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Thread: An article on Thai-Chinese swordsmiths by Francis Boyd

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    An article on Thai-Chinese swordsmiths by Francis Boyd

    Hi guys

    This article titled "Blades of Bangkok" was written by American Japanese-style swordmaker Francis Boyd, and published in the American knife magazine "Blade" in March 2000. Francis is an accomplished smith himself, having trained under a Japanese swordsmith named "Nakajima" (if I remember correctly); a fellow apprentice was Michael Bell. I understand that Francis has a tremendous interest in Chinese and Japanese swords and look forward to meeting him personally one day .......



    "Christmas of 1998, my wife, Eleanore, and I journeyed to Saigon and Bangkok. We had a wild time in Saigon but, aside from a few antique purchases, it was rather uneventful in terms of blades. After only four days in Saigon we flew on to Bangkok. There we were met by Wiwat Chantape, a professor at Rajabhat College in Ratchaburi province; Sawate Poopakorn. a teacher at Mahidol High School in Bangkok; Pint Sangchanda, a lovely young lady who is a graduate student at Rajabhat University in Bangkok; and at least a half dozen of Wiwat's students from Ratchaburi. The next day Pim and her father took us on the grand tour of Bangkok-the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Dawn and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. We finished the day at Thailand's National Museum, which contains a superb weapons collection. Housed in a single room, the collection, while in rather poor condition due to the local climate, is nonetheless impressive in scope and historical significance.

    Upon entering the room the first thing you see is a full-size model of a war elephant (the ancient Thai equivalent of the modern army tank), mounted by a warrior and weapons handler equipped with spears and halberds, bristling like a porcupine. From there you wander around the room to case-after-case of swords of all Asian types-Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian. Pole arms are everywhere, including some European halberds. There are also some very fine European firearms, the most impressive a revolving cannon custom ordered from the French by a king of Thailand. The collection was easily as interesting as anything I saw in Thailand.


    Gang Hammering

    Christmas Day we were up early and off in search of blade knowledge. About two miles down the road, Wiwat took us to a country smith's workshop. As we hopped out of the van, we were greeted by the melodious sound of gang hammering as three men pounded away in rapid succession on a blade. The workshop was outdoors with just a makeshift roof to keep the rain off. When they finished pounding, I was introduced to Guan Shou Shui, the master of the shop, along with Pa and Som, his assistants.

    With Wiwat translating for me, I was able to discern that Mr. Guan was making sugar-cane knives. He is Chinese and wrote his name in Chinese for me, but my Mandarin did me little good in communicating with him because he spoke a Southern Chinese dialect that I did not understand. With help I learned that he forges exclusively with bamboo charcoal. Amazingly, the man worked completely barehanded. Due to holding hot steel for 30 years, the palms of his hands looked like the soles of my shoes. His family comes from the Southern Chinese city of Tou Po and has worked as smiths for three generations.

    Thanking Mr. Guan after buying one of his sugar-cane knives, we boarded the van and headed into Ratchaburi town proper. There we stopped at the shop of Loau Pin. She is an 82-year-old Chinese smith who, when we walked into her shop, was sitting on the floor chiseling the serrations in the edge of a rice sickle by hand. She told us that she had been making blades for 60 years and that her husband had also been a maker of swords and knives before passing away three years earlier. She is second generation from Southern China and blademaking has been a family craft for many generations.

    Mrs. Loau had four men working for her, including two brothers. One brother led the hammer gang while the other worked the bellows and tended the fire. We watched the men work for a while and then stepped next door to the shop of another lady swordsmith, Mrs. Ying Pairot.

    Ms. Ying is a sweet little lady of such small stature that it is hard to believe she has been making blades for 45 years. Furthermore, her family has made blades for over 300 years! She has a 250-year-old European post vise that she said is the family heirloom to prove it. She said her father worked until he was 84 and her brother also was a smith. They had come from Tou Po right before World War 2. Her husband was her assistant and her son already had earned a Ph.D from a college in Australia with the financial support of his mother.

    This lady knows her stuff and gave me a real going over. Like all Thai smiths, she makes everything from swords and bowies to everyday tools and cutlery. The most astounding thing she said was that the reason all the Thai smiths use bamboo charcoal is that you can forge in it without using flux. She makes her swords with eight folds (eight being lucky to the Chinese) and uses an inlaid-edge construction that the Chinese call jiagang (qiangang). She inlays the edge steel about 30 percent of the way through the body steel. She questioned me thoroughly about how I make my temper line after I showed her a tanto I had brought with me. After a fairly lengthy discussion on swordmaking, I came away quite impressed with the sweet little old lady. She also gave me the Thai names for her tools: tao -- fire; tung -- anvil; kim -- tongs; and korn -- hammer.

