The feel of the blade

Clinton Shaffer

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So, some months ago, I bought a katana from swords of northshire for about $380. Now, prior to receiving this sword, I practiced with an Iaito from Tozando in Japan. The two swords feel completely differently and I want to make sure I understand why. The iaito is far easier to handle than the katana and these are my theories as to why:

- First, Iaito weigh about 1.8 lbs on average. Katana weigh about 2.5 lbs on average. This would be one of the most significant contributors to the difference in feel when practicing iaido.

- Next, the iaito is made of aluminum but my katana is made of T10 tool steel and has been differentially heat treated. Though, Im not sure that would account for a difference in the feel out handling of the two swords.

So, I was thinking the balance points of the two swords must be different but theyre
Not. Both are 5 from the Tsuka (or is it tsuba?).

Anyway, that was my last idea. What do you folks think? Would the difference in weight account for the difference in handling regardless of both having the same balance point? Or is there something else Im missing. Please help me to understand why these two blades would feel so different when practicing Iaido. Would a shinken of about $10,000 feel entirely different from the $380 blade I bought online.

Heres the most important question: would a $7,000 shinken feel the same as my aluminum iaito.

Input is greatly appreciated. Thank you!
 

Flying Crane

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An aluminum blade with identical shape and dimensions to a steel blade will be significantly lighter and you will feel the difference.

There could also be differences in the grip in terms of its diameter, shape of the cross-section, etc., which will make them feel different. Difference in the guard (tsuba?) can also affect it.

In short, any two swords are different, and you will feel that difference.
 

drop bear

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I read on a knife forum once where people were discussing titanium swords. The idea being that obviously with modern magic steels. We could make super swords.

But apparently it kind of doesn't work that way. As you need the weight to more effectively kill people. (Or something)

So I don't think an expensive sword will represent an iato ever. Because they do different jobs.

 

BrendanF

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So, some months ago, I bought a katana from swords of northshire for about $380. Now, prior to receiving this sword, I practiced with an Iaito from Tozando in Japan. The two swords feel completely differently and I want to make sure I understand why. The iaito is far easier to handle than the katana and these are my theories as to why:

- First, Iaito weigh about 1.8 lbs on average. Katana weigh about 2.5 lbs on average. This would be one of the most significant contributors to the difference in feel when practicing iaido.

You mention average weights but not the specific weights of the swords you are discussing - or am I mistaken?

- Next, the iaito is made of aluminum but my katana is made of T10 tool steel and has been differentially heat treated. Though, Im not sure that would account for a difference in the feel out handling of the two swords.

Tozando iaito are not made of aluminium - they are typically a zinc/molybdenum alloy, which is significantly heavier.. for exactly the reasons you are discussing. The method of heat treatment will not affect the feel.

The dominant contributing factor in the handling of a sword is the weight and distribution - ie dimensions. Cast Tozando iaito are of course lighter than steel swords, but cheap production swords are also infamous for being poorly - perhaps roughly would be a better word - structured and therefore clunky and heavier in the hand.

Like Flying Crane said, different swords just have different feels about them. A senior of mine in Japan invited me to feel how his sword handled and I was blown away - he had paid well over 10k, and sent the first he received back, dissatisfied; the sword handled like a damn lightsaber. So in short - maybe?
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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You mention average weights but not the specific weights of the swords you are discussing - or am I mistaken?



Tozando iaito are not made of aluminium - they are typically a zinc/molybdenum alloy, which is significantly heavier.. for exactly the reasons you are discussing. The method of heat treatment will not affect the feel.

The dominant contributing factor in the handling of a sword is the weight and distribution - ie dimensions. Cast Tozando iaito are of course lighter than steel swords, but cheap production swords are also infamous for being poorly - perhaps roughly would be a better word - structured and therefore clunky and heavier in the hand.

Like Flying Crane said, different swords just have different feels about them. A senior of mine in Japan invited me to feel how his sword handled and I was blown away - he had paid well over 10k, and sent the first he received back, dissatisfied; the sword handled like a damn lightsaber. So in short - maybe?
Excellent points. As it just so happens, I am referring to the weight of MY iaito and Katana. I believe the iaito to be of good construction but I just can't be sure about the Katana. You are right in that the Tsuba and Tsuka are shaped differently between the two swords. The Tsuka of the Katana is thicker and uniform throughout its length while the Tsuka of the Iaito has a smaller circumference and is tapered towards the center.

So, let's consider those five sword dimensions: 1) balance point, 2) Tsuka shape & circumference, 3) Tsuba shape, 4) steel type, 5) heat differentiation process.

