This is the third and last katana we will be reviewing for the Tameshigiri series. Like the other two blades (katana #1, katana #2), this blade from Knight Swords is also made from folded steel. This one took a bit longer to arrive because according to an email from the smith they had “…a batch of blades that are not very good quality, so we decide to make it again for you…” We have no problem with that!
We were expecting to feature three different Chinese smiths for the three different swords with three different price points. While we got the three swords, we only got two smiths. The interns had not realized that one of the smiths they ordered from also sold under the Knight Swords name. It turned out to happy mistake, though, as we are now be able to do side-by-side comparisons of blades from the same smith AND from different smiths.
This last sword came packaged very similar to the other two: securely wrapped in tape and protected by a thick layer of styrofoam. Unlike the other ones, however, this sword came in its own silk covered presentation box. Inside the box was a simple but functional, sword stand. As with the other swords, there was a silk carry bag, care instructions, and some Chinese paper money. The inclusion of money is a symbolic gesture to mean that the new owner should have no need to use the sword as a means to obtain money (i.e.: robbing people).
After freeing the box from the styrofoam, we removed the sword from the silk bag and looked it over. It appears to have arrived in perfect condition. Like the others swords, the handle was shrink-wrapped in clear plastic. To prevent corrosion during shipment, the blade was heavily oiled and was wrapped in a thin layer of plastic.
Some might worry that getting something like this shipped from the other side of the world was risky. Both of the smiths we dealt with clearly know what they are doing. We can say with confidence that even if the external styrofoam box was damaged in transit and the internal case was breached and the saya somehow got compromised… the blade itself would still likely arrive in pristine condition.
The image below is of the sword on the stand with the presentation box and silk bag in the back. The stand was simple to assemble and take apart. However, it is a bit wobbly to serve as a primary stand. We think it will make a good portable/backup stand.
All of the vendors offer options for different sword fittings (tsuba, menuki, etc), but we went with the original set (dragon and cherry blossoms motif). The pieces were made by casting, not by carving, but still have lots of detail, are very attractive, and complement the overall high quality of the sword.
The design of the menuki (handle decoration) for the tsuka (handle) is a small dragon. It is the same on both the left and right sides. The wrapping for the tsuka is black synthetic silk. The peg for securing the blade to the handle is made of bamboo. The tsuba (guard) of the katana is made of brass. The design, done in high relief, is a silver dragon surrounded by golden cherry blossoms.
The saya (sheath) is made from hardwood, fully wrapped in ray skin, and capped at both ends with pieces made from water buffalo horn. The black and white sageo (sheath cord) is patterned to complement the saya. The ray skin wrap is purely decorative. Not so with the buffalo horn pieces. Buffalo horn is an extremely dense and hard material. It is used in high quality saya at the mouth and end for protection against wear and knocks.
Here are some detail shots of the various parts of the katana:
- Tsuba (guard) : handle side, blade side
- Tsuka (handle) : menuki, kashira (end cap), ito (wrap)
- Saya (sheath) : kurikata (knob), sageo (cord), kniguchi (mouth), ray skin wrap
- Blade : edge, spine, tip, grain
There are many methods for layering steel when creating a Japanese blade. The construction of this blade was done using a technique called Gyaku-Kobuse (reverse wrapping). In Gyaku-Kobuse, the steel used for the core is harder than that used for outer wrapping layer. The outer steel is the softer AISI 1060 high carbon steel, folded 12 times to create 4096 layers. The core steel for this blade is the harder 1095 steel. The combination gives the blade the flexibility to withstand a hard strike AND the ability to hold a keen edge.
There is no groove on back part of the blade, thus retaining the maximum possible strength at the expense of a little extra heft. The kissaki (point) is medium in length, beefy, and shaped for piercing armor without breaking.
The blade has been hand finished with the use of Hazuya finger stone (a very thin Uchigumori stone on a paper backing) to bring out the hamon. It really brings out the subtler patterns and intricacies of the folded steel. The process is labor-intensive and time consuming, but the results are extremely attractive and unmatched by any mechanized polishing methods.
This article concludes the introduction of the three katana for the Tameshigiri Series. Next in the series is a write-up on how to take apart a katana into its component pieces and a side-by-side comparison of the three disassembled blades. Look for the article later in the Fall.