Steamed Beech for swords?

thenewguy

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Hey folks, I'm new here so apologies If I make any mistakes! I just cannot find the information I am looking for, so I thought I'd ask here.

I have basic wood working skills (Thanks, dad!) and I want to try to make a practice sword. It seems most of the wooden practice swords in the west are made from hickory, but most of the eastern swords are made from steamed beech. I can find information on hickory but I can not find anything about steamed beech.

So, about steamed beech, and as I understand it, steaming the wood allows you to bend and shape it. But does steaming do anything to increase it's strength, or resilience? A number of martial arts swords and spears are made from Steamed Beech, but I can't find any information for why exactly.

Can anyone enlighten me? Thanks so much !
 

Flying Crane

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Ive never heard of steamed beech. Can you point me to examples of weapons made from it? I dont know anything about the properties of beech wood.

I dont think steaming does anything to affect the properties. It is just a way to shape the wood. I believe it is done to shape recurve bows for archery, and that is wood that is meant to perform. Ive never done it, but from the little Ive read you need to make some kind of enclosed chamber to put the wood in and let the steam soften it, then you need to have wooden blanks prepared over which you bend the wood and secure it tightly to the blank while it dries and re-hardens. I dont think you can simply bend it into shape and then set it aside to dry.

I will say that hickory is a good, durable wood for practice swords. Ive made some.
 
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thenewguy

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the quickest thing I found was: Beech Wood Tai Chi Sword The more you look, the more you can find. That was just the first thing I found.

From what i've been able to gather, Beech is more widely available in China than Hickory so its therefore cheaper, and more commonly used.
 
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thenewguy

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Here are a couple more:


 

Flying Crane

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The items you linked to did not mention the wood being steamed, only that it is beech.

For something like a staff, I suppose it could be steamed to improve its straightness. Personally, I just turn a hickory staff on a belt sander from a square cut rod out of a plank. Mine come out very straight. I dont see a need for steaming for that kind of thing. Maybe if a staff is made from a naturally formed branch or sapling, one might wish to straighten it. But it might be easier to just keep looking for a better piece to work with.

Perhaps a boken is steamed to give it the curve?
 
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thenewguy

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Yes, that is true. I feel somewhat confident in saying that steaming wood makes it easy to bend and work with, especially beech. Steaming it also seems to darken the color some.

I'm trying to figure out if steaming also does something to the strength or resilience of the wood (like putting leather into boiling water hardens it.) or has any other effects--I just don't know and Im trying to learn what i can.

One of things I'm noticing is when a wood is recommended it often seems to come down to price and availability. Hickory is pretty available in the USA, not so much in China, for example. Beech is pretty common in China and Europe, much less so in the USA. So, in the USA Hickory is most commonly used in axe handles and for weapons in martial arts (I have since discovered) It's a good hardwood, but because it's also *fairly inexpensive and available.* Purpleheart is a really good hardwood too--but its much more expensive-- so not used or recommended for that.

So again, in my reading it strongly seems cost and availability is for more a factor it its recommendations than the qualities of the wood itself.

I'm trying to better acquaint myself with the qualities of the wood itself, so *I* can make the best decisions for what *I* want to do.

And when I discovered that a lot of martial arts weapons in China were made from Beech, but not those in the USA I had to ask why.

Which leads me right back to my original question: What are the qualities about Beech compared to say, Hickory or Ash?

Sorry for the wordiness!


The items you linked to did not mention the wood being steamed, only that it is beech.
 
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thenewguy

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I will say that hickory is a good, durable wood for practice swords. Ive made some.
Oh, let me add this too: I made my first (and only so far) wooden sword out of oak only to discover that it splinters fairly easily. I found out later, IIRC, that the fibers or grain have something to do with it? Not sure but it steered me away from Oak.

