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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cool Japanese Tools

Traditional Japanese metal polishing tools

I lived in Japan for six years and was fortunate to be able to study traditional Japanese metalsmithing at the Kuroki Atelier in Daikanyama, Tokyo. It is common knowledge that when the Japanese undertake something, they are not half-assed about it.  I was in total awe of the level of skill and craftsmanship they were capable of in all crafts.  They have so many skills and techniques which are unique to their culture.  When I learned how to polish metal in the old style I fell in love with the tools themselves.  These were being used long before electric power machines such as flex shafts and buffing machine came around.  Take a look...

1. Stage One ~ Naguratoishi

Naguratoishi is a stone.  The first stage of polishing is using this stone by dipping it in water and rubbing the piece of metal in a circular motion thereby eliminating the top layer of scratches.


2. Stage Two ~ Hozumi

Hozumi is a soft charcoal.  This stage is just a repetition of the first stage using water to polish the even finer scratches left.


3. Stage Three ~ Dozuribake

And then we have dozuribake which breaks down in translation to copper/polish/brush.  I think this is the coolest, most beautiful tool I've ever seen.  It's made from human hair which runs through the entire piece.  As the hair gets worn down from polishing, you shave off a layer of the enclosing wood frame.


4. Stage 4 ~ Hozumi powder

The final stage involves grating the hozumi with a coarse file into powder.  You then add a little water to the powder, dip the dozuribake into it and polish using a circular motion for the final stage.

Hozumi Filings

Polishing with Dozuribake

This method of polishing doesn't result in a shiny finish but is more of a sheen I would say.  These earrings and brooch which I made illustrate the kind of finish you get with this method.  The Japanese aesthetic favors the subtle which is expressed in a word which cannot be translated into English: Shibui http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibui


  1. Very cool Sarah! Thanks for the article. What type of metal are the earrings and brooch made of? I love this black color. Does that black color come from the Hozumi?

    1. Hi Kenji!
      I'm sorry for my delayed response. I never saw your comments. Well, first of all, the black colored metal is called Shakudo. It's a Japanese alloy made from copper and gold. Usually the gold is 2-7% of the alloy. The metal is colored last and is done using certain chemicals.

  2. I wanted to ask another question Sarah. Do you know of a place where you can buy traditional metal smithing tools and patinas? I've been trying to buy certain products for lacquering techniques,etc.

    1. Hi again Kenji,
      I don't know of a supplier for these tools. My Japanese metalsmithing teacher recently told me that they don't sell many of these brushes anymore. They've been changed to a less beautiful and less labor intensive design unfortunately. I left Japan 20 years ago so I'm out of touch with suppliers there. But you can get some of the tools at Tokyu Hands: http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/foreign.html. The patinas used in Japan are made from household ingredients. But you can find some of these metals and patina solutions from a US company called Reactive Metals Studios: http://www.reactivemetals.com/http___www.reactivemetals.com/Home.html. I don't know where to get products for lacquering.

  3. Nowadays, metal polishing and finishing has a lot of process to undergo before it can be used for different purposes. But with the methods used by the Japanese up to now, it only has four stages and looks much simpler. But I bet it still requires a lot of work to achieve such results. Anyway, this is very interesting fact to learn. Thanks for sharing!

    Bernice Parsons @ Badger Anodising

  4. You're welcome Bernice! I'm glad you enjoyed learning about it. Thank you for your comment.