Spotlight - Richard Furrer
Custom Bladesmith of Japanese-, Indian- and Islamic-style Blades

Article and Photographs by Adrian Ko

When I met the 28 year old full-time custom bladesmith recently, I was taken aback by the beauty of his chevron-pattern damascus hira-zukuri style tanto. It was a remarkable fusion between a traditional ancient Indian (Asian) damascus pattern and an eloquent Japanese blade style. Richard Furrer's skill was ascending like a sunrise.

As art bespeaks the artist, the enthusiasm youthful vigor of his work is evident not only in his blades but his person. Tempered with politeness and humility, Richard describes himself as an "apprentice-level" bladesmith. He began bladesmithing as a hobby over eight years ago during his college years where he studied history, and ancient and medieval metalworking technologies. "The real advantage of being American," Richard relates, "is that you can pick and chose from a world of metalworking technology and combine them into new and unique hybrids."

Richard describes his approach to the chevron-pattern no-tanto. "I wanted to do something with the pattern that hadn't been done before. The elegance of Japanese blades is really what caught my attention. The chevron pattern is North Indian in origin. It's quite striking and not all that easy to do."

The chevron-pattern was the result of thorough historical research and painstaking trial and error. "There was one photograph published in Warson's book 'The Indian Sword' and he thought the pattern was done by selective etching where you mask off one section and etch the another. In fact, they were butt-welded sections of alternating damascus and single composition steel. It's one of the most fantastic jobs of pattern welding I have ever seen."

Measuring 11.5" in length, 1.25" wide, and 3/16" thick, the hira-zukuri was subjected to traditional-style clay treatment and given a sugaha (straight) hamon (temper line). Being a pattern-welded blade, Richard was concerned how strong the welds were if the blade were subjected to stresses. Affixing one end, Richard bent the sword by 90 degrees. Not a single weld came apart. The blade was straightened - also without any problems.

The blade is made from AISI 1050 and 1095, with 1095 solid sections. Of interesting note is how the temper line resulted due to heat treating process. "The clay was put on dead straight and the resultant temper line's curvature is due to the variations of carbon levels reacting in the quench."

Richard's strength as an artist lies in pattern welding. He relates that his main influences are Don Fogg, Steve Schwarzer, and Larry Harley, with Paul Marx as his first blacksmithing instructor.

Other than the chevron pattern, Richard Furrer enjoys other patterns such as mosaic, and the feather and palm-leaf designs inspired by Don Fogg. "I'm working towards the organic flow of damascus rather than the contrived artificial patterns. Don Fogg had a great quote: 'The material will tell you what it wants to do.' And that seems to be the driving force. With Don, his impetus is his interaction with the material."

Richard plans to fully mount the unique blade with traditional style mounts including a mokume tsuba (guard)

Islamic and Indian full length swords are in the not too distant future, and will be revealed to the world by the end of the year, including a full mount traditional shamshir. His research studies in wootz have propelled him to recreate some of the ancient material. "I haven't produced a successful ingot yet, but that's coming!"

One great inspiration to Richard has been Daryl Meier ( "It's because of Daryl's continued teaching that we have the range of damascus that we see today. His teaching has permeated the modern knife-making industry and for whatever reason he is not acknowledged for having the effects that he's had, to me he will always be one of the greatest. I don't think people understand the true genius of his work.... He is the father of modern damascus."

Richard humbly adds, "The reason why I have come this far is because I've stood on the shoulders of such giants."

"He's one of the hottest new talents in the bladesmithing industry," states Steve Schwarzer - who himself is one of the original first thirteen ABS Master Bladesmiths and past vice president of the Knifemakers Guild. "His mastery of forging techniques is a phenoemal blend of blacksmithing and bladesmithing."

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