Looking for a live blade

Clinton Shaffer

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Can anyone here recommend a reputable website that sells high quality BATTLE READY live blade katanas? Also, if would you know of a website that sells sword canes/walking sticks with battle ready live katana/ninjato blades, I would appreciate this as well.
 

Flying Crane

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Hi Clinton,

May I ask, what is the end goal in getting such implements? Are you training a sword method with a reputable teacher? If so, I would expect the teacher should be able to direct you to the proper sources. He/she may have specific standards of quality for what is allowed in class, so I would definitely suggest you check with your teacher so you dont buy something that you are then not allowed to use.

If you are just looking to buy on your own, without training, I advise caution as they can be dangerous implements. People who think they can just sort of figure it out on their own are usually wrong. If they avoid injury, then they typically end in frustration because proper instruction is really necessary to progress beyond simply playing with the sword in the back yard. You will not develop any real skill nor understanding without good instruction.

So what are you hoping to accomplish?

There are makers out there who produce combat grade swords. What that means can vary widely from one maker to another. Some items are more worthy than others, and there is usually a significant price difference as well.

Specifically with the katana, there are manufacturers from China like Musashi brand, who make affordable katana clones, but they are typically regarded as the bottom end of the real sword category. Is the steel acceptable? Probably. Is it sharp? Yes. Is it properly and sturdily constructed? Perhaps. It might fly apart when you swing it, if not properly constructed. Are the dimensions and weighting and balance proper? Probably not, but maybe good enough to be useable. Is it high-end? Definitely not. Especially for something like $300. A well-made katana-style sword is likely to cost a couple thousand dollars or more, and can become quite pricey indeed.

So I suggest you analyze your need in such a weapon before you start buying. If you are determined to buy something no matter what, then do your research and save your money to buy something of quality. Dont jump at the chance to buy a cheaper item of questionable value. Swords are cool. A well-made sword is even cooler.
 

Flying Crane

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A quick note on steel. There are many types of steel, and many of them can make a high quality sword blade. A katana-type sword in the modern era does not need to be made from many layers of folded steel. Modern foundries can produce very high quality steels, with very high consistency, and high quality sword blades can be made from them.

Heat treatment results in the proper toughening of the blade in a way that makes it appropriate as a sword. Untreated steel will be softer, is subject to being bent, and the edge of the blade can fold over. All of these are bad for a sword blade.

An improperly heat treated blade can be brittle and susceptible to cracking or breaking when used and can become dangerous to the user and those nearby. The edge can be susceptible to cracking and chipping, resulting in a damaged blade.

A properly heat treated blade is tough and resilient, is not brittle but also is not soft, does not take a bend but can be springy, meaning it can bend and snap back to straight. The edge isnt soft so it wont roll over. It takes and holds a sharp edge, but abuse can still chip or damage the edge. Historically, these edge chips would be ground and polished out, but eventually, with enough use, there would be an accumulation of edge damage that would mandate the blade be retired. So a sword is a tool that can wear out. Even a sword of quality, if it is actually being used. Abuse will shorten its life. Using it to clear brush from the back yard is abuse, as is hacking at rocks and trees, pretending they are orcs and trolls. A quality sword can be damaged and destroyed, even if made with a high level of skill and top end materials.

But these issues are often unknown and unknowable when dealing with low-end swords. You dont know the type of steel used, nor how well the heat treatment was done. It may look pretty and seem good, but if the heat treatment is poor or an improper type of steel was used, it could fail, become easily damaged, and even unsafe.

Coupled with that is how sturdily was the hilt attached to the blade? Is it secure? Are the materials high quality? Is the fit tight? Is there any chance that it could fail and the blade could fly out? Again, with low-end swords, this is often unknown, unless the hilt is obviously loose which is an obvious bad omen.

So some caution needs to be exercised when buying a sword. Again, guidance from a good teacher is a good thing to have.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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Hi Clinton,

May I ask, what is the end goal in getting such implements? Are you training a sword method with a reputable teacher? If so, I would expect the teacher should be able to direct you to the proper sources. He/she may have specific standards of quality for what is allowed in class, so I would definitely suggest you check with your teacher so you dont buy something that you are then not allowed to use.

If you are just looking to buy on your own, without training, I advise caution as they can be dangerous implements. People who think they can just sort of figure it out on their own are usually wrong. If they avoid injury, then they typically end in frustration because proper instruction is really necessary to progress beyond simply playing with the sword in the back yard. You will not develop any real skill nor understanding without good instruction.

So what are you hoping to accomplish?

There are makers out there who produce combat grade swords. What that means can vary widely from one maker to another. Some items are more worthy than others, and there is usually a significant price difference as well.

