Hanoi offers cutting-edge tour to ancient blacksmithing craft

By Minh Huong    July 29, 2019 | 04:25 am PT
A unique tour to Ha Dong District, 15 km from Hanoi's center, allows you to become a blacksmith and forge your own knife.

The sparks fly from the grinder.

It is about 40 degrees Celsius outside the forging workshop. 

But neither the indoor nor the outdoor heat seems to bother Hoang Van Chinh.

Chinh is no muscleman, as seen in typical Western depictions of blacksmiths. In his late 40s, the Hanoian blacksmith looks typically Vietnamese, of small, wiry build, wearing a pair of shorts and a blue T-Shirt.

But Chinh and his wife do sweat a lot in the heat, and it glistens on their faces and arms as they bang their hammers on the anvil with practiced expertise.

Among the 500 blacksmiths who ply their trade in Da Sy Village in the western part of Hanoi, the couple are working as instructors for a group of foreign tourists keen on becoming a blacksmith for a few hours, and aiming to forge a knife or two on their own.

Just had to do it

Hanah from Roslin, the U.K. (L) and her mother pose for a photo with Chinh in front of the backsmiths house, with the knives they forged on their own. Photo by VnExpress

Hanah from Roslin, the U.K. (L) and her mother pose for a photo with blacksmith Hoang Van Chinh in front of his house, with the knives they forged on their own. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Huong.

As a fan of the American television show, Forged in Fire, Hanah from Roslin in the UK always wanted to forge something on her own. When she read about the knife making tour in Hanoi, she knew she just had to do it.

After traveling for a little more than 30 minutes to the village from Hanoi's Old Quarter, Hanah was excited as she reached Chinh’s house and the workshop where he teaches blacksmithing. 

Hanah’s tour guide Vu Hong Thanh has led more than 100 groups on the knife making tour over the past two years. "Foreigners seem to like the tour. There are always new customers asking to join the workshop after being told by their friends who’d taken it before," Thanh says.

Though there is no prerequisite skill needed for attending the class, Thanh does tell her customers to be careful in some certain parts that only the instructor is allowed to do, in order to comply with safety measures in place for the tour.

Blacksmith Chinh says forging was a labor-intensive work involving many steps, such as drafting and templating shapes, consistently maintaining fire in the furnace and hammering the iron/steel into shape, tempering and finally shaping and sharpening the final product.

On the knife making tour, tourists can choose the one they want to make from a selection of ten kinds of knives.

With Chinh’s careful, step by step instructions given with great patience, the whole process of making a knife takes the new learner about three hours.

The making of a knife

There are basically two parts to making a knife – the blade and the wooden handle.

First, the metal is cut in the shape of the blade after an iron/steel piece is heated up in the forge. Next, it is heated up in the forge again and taken out to be hit with a hammer (or two hammers by two people at the same time). The hammer hits have to be continuous and regular with short spaces in between. To get the best shape, the process of hitting and heating the metal has to be done several times.

After this stage, tourists are taught to use the grinder to make the blade very sharp.

The second part is mostly done by the blacksmith. Chinh drills a hole in the ready prepared wooden handle. After heating up the tang of the knife for the last time, he places in the handle, and finally, the tourists have knives that they had a big hand in making.

Also learning how to make a knife, Hasley from Sheffield, UK says: "I didn't think I'd have the strength to forge a knife, but the craftsman showed us every single step and didn't let me shy away from the tough work. It was so interesting and satisfying to make something yourself entirely from scratch."

Hanoian blacksmith Hoang Van Chinh trains Hasley from Sheffield, the UK to use the hammer to shape the knife in his workshop in Da Sy Village, Ha Dong District in Hanoi. Photo VnExpress.

Blacksmith Hoang Van Chinh trains Hasley from Sheffield, the U.K. to use the hammer to shape the knife in his workshop in Da Sy Village, Hanoi's Ha Dong District. Photo VnExpress/Minh Huong.

Vinod Viswalingam, a tourist from Canada, said the experience was "better than he had expected" and he was very happy to have done "something so different from the regular tourists."

Most importantly, Vinod was happy to have a big knife that he himself made, and said he will use this regularly in his kitchen in Canada.

Hanah from Roslin was also happy to hear local stories about knife making, saying "It was authentic and not just for a tour."

A rich history

Located in Kien Hung Ward, Ha Dong District, Da Sy is a small village with a long history of blacksmithing.

According to some documents, the forging of tools has been happening in Da Sy Village since the reign of the 18th Hung King, several hundred years before Christ. The village blacksmiths forged weapons including knife-shaped lances and swords for paladins and the nation’s military defenders.

Then, under the Tran Dynasty in the 13th century, two experienced blacksmiths named Nguyen Thuat and Nguyen Thuan from Thanh Hoa Province taught the local villagers some advanced forging "secrets". Since then, Da Sy residents have produced agricultural and household tools like ploughs, sickles, scissors and knives.

Two blacksmiths of Da Sy Village forge a knife. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Huong

Two blacksmiths of Da Sy Village forge a knife. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Huong

Now as part of Ha Dong District, about 15 km southwest of Hanoi’s center, the village looks like any Hanoi suburb, with a concrete road instead of the brick-paved road of the old days. However, most of the villagers have stuck to the traditional blacksmithing craft.

Despite the fact that more people, especially city dwellers, prefer modern steel knives made in factories, there are many people who like the village’s products best, including chefs, tailors and farmers who need strong, sharp and durable products instead of tools that look good.

Blacksmith Dinh Cong Doan, deputy chairman of the Da Sy Association of Metal Forging, said: "80 percent of the households in the village are engaged in the craft, making blacksmithing the village’s main source of income. Each household has their own secrets. Villagers assign each household to specialize in one type of product. A master craftsman can fulfill any client’s request. There are about 20 master craftsmen in the village."

Nguyen Van Son, who forged his very first products when he was 12, said: "From a child to the elderly, man and women, all the villagers know how to forge.

Now the owner of the Nguyen Son Workshop, Son said: "What makes Da Sy products famous is the technique of steel tempering and blade making. Our blades are paper thin but very sharp."

Da Sy Village in Ha Dong District, 15 km southwest of Hanois center. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Huong.

Da Sy Village in Ha Dong District, 15 km southwest of Hanoi's center. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Huong.

Getting there

It is easy to take a cab or mobike taxi ride from the Old Quarter to the Da Sy Village in Kien Hung Ward, Hanoi's Ha Dong District. The 30-minute trip costs VND150,000 - 200,000 ($6.4-8.6). Or you can take either of two bus routes involving two buses each: No.9 and No.105; or No.2 and No.22. The bus fare is VND7,000 ($0.3) per section; and a bus journey from the Old Quarter to the village takes about one hour and a half.

Tourists can also visit the village and buy some knives for VND25,000-200,000 ($1-8.6).  However, those keen on making a knife on their own, learning some blacksmithing in the process, should ideally book a tour or have a translator along, because most of the villagers don’t speak English.

Tours are available at the front desk of several Old Quarter hotels, hostels as well as on Facebook and TripAdvisor.  

go to top