Do you believe those dimensions, alone, would account for the bulk of the difference in feel one might find between swords (especially the first three)? If 'no' and there are other factors to consider, what are they?

Motivation: My current Iaido instructor seems very averse to the use (or even mention, for that matter) of live blades. Personally though, I don't see the point in not training ever with a live blade. I want to be able to handle a Japanese sword, not just an imitation thereof. To that end, I suspect there is benefit to training with a live blade at least some of the time. Though, I don't want to train with the Katana I do have if it is little more than a katana-shaped crowbar. Both those swords of mine have similar lengths and identical balance points. Simply, where does the bulk of the difference in feel lie?
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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I just realized that you answered my question of if the different heating methods will make a difference. So, please disregard that 5th dimension from my post lol.
 

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I read on a knife forum once where people were discussing titanium swords. The idea being that obviously with modern magic steels. We could make super swords.

But apparently it kind of doesn't work that way. As you need the weight to more effectively kill people. (Or something)

So I don't think an expensive sword will represent an iato ever. Because they do different jobs.

When we talk about cutting are we talking about slicing or about dicing? I think that matters? Should a good sword do both well, like the slapchop?
 

Flying Crane

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Youve got to recognize that even if things like the balance point are the same between the two, all other things being equal, a weapon with a steel blade will be overall heavier than one with an aluminum blade. That weight difference will create a very different feel.

Then there are things like the specific dimensions of the blade, not just its length. The specific curve and profile, as well as the distal taper (how much it becomes thinner as you get closer to the point) can give a lot of variance and will heavily affect the feel of the weapon.

I am not fully familiar with the names of the parts of a Japanese sword. Is tsuka the grip? If so, then whether it becomes thinner in the middle vs. is uniform thickness from one end to the other, will make a big difference in how it feels.

Is the tsuba of uniform thickness and similar shape and equivalent type of material from one to the other? If not, that will also have an affect.

In short, any difference in any part of the sword will make it feel different from another sword. In my opinion, while there are design concepts that make a sword better, there is still a lot of room in the size and dimensions for personal preference to have a place. No two swords are identical, even if they are arguably of similar overall quality.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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If I wanted to spend about $1000 on a shinken, where could I go online to find a sword at a quality level worthy of the cost. I recognize that the amount I have specified is less than 1/10th what one could pay for a quality shinken. Still...
 

isshinryuronin

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I don't see the point in not training ever with a live blade. I want to be able to handle a Japanese sword, not just an imitation thereof.
Agree. Without using the real thing, unable to deliver a sting, there is little price to pay for errors and so respect for the blade is lost. Using a live blade gives much incentive for excellence of technique and mental discipline.
Is the tsuba of uniform thickness and similar shape and equivalent type of material from one to the other? If not, that will also have an affect.
I don't see the tsuba design being much of a factor. The difference in the weight between a solid one and a open themed one is minor and it's far from the kissaki (point) so has little effect in the cut. One of the factors not mentioned is the curve of the blade (sori.) This is more of a consideration in the feel of a cut than anything, except for weight of the blade and shape of the tsuka, IMO.

Ah, you DID mention the blade curve. My apologies. It's one of the less known and less considered elements of the katana's personality.
 

BrendanF

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To that end, I suspect there is benefit to training with a live blade at least some of the time.
Maybe. Personally I don't think it impacts excessively; in fact I think spending a few years using iaito to perfect technique safely would be optimal; I trained for over a decade with just iaito before ever consistently using a shinken. There was no change at all. I've never used shinken in the dojo - we had someone training with a Paul Chen ppk, and that was occasionally hairy.

I don't want to train with the Katana I do have if it is little more than a katana-shaped crowbar.

Exactly. Having encountered a few of those lower budget production blades, without wishing to cause offense, that is essentially what I think of them.

Simply, where does the bulk of the difference in feel lie?

What Flying Crane and isshinryuronin said, basically. Every dimension which can/does vary will impact. Particularly niku, distal taper and sori. Different size and shape tsuka will impact heavily.

If I wanted to spend about $1000 on a shinken, where could I go online to find a sword at a quality level worthy of the cost. I recognize that the amount I have specified is less than 1/10th what one could pay for a quality shinken. Still...

Yeah it's a tough one - I'm not fully across the lower end production market I'm afraid. There is a forum that specialises in that area though; Home | SBG Sword Forum
Bear in mind that the forum has a business arrangement with suppliers and a store of it's own, so you might not receive impartial advice. Personally I'd recommend waiting, saving and looking for something decent second hand - you can find a second hand Howard Clark or shinsakuto for a little more.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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Heavy thanks thus far to all the contributors of this thread. I have picked up some FANTASTIC knowledge and it has helped my quest immensely. Again thank you!
 

drop bear

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When we talk about cutting are we talking about slicing or about dicing? I think that matters? Should a good sword do both well, like the slapchop?