    From Mrs. Ying we went to the Ratchaburi Museum, where I was shown the sword presented by His Majesty King Rama V (Chulalonkorn of The King and I fame) to Ratchaburi state in 1910. The sword was made of solid gold with jewels and cloisonne. Unfortunately, I could not get a picture of it because the museum does not allow cameras. The blade easily rivals the solid gold dagger of Tutankhamen and is much larger. What a day! How could it get any better?

    But it did.


    Sheffield Of Thailand

    The day after Christmas we arose before dawn and were on the road by 7 o'clock. We went to Mahidol High School, where we picked up Sawate and proceeded to Rajabhat University in Bangkok. There we picked up Pim and eventually arrived in the now desolate town of Aranyik.

    At this point, allow me to provide some historical background. Bangkok is the modern capital of Thailand. Ayudhya is the old capital and, while the city was built in the 14th century, it did not become the capital until the 16th century. Ayudhya has often been called the Venice of the Orient. Surrounded on four sides by the Chao Praya River, the walled city is crisscrossed by canals like Venice.

    Near Ayudhya is Aranyik. The town was once the largest center of blade manufacture in Southeast Asia. Much like Sheffield or Solingen, it made blades not only for Thailand but also for most of the countries within the trade sphere of the Thais. Renowned for their strong and sharp blades, the smiths of Aranyik were so busy from the demand for their work that what began as a small town, at its height, grew into almost a small city.

    What became of Aranyik and why is it virtually unknown in the West? I will explain.

    The Thai monarchs have been excellent rulers over the centuries. Naraesuan, Ekathosarat and Narai were some of the great monarchs of the Ayudhya period. Even the current king, Rama IX, is a good man who, though he is a constitutional monarch-having ruled for the past 50 years-earns his keep as king doing many good works for the people of Thailand. There was a most evil king in Thai history, though the less said about him the better. Then there was the dumbest one.

    His name was Ekathart, the last ruler of the kingdom of Ayudhya. As noted, the city was walled and naturally moated. King Narai, who maintained diplomatic relations with Louis XI of France, had equipped the walls of Ayudhya with the best European cannons money could buy. The city was situated in the middle of a plain so you could see the enemy coming from afar.

    Nonetheless, when Burma invaded Thailand, Ekathart did not organize the defense of his country-he preferred spending all his time with his many wives instead! He completely ignored the effort of his own people to save him and his throne. When the Burmese army besieged the capital, the king would not allow the siege guns to be fired in the defense of the city without royal permission under pain of death, as the noise of the cannons scared his wives! Needless to say, on April 9, 1767, after a very short siege, the city fell. With the fall of the Thai capital, the armies of Burma rolled on to the city of Aranyik.

    So great was the fame of Aranyik's blade craftsmen that the Burmese wanted to take them back to Burma to make weapons for them. This was not to be. A fierce battle ensued at Aranyik, actually much worse than the one at the capital. The Thai workmen were hopelessly outnumbered. After several days of amazing valor and self-sacrifice, it was over. For only the second time in its history, Thailand had fallen to a foreign invader, and every man of Aranyik was dead. To this day, the Thai people revere Aranyik much as Americans do the Alamo. So powerful is the Thais' respect for the men who fell at Aranyik that, today, no one will work on swords within the old city limits of the town. Instead, Aranyik's blades are made in the adjoining town.

    At the entrance to Aranyik is a monument dedicated to the city's history consisting of a small section of the old city wall surmounted by a giant Thai sword. The drive through the center of town is underwhelming. Aside from a few farmhouses and a couple of residences here and there, you would never know that it was once a small industrial center that made some of the finest blades in Asia. Only after we went to the next little village did we come to where they make the swords of Aranyik today.


    Boonsam Srisuk

    Most Thai cutlery work is done as a co-operative effort. For lack of a better term, I will refer to these co-ops as guilds. One of the largest guilds in Thailand is S. Arunyig (S stands for sword), and the head of the guild is Boonsam Srisuk. When I met him, we immediately entered into a lengthy discussion of sword manufacture and history.

