The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
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Pickax Smith during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) Eras
April 1965

Meiji, Taisho Tsurubashi Kajiya
[Pickax Smith during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) Eras]
38.0 x 54.4 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

In the Meiji era, coal hewers entered their pits, shouldering four or five pickaxes every day. When the tips of their pickaxes dulled from hitting iwa (silicified wood) or shimes (rock layers) in their coalfaces, their atoyamas (helpers) sometimes stopped working and went up to the surface to take the pickaxes to smithies and have them fixed. The smithy was placed at the pit mouth. The smith grasped the neck of the pickax with his left hand, turning it around 90 degrees, and skillfully sharpened its tip with the hammer in his right hand. It cost 5 rin (0.005 yen) to repair a pickax by quenching, and repairing one by adding steel cost 2 sen 5 rin (0.025 yen) or 3 sen (0.03 yen). This price did not change for a long time from about year 30 to 40 of the Meiji era (1897 to 1907).
In 1918 or 1919, improved pickaxes were introduced to coal mines and made miners' work more convenient. Tips of them became detachable and replaceable, and each of the coal hewers needed to bring only one pickax when he entered the pit. He detached its tip by driving a tapered cotter into a hole in the side of the pickax. This mechanism was similar to that of the "boring machine'' with a detachable drill used to make holes in iron plates. But the cotter was newly patented and nobody could produce them without permission. This patent was inconvenient for pit workers.

Text in Blue Ink at the Top Center
The bellows (fuigo) were made in Osaka and Hiroshima. Bellows made in Osaka were high quality and expensive. Bottoms of both types of bellows were made of glass. Leather of raccoon dogs was used as piston packing.
Steel tips attached to the heads of pickaxes were made from thin square steel bars (itohikiko) of 3 bu (9.3 mm), and they were hammered into squares 3 mm thick and 10 mm wide. They were welded to pick heads and quenched in blue. When they were tempered again, they were quenched in purple. Pick heads had to be narrowed in the rear and widened in the front. If not, rocks would fly intensely while mining. If their tips went dull, mining coal became very hard. If they chipped a little, the work became even harder, of course.

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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