The Mokume Gane Story
Copyright James Binnion 2004
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In Japan from the late 1600’s to the mid 1800’s the samurai sword transitioned from being a tool for fighting battles into a symbol of the warrior class. Retaining its truly awesome functionality as a weapon in the hands of a skilled samurai it was the quality and amount of decoration on the sword handle and sheath that became an indicator of ones social status and wealth. The level of craftsmanship demonstrated in many of these sword furnishings is second to none. The sword smiths who made these weapons developed a wide array of techniques for use in the decoration of these swords. The traditional technique of mokume gane (moku = wood, me = eye and gane = metal) was one such technique. Mokume was invented by Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master metalsmith from the Akita prefecture, who used it for the adornment of samurai swords. Using the mokume gane technique the smith would create laminated metal billets that were fused by heat and pressure. The billets, composed of various combinations of gold, silver and copper alloys were forged, carved and finished to produce uniquely patterned metal stock which was then used to fabricate parts for the samurai sword “furniture”. The beautiful patterns in these pieces for the handle would reflect similar patterns developed in the forging of the sword blade. Mokume gane as traditionally practiced was a very difficult process to learn; this was partly due to the difficultly of successfully fusing the metals and partly due to the skill required to forge the laminated billet down to useable material without delaminating it. For more information on mokume gane you can download a paper (PDF file) I wrote in 2002 here .

After extensive research on this ancient technique, I have developed my own modern method for making mokume gane using currently available equipment and materials. The lamination process involves clamping many layers (most often somewhere between 10-30 layers) of selected metals such as platinum, golds, palladium, silver and/or iron, between steel blocks and heating the resulting stack in a kiln. With carefully controlled conditions the combination of heat, pressure, and protective atmosphere allow the layers to fuse but not melt. The resulting fused stack of metal, called a billet, is then forged and rolled to reduce its thickness. The unique patterns are created by hand carving down through the layers in the laminated stack and then forging the carved laminate to flatten it out. The process of carving and rolling is repeated many times to create the finished pattern. The patterns formed in this manner are almost like a topographic map, showing the depth of the carving into the original laminate.
This mokume material is then used to make the wedding bands, wedding rings, engagement rings, commitment rings and jewelery you will find on this site.
 

Figure 1. Sheets of metal clamped between plates before firing in the kiln.

Figure 2. The stack is placed in a protective metal foil bag to keep it from oxidizing while in the kiln.

Figure 3. After firing, the now fused billet of laminated metal.

Figure 4. The billet after the edges have been trimmed back.

Figure 5. By cutting down into the billet patterns are created in the laminate.

Figure 6. After carving and shaping the patterned metal is ready to use for ring stock.

Figure 7. The finished ring from the stock in Figure 6

combinations of PureGold, 18k yellow gold, 14k white gold, 14k red gold and sterling silver mokume gane laminates used for ring stock and other jewelry

Figure 8. Various combinations of PureGold, 18k yellow gold, 14k white gold, 14k red gold and sterling silver mokume gane laminates used for ring stock and other jewelry

Mokume in brass, copper, sterling silver and iron in various combinations and patternsFigure 9. Brass, copper, sterling silver and iron in various combinations and patterns with a variety of patinas coloring the metals Figure 10. Silver, copper, brass, mokume gane 22 layers with patina that colors the copper black.

Figure 11. A teapot made from copper brass and sterling silver mokume gane

Relife carved wedding ring

Figure 12. Relief carved wedding ring.
Canyon Pattern.

 

In May 2002 I presented a paper about Mokume Gane to the Santa Fe Symposium an international conference on jewelry manufacturing technology. To view a copy of this paper click on the link below
Old Process, New Technology: Modern Mokume Gane (PDF file 212K)

 I teach workshops in how to make mokume gane if you are interested in having a workshop taught at your location let me know.
I have also put a copy of one of my workshop handouts online on this site.

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All works Copyright 1996-2008 James E. Binnion

tbin@mokume-gane.com