Specifically with the katana, there are manufacturers from China like Musashi brand, who make affordable katana clones, but they are typically regarded as the bottom end of the real sword category. Is the steel acceptable? Probably. Is it sharp? Yes. Is it properly and sturdily constructed? Perhaps. It might fly apart when you swing it, if not properly constructed. Are the dimensions and weighting and balance proper? Probably not, but maybe good enough to be useable. Is it high-end? Definitely not. Especially for something like $300. A well-made katana-style sword is likely to cost a couple thousand dollars or more, and can become quite pricey indeed.

So I suggest you analyze your need in such a weapon before you start buying. If you are determined to buy something no matter what, then do your research and save your money to buy something of quality. Dont jump at the chance to buy a cheaper item of questionable value. Swords are cool. A well-made sword is even cooler.

My purpose for this is to acquire and improve on my skills of Tameshigir. My current sensei does not teach this as he (and you called it) does not allow live blades in his dojo. Though, I still wish to acquire and improve on this real world aspect to my art of Iaijutsu which has been largely solo and, therefore, is mostly theoretical. To reverberate on what you had mentioned, I am always in full support and even encourage one doing the necessary research associated with this endeavor. To that end, I believe seeking the input from the members of this forum is a fine first step in that process. Your very informative and well worded response to my post demonstrates that perfectly.

So, as for the Tameshigiri, I have located an instructor who frequently hosts workshops on this skill and will be attending my first (hopefully of many) such seminar at my earliest convenience. After contacting this person, it was recommended that I attend said workshops with my own live blade.

As for the quality of steel, I have learned SOME of this topic but still consider myself a novice. Since you clearly are knowledgeable in this field of study, please allow me to inquire with you on it. It is my understanding that carbon steel is the way to go. Of course there are several different concentrations of carbon and this is a topic on which I would appreciate some feedback. I've read 1065 carbon steel is best for sword blades because it is neither too brittle (as would be the case with 1095) nor is it too soft (as would be the case with 1045). As for the tempering, I've read heat tempering is the best way to go though, I don't know much of heat tempering beyond that. A final thought on that, I thought I'd read somewhere that acid-tempering was the best approach to get a sword blade... "battle ready."

There it is in a nutshell. If you have any feedback for me, I appreciate it.
 

Flying Crane

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My purpose for this is to acquire and improve on my skills of Tameshigir. My current sensei does not teach this as he (and you called it) does not allow live blades in his dojo. Though, I still wish to acquire and improve on this real world aspect to my art of Iaijutsu which has been largely solo and, therefore, is mostly theoretical. To reverberate on what you had mentioned, I am always in full support and even encourage one doing the necessary research associated with this endeavor. To that end, I believe seeking the input from the members of this forum is a fine first step in that process. Your very informative and well worded response to my post demonstrates that perfectly.

So, as for the Tameshigiri, I have located an instructor who frequently hosts workshops on this skill and will be attending my first (hopefully of many) such seminar at my earliest convenience. After contacting this person, it was recommended that I attend said workshops with my own live blade.

As for the quality of steel, I have learned SOME of this topic but still consider myself a novice. Since you clearly are knowledgeable in this field of study, please allow me to inquire with you on it. It is my understanding that carbon steel is the way to go. Of course there are several different concentrations of carbon and this is a topic on which I would appreciate some feedback. I've read 1065 carbon steel is best for sword blades because it is neither too brittle (as would be the case with 1095) nor is it too soft (as would be the case with 1045). As for the tempering, I've read heat tempering is the best way to go though, I don't know much of heat tempering beyond that. A final thought on that, I thought I'd read somewhere that acid-tempering was the best approach to get a sword blade... "battle ready."

There it is in a nutshell. If you have any feedback for me, I appreciate it.
I know a bit about materials in a general sense, but am far from an expert. I do know that a simple high carbon steel makes for a good quality blade, but the needs of sword blade are different from the needs of a scalpel or a pocket knife or a large Bowie or an axe head. So the specifics of what carbon content is appropriate depends on what kind of blade we are talking about. I suspect that one is not always given the option of telling a maker what kind of steel they want their blade made from, and likely have to accept what the maker feels is appropriate. That being said, a little research can help inform whether or not the maker has made a good choice. If you can find out what steel has been used, you can google it and often find summaries online of the steel qualities, as well as opinions of folks in the industry and martial practice as to whether it makes a good sword blade.

I point out that simple carbon steels make excellent blades because there are a lot of exotic steel alloys that also make exceptional blades, but can become quite expensive. I feel that some people get a bit hung up on finding that perfect steel for a sword, and I am not convinced that the perfect steel exists. There are a lot of good and appropriate choices, and you dont need the most expensive exotic steel in your sword, especially if it triples the price of an item that would already be excellent. I will say that a lot of modern blades are made from 5160 spring steel, which is the same steel used to make leaf springs for truck suspensions. That is a good quality, flexible and tough steel and is recognized as a good choice.

