The feel of the blade

BrendanF

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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.

Again I would have to agree with Flying Crane - one of the best things you can do as a JSA student is handle as many different types of swords as possible - as well as learn what you can about the properties and tolerances they work with and within.

The thing I see commonly - both in the JSA world and the bladesmithing/knifemaking world is people failing to develop a base, foundational understanding of knives/swords, steels and their properties. One commonly hears 'What's the BEST steel/sword/knife?' asked. If there was an answer, we'd be making one type of blade, from one type of steel. The reason for the diversity is the inherent nature of steels and blades; everything is a tradeoff. The first thing you learn making blades is the nature of this tradeoff - the harder you make a blade (to hold a sharp edge) the more brittle it will become. The tougher you make it... the softer the steel will be. This tradeoff continues and repeats in many places when you think about it; make a blade thicker - stronger - and you make it heavier and more cumbersome, while lighter it will be inherently weaker.

The traditional folded tamahagane kobuse/san mai approach achieved a wonderful result from an average source of steel, but the beauty of hada and even hamon are a result of this 'working with what you got' process. Modern steels are far superior, as are modern heat treat methods. But you won't get as pretty a blade making a Japanese sword from L6 steel treated to create a bainitic/pearlitic blade, even if it is exceedingly tough.. and it won't be a nihonto, if that matters to you.

Ultimately, price point is only indicative. And performance is entirely subjective, in many ways. A cheap Chinese production blade may feel like a 'katana shaped crowbar' yet be far superior in terms of cutting performance and durability than an antique nihonto. So what's important? Balance, feel.. performance.. aesthetics? For me all of those matter, and essentially you are going to pay for how well the smith (and/or other artisans) has balanced those elements.

Best of luck finding your shinken - I'd love to hear any updates in future.
 
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Clinton Shaffer

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Again I would have to agree with Flying Crane - one of the best things you can do as a JSA student is handle as many different types of swords as possible - as well as learn what you can about the properties and tolerances they work with and within.

The thing I see commonly - both in the JSA world and the bladesmithing/knifemaking world is people failing to develop a base, foundational understanding of knives/swords, steels and their properties. One commonly hears 'What's the BEST steel/sword/knife?' asked. If there was an answer, we'd be making one type of blade, from one type of steel. The reason for the diversity is the inherent nature of steels and blades; everything is a tradeoff. The first thing you learn making blades is the nature of this tradeoff - the harder you make a blade (to hold a sharp edge) the more brittle it will become. The tougher you make it... the softer the steel will be. This tradeoff continues and repeats in many places when you think about it; make a blade thicker - stronger - and you make it heavier and more cumbersome, while lighter it will be inherently weaker.

The traditional folded tamahagane kobuse/san mai approach achieved a wonderful result from an average source of steel, but the beauty of hada and even hamon are a result of this 'working with what you got' process. Modern steels are far superior, as are modern heat treat methods. But you won't get as pretty a blade making a Japanese sword from L6 steel treated to create a bainitic/pearlitic blade, even if it is exceedingly tough.. and it won't be a nihonto, if that matters to you.

Ultimately, price point is only indicative. And performance is entirely subjective, in many ways. A cheap Chinese production blade may feel like a 'katana shaped crowbar' yet be far superior in terms of cutting performance and durability than an antique nihonto. So what's important? Balance, feel.. performance.. aesthetics? For me all of those matter, and essentially you are going to pay for how well the smith (and/or other artisans) has balanced those elements.

Best of luck finding your shinken - I'd love to hear any updates in future.
And I will happily provide them.

Thank you again to all those heavy contributors to this thread. And please, I don't want anyone to interpret this post as the end of this thread. I encourage anyone who wishes to add to this discussion to add their thoughts. I will regularly check this thread to see what else has been added. I look forward to learning even more from everyone here.
 

Flying Crane

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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.
I cannot speak to Japanese swords as I do not have experience with them. But over the years I have rebuilt hilts for Chinese swords, casting guards and pommels in bronze (and silver, in a couple cases). The lost-wax casting process gives a lot of room for creativity in the shape and size of each piece, since the original piece is sculpted in a sculpting wax and you can be as creative as you want with it, before it is cast into metal. I was less interested in recreating a historical style of hilt, and more interested in building a solid, functional hilt to replace a junk hilt that came with the sword when it was imported. I rebuilt hilts for some pretty light blades, as well as some monstrously heavy ones. I experimented with where to put the balance point, which depends heavily on the mass of the guard and pommel. In a couple of extreme cases, I tried to pull the balance point as close to the grip as possible, on some over-heavy blades. This resulted in a guard and a pommel that were massive. The pommel could almost begin to resemble a shot-put. In theory, a close balance point on a massive blade would make the sword more lively and easier to use, in spite of its mass. But the results were that the sword just got heavy, and felt dead in the hand. It was very difficult to actually use, and I only considered them to be good for practice and the workout that an extra-heavy weapon provides, not as something I would want to use on a battlefield. But they easily could be heavy to the point where repetitive movement injury becomes a hazard.

So getting back to the tsuba on a Japanese sword, from my experience the size and mass of the guard can have an effect on how the sword feels. Whether or not a solid tsuba vs. a tsuba with piercings or cut-outs would create enough variation in that mass to be noticeable, I cant say for sure because I lack the experience with them, but I suspect so. Add to this the fact that a Japanese katana does not have a weighted pommel in the same way that a double-edged Chinese or European sword has, and that tsuba may have a more direct effect on balance.
 
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