    In 1822, King Rama 11 brought a large group of craftsmen back from Vientiene (the capital of nearby Laos), including goldsmiths, silversmiths and swordmakers. Boonsam's family had served as swordmakers for five generations. The present king is highly interested in agriculture to the point that he has experimental rice paddies within his palace grounds. Today, instead of making swords for the king as his family did in the past, Boonsam makes rice sickles and is as proud of his work as his ancestors were of their swords.

    Boonsam uses a Chinese-derived laminating process for making his swords. He told me that he uses nine folds for the body of the sword. He then splits the billet lengthwise with a hot set and inlays the edge steel 80 percent of the way through the bar forming a lengthwise welded three-piece or, as the Japanese say, san-mai construction (as opposed to Cold Steel's San Mai III). I found Boonsam's technique extremely interesting as I recently polished a 1,000-year-old Japanese sword made by a national-treasure-ranked swordmaker named Masatsune that belongs to my friend, Kaname "Fred" Nakamura. The Masatsune sword was laminated in a nearly identical process to the one described by Boonsam.

    Next, we entered into a discussion on heat treatment. With a tanto of my own making, I explained the ceramic shell (clay) process for heat treating a Japanese blade. Boonsam did not just tell me how he did it, he took me out to his forge and showed me. With a sword held edge down in the fire, he quickly moved it back and forth in a very hot flame until just the edge was hot. Then, flipping it over, he dropped it back first into the water tank. Dropping it back first, he said, reduced the curving effect that heat treating had on the blade. After heat treatment, he laid a half-inch steel rod on the anvil and whacked it with the sword, nearly cutting the rod in half. With great pride he showed me the edge of the sword, which was undamaged. This-what I call a "natural" temper line process-is exactly how the aforementioned Masatsune blade is heat treated. It produces a slightly undulating straight-line temper the Japanese call suguha. The complete process of blademaking is essentially the same one the Japanese used a thousand years ago. The process finds its origins in Han Dynasty China over 2,000 years ago, and it still makes a pretty good sword today.


    Ayudhya Sword Seminar

    Boonsam told us that his workers were giving a demonstration on blademaking at a fair in Ayudhya, so we crossed the moat (the Chao Praya River) and entered the modern city of Ayudhya. The ruins of the old city are carefully preserved in the center of the new. The fair was being held next door to the ruins of the temple Wat Srisanphet. The first booth we came to was Boonsam's of S. Arunyig. There were two booths occupying either side of the street. One was the display booth with every kind and type of sword, spear and knife imaginable. On the opposite side of the road was the craft demonstration headed by Nai Tao, or master of the fire. The S. Arunyig craftsmen work on the ground like the Japanese (Ratchaburi craftsmen work standing up). When we arrived, Nai Tao had the fire going and was busy hammering out bamboo knives. He had one hammer man and two hammer women assisting him in his work. The Thai use some "big girls" to do their hammering. and these ladies really know their trade.

    I had my friend Sawate ask if I could hammer for Nai Tao. Every Thai who heard Sawate turned and looked at me like I was some "crazed white devil," but when Sawate explained that I was also a smith, Nai Tao consented and threw some blanks that needed rough hammering into the fire. The hammers were mere square hunks of iron banded to a bent piece of bamboo for the handle. With the metal hot. Nai Tao put me to hammering with him. It was a very hot day, and instantly the sweat poured off me. I must have deported myself well because Nai Tao was smiling when we finished and he put the ladies back to work. First with one and then the other I pounded like a trip hammer, keeping the rhythm that Nai Tao set with his hammer. Twenty minutes of heat and hammer and I had had enough. I thanked Nai Tao and his helper, to which I was rewarded with a big smile and the universal thumbs-up sign. From the sword display we wandered around the fair and the temple next door. The 600-year-old jedi of the temple are in ruins now but still reflect the beauty of the past while reminding one of the foolishness of humanity. As the day waned, we headed back to Bangkok and all too soon were back home in California. Today, our memories of Thailand and its rich cutlery history are almost as vivid as if we were there yesterday.

    Editor's note: The author is a veteran maker of Japanese swords, folders and kitchen knives. He displayed his pieces at the recent BLADE Show West, where he gave an impromptu slide-show presentation of his Bangkok visit and talked of returning there. For more information contact him at Dept. BL3, 1811 Prince, Berkeley, CA 94703 (510) 841-7210."
    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 11-13-2003 at 07:29 PM.