As far as heat treatments, some steels respond better to different types of quenching baths, water or brine or oil. Ive not heard of an acid quench. I have heard of acid etching and an acid bath meant to highlight the grain of the steel for aesthetic purposes. At any rate, the type of quench depends on the type of steel, and that is something the maker needs to be knowledgeable and skilled with. That is the kind of thing that I think you need be be willing to trust the maker because you have no control over it, so choose your maker wisely.

For katana type swords, I have heard that Paul Chen/Hanwei Forge makes affordable, quality items at the entry level. Take a look at them. I have no personal experience with them, but it is a place to start. If you are going to be taking seminars from a good teacher, see what he recommends.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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I know a bit about materials in a general sense, but am far from an expert. I do know that a simple high carbon steel makes for a good quality blade, but the needs of sword blade are different from the needs of a scalpel or a pocket knife or a large Bowie or an axe head. So the specifics of what carbon content is appropriate depends on what kind of blade we are talking about. I suspect that one is not always given the option of telling a maker what kind of steel they want their blade made from, and likely have to accept what the maker feels is appropriate. That being said, a little research can help inform whether or not the maker has made a good choice. If you can find out what steel has been used, you can google it and often find summaries online of the steel qualities, as well as opinions of folks in the industry and martial practice as to whether it makes a good sword blade.

I point out that simple carbon steels make excellent blades because there are a lot of exotic steel alloys that also make exceptional blades, but can become quite expensive. I feel that some people get a bit hung up on finding that perfect steel for a sword, and I am not convinced that the perfect steel exists. There are a lot of good and appropriate choices, and you dont need the most expensive exotic steel in your sword, especially if it triples the price of an item that would already be excellent. I will say that a lot of modern blades are made from 5160 spring steel, which is the same steel used to make leaf springs for truck suspensions. That is a good quality, flexible and tough steel and is recognized as a good choice.

As far as heat treatments, some steels respond better to different types of quenching baths, water or brine or oil. Ive not heard of an acid quench. I have heard of acid etching and an acid bath meant to highlight the grain of the steel for aesthetic purposes. At any rate, the type of quench depends on the type of steel, and that is something the maker needs to be knowledgeable and skilled with. That is the kind of thing that I think you need be be willing to trust the maker because you have no control over it, so choose your maker wisely.

For katana type swords, I have heard that Paul Chen/Hanwei Forge makes affordable, quality items at the entry level. Take a look at them. I have no personal experience with them, but it is a place to start. If you are going to be taking seminars from a good teacher, see what he recommends.

Thank you, Crane! Your input has been invaluable for this quest. Peace and honor be with you!
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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So, as for the Tameshigiri, I have located an instructor who frequently hosts workshops on this skill and will be attending my first (hopefully of many) such seminar at my earliest convenience. After contacting this person, it was recommended that I attend said workshops with my own live blade.
I know little about katana's so can't offer you direct advice on the best steel or the best brand. However, I wanted to bring attention to these sentences. If you have a specific instructor, and he emailed you that, that's the perfect time to say something like "I'm planning to order a blade soon so that I can attend one of your workshops. Do you have a brand or manufacturer that you normally recommend for people new to Tameshigiri?". I'm sure he gets asked that, and has a brand that he finds works well for his students. Alternatively, if it was an in-person or phone call, you can still do the same thing so long as you have his email. Just change it to something like "I know when we talked you had mentioned bringing my own live blade to your workshop. I've looked around and there seem to be a lot of different options. Is there one that you would recommend?", for a similar response.

Both emails would show him that you are taking it seriously, and will give him the opportunity to respond. The reason that I say do this over email, is so that if he has a website link for you, or if he has multiple different options, he can send those to you and you can click a link or already have a record done so you can research them further. That's personal preference though, to make it a bit easier on the instructor.

If he doesn't respond, since not everyone reads their emails, then give him a call with the same questions.
 

BrendanF

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As for the quality of steel, I have learned SOME of this topic but still consider myself a novice. Since you clearly are knowledgeable in this field of study, please allow me to inquire with you on it. It is my understanding that carbon steel is the way to go. Of course there are several different concentrations of carbon and this is a topic on which I would appreciate some feedback. I've read 1065 carbon steel is best for sword blades because it is neither too brittle (as would be the case with 1095) nor is it too soft (as would be the case with 1045). As for the tempering, I've read heat tempering is the best way to go though, I don't know much of heat tempering beyond that. A final thought on that, I thought I'd read somewhere that acid-tempering was the best approach to get a sword blade... "battle ready."