I didn't know any better, at all, and of course not wanting to make the same mistake I'm trying to assess all the possible woods, now
 

Flying Crane

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Oh, let me add this too: I made my first (and only so far) wooden sword out of oak only to discover that it splinters fairly easily. I found out later, IIRC, that the fibers or grain have something to do with it? Not sure but it steered me away from Oak.

I didn't know any better, at all, and of course not wanting to make the same mistake I'm trying to assess all the possible woods, now
Yup, oak weapons tend to splinter on impact, but it may depend on the type of oak. Most of what is imported from China is red oak, for practice dao and jian and such and that splinters easily and makes a very poor impact weapon. Other types of oak may be better but I dont know enough about it to comment further.
 

Flying Crane

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Yes, that is true. I feel somewhat confident in saying that steaming wood makes it easy to bend and work with, especially beech. Steaming it also seems to darken the color some.

I'm trying to figure out if steaming also does something to the strength or resilience of the wood (like putting leather into boiling water hardens it.) or has any other effects--I just don't know and Im trying to learn what i can.

One of things I'm noticing is when a wood is recommended it often seems to come down to price and availability. Hickory is pretty available in the USA, not so much in China, for example. Beech is pretty common in China and Europe, much less so in the USA. So, in the USA Hickory is most commonly used in axe handles and for weapons in martial arts (I have since discovered) It's a good hardwood, but because it's also *fairly inexpensive and available.* Purpleheart is a really good hardwood too--but its much more expensive-- so not used or recommended for that.

So again, in my reading it strongly seems cost and availability is for more a factor it its recommendations than the qualities of the wood itself.

I'm trying to better acquaint myself with the qualities of the wood itself, so *I* can make the best decisions for what *I* want to do.

And when I discovered that a lot of martial arts weapons in China were made from Beech, but not those in the USA I had to ask why.

Which leads me right back to my original question: What are the qualities about Beech compared to say, Hickory or Ash?

Sorry for the wordiness!
I agree with what you are saying about availability and affordability. People used what they had access to, and if that material had some special properties such as the flexibility and whippiness of Chinese white wax wood, then technique may develop to some extent around those qualities, like what is seen in a lot of Chinese spear and staff. I personally like the durability of hickory so I use it for my Chinese staff and spear work, even though that changes it somewhat from the original. I am aware of the issue and I accept it. With modern import/export, people can be more selective about their materials.

Other than that, I guess I dont know enough about your further questions be helpful. Share what you find with us, I imagine more than just I would be interested.
 
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thenewguy

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I personally like the durability of hickory so I use it for my Chinese staff and spear work, even though that changes it somewhat from the original. I am aware of the issue and I accept it.
Wow, thats a really good point I hadn't even considered!

I'll let you know what i find!
 

Flying Crane

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This is a hickory dao that I made. I wrapped the blade in a layer of heavy leather, fixed in place with JBWeld heavy epoxy. I did this to lengthen the lifespan and help delay the gradual splintering and degradation that is inevitable if it is used a lot for impact training. I shaped the dao on a belt sander from a square rod that I cut from a plank. Finished with linseed oil and teak oil.

The guard is also heavy leather.
 

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mograph

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What little I know about wood tells me that steaming it would its shape, but that glue-laminating ("glulam") it might improve its flexural strength. However, that wouldn't necessarily be beneficial for impact loading.
 

frank raud

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And when I discovered that a lot of martial arts weapons in China were made from Beech, but not those in the USA I had to ask why.

Which leads me right back to my original question: What are the qualities about Beech compared to say, Hickory or Ash?
My hot take on this. People use the woods most available to them. As you state, hickory is uncommon in SE Asia, Beech is not. Bamboo is common in Asia, less common in North America (although river cane was used for arrow shafts, basket weaving , etc. along the East Coast of the US). Hickory is a stronger wood, readily available throughout most of North America.

There is a hardness scale for various woods, note the beech is most likely North American Beech , not Asian, but it will give you an idea. Janka Hardness chart for Exotic Wood and Domestic Wood | Bell Forest Products.
 
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