swords have been a lifelong obsession for Patrick Hastings. He made his first sword out of wood when he was a young boy growing up in a small California town. He made his first steel sword at the age of thirteen. Patrick indulged his passion in high school, where he was able to attend two metalworking classes a day. He often returned for night workshops to continue his projects. When he became more experienced at sword-making, he conducted scientific tests on the metal. He learned to determine a sword’s strength and how well it would cut by inspecting the blade’s crystal structure. And then along came a Japanese sword show in San Francisco in 1998.

“The works on the table were several hundred years old and were absolutely amazing. These were not made by casting or any methods I’d been exposed to, so I spent the next seven years backward engineering all that I could,” he said. Those works were “Tosogu,” the decorative metal fittings that hold a Japanese sword.  During the peaceful era of the Edo period (1603-1868), metal artisans began to craft lavish ornamentation onto the fittings. Many Tosogu components, such as the tsuba, fuchi, kashira, and menuki are now highly collectible.


Matsu, pine tree carved using shishiai-bori on a steel plate. Flush inlays of Shinchu  for the pine cones and a fine silver moon. The finish on the steel is Sabe-suke, a cured rust finish.

 The techniques employed to embellish sword fittings include engraving, relief carving, inlay, overlay, and chasing. The decorative methods are universal and are applicable to jewelry and other objects. “One aspect of this craft that I really like is that it uses any off-the-shelf material,” he said. “While the techniques have a certain simplistic quality to them, they are simple but sophisticated. It requires a bit of finesse, but it’s actually a simple, straightforward method of expression.”

 Tosogu makers treat metal carving almost like wood, Patrick said. “It’s an approach to carving metal that can be scaled down to as small as you can see,” he said. “It is also very mechanical. There is virtually no soldering. It’s reminds me of wonderfully done wooden joinery.  Seamless.”


Tombo, Dragon fly, Taka-zogan, raised and carved inlay. This is iroe gane, or “metal painting”. Each color develops simultaneously in a hot solution of salts. The choice of alloys determines the colors.

Patrick will lead a five day workshop on iroe-gane, (multiple metal inlay), “Introduction to Japanese Metal Carving and Decorative Inlay Techniques” at Metalwerx, July 23-27. The five-day course begins with shaping and hardening Tagane (chisels). Traditional inlay methods covered in the class include carved raised inlay (Taka Zogan), and variations of this, including flush inlay (Hira Zogan), flush wire (Hira Sen Zogan), and wire dot inlay (Ten Zogan). Students will work on copper with inlay options of silver and Japanese alloys such as Shakudo, and Shibuichi.

“Many approaches for inlay involve making a cavity and you fill it in, but in this, you go through every nuance you like for the silhouette. When you lock it in all that detail is preserved,” Patrick said. Some may consider it a difficult process, but Patrick says you can learn it in a week.


Copper plate with Iroe-gane log and mushroom. The characters are the signature of the maker.

 Patination and polishing are part of the art. “We’re using only one patina formula, a classical technique to create ‘metal paintings’,” he said. Colors come up differently, depending on the composition of the alloys used. Jewelers will be surprised to learn that polishing is done with rocks, specifically Tsushima-do, which comes from the waters off Tsushima Island, located between the Korean peninsula and mainland Japan. When wet, the soft rock creates a stone slurry used to remove chisel marks. “The Japanese didn’t have sandpaper,” he said. “You can bring (metal) to a high gloss using basic materials. It is an integral part of the sequence for this process.”

Patrick’s classes attract a diversity of students, from knife smiths to jewelers, a few swordmakers, and folks who just want to broaden their horizons. As for the Tosogu that he makes, there is not a large market for Japanese sword fittings, but martial artists with a high degree of passion for their discipline often come to him with commissions that are extremely important to them.


 An iron plate with a Taka-zogan koi. The koi is inlayed in Shakudo (a gold and copper alloy) gilded with pure gold.   Legend has it that if a koi successfully navigates the rapids and climbs the waterfall, it will be born again as a dragon and fly off into the sky.

“Dojos (martial arts schools) in America and Japan, as they (students) get better, they want more authentic hardware,” he said. “Some of them have the financial means to express that passion. When that happens, we sometimes spend a couple of years going back and forth to make a family heirloom that they can hand over to their children. When they may have only one or two prized pieces, it becomes an extremely important exchange.”

There is still space available in Patrick’s class. To sign up, or to learn more about the workshop, please click here. For more information, contact Metalwerx at 781-891-3854.

— by Yleana Martinez

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Metalwerx July 9, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I’m sorry you’re not closer Bruce! Thank you for your interest in our class. Video tutorials are something Metalwerx has discussed, but we haven’t tried yet. It’s a great idea. I’ll definitely mention this to Patrick when he’s here in a couple weeks. I think Ford Hallam is also currently writing a book on Japanese Inlay techniques.

Bruce Stuart July 9, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I would love to attend Patrick Hasting’s course but I’m down here in little ol’ NZ and its never going to happen.

Have you thought about videoing the course and making an e book or DVD seminar/tutorial out of it.

There must be thousands of people like me all over the world who cant attend the course but would purchase a book or how to video on this material.


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