Japanese Sword-making & The Ancient Art of Stupidity

That last post got me thinking about this friend of mine who I've been backpacking with since college, and have known since 7th grade. Yesterday in the shop, I effed up something that he probably spent a week of his life working on.

He's a metal worker and I'm a woodworker, and the specific metal he chooses to work in is steel, and what he makes are swords. Japanese swords. This steel that he works in is actually steel he made. Think about that for a second. Making steel from scratch, starting with the collection of iron oxide from the shores of a lake. Let me tell you, It's not like baking cookies from scratch. It's an amazing process to watch.

Anyway, when he makes one of these swords, the sword generally needs a scabbard, which is made of wood, and that's where I come in. I take the sword and I fit a custom scabbard to it. A japanese sword is made to come apart -- there's a pin in the handle and when you pop this pin out, the handle and its components come off the blade. I won't bore you with the details, but the piece of the sword that fits like a cork into the scabbard is called a habaki.

It looks like this, and is made out of copper:

I dropped the habaki for this sword on the concrete floor of my shop, and flattened one corner of it. I was so incredibly pissed at myself. It might be salvagable, but it's pretty bad. We'll see how much time and effort my clumsiness cost him.

Anyway, as I was obsessing about this screw-up last night, I remembered what you have to do to get one of these:

1. First, drive with your sword-making friend to a weekend-long blacksmithing show in downstate NY, where he will be giving a demonstration. Do this in a black Jeep Wrangler filled to the gills with full backpacks, sleeping bags, a dozen razor-sharp blades of varying lengths, and a portable sword-smithing forge, complete with various tanks filled with various explosive gasses, lots of high pressure black hosing, and a bunch of really strange looking insulated red boxes with valves coming out of them.

2. Wear your grungiest camo clothes, because you know you will be spending 3 days breathing smoke, quenching-oil fumes and charcoal dust.

3. Make this drive at the crack of dawn, so that you can get down there pretty early.

4. As you're driving over a bridge that bisects a pristine lake, look up and notice a bald eagle flying graceful arcs over the water, lit by a beautiful sunrise.

5. Pull over quickly, grab the camera out of the back.

(Note: Everything that follows in this list are things you do not want to do)

6. Get out of the car, and run quickly to the side of an old brick gatehouse.

7. Duck under a chain with a "No Parking" sign hanging on it and stand against the rail overlooking the water.

8. Start taking lots of pictures.

9. When the cop taps you on the shoulder and tells you that you are trespassing and asks if you saw the sign, smirk a little and tell him that yes, you did see the sign, but you thought that because it was a "No Parking" sign, and not a "No Trespassing" sign, it applied to vehicles, and not to people on foot.

He will then say, "Not that sign, that one" and point to a large "No Trespassing" sign on the side of the gatehouse.

10 . When he asks for your ID, make sure you don't have any on you.

Long story short, we let the nice officer inspect our Jeep, and then waited while he ran my friend's driver's license and checked his plates. Luckily -- being good, upstanding citizens, regardless of appearances to the contrary -- we came back clean. Either that, or my friend has some contacts somewhere that I don't know about.

We then listened respectfully as the cop explained that we were seen with a jeep full of strange-looking equipment, dressed in camo and taking pictures of what turns out to be the primary drinking water resevoir for New York City.



  1. It's amazing they caught you! The resovoir I live by there's a guy sleeping in a truck. He wouldn't wake up if you climbed onto his truck for a better shot of the lake.
    Next time, be sure to answer questions is an accent like Apu from the Simpsons. You'll crack the cop up! Or be shot.

  2. You're life seems to be a series of small david lynch moments. The woodworking is so cool, maybe you could post photos sometime. I always wanted to learn to work with metal, mostly cause im a geek that want's to make my own armour and because there is something about the word "smelt" that never stops being fun.

  3. At least you had a good reason. I still remember with chills driving along the Northway, just above Clifton Park, looking out my driver side window and seeing a bald eagle flying alongside the car about 8 feet off the ground. Awesome!

    They don't seem to have bald eagles here.

  4. Anonymous3:41 PM

    See Shamus, here are some more people that a cop let off of the hook!

    Johnny- will we see you and your friend on Judge Judy to settle the score? That would be so cool!

  5. I killed them all. They're so stupid with their white head and black bodies, thinking they're better than me. They don't have guns though.