Greetings fellow modern katana collectors and practitioners, I’m very excited to be reviewing this new sword for you today. There has been a lot of buzz about this new brand and line up and I’m here to give a different angle and insight into this amazing katana. Please check out my full review and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have. Thanks and enjoy!
Category Archives: News from the rabbit hole
The risks of buying ebay katana
Personally, I think the old adage “if it seems to good to be true, it probably is” is being ignored time and time again with the typical ebay sword sellers. I think we want to believe that we will get gold for a nickle but the truth is that deception, or at least colorfully stretching the truth, is the order of business for many of the Longquan ebay sellers. We, the very few who know more than a couple of things about swords, are a tiny percentage of the sales these guys make. They sell many, many swords to people who either don’t know any better or don’t care and if they occasionally have one buyer call their bluff and have to make a refund, there are 10 more who buy their swords anyway.
I for one have gone lightly on them when there were minor issues in fear of being blown off and never receiving my sword or money or because I would want to try again at some point. This is part of the price we pay when buying from an obscure seller in China and not a more trusted and established vendor like KOA, SnA or SBG, who have excellent and worry-free cs. Really, the only thing that would temporarily hurt them when they pull this kind of crap is to give negative feedback. This still wouldn’t do much in the long run though because they’d probably just start up with a new name anyway.
Positive reviews by people that don’t really know what they’re reviewing hurt the rest of the sword buying communities in my opinion. I’ve seen countless video reviews on youtube of people saying great things about what are essentially pieces of junk or at least clearly average. “I asked for red ito with the shiny gold tsuba and a black shiny saya. and I got everything I dreamed of, the sword is perfect!” Well, close to that anyway. Just from watching the vid for a few seconds I can see the sword they got is worth about $80 at most and definitely not perfect by any means. I’ve also seen people posting pics on fb of very cheap swords, some with obvious fake hamon and all kinds of red flags and people saying “beautiful”, “amazing” and so on.
So what’s the big deal if they are happy with it? Nothing I guess since many watching the review would be just as happy with the same thing. On the other hand, the market gets flooded with these mediocre swords and they become the new standard, hurting the larger manufacturers and vendors in the long run.
I also buy from China. As of now I only buy from one seller and I only buy what I believe they can make well and so far I have not had any big disappointments. They day I get something faked or the quality drops sharply, it’s over for them. I’m also careful to ask only for things that are reasonable from this type of seller and within their capabilities to pull off well. I know their limitations, which are many, and when I stay within these limitations, I am usually satisfied with the end product. If I ever asked for anything over the top, I would not be surprised at all if it came out wrong. Basically, I buy with realistic expectations.
I’m ranting here but I guess the point is don’t be surprised if the thing that seemed to good to be selling for that low price turns out to be a sham or if the ebay seller with a bad rep turns out to be selling you something you didn’t want. There are hopefuls out there but then there are just those that can’t take a hint or flat out ignore obvious warnings. Sanmai, honsanmai, kobuse, shihozume and any other simple or complex lamination is possible, and in some cases not too difficult to pull off but we are seeing more faked laminations than authentic ones lately.
The truth might be that it’s easier and cheaper for them to sell someone a folded steel blade with a carefully and deceptively polished edge to simulate a mono core steel than it is to really find or make a real one. Just be more aware of what you are actually paying for. Do some research, find out what a decent sword should feature for the money, try to minimize your risk and buy from the sellers with a better reputation.
Good luck out there
I just finished an iaito tsuka makeover in Akechi katate-maki style tsukamaki.
The ito is hand-dyed dark blue nubuck leather and is wrapped over a full samegawa skin, lacquered black with polished nodes and a new susudake mekugi.
I enjoyed this project a lot and as with every one I do, I have learned so much.
A production tsuka makeover
Most of the work I do involves repairing, reshaping and re-wrapping tsuka from all kinds of affordable production swords. Even the ones that don’t seem at first to need additional work done require some kind of extra treatment to come out looking and feeling nice. On many of these tsuka, the surprises start once the fittings and old ito are removed to reveal horrors like cracks, rotting wood, knots, shims, patches, fly paper glue strips, and a host of other nasties that you might think were better left unseen.