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    The author holds a large Thai sword next to Boonsam Srisuk's display booth at the Ayudhya fair. The fair was one of several stops on the author's fascinating journey to Thailand and its active blade industry.
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    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 11-13-2003 at 04:27 PM.

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    Three different methods of inlaying the edge steel: Mrs Ying Pairot inlays hers 30 percent of the way through the body steel (left); Boonsam Srisuk inlays the edge steel 80 percent of the way through the bar (center); and the method used on the thousand year old Japanese sword by Masatsune (right).
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    Mrs Ying Pairot holds a tanto made by the author. She questioned the author thoroughly on how he obtained the temper line on the blade. She has been making blades for over 45 years....
    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 11-13-2003 at 04:23 PM.

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    Re: An article on Thai-Chinese swordsmiths by Francis Boyd

    Greetings Thomas,

    This is a most interesting thread.
    I recall I read one or two pages of this article some years ago that someone has posted here at SFI.

    I recall it were a scanned images of the article. Not easy to read.

    I wonder if Francis Boyd has a website and if there is any Thai smith with a website as well

    Thank you

  8. #8
    Antonio,

    As far as I know, Francis does not have a website. However, he can be reached at

    F. Boyd Ltd.
    1811 Prince St.
    Berkeley, CA 94703
    510-841-7210

    He trained in Japanese swordsmithing and furniture making under Nakajima Monogatari and has authored a monologue on this and other subjects The Sword as a Literate Art .

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    Hi guys

    Francis has a website up and running.... You might have noticed that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the comedian, Tom Green, Drew Barrymore's ex-husband..... hehehehe

    www.francisboyd.com


    ___________________________

    Excerpt from:

    http://www.francisboyd.com/history_2.htm

    " Since 1999 Francis has taken up once again with his study of Chinese and Mongolian bladed weapons. Far from the casual restoration of a sword for a martial artist to use, Francis is now seriously studying these swords, and their manufacturing and construction techniques in the same minute detail that he has already done with the Japanese blades. He goes to China at least twice a year to study with experts in the field at the Beijing Institute of Iron and Steel Technology. Director Sun, the head of the Institute, and Professor Han Rubin, the chief Archeo-metallurgical Scientist, are at the top of their field in the study of ancient metal weapons. "


    I have to say that Francis is hardcore extreme on Chinese swords and sure knows his stuff, for Prof. Han Rubin (it's a "she") is one of the top mainland Chinese academic experts in the field of 2000 year old Han Dynasty swordforging metallurgy....
    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 09-15-2004 at 10:43 AM.

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    francis is active again...

    Hi Folks.

    I help a bit with the website for francis and I'm actually attempting to archive some of his blades (which will go on his site later). I've been bugging Francis for this article for some time, but it is lost somewhere in his house and I doubt I will get it soon. But it's nice that I can at least link to it here.

    For all of you who know of Francis' work, I am humbled that he's allowing me to handle his blades, and stuff out of his safe (MASAMUNE // SADAMUNE?!). I still haven't recovered from my last trip to his house.

    I am chronicling his creation of a tanto, that I just may have to purchase (if I can come up with the funds), this blade is pretty incredible as you can make out the hamon, and hada and it's only on the first stone.

    I'm getting ready to put up a very spectacular tanto Francis finished and is ready to sell, on his website. But if anyone is interested I have some very raw photos I can send them. But since this is not the classifieds, I will not try to sell it here. But feel free to contact me if interested in purchasing a Francis original, photos are exteremely raw, and will be presented side by side with "corrected" photos so all will be able to see there has been no decieving manipulation. The only thing he didn't make on the blade is the menuki (which is an antique and not recast). Since I am only just getting on with this part of the site and I was shooting about 20 blades (about 10 to go), I have not gotten any measurements on this blade.

    I'm hoping a "quick" sale will encourage him to get back into the manufacturing of his blades. And then start making the katana / Wakazashi sized blades we all covet. If you know of Francis' work and have seen the activity in these blades, you will at least want to view pictures... and this tanto is on par with all of his other work I have been lucky enough to view/handle.

    And I actually think he looks more like a young Uncle jessy from the Dukes of Hazzard... but I haven't actually seen the show in forever.

    Just so you know, this blade isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination... But I'm not rich and I'm going to save up for the sister to it!

    Feel free to PM me, if needed. I don't want to hijack this thread to sell the tanto, so at this point I'd like to keep it private, and since I am not going to profit from the sale, or in fact do not control the blade (have physical possession of it), but I will be able to pass contact information on to Francis.

