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Mokumé Gané is a traditional Japanese technique used to decorate metal by producing a fine pattern that resembles wood grain. It is used in Japanese art not only to create decorative patterns, but also to give a detailed background on exceptionally fine metalwork.

The various steps in the process can be summarized as follows:

  1. Solder several sheets of differently colored metals together (up to five sheets).
  2. Pass the metal sandwich through a rolling mill.
  3. Anneal.
  4. Cut the piece in half and solder the two pieces together. Repeat until you achieve the desired number of layers.
  5. Pass the sheet through the rolling mill again, repeat from step two if you wish an even finer grain.
  6. Create indentations in the sheet (various methods from doming punches to burls on a flexible shaft machine can be used).
  7. File away the high spots on the metal sheet to reveal the grain.
  8. The sheet can now be rolled again to flatten it, pickled to remove firescale, and polished as you would any other piece of metal.

木 目 金

We English speakers tend to refer to all hada (grain patterns) that resemble woodgrain as mokumé gané. The terms for describing hada were originally applied primarily to the patterns visible on the ji of swords, the area between the edge of the blade and the blade ridge (the ridge running the length of the sword, halfway between the sharp edge and the dull back). This pattern was referred to as the jihada (ji+hada). There were a number of different patterns, formed by different methods of folding the metal:

  • Itame -- woodgrain.
  • Masame -- straight grain.
  • Mokumé -- burl grain (lit. 'wood eye')
  • Ayasugi -- undulating grain, more fluid than strait grain, but less turbulent and broken than wood grain.
  • Muji -- no grain, no visible pattern.

Most of the metalwork found today would indeed fall into the mokumé category, although you might also find itame or ayasugi on some pieces. Mokumé gané shows the effects of the mixing metals at their most striking; earthy and organic, but still metallic and well defined. Despite the popularity of these patterns on modern jewelry, you will never hear the words itame or ayasugi used; they are all mokumé now.

Gané means metal in Japanese, and can be appended to any of these descriptors, although one usually does not do this when talking about swords, and you are unlikely to be using any of these words in English unless you are talking about swords.

Thanks to liveforever for the kanji.

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