Some of the above is repairable and workable while some of the worse issues like deep uneven cracks are not. Since many of the shops that make and assemble the furniture for these swords are making tsuka as one size fits all, they tend to overcompensate for a good fit by making them overly thick. While strength is important in a tsuka, it matters little how much it can withstand if it’s too uncomfortable to grip in the first place. A balance of strength and comfort, and in my opinion aesthetics, are needed for a good overall tsuka.
Another challenge that comes up often is adding new fittings that were made in Japan for iaito or Japanese made swords, onto a typically overbuilt Chinese made tsuka. These fittings tend to be much smaller and require a sizable reduction of material before they can fit properly. For the tsukamaki to look even and sit flush with the new fittings on both the ha and mune sides is important for the flow of the tsuka but the reshaping needs to include the omote and ura sides as well. The more you reduce the profile of the ha and mune(while maintaining a proper taper), the more you need to equally reduce the thickness. In cases where there are panels of samegawa, these need to be removed and the channels carved deeper. Not all tsuka can afford this reduction so you need to make sure before you begin this kind of alteration.
You can see in the graphic below the typical production tsuka core (fuchi end) on the left with inlaid samegawa panels. The second image shows with dotted lines the reduction of material from the ha and mune sides. This leaves the core too thick and the samegawa will sit higher than the wood on the edges making for a bulky looking and feeling wrap. In the third image, the samegawa panels have been removed and the channels were carved deeper to allow a uniform reduction of material on all sides.
Here is a real example of a fuchi that was much smaller than the core it was to be fitted to
You can see that the ito would wind up sitting higher than the rim of the fuchi unless material was removed from the ha and mune sides first
As mentioned above, you would also then need to remove material from the omote and ura sides or your tsuka core will be way too thick
I recently worked on a tsuka that needed a complete reshaping and reduction in order to accommodate new smaller fittings. I assessed that there was enough extra material to spare and the reduction would not sacrifice structural integrity. You can see the progression below
This represents the bulk of the work necessary to get an average production katana tsuka in shape before tsukamaki begins
Cottontail Customs Blade & Tool Oil
I am happy to announce that I will now be offering my own protective oil for use on all carbon steel sword blades and tools. It is a custom blend of premium fine mineral oil with some other added rust preventatives and just a hint of clove oil for that traditional touch. I have been looking nearly a year for something that I would be proud to offer you and after finally making the right contacts and testing it out for months on several of my own sword blades, knives and tools, I am glad to say that I am completely satisfied with it’s performance.
There are many other sword oils out there to choose from and while some are decent, there are too many that fall short and leave our blades vulnerable as well as some that just cost too much or have questionable or low quality ingredients. I am not claiming to have reinvented the wheel, but I am offering a good product for a fair price, and maybe more importantly, as a consumer, it is something I would definitely buy and use myself. I wouldn’t push anything that I wouldn’t use on my own precious metal.
The Cottontail Customs Blade & Tool oil is available in 2 ounce (60 ml) bottles equipped with a secure screw top and a small dropper nib for easy and mess-free application. With regular use, these 2 ounce bottles should last a good long time. Results may vary depending on your individual climates and application technique but I have seen little to no reduction of the coatings I applied on my blades over three months ago, and it has been fairly humid in my area. Of course, always check your blades that are not in use periodically and clean and replace the oil as necessary. It might be common knowledge among long-time sword collectors and sword arts practitioners, but for those who don’t know how to clean and re-oil your blades, I will be posting an easy to follow guide that will be available on the oil sale page.
Each large, 2 ounce bottle will be only $5.50 plus $2.95 S&H (within the conUS) with shipping discounts available for purchases of multiple bottles. For those outside the US, please contact me for shipping options. These will be available on my website via paypal shopping cart very soon but you can contact me by email before then.
Slipping tsukamaki blues?
Have you ever been frustrated that despite how tightly you’ve wrapped your tsuka, the ito eventually starts to slip with use?
Well, you’re not alone and you’ve probably tried the usual fix of gluing the ito as you wrap and making a mess or used bulky double sided tape which is also not the greatest solution. Perhaps you tried using some type of awful fly tape like they use in most Chinese production sword shops…ugh, what a nightmare that stuff is!
