Blades of Steel: Thailand's Premier Sword Maker

No 52

The iron blade of the dha – also called a daab or darb – stretches out from a round handle into a long, subtle curve that widens toward the tip. This single-edged sword, of a type that has been used for centuries across Indochina, is both strong and flexible. It is a thing of beauty. It is also a deadly tool.

Ajarn Kor Neekow and his small team make these swords in his large workshop in the outskirts of Lampang, in northern Thailand, a 90-minute drive south of Chiang Mai. Neekow is one of the few remaining masters of his traditional craft. His skills are lauded across the country; he has even made swords for Thailand's king. Neekow imports his metal from Australia. He and his two sword smiths, whom he has taught himself, forge everything by hand. None of these men stand taller than five and a half feet, yet the work has toned their muscles impressively for the task at hand.

The process goes like this: the workers heat the iron in a ground forge. Each smith then hammers at the hot metal over a small anvil, one man providing the brute strength while the other's finer strokes shape the sword. Once the forging is complete, around two days later, the smiths polish the dha blade into its finished form. Other artisans in Neekow's shop then handcraft the wooden handle and scabbard, or sheath, which is made in two halves that are held together by braided fiber or metal bands. For the final touches, a metal worker adds the sword's fittings and decorative pommel. The dha is more of a decorative object these days than a practical one, making it that much easier to appreciate such details.

Credits

  • Director/Cinematographer - James MacDonald
  • Producer - Oliver Hartman
  • Editor - Matt Schaff
  • Colorist - Ashley Ayarza
  • Translator - Pam Soontornpadungsin
  • Text - Samantha Larson

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