There it is in a nutshell. If you have any feedback for me, I appreciate it.

Steel is carbon steel, by definition. High carbon steels are certainly the main way to make serviceable longer blades. The chromium levels in stainless steels typically makes them unsuitable in longer lengths.
10xx series are the basic high carbon steels used in bladesmithing - 1045 has 0.045% carbon, 1065 has 0.065% C, and so on. Other than some manganese, these are very simple steels. Fantastic for longer blades - anything from 1065 through 1095.
W1 and W2 are often used by smiths making monosteel Japanese style blades - they are shallow hardening tool steels which work well creating hamon through differential heat treat; as the 'w' in the name indicates, they can be water quenched.
Other steels like 5160 and 80crv2 are also wonderful tough steels for longer pieces.
If you have the money and time to wait you might contact Howard Clark; his 1084 and L6 'bainite' swords are wonderful.

Hardening steels takes two processes - heat treat and tempering. The heat treatment involves heating the steel to prescribed temperatures and then lowering the temperature at a prescribed rate, either in water/brine, oil, air or between aluminium plates. This hardens the steel but leaves stresses which can result in a broken or chipped blade. Tempering involves heating the blade up, again for prescribed periods at specific temperatures, in order to relax some of these stresses in the steel. Essentially one is dialling back the heat treat to toughen the blade; heat treat and temper is by definition a balance between creating hardness in the steel (for edge retention) and toughness (to prevent breaking/chipping - brittleness). Acid is not used to temper; ferric chloride is sometimes used to etch Japanese style blades to reveal either hada (the pattern welded steel affect) or the hamon.

There is a forum specific to new sword buyers; sbgforum. I don't know much about that forum though, could be full of dolts or shills.
 
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No advise for specfic quality for Katanas but Katanaspecfic website i know of is swords of northshire and Kult of athena does a bunch of diffrent weapons on it. (and retails i think several diffrent companies japanese weapons)
 

isshinryuronin

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There are few qualified iaido instructors, so I would first ask about your "sensei's" qualifications and training. I wonder why he does not teach tameshigiri. So should you. (for non-iai people, this is cutting a rolled up, presoaked, straw mat.) This is a good way to test the execution of your technique (proper angle, cutting motion, power and follow through.) It is the resistance training for the sword, akin (sort of) to hitting or kicking a heavy bag.

A shinken capable of clean tameshigiri must be very sharp, and thus, very dangerous. The fact that you do not practice with a live blade in the dojo makes it even more dangerous. I was fortunate to have learned with a live blade from one of the top sensei in the USA. This was good incentive to execute with maximum focus and awareness, less the dojo floor run red. The danger is real and the blade deserves much respect.

I didn't even know there was such a thing as a dull practice blade ("iaito," usually aluminum) till years later. IMO, this is counter-productive to full development of the art, though I can see a beginner using it for the first few months. A good quality, durable, very sharp, shinken will run about $600-$2000 or more, depending on the mounting hardware and construction.

I may be old fashioned, but if one is going to wield a shinken, it should be done correctly and with respect.
 

BrendanF

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There are few qualified iaido instructors, so I would first ask about your "sensei's" qualifications and training. I wonder why he does not teach tameshigiri. So should you. (for non-iai people, this is cutting a rolled up, presoaked, straw mat.) This is a good way to test the execution of your technique (proper angle, cutting motion, power and follow through.) It is the resistance training for the sword, akin (sort of) to hitting or kicking a heavy bag.

A shinken capable of clean tameshigiri must be very sharp, and thus, very dangerous. The fact that you do not practice with a live blade in the dojo makes it even more dangerous. I was fortunate to have learned with a live blade from one of the top sensei in the USA. This was good incentive to execute with maximum focus and awareness, less the dojo floor run red. The danger is real and the blade deserves much respect.

I didn't even know there was such a thing as a dull practice blade ("iaito," usually aluminum) till years later. IMO, this is counter-productive to full development of the art, though I can see a beginner using it for the first few months. A good quality, durable, very sharp, shinken will run about $600-$2000 or more, depending on the mounting hardware and construction.

I may be old fashioned, but if one is going to wield a shinken, it should be done correctly and with respect.

Not to quibble, just to provide an alternate perspective; my Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu teacher trained in Japan a half century ago, has taught the art for over three decades, and doesn't teach tameshigiri. Most of the folks in my dojo, and our hombu in Japan use iaito. Some certainly use shinken - one of my sempai let me handle his which was incredibly balanced. But it is not required or even expected. And we don't do tameshigiri; the assumption is that if you want to, it's easy enough to do on your own.
 
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