Double sided tape can be bulky and glue can ruin the ito if you’re not very careful and fly tape, well, just no…so what is it that will help the wrapped ito from loosening and not drive you crazy during the process?
The answer is Kusune. Kusune is a pine resin pitch that tsukamaki-shi use to make the underside of the ito tacky.
The kusune is typically applied to the end of a stick like this
This pitch is made from pine sap, oil, and depending on the particular recipe, some other ingredients like charcoal powder could be added. There are different formulas that will produce softer pitch so it works better in the colder weather and another so it doesn’t easily melt in the warmer months. Kusune can also be formulated to be used as a glue to bond items such as a kozuka to a kogatana for instance.
The raw pine sap (matsuyani) can be either collected from Pine trees or purchased from craft supply stores. In it’s unprocessed state it looks like this
Or when cleaned of debris, it can look like this
I’m on my second batch that I made myself and while it works well and I’m happy with the results, I will say that it’s a messy (and smelly) process and not one of my favorite things to do. Definitely something better done outdoors if possible.
The finished kusune ball is brushed against the underside of a strand of ito, one section at a time as you’re wrapping the tsuka,
leaving a light trace of pitch residue on the fabric
which makes it tacky and able to stick better to the surface of the wood edge or shims of the ha and mune sides of the tsuka core. It will also stick better on the hishigami and the samegawa.
The exact recipe and process of making this sticky product is a pretty closely guarded secret, usually being passed down from teacher to student. Since I have no teacher or master, I have pieced together bits of information I gathered from books and internet to experiment in a lot of trial and error until I was satisfied with my results.
It really helps my tsukamaki and now that I use it, I don’t know how I managed without it. I have tried alternative products like baseball pine pitch, which was way too sticky, and synthetic glove pitch that was not tacky enough. Basically, there is no suitable substitute that I have found.
Well, I hope this sheds some light on a solution to your slipping tsukamaki blues :)
Sharing the love….of Swords!!!
Who doesn’t like receiving quality products from dependable and respected suppliers? That’s right, nobody, so to make that experience even better, I’m happy to say that I can now share a nice discount with all of you!
Any friends of Cottontail Customs are also friends of Sword N Armory and you can save 15% on most products by using this “refer a friend program” coupon code. This offer expires on 9/16/14 so don’t wait too long.
I personally buy a lot of their premium Japanese silk ito, which I’m always happy with, and I have also purchased swords and other products from them on a couple occasions. Regardless of the product you buy, their customer service is always top notch which makes the shopping experience virtually worry free and a pleasure as well.
Congratulations to Chris for winning the recent Cottontail Customs Facebook page giveaway contest! He is now sporting a custom handmade habaki lapel pin in copper with a rokusho patina and hand carved criss-cross pattern. He can now show everyone his love for Japanese swords while also looking as sharp as a katana….and without risking trouble for carrying a sword in public, lol!
There will be another pin given away soon, so keep checking the Cottontail Customs Facebook page and remember to like us and share the page with your friends. Also remember to check out the Cottontail Customs website and For Sale page for other great Japanese sword related services, merchandise, and info.
Check out Chris’s pin in action –
“I’d like to say that it is a unique, handsome piece of craftsmanship that adds a budo flair to whatever you decide to put it on. And thank you for the pin!” – Chris
Thanks for participating Chris and congrats again!!
My Love Hate Relationship With Tsunami Ito
As the title suggests, I sometimes love this synthetic tsuka-ito and yet sometimes, I want to eliminate it permanently from my selection.
“Tsunami” is a man-made alternative to real suede ito that provides a similarly comfortable grip for the user but with the strength of a synthetic that is reinforced and won’t stretch. I’ve had real suede ito snap on me twice while wrapping a tsuka, and of course it was right at the end both times! Another benefit to this product is that it is available in eight different colors. So why do I want to scrap it from my list of choices altogether?
Tsunami ito is made by fusing a soft fuzzy layer of synthetic material to a rigid plastic weave backing and then folded in on the reverse side leaving a center seam running the length. While the backing does a great job of adding strength and keeping the ito from stretching, however hard it’s pulled, it can also make folding and twisting the ito extremely difficult.
