Buying a custom,modern, katan or wakizasha

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Sep 22, 2018
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#1
I apologize if this has been covered elsewhere,but I couldn't find it.

I am about to bite the bullet and order a "custom" katana. I have bought a few items from Swords of the East and have mostly favorable, but mixed, feelings about them. If the membership wouldn't mind, could they share their opinions/experiences with U.S. ( or foreign) "brokers" of custom swords in the $600-900 range? I would much appreciate it.

Thanks!
 
Joined
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#3
And if a mod could please correct "wakizasha" I would appreciate it. I really have to do a better job of proofreading. Sorry.
 

Treeslicer

Amateur Professional
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Aug 27, 2018
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#4
I apologize if this has been covered elsewhere,but I couldn't find it.

I am about to bite the bullet and order a "custom" katana. I have bought a few items from Swords of the East and have mostly favorable, but mixed, feelings about them. If the membership wouldn't mind, could they share their opinions/experiences with U.S. ( or foreign) "brokers" of custom swords in the $600-900 range? I would much appreciate it.

Thanks!
I have yet to buy anything over $500, and that $500 was for a Muromachi-era katana blade from a Japanese antique dealer, neither have I bought any custom swords. I've bought a wide variety of antique blades and fittings, tools, sharpening stones, and books from Japanese sellers, without any bad experiences worth mentioning, though the interesting time the wrong sword got shipped comes close. :cool: Most of the sellers are small businessmen who have direct access to their stock for answering questions, usually post professionally shot portfolios of the exact objects you are buying, and do their own shipping by taking packages to the post office.

Buying direct from China is a mixed bag. The majority of sellers of everything are catalog resellers rather than manufacturers or wholesale distributors, no matter what they may claim, and never have actual contact with or control of what they are offering. Once you pay them, they put in an order with someone else, possibly hundreds of miles away, and baffling delays in shipping may occur because the weasel you deal with is stuck on back order (which they can't tell you, because they claim to own the forge :rolleyes: ) . All the photos in Chinese eBay sword ads are "stock" photos which may be years old. In addition, do not buy any antique or "war relic" material from China expecting real historic items, absolutely all of it on eBay is fake. That said, I've obtained 3 excellent katana blades, one acceptable, and one nice tanto, along with 2 "re-enactment" grade mounted "antique" tachi from China, along with a considerable amount of fittings, and all for very reasonable prices compared to buying the same articles from "name brand" US retailers of Chinese made swords. I have yet to pay more than $175 for any sword I've gotten from the Chinese.

You might notice that I referred to "blades" rather than swords on the katana. The Chinese have invented industrial methods for producing impeccable folded-steel, differentially-hardened katana blades which I estimate are 90% as good overall as Japanese antique nihonto blades, by a mixture of mechanized and handicraft process steps.

The rub comes in with the koshirae (mountings and fittings), which are manufactured separately from the blades, and usually nowhere as good as Japanese equivalents (though I have one sword which calls the inevitability of this into question). The Chinese koshirae, like the blades, are mass produced, and some corners have had to be cut to do this. The biggest problem is in the use of zinc alloys for tsuba and fuchigashira; all zinc alloy pieces should be replaced with iron, steel, or copper alloy equivalents. The brass habaki are made from one solid piece by a stamping process, but will usually pass with a little refitting (zinc alloy habaki should be replaced with brass ones immediately). The sheaths are usually lacquered plastic sleeves with wood inserts, and cannot be disassembled for adjustments. The better ones have buffalo horn end caps and waist tie attachments (I'm sparing you some fancy Japanese words here). What I do is keep the saya (sheath), and the wood core of the tsuka (hilt), and replace everything else with a mix of antique Japanese pieces, and fittings I make in my shop, along with a new full lacquered rayskin wrap, and a lacquered leather ito wrap. I customize my own swords.

The corner cutting on the blades is mostly in three areas, the monotonous coarse itame-masame hada produced by the mechanized folding process (with completed itame loops marching down the shinogi like fat little soldiers), and the monotonous gunome variations most commonly found as hamon (due to some patented repeatable "clay" masking method I haven't discovered the specs for yet, but can see the effects of). Then there's the polish, which isn't traditionally done either. These things one can live with, because the folded, water quenched blades I buy are physically free of internal defects, hold excellent edges, and show magnificent patterns of crystallization in the steel of the blades (what connoisseurs call hataraki or "activities"). Water quenching a folded steel blade is its own quality control process. The bad ones simply don't survive. The polish doesn't bother me either, since I use my Chinese blades to practice polishing on. Remember we're talking under $200 here, and the new blades from Japan start at ten to fifty times that amount.

The best Chinese sellers I have dealt with personally are swordmaker688 (Hanbon), and wang-katana2011. I have seen what appear to be genuinely hand made blades that seem to break the usual mold, offered by huawei, simonlee, and Sinosword, but haven't bought any myself, though all three makers seem to be popular with custom sword buyers (especially Sinosword).
 
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Ouroboros

Student of Tachikaze
Staff member
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Aug 23, 2018
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#6
I've had some very good luck with the huawei side of things myself. Own a unokubi zukuri dh blade that floats like smoke and cuts like a lynx and a blade made under the hauwei banner by a smith name of Qi Wren, she's also a fantastic cutter with a differentially hardened edge and some nice hamon activity. The geometry of the QiWren excites me (is that polite to admit to in open forum?).

I'll push the idea that O'Treeslicer has proffered to me many times: the blade is what matters most, fittings can be replaced and customized and a sword can be rebuilt from fittings filed away in a box somewhere when the ones you've got on her become tiresome or the season changes--or you need your battle wrapped tsuka to face down the enemy pool noodle ronin hordes of the northlands...errr...sorry that was on my schedule for this coming weekend.

Cheers,
Ouro
 

Ouroboros

Student of Tachikaze
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Aug 23, 2018
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#8
Or the encroaching ents of the southlands.... :D
Never trust a talking, walking tree. Next thing you know, there's squirrel scouts throwing hyper velocity acorns at your face while asking you to buy cookies
 

verity

Amateur Togishi
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Aug 25, 2018
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#9
I personally think your best bet for a custom that is not insane thousands...

Is buy a BARE blade (but with habaki), from one of these sellers, and then do some eBay scouting for either really convincing fakes or genuine edo fittings. These don't need to be papered art fittings but you get better ones than the stamped junk on most repro Chinese blades.

Then you find yourself a tsukamaki person (like Josh at Cottontail Customs or Randy Black) and have them do the tsuka and assembly.

You wind up with a VERY nice sword for what you'd pay for a mid range hanwei or Huawei.

I will never buy a full package from a Chinese maker again. Just give me the blade and habaki and I'll do the rest (often don't even need the habaki as I will just do that myself too).
 
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