    DAN!
    can you see me?

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    Hi Dan and guys

    I understand that this little blade was made by Francis a couple of years back (sold off already) and that the blade and fittings were inspired by the Chinese and Japanese Tang Dynasty / Nara period blades in the Shoso-in Depository in Japan...

    I spoke to Francis over the phone yesterday and was deeply impressed by his knowledge and understanding of the metallurgy and history of Chinese swords..... I sure would like Francis Boyd to accompany me when I visit Thailand next year so that we could study and document the techniques of these Chinese swordsmiths at Aranyik in detail...
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    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 09-17-2004 at 04:00 PM.

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    Last edited by Thomas Chen; 09-17-2004 at 03:28 PM.

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    yes that's a Francis

    I remember handling that blade... gosh 5 - 6 years ago?! Doesn't seem that long ago. Francis is a kick to be around... and man just talking to him is like reading all the japanese sword books at once, and in no order... so although I hear a lot, retension is lacking.
    When he lays out his mongolian invasion sword next to the masamune and then just rattles off the similairities and points them out... you kind of have to believe it. And he hasn't even really shown me all of his Chinese collection, just one or two of those blades (which are very sweet, BTW).

    You know whats really funny? I took those pictures long, long ago for an early attempt at selling on ebay (I'm pretty sure that's my fence). You can't see them but I had a 32" katana off to the side and an exhaust for a yamaha radian just out of frame LOL.

    I'm guessing you pulled these off from somewhere? I may have to re use them, after I lost//threw out the originals I shot and the fact I'm having trouble getting good pictures from Francis' old 4X6s.

    Wow if you go to Thailand with him (you should see if you can go on one of his China trips), bring me back something

    Of to swipe those picts off the web!
    can you see me?

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    tanto

    Since Thomas has uploaded Francis' old tanto, I'll include the new tanto...
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    another

    here's another
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    and another

    close ups this time
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    last one

    If anyone wants to view more, I should have them posted after my vacation... around October 5th
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  21. #21
    Originally posted by Alexander Chin
    Antonio,

    As far as I know, Francis does not have a website. However, he can be reached at

    F. Boyd Ltd.
    1811 Prince St.
    Berkeley, CA 94703
    510-841-7210

    He trained in Japanese swordsmithing and furniture making under Nakajima Monogatari and has authored a monologue on this and other subjects The Sword as a Literate Art .
    Hi Alexander,

    Thank you very much. Seems like many moons have passed but my emailer was able to send and not to receive.
    Thank you very very much.


  22. #22
    Great Stuff Thomas.

    BTW, does Francis Boyd has an email as well?
    Thanks.

    edited

    Oops, didn't notice http://www.francisboyd.com/ but it isn't working.
    Last edited by Antonio Cejunior; 09-18-2004 at 02:03 AM.

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    seems to work for me

    I just checked... it's working. I was doing some posting to his website last night.
    Also, seeing as he just got a computer about a week ago, and he's been asking me basic, basic stuff about email... I'm not 100% sure if he wants his email out in the public just yet (he hasn't even given it to me btw).

    If there is anything I can do to help get you (Antonio) connected, let me know. I'm not leaving for my vacation until the 21st... so there's a little time.

    DAN!
    can you see me?

  24. #24

    Re: seems to work for me

    Originally posted by Dan Chapman
    I just checked... it's working. I was doing some posting to his website last night.
    Also, seeing as he just got a computer about a week ago, and he's been asking me basic, basic stuff about email... I'm not 100% sure if he wants his email out in the public just yet (he hasn't even given it to me btw).

    If there is anything I can do to help get you (Antonio) connected, let me know. I'm not leaving for my vacation until the 21st... so there's a little time.

    DAN!
    Hi Dan,

    Thanks very much. Yup I missed the second link that Thomas posted:

    http://www.francisboyd.com/history_2.htm

    I need to email him something. A phone call actually wouldn't help much if he doesn't have an email... then there's the time difference, and a letter will be snail mail...
    What would you suggest?

    Thanks very much

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    I spoke to Mr Boyd about a week ago. He gave me his email address. If you called him I'm sure he'd be willing to give it you also.
    It was a real pleasure talking to the man.
    "If metal can be polished to a mirror-like finish,
    What polishing might the Mirror of the Heart require"

    Rumi

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