It often feels like I’m trying to roll the edges of a thick piece of industrial plastic packing band that they use to tie a shipping pallet full of boxes with. It also crushes the average folded hishigami as if they were …um, made from paper. In my opinion, some styles of tsukamaki are nearly impossible to achieve with this ito such as tsumami-maki or katahineri-maki where the strands are pinched instead of folded.
It also makes the end knots a virtual nightmare to execute properly.
Tsunami ito is approximately 8mm wide (minus the fuzz) and 1.5mm thick, though I have seen some small variances between colors and batches before.
Here you can see the seam on the reverse side. There is also a seam on any real leather or leather variant ito on the market.
This is what the weave backing looks like with the fuzzy layer scraped off
You can also see the backing from the ends
Some of the tsunami projects I’ve done in the past are among my all time favorites, but I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the entire process. Each one I take on adds a little extra stress.
As a functional wrap, it’s hard to beat the grip and the comfort of Tsunami ito, and the affordable price puts it in the running in place of genuine materials for the budget minded.
Some also like that it is an animal friendly substitute, which I have to admit I like also. I’m just not sure I will continue to offer it as it’s a real pain to use. We’ll see.
Bamboo Dressed in Silk
I have worked on a lot of Cas Hanwei katana and tsuka over the years, and I find that they are easy to work with since they are more “production line” than many others and you get used to what you need to do but in a way, they are more challenging than most due to the amount of work you need to do. Cas Hanwei tends to overbuild their tsuka in my opinion, possibly to prevent issues such as cracked cores or premature fatigue but these katana are most often used well and used hard by their owners so I guess it might be worth it to some. There are still occasional flaws that get by QC but I would say that out of all the Chinese manufactured katana I’ve handled in my time, there are less serious tsuka core issues with the Cas models overall.
So this all sounds like it would be the best way to go then for producing a healthy and strong sword for years of continuous use right? Well, in a way it is, but many, including myself, find the tsuka too bulky which can lead to finger and hand fatigue which will make handling it for long periods very uncomfortable. To bring the tsuka’s profile down to a more manageable shape, you will need to remove a lot of wood from the edges. This in turn requires that you remove material from the faces as well so you don’t wind up with a short but fat tsuka. Essentially, you need to remove the samegawa panels, chisel the channels deeper and re profile the core so that everything is proportionate in the end.
For the most part, tsuka should be thin and the edges in more of a slim oval shape than a round or flat shape. Many people refer to these Cas tsuka as “axe handles” since they tend to be beefy and rounded and straight with little shape. I usually have to do more work on one of these tsuka than most others when the request is to give it a traditional shape. There is even more involved when I need to fit them to a new aftermarket set of fuchi & kashira since the Cas fittings are typically larger in both opening height and width than any of the available sets from popular suppliers.
Here is an example of a typical Cas Hanwei katana tsuka being fitted for an average fuchi. So far only the collar has been sized and you can see how much more there is to go to. You not only have to reduce the girth enough to allow for the thickness of the new ito but also for paper or wood shims which aid in final shaping and even more material must come off if you’re applying a full samegawa wrap. I typically wind up with a large pile of wood shavings and sawdust when I’m done.
Not all of the Cas Hanwei tsuka are like this however, models like the Shinto, and Musashi have a more slender and tapered shape. Sacrifices are made to ensure a higher percentage of undamaged tsuka and I feel that while there could be more improvement to the construction, the large and uncomfortable handles are better than a completely useless broken one.
What’s the best of this situation? Buy a katana with an intact if a little beefy tsuka from Cas Hanwei and then have it re profiled and re wrapped by someone like me ;)
Here is a recently finished Bamboo Mat katana tsuka I re wrapped in Brown Japanese silk ito with lacquer, in hinerimaki style. I didn’t reshape this one but the Bamboo Mat tsuka isn’t as large and beefy as some of the other models. Adding the lacquer to the ito strengthens the wrap and helps it fight off moisture better while maintaining the look and feel of silk. Under normal use, this method of wrapping will likely last as long as the sword itself.