If a sword can't cut a can and then a tomato. It is not worth the money.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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Tozando iaito are not made of aluminium - they are typically a zinc/molybdenum alloy, which is significantly heavier.. for exactly the reasons you are discussing. The method of heat treatment will not affect the feel.

You are correct, sir. Thank you for that information. It is, in fact, an alloy of zinc and... something else lol.
 

Tony Dismukes

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The iaito is far easier to handle than the katana and these are my theories as to why:

- First, Iaito weigh about 1.8 lbs on average. Katana weigh about 2.5 lbs on average. This would be one of the most significant contributors to the difference in feel when practicing iaido.

- Next, the iaito is made of aluminum but my katana is made of T10 tool steel and has been differentially heat treated. Though, Im not sure that would account for a difference in the feel out handling of the two swords.

So, I was thinking the balance points of the two swords must be different but theyre
Not. Both are 5 from the Tsuka (or is it tsuba?).

Anyway, that was my last idea. What do you folks think? Would the difference in weight account for the difference in handling regardless of both having the same balance point? Or is there something else Im missing.
Going from 1.8 pounds to 2.5 pounds is almost a 40% increase in weight. That absolutely will give you a very different feeling and make the lighter weapon feel much easier to handle. The quality of the metal will not affect how it feels.

Basically, the feel of the weapon your hand will depend on the weight, the length, the balance point, and the size & shape of the hilt. You've said that the balance point is the same and I presume that the hilts are at least pretty similar, so that leaves the weight differential, which is absolutely enough to feel significantly different.
Would a shinken of about $10,000 feel entirely different from the $380 blade I bought online.

Heres the most important question: would a $7,000 shinken feel the same as my aluminum iaito.
See my list of factors above. The expensive swords may be much better in terms of the quality of the blade and the fittings, but might or might not feel different in your hands.
 

Oily Dragon

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For any blade, the quality of the hidden parts most especially affect the wield.

Generally, if a practice blade (or wall hanger) doesn't have a full tang (it's not meant for striking, so it doesn't need a tang), then the balance will greatly favor the exposed blade over the hilt. A true shinken with a full tang should be finely balanced by the smith to ensure optimal weight distribution end to end, whatever that should be based on the type.

And you'd probably never notice if you didn't have both swords to compare, so congratulations on your newfound enlightenment.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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The expensive swords may be much better in terms of the quality of the blade and the fittings, but might or might not feel different in your hands.
Brendan, Flying Crane, Ishin Wed all love to know your thoughts on this.
 

Flying Crane

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Brendan, Flying Crane, Ishin Wed all love to know your thoughts on this.
I agree completely. There is no single correct feel for a good sword. Quality of materials and workmanship makes the weapon durable and capable of performing in a robust and effective way. Quality steel, properly heat-treated makes it hold a good edge and withstand (within reason) the rigors and clash of battle. Quality fittings and tight assembly means it will hold together and the elements such as the grip or the guard wont come loose. Proper shaping of the blade helps it wield easily and comfortably and helps it cut well. Proper shaping of the grip makes it comfortable in the hands.

but again, there is no single definition for each of these points. Proper shape and size of the grip depends to an extent on the size of your hands. What is a good match for your hands may be too big or too small for someone else. A blade sized for you may be too long or too short or curve too much or too little for someone elseSo your overall body size can affect these points.

An inexpensive, lower quality sword might feel good in your hands because it happens to match your physical size. But lower quality materials may mean that it does not hold up well in use, may not hold an edge or cut well. It feels good to you, but would be a poor choice because the quality of materials and/or workmanship are low.

a high quality sword may not feel good to you because it does not match your physical size and characteristics well. This makes it feel awkward to you and diminishes your ability to use it effectively. It is a better sword, but a poor match for you.

Again, every sword is different, there is no singular set of measurements that makes it correct in an absolute way. How well those measurements match you, the user, weighs heavily on determining what is right for you.

So a poor quality sword could feel good to you and a high quality sword could feel awkward to you. The trick is finding a high quality sword that feels good to you, matches your physical characteristics well. Then you have a quality piece that you can learn to use well, and can be expected to stand up to proper use.

But overall, a real weapon made with a quality steel blade will be heavier than a practice piece made with an aluminum blade, assuming all measurements are otherwise the same. That alone will change how it feels, and to a certain extent you need to adjust your expectations on how it should feel.
 

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