What is Mokume?
Translated from Japanese, Mokume Gane means wood eye metal. It is a layered metal that is used to make jewelry and other fine crafts. It was first developed by Denbei Shoami, a Japanese master metalsmith, for use as decoration on sword hilts and handles.
Our Mokume Process
We begin the process by cutting sheets or strips of metal to the size needed for the type of mokume we are creating. We generally use between 24 and 36 alternating pieces of metal. In some cases, the metals we use are low karat gold alloys called Shakudo and Kogane. We make these alloys from scratch in our studio. Next, the metals are scrubbed to remove any oxidation or contamination that could prevent proper fusing. The pieces of metal are then dried and stacked in alternating layers. This stack of metal forms what is known as a billet.
We place the billet between thick stainless steel torque plates and compress it under 20 tons of pressure. Remaining between the tightened torque plates, the stack is set in a brick kiln for fusing. Two large torches are used to heat soak the billet in an oxygen reduced environment. They are ignited and shut off with precise timing to bond the layers of the billet together. If the time is too short the billet doesn’t fuse. If the time is too long the billet melts completely. After a successful fusing, the billet is left to cool for a couple of minutes in the kiln, pressed again, cooled fully, annealed, forged and rolled.
Different metals have different melting temperatures, so sometimes making mokume is a two-step process. Depending on the type of mokume we are making, the rolled billet may be cut, cleaned, pressed, and fused a second time with another type of metal, such as sterling silver.
Finally, after all of the fusing is finished and the billet is flattened, like a sculptor, Chris carves a pattern into the top layers of the metal. The result is different each time he carves, but he always keeps the inspiration from valleys created by river erosion in his mind. Carving the pattern in this way reveals the underlying layers. One metal may show more than another; it all just depends on how wide and deep the billet is carved. Finally, through a series of annealing and rolling, the billet becomes a flat sheet.