Japanese foundries


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Posted by John Odom on July 22, 19100 at 22:47:33:

I had the privelege of visiting two japanese art/craft foundries. These both specialize in "Nambu Tekki". Nambu (or Nanbu) is the name of the family that rumed t6he part of northern Honshu in feudal times. Tekki is the japanese word for iron.

In the 13th century the buhdist monks at Missazawa becan casting bells and other items for temple use, using techniques from China to reduce samll quantities of magnetite sand found in the Kitakami River. This worked kind of like a blast furnace but was a small batch operation. The first japanese blast furnace for contious process was built in 1858. This craft died out.

In 1704 the first Lord Nambu, recognizing the need for ironware and the presence of the raw materials, sent to Kyoto and brought a small number of craftsmen who began making iron goods. Items for tea ceremony were major products. Iron founding was reestablished at Missazawa and establish it at Lord Nambu's castle city Morioka, which is now rthe capital of Iwate prefecture.

The craft has been preserved. The hand-made ware is very expensive but has a ready market and is much preferred over the similar items made by modern processes. There are about 80 craftsmen that make Nambu Tekki by traditional means. Bothe of the foundries I visited use the same traditional methods. One of them is Iwachu Foundry Co. in Morioka. This is a commercial operation that has both a traditional moulding line for the traditional items and a modern green-sand moulding line for simpler and cheaper stuff. Melting is by induction furnace because of air pollution regs.

The other foundry was at Morioka Handy Work Square. This is a government subsidized operation for teaching and display. it is operated as a cooperative. Besides iron there are other traditional crafts. Screen painting, furniture making, cooper shop, candy shops, textile crafts of various sorts and paper making. I spent most of my time in the foundry! There is a large communaly operated melting and casting area. The molds are spread out here and poured. There is a traditional small cupola. The cupols proper is about 6-7 ft high and sits on legs about 2.5 ft high there is a ladder to the top and the men carry the charges up in baskets. It discharges into the room which has a removable roof section above it. Metal is carried to the molds in a ladle on an overhead monorail, all manual.

This foundry also has two moulding lines, one is green-sand and is used to make bottle openers, plaques, trivets and similar stuff.

The other moulding line isnt a line at all, it is a series of seven small shops each operated by about three craftsmen, that surround the actual foundry. In these shops each group make their own moulds. Charges for the melting and pouring operation are proportioned according to the metal used by each shop.

The most famous Nambu Tekki item is the tetsubin or teapot. These are very ornate and gloriously beautiful. Search for "tetsubin" and you can see some. utsuwa.com is one place. the ones for sale in Japan are prettier and more expensive than the ones exported to the west, many of which are made in automated production foundries.

The actual production process is interesting. The molds are made of a sand/clay mixture that is shaped with a sweep. It is in a basket of strap iron lined with porous hard-baked clay. The mold dries some, then the pattern for the spout is cut in by hand, using a template and small scoop. The outer surface mould is in two pieces and the upper piece is itself a two piece assembly. The core is also formed with a sweep, then baked and the spout core added and then baked again. This all requires incredible precision which is mostly achieved by eye, with a few templates and gauges. The inner surface for the mould of the outer surface is now decorated by hand carving designs into the friable inner surface of the sand/clay. This may take days or weeks. any mistake is difficult or impossible to repair. The molds are trhen assembled and baked on a charcoal grill for several days then taken to the pouring floor.

After pouring the moulds are broken up and the kettled snagged, then carefully ground and hand polished. they are then oxidized in a controlled fashion with patinating agents, mostly based on tea, and a beautiful rust resistant surface of magnetite and/or iron tannates is formed.

Traditionaly made teapots, all by hand, cost about $120 for a two cup one with simple decorations to many thousands for larger ones. There are similar ones that have some machine steps, that are cheaper, machine made cores are the most common thing.

I took a hard copu of my web page: (http:/www.vol.com/~jodom/cast.htm

With me and when I showed the foundry people the pictures they took me right in and I got the inside tour, not just the tourist treatment.

John odom, in Chattanooga, TN

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