We had taken a FirstLook at one of the three folded-steel katana in July. That katana was from HanBon Sword. As we had stated at the time, for the Tameshigiri Series, we will be reviewing swords from different Chinese smiths in these ranges: $150-$350, $350-$600, $600-$1000. And to keep things interesting, we will not reveal the price of the katanas until we are done with the reviews.
Today, we are going to take a FirstLook at the second of the three katana. This one was forged by the smiths at Lyuesword, also located in Longquan China. In fact, their workshop is just “down the road” from the HanBon.
The folks at Lyuesword were a pleasure to deal with. They were friendly, responsive, and very knowledgeable. In ordering our katana, we could have specified EXACTLY what we wanted, but we opted for a combination which they recommended for the price range we had indicated. Unlike the experience with our first sword, this one from Lyuesword arrived REALLY quickly. The shipping process automatically notified us when the item was picked up by EMS. We were able to track the progress from the time it left the forge, made its way out of China, arrived in the US, and delivered to the office by USPS. In fact, the entire trip only took 12 days! We have had stuff from Amazon that took longer 🙂
The sword and stand came very well packaged and securely wrapped in a form-fitted styrofoam case. Nothing could move around or bang into each other. The sword itself was wrapped by a silk bag and further protected by a layer plastic. The stand was separately boxed and cleverly integrated into the upper part of the packaging. The stand we received is a high quality unit…sturdy, nicely finished, and felt-lined in all the places where it would come into contact with the katana.
After taking the sword out of its initial plastic wrapping and silk bag, we see that the handle and the blade were still further wrapped in plastic. The blade itself was also covered by a layer of oil. No possibility of any rusting during transit!
The handle (tsuka) is made of hard wood and wrapped with a silk ito over black ray skin. The scabbard (saya) is also made of hard wood and both the mouth and butt are capped with black buffalo horn. The hard buffalo horn is functional detail typically reserved for higher quality scabbards. The one extra we noticed was the ray-skin wrapping under the silk cord (sageo). It is a nice detail which enhances both the look (by adding contrast) and the function (by providing extra grip) of the scabbard.
The sword fittings (tsuba, fuchi, ) are nicely detailed with an intricate pattern highlighted with gold and silver. The blade collar (habaki) and end cap (kashira) both have a similar pattern of gold and silver on a black background. The only thing which was a little bit “off” was the menuki. We’ll have more about that later. Overall, we found the construction, fit, and finish were all excellent.
In Japan, the techniques of steel making for swords were closely guarded and highly ritualized, but layered steel construction for use in sword making are actually very well documented in China….and they are a bit less formal about the whole thing:-) When we ordered the katana, we asked if they would take a few photos of the process for use in this article.
Here are some of the photos they sent of the construction. The descriptions are of the photos (left to right, top to bottom):
- The AISI 1095 high carbon steel used for the blade
- Hammering and folding of the steel
- Each fold doubles the number of layers (12 folds = 4096 layers)
- Sparks flying from the hammering
- The blade being heated in the forge for shaping
- Shaping the blade on the anvil
As these photos show, sword-making is a manually demanding process. However, thanks to modern power grinders and polishers, the rough-shaping and polishing steps were made considerably quicker. Also, did we mention that the Chinese process is “less ritualized” compared to those of the Japanese? And no, OSHA would probably not approve of the flip-flops footwear 🙂 However, do not be deceived by the casualness of their garb, they are true professionals when it comes to their skills, techniques, and processes for making quality blades.
Here are some specifics about this Lyuesword katana:
- Overall Length: 40.5 inch /104 cm
- Nagasa Length: 28.7 inch / 73 cm
- Handle Length: 10.6 inch / 27cm
- Blade Shape: SHINOGI-ZUKURI
- Kissaki Shape: CHU-KISSAKI
- differentially clay-tempered
- NO-HI (no groove)
There are a few different types of finish-polish for the katana. The polishing can reveal a lot about the structural quality of the steel and the tempering process employed to harden the cutting edge. This step can be an art on to itself. Lyuesword polished this onein a way which gave a high mirror-finish to the softer back portion (Ji) of the blade and a whiter, more “abrasive” look, to the flat section (shinogi). On steel which has been differentially tempered, the pattern left by the clay used can be clearly seen. We can see it along the entire length of the blade, extending all the way to the tip.
The ONLY “flaw” we saw on the entire sword was with the menuki. The two menuki on the handle (left, right) both appear to be covered in some kind of grayish paint. One can clearly see a glint of gold color peaking through in spots. The details of the menuki are soft, muddy, and not like the rest of the fittings. We are not sure if there was some protective covering which was not removed prior to wrapping the handle…or what. We had asked the question, but have not received an answer prior to this article going live. We will post an answer if we get one. Anyway, while it does take a little away from the aesthetics, it will in no way affect the performance or the handling qualities of the katana. So we only mention it for completeness.
Here is the summary our FirstLook of the Lyuesword katana:
- Clean, sharp lines along the entire length of the blade
- Tight fit of all of the hardware, wrapping, and handle
- Excellent ray skin detail on the scabbard
- Beautiful and visible hamon to the tip
- A small cosmetic flaw with the menuki
Over the Summer, the crew has worked out out the construction of the holders for the tatami omote tameshigiri targets. That write-up of the target holder will be completed this Winter. Unfortunately, as the cold weather is now upon us, we won’t be able to do any mat-target cutting outside until things thaw. On the bright side, we do have one more katana FirstLook review coming 🙂 Look for it in January of 2015!