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Swordsmith | Chen Yuan-fang

  • Date:2023-09-11
Works by Chen Yuan-fang

Chinese Name: 陳遠芳

Born: 1955

Place of Birth: Taichung City (Central Taiwan)

Did You Know?

The works of Taiwanese master swordsmith Chen Yuan-fang were featured in the American publication "500 Knives: Celebrating Traditional & Innovative Designs" in 2009.

Chen Yuan-fang has had a strong interest in swords since his youth. As a young man, he came across a sword that he really liked, but it was too expensive for him to buy. This sparked the idea of making his own swords. This idea stayed with Chen Yuan-fang, and he began collecting information and studying techniques to enter the field of metalworking, despite originally working in jewelry design and production.

Swords were a symbol of honor for ancient emperors and scholars, as well as the soul of warriors and soldiers. Many wealthy merchants went to great lengths to acquire famous swords. In modern times, swords have become collectibles that are loved by enthusiasts.

Using his skills in jewelry making and learning how to make knives in his spare time, Chen Yuan-fang transitioned from an amateur blacksmith to a swordsmith with a unique style. His unwavering passion for sword making transformed the craft into an innovative art form.

Swordsmithing presents many challenges, including shaping round or curved elements, controlling the force when striking with a hammer, and integrating different materials. For Chen, getting injured during the sword making process is par for the course, because he needs to get close to the work and aim precisely, and when shaping, the hammer can accidentally hit his hand, sometimes even breaking bones. He explains that larger pieces are more difficult because they require large and thick metal pieces that cannot be welded together, posing technical challenges.

Chen Yuan-fang has many imaginative ideas, such as wanting to create a sword handle that can rotate 360 degrees. Executing such ideas comes with significant difficulties, but Chen remains undeterred and determined. He says that encountering obstacles during the creative process is normal, but he always finds a way to overcome them and learns from failures. With this mindset, he often overcomes hurdles and completes excellent pieces.

For over 40 years, Chen Yuan-fang has used only the highest quality materials for his sword-making. He emphasizes the importance of materials and refuses to compromise on using inferior ones. His sword works use D2 steel for the blade and titanium alloy, a material used in warships. He uses rare woods such as Indonesian ebony and Indian rosewood for the hilts. He has even created the world's first seven-star sword, one of sacred instruments in Taoism, made of titanium alloy, bringing a new form of sword art. In addition to sword art, Chen Yuan-fang is skilled in various other crafts, including jewelry inlay, precise grinding, delicate carving, and special leatherwork. To create a sword, Chen Yuan-fang must integrate the four major crafts of metalworking, blade making, woodworking, and leatherworking, resulting in distinctive, unique items.

From design drawing, blade making, to scabbard, handle, and other accessories, Chen Yuan-fang can independently complete the entire work, which is different from many classic swords abroad that are made by a team. Chen said that the division of labor in traditional sword making is extremely precise. The craftsman focuses on the technology of the blade, while the other parts are handed over to different specialists. However, the successful forging of the sword body only accounts for 20% of the whole sword making. He believes that the making of swords includes almost all the techniques in traditional craft cultures.

Most of Chen's orders come from overseas, sometimes for movie props or for collectors. He has spent nearly a year creating a single piece and has even made a sword worth as much as a BMW car.

Chen Yuan-fang continues to challenge himself by creating high-difficulty styles of sword, preserving traditional values while transforming them into new forms of contemporary artistic expression. His works have received national craft awards, and he was awarded the title of "Master Craftsman" in 2007. In 2010, he was recognized by the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute and received the "Taiwan Crafts Workshop (臺灣工藝之家)" certification. In 2015, he was registered as a preserver of traditional sword-making by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taichung City.

Chen says that sword making has always been a niche industry in Taiwan, but because the art of swordsmithing is so fascinating, he has always and will continue to find it a source of infinite creative vitality.