Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hirosada kanna and Cubs-Torasaburo..... and the mysterious "mark".

So I got this new/old kanna.......

It seems nice enough, but what's the story? Unfortunately, what little information there is about these old tools (and there doesn't appear to BE much info.... Even the Japanese guys say so.) is, of course, in Japanese. I learn what I can using Google translate, probably enough to get everything wrong, but it's what I've got. Please don't assume that this is correct......

I have mostly stopped trying to track down provenance on my Japanese tools, because they are almost all mid-upper range wholesalers branded blades (It seems like over 85% of these old Japanese tools have been produced for wholesalers). This kanna has piqued my curiosity, though. All I know is what Junji says, that it says Hirosada.

A Google search of Hirosada+kanna images, if followed far enough, brings up some images from Tanaka Kiyoto's (my hero!!) blog.


His post details using two kanna, made by the same blacksmith, but for two different companies. The blades are Cubs-Hirosada (maybe Togo steel) and Azuma-Hirosada (Yasugi  blue steel). If Tanaka Kiyoto is curious, well.....

Copying the original kanji from Tanaka Kiyoto's post, brings up a better set of image results, among which was......

Bingo! Pro-shop Hokuto has one pristine kanna set (¥38,500, about $375 usd), and a bare blade with some discoloration/rust (¥23,000, about $224 usd). Yikes! 

The cubs-Hirosada blade was made for a company, Cubs-Torasaburo, that produced blades through most of the 1900's. This blade dates (probably) from the early to mid Showa era, so around 1950'ish. At this point, I get pretty confused, but the gist seems to be that the company is a group of 4 brothers (one of which was a blacksmith) and acted primarily as a blade wholesaler. This blade was signed by the true maker, if I understand properly. 

For some reason, the Azuma-Hirosada blades are less expensive, closer to $100, and this might be due to the type of steel used. The cubs-Hirosada uses togo steel (maybe), and has a reputation for being hard and very difficult to sharpen (Togo-reigou?), while the Azuma-Hirosada is made with Yasugi blue steel (more common). Some of their other blades were made by master craftsman, but the the names of the makers were kept hidden. 

My thought is this. Say that you are a blacksmith , and you makes good blades, but times are tough. To make ends meet, you arrange to sell some blades to a wholesaler, but the wholesaler can't put YOUR name on the blades, because that would kill your direct sales. You still got to eat, right? So now, 80 years later, we have some wholesaler names that have this reputation of selling these "hidden master" or "master craftsman/ Meisho” blades that would cost 10X more, but for the name. Etsuei is another wholesaler with a similar reputation. 

All of this brings me to the whole "Hidden master" thing and blacksmiths touch-mark's. This is only indirectly related to this particular new-to-me blade, but this one of my interests. 

This is the blade from one of my better kanna. 

A very hard blade, as in "hard to sharpen" because the steel is so tough. The edge holding ability is good, though, and it leaves an excellent finish. I have no idea who made this.

There is a symbol towards the upper right on the blades back face (the side of the blade that faces the user is the "back"). Dup and owen....

I THINK that this particular symbol is referred to as the "bird" mark, standard disclaimer applies. 

Pro-shop Hokuto has a few other blades from the old Cubs-Torasaburo lineup that have a similar mark. This one has the mei of "Ki Soo luck", according to Google translate.

This is one of those "Hidden master" blades (¥14,800).

Here is another version in a 92mm width (big!). Same bird mark.


There is a famous blacksmith, Chiyo Tsurutaro, who produced a number of reportedly VERY fine blades, but died at an early age. The blade that I repeatedly see is "Unkotobuki". Evidently there are numerous fakes, as well. Learn more at: http://www.zaq.zaq.jp/hurukiyokidougu/unju_hikaku_page.html

I *think* that the original is on the right.....no, left..... wait, no, right. Will the "real" unkotobuki please stand up?

The "fake" versions are still VERY well made. Maybe these blades aren't fakes, more of an homage? The bird mark is slightly different. I think that it's a Sanskrit symbol, but I haven't found a direct match.

Pro-shop Hokuto has a unkotobuki listed for an unlisted price. I think that means "expensive".

So a variety of different blades have this particular mark, or at least a version of it.

A beautiful blade.

Junji had a kanna a few months back. Amazingly, I didn't buy it, but it too has a similar mark.

The blade looked OK, as did the dai, but it had a really cheesy secondary blade that put me off. Maybe this is a wholesalers mark? I asked Junji if he had any ideas, so he made some inquiries on my behalf. A Japanese tool dealer (who has a picture of one of these blades on his website) says that it is the mark of a particular blacksmith, but he isn't sure who. He also pointed out the similarity to the unkotobuki/ Tsurutaro blades. 

My Umehiro kote-nomi does NOT have the mark, but my Umehiro kiwa-ganna does.

As does my 48mm Umehiro tataki-nomi chisel.

So there you have it, off on another crazy tangent, with no real knowledge gained. If you know something, please let me know. I had considered that the mark could be indicative of a certain type of metal, but that doesn't seem to be the case. 

In any event, my new/old kanna hangs with some interesting company. The quality of the blade is there, it feels like a good one, and I'm looking forward to sharpening it up. It was cheap, especially so considering what new, maybe lesser quality, kanna cost, although this one looks like it's seen some action, gone a few rounds. 

If you learn the broad traits that the high quality tools share, and get a bit of experience using them, you begin to notice similarities in build, shapes, and the shine of the metals used, that sort of thing. If you get REALLY into it, you look at MANY different photos, but to actually handle the tools would be soooo much better. For me this is the fun stuff. My point is more that there are some worthwhile tools out there for VERY reasonable prices, if you are willing to learn a bit, do some research, and be able to overlook a few warts. Call them beauty marks, I do.

1 comment:

  1. Jason,
    Yes, I remember Harrelson Stanley's old Japanese Woodworking Forum. My handle on that forum was dcama5 and I do remember Dave Burnard but haven't heard anything about him since that forum lost steam. Harrelson isn't selling Japanese tools anymore, just Shapton stones and products. I emailed him a few months ago and he replied that he was taking a break from selling Japanese tools but may start up again in the future.

    I always thought the mark you refer to was a blacksmith guild stamp similar to the hexagonal Tokyo blacksmith guild stamp that you see on Ichihiro and Tasai chisels. I'm not sure it is a symbol of quality because the first kanna I ever owned is a mid-level quality one by a blacksmith named Yamato and it has that mark. I have seen some very fine blades with the mark as well though.

    I just saw on Chris Hall's website that he used a piece of a 2000 grit Shapton stone in a shop-made wooden holding jig to reshape the ura on one of his blades. It looks like it worked well but I still like the heatless wheel in a dremel tool method. Both methods take considerable time though.

    Good luck with all those projects.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason