Feilong Swords Dharma Wheel Katana Review
Feilong Swords Dharma Wheel katana
This Feilong Swords Dharma Wheel katana was provided to me by Dave Lorrez of Samurai Sword Shop. Dave is the creator and designer of Feilong Swords and has become a trusted partner and friend, ever since I reviewed his Feilong Swords Iwa Shobu and was so impressed, all those years ago.
I never set out to sell factory production swords and still haven’t for any other brand but when I saw the quality of these products I really wanted to be able to share the find with my fellow collectors, practitioners and enthusiasts. Selling Feilong Swords katana here in the states makes it easier for you guys to get your hands on them plus, I still closely inspect all swords before they’re sent out and therefore can address any possible issues beforehand. Yes, I like and sell this brand of sword but I will still try to keep my reviews as objective as possible and will be as critical as with any other sword I review. The truth is, if I ever feel they are not up to par, I may still review them but I would no longer sell them.
This batch of katana was shipped undamaged in a large outer box containing the 8 individual and smaller boxes. There is a new addition to the packaging this time around, with the cute and funny cartoon segment label applied to each box.
Dharma Wheel Katana
Steel – “homemade” oroshigane steel (approx. 0.6%-0.7% carbon content according to the forge)
Overall length – 40 1/2″
Nagasa – 27 1/2″
Motohaba – 31.6 mm
Sakihaba – 28 mm
Motokasane – 7.1 mm
Sakikasane – 5.1 mm
Sori type – tori
Sori depth – 13.3mm
Hamon – suguha
Mune – iori
Tsuka length – 10 5/16″
Nakago length – 8 5/8″
Weight w/saya – 2.67 lbs
Weight w/out saya – 2.24 lbs
POB – 5 3/4″ from tsuba
Polish – “tri-tone”
Ito – synthetic silk
Aesthetic Overview and first impressions
I have to admit that after all these years checking out Feilong katana I now expect to be impressed and this time around, it was no different. Unlike most of my other Feilong unboxings though, I was already excited before I even got it out of it’s bag because I immediately felt that the saya was thinner than previous models.
Removing the katana from the bag revealed a classically black and white color scheme, new fittings design and of course the aforementioned slimmer saya. However, I pretty much forgot about all of this as soon as I unsheathed the blade… Wow! Without spoiling too much, I was smiling ear to ear looking over this unique and unusual blade sugata. More on this later, of course.
I did a quick visual check for any obvious damage and a fast wiggle check on the tsuba and fittings and everything was super tight.
The tsuka of the Dharma Wheel katana is in haichi shape, meaning there is a slight to deep concave curve on the mune (back side) and a relatively straight ha (edge side). This is my favorite tsuka shape as I find it is the most comfortable to grip, opinions vary, of course. It is also rarer to see on production tsuka than the much more common rikko, or hourglass shape.
The tsuka is just over 10 1/4” long from top of fuchi to end of kashira and tapers from about 38.4mm width (measured including ito) near the fuchi to 35.2mm at the kashira. the thickness at the fuchi is approx 28mm, tapering down to 26.8mm at the kashira and end knots are 32.4mm thick. I’m not sure they carved notches in the tsuka core to accommodate the extra thickness of the end knots but because the tsuka is thinner in general than average, this doesn’t really stand out to me in any negative way.
The wood core is clean and and fits the nakago well with no movement and no apparent cracks or splits. It was on a bit tightly so I turned to my trusty rawhide mallet and wood block to slowly and carefully coax it off. The tsuka came off with a few taps and revealed a nicely shaped nakago inside.
There is no wood rot, sugar deposits or messy cement that is found on so many other tsuka cores, just good quality, clean hardwood.
The tsuka is secured to the nakago with one hard bamboo mekugi that fits snugly in the nakago-ana. Two mekugi are recommended for tsuka that are not made to fit the nakago and have movement or other shortcomings but for one that was carved and fitted this well, only one is necessary.
The tsukamaki on the Dharma Wheel katana is done with black synthetic silk in hineri-maki style, the most commonly seen tsukamaki style. The maki is generally very tight. I don’t personally love the feel of synthetic silk ito on my skin but many do like it over natural materials and it has proven to be durable and completely functional. This is the top quality synthetic ito available, not too slick and not too fuzzy and the weave is even and tight.
The wrap alternates, as it should and utilizes hishigami (paper triangles under the wrap) and the open diamonds are fairly even and well spaced.
The end knots are on the correct sides but I’m not sure notches were carved in the tsuka core to accommodate the extra thickness of the end knots. In this case since the tsuka is thinner in general than average, this doesn’t really stand out in any negative way, in my opinion. There seems to be minimal space between the end knots and the kashira, which is a good thing, visually.
The transition of the ito to the rims of the fuchi and kashira is smooth and level on all sides.
Overall, the tsukamaki looks decent in the classic black over white scheme, feels comfortable in my hands and will hopefully hold up a long time with use.
The samegawa is in panel form and is from a good quality skin. The nodules throughout the panels are average to large size with no apparent damage, staining or deformities.
The samegawa is the traditionally used raw, bleached variety and has no coloring or lacquer applied to it. The panels are properly inlaid into the wood core’s surface on this tsuka, which helps them stay put, which in turn helps the ito stay in place.
All four of the Dharma Wheel katana I have in stock possess an oyatsubu or “emperor’s node”, which is commonly only found on custom or very high end production katana. A very nice feature.
The vertical ridge design fuchi measures 39.2mm L x 19.1mm W x 9.8mm H and is made of brass, colored black. The cast quality is very good, showing sharp detail with no burrs, grind marks or other obvious flaws. I really like this unique design but then again I’m partial to this type of understated aesthetic, utilitarian materials and looks with just a touch of detail to make it interesting.
The brass is thick and strong and should provide a lifetime of functionality.
The matching kashira measures 36mm L x 19.8mm W x 7.2mm H and is of the same style, color and metal as the fuchi. The casting is equally well done. The kashira is on very securely and does not have any movement at all.
There are better than average brass shitodome in this kashira. The shitodome have a cleanly executed horizontal line pattern for visual appeal and also rounded edges so it won’t accidentally snag any clothing.
The menuki are cast brass, blackened and are in a Tokugawa motif. They are also arranged in a style often found on Tachi or Gunto.
The menuki are positioned in the common style, the omote side near the fuchi and ura side near the kashira. They are low profile, which is usually more comfortable and have a nice black and brass patina to them, which looks nice in my opinion. Overall, the menuki show nice detail, work well with the general color scheme and are low profile, though are not very fancy.
The seppa are basic cast/stamped copper with a satin polish and show some scratches and marks. They feature a common coin edge and are sized perfectly for the fuchi and saya.
This tsuba is in a Dharma wheel motif, hence the name of this model. The Dharma wheel was a popular subject from the Muromachi period, the buddhist wheel, rinpo, represents the path to enlightenment. This tsuba is made from steel and is colored with black paint or patina with a surface texture.
Even though it’s a rather lightweight piece, the steel provides more than enough strength and protection. The fit is solid with zero movement in any direction.
There are clear signs of filing, likely from smoothing the originally sharp edges. This is a bit of an eyesore but can be remedied fairly easily by applying some black paint or patina on those bare spots.
This tsuba is nothing remarkable but it’s also a design you don’t often see. It’s lightweight, durable, and comfortable, with no sharp edges or burrs to hurt your hands.
The habaki on this katana is made of solid copper with a brushed finish. It is on tightly and does not shift or move at all but can be removed easily if desired. One thing I look for first on a production katana is the fit of the habaki, particularly to see if there are any gaps at the top or any movement and fortunately, this habaki does not have any noticeable gaps at the top on either side. The only area of the blade the habaki isn’t touching is at the hi.
The blade is centered, which is good and there is no notch at the ha-machi, which is also good. The fragile ha-machi is seated snugly within the protective metal of the habaki and not exposed, preventing any damage to this part.
The mune machi is also seated well within the protective walls at the back notch, as it should be. This is something rare among production habaki. To put it plainly, I feel Feilong has had one of the best, if not the best, habaki fit in the business since I reviewed the first Iwa model years ago. Whether made of brass or copper, these craftspeople definitely know how to fit a habaki and for anyone that doesn’t have the skills or patience to try and fix a poorly fitted standard habaki or custom fit a replacement aftermarket habaki, this is surely the way to go.
The saya on the new Feilong models are an upgrade from previous models, featuring a slimmer shape and better paired profile to the fuchi. It is finished in a slightly textured two-toned black on black “splatter” effect. This finish is great if you don’t like seeing fingerprints and micro scratches on the surface. This paint however, is not very thick or protective against dings and scrapes. But it looks great and feels nice and does the job it’s meant for, to protect the blade.
The koiguchi, kurikata and kojiri are all made of black horn. The koiguchi fits perfectly with no movement or saya rattle and is carved and finished cleanly and without the unsightly use of cement or glue or overabundance of wax. Overall, the koiguchi is thick and strong and should provide good protection against the blade edge slicing through on a bad draw or from wear over time.
The kurikata is set in tightly with no movement and features two cast brass shitodome that are either press fit or glued in place since they do not move at all. The kurikata is adorned with a base level synthetic silk sageo in black and is in a standard presentation style knot.
An especially nice feature of this saya is how the size and shape of the koiguchi aligns perfectly with the fuchi. This is one of those things that I don’t see very often and is a sign that someone was paying attention to the little details. It might not make any real difference functionally but it’s just another little thing that makes the sword that much nicer aesthetically.
The blade is advertised to be made from a homemade steel blend but I have no way to be sure of this, though it does look different than typical T10 mono steel or folded steel blades I’ve seen.
The blade is stout at just over 7mm thick and tapers only 2mm to the “yokote”. Actually, there is no defined yokote on this blade so I measured at around the spot I figured the yokote would be on a blade with an o-kissaki.
I believe the general blade shape and design is inspired by examples of nagamaki/nagamaki-naoshi. It’s an uncommon design among production swords and really stands out from the pack. A slender and sleek kissaki, substantial blade presence, short and agile nagasa, this is definitely not your average katana.
The sori (blade curvature) type is tori, which means the deepest part of the curve is in the center of the blade and the depth of this sori is what I would consider slight, at 13.3mm or just over 1/2″.
The nagasa measures in at 27 1/2” long and is 31.6mm at it’s widest. There are two hi, one deep and wide running approximately one quarter of the total length from the habaki and another much more narrow and shallow hi running about half the total blade length. Both hi are terminated very cleanly with crisp and straight edges.
This blade is much like a shobu in that it does have a shinogi but no yokote so I suppose it could also be seen as a variation of a shobu with a couple of different hi, or maybe something in between.
The blade has some decent weight but because of the short length, it still feels very lively. The Dharma Wheel katana is rated to cut up to heavy targets such as multiple mats or even green bamboo. Of course, this is still a differentially hardened blade with limitations so it would likely perform better in the hands of someone with experience, especially for the harder target types.
There is basically no niku/ha niku so it should slice cleanly and easily through soft targets with little effort.
I’m not sure if there is what you would consider an O-kissaki or not since there’s no yokote to measure from but I suppose you could say if there was, it might be about 4-5″ long. The shaping is well done all the way to the very tip, which is quite sharp and intimidating.
The boshi is clearly visible and turns back nicely about 25mm from the tip.
The nakago measures 8 5/8”, which is within the recommended range for a 10″ tsuka. It is cleanly and evenly ground with no burrs on the edges or around the mekugi-ana.
While there are file marks present in several spots, they’re not necessarily yasurime and there is a mei and or other information engraved into the nakago on both sides. The ha and mune machi are neatly finished and close to fully aligned.
The suguha style hamon on this blade is pretty even the entire length of the blade, maintaining about 5.5mm in width. It’s clearly visible, attractive, evenly applied and symmetrically close on both sides.
The sughua hamon is considered kind of plain by some but it is known to take more skill to execute properly. It happens to be one of my favorite hamon styles, mostly for the simplicity and elegance it provides aesthetically.
The habuchi is clearly visible and you can see nie and nioi.
As far as I know, this hamon was traditionally created by claying the blade, heating and then quenching in water. I don’t know what the hrc is and have not tested it with files but I’d guess somewhere around the 58-60/40 area.
I’ve labeled the polish on this blade as “tri-tone”, which really doesn’t mean anything in a traditional way but since most of the polishing on affordable production katana blades aren’t done very traditionally anyway, I thought this was as good as hybrid, modern or similar terms. I count the burnishing on the shinogi-ji as one tone, the ji as another and the yakiba/hamon as the third.
The shinogi-ji and mune are burnished to a higher sheen than the rest. The shinogi-ji does show some very pleasant surface patterns and if you look closely at the right angle, you can see some swirls and fold patterns in the ji. There are a couple of very minor surface scratches and scuffs here and there but nothing out of the norm for a typical production blade.
The ha is sharp from the tip of the kissaki all the way to the habaki and doesn’t really include what is referred to as the ubu-ha or “virgin edge”, which some prefer. It cuts copy paper easily and cleanly.
Handling, weight and balance
When first unsheathing this sword, I thought it felt fairly light but also with a bit of heft. In two hands, it feels fast and agile but powerful. With one hand, I can more readily feel the blade presence but it is still manageable. Because of it’s shorter length, it also feels quicker in the draw.
There really isn’t any niku in the monouchi but because of the thickness, steel quality and heat treating, it doesn’t really need it to take on tough targets. I feel it could probably handle at least a double mat, possibly more and I’d like to try it on some bamboo but unfortunately, I have no bamboo and even if I did, I doubt I’d have the skill or physical aptitude at this current time to pull it off. I do however have a couple of pool noodles that have overstayed their welcome…
The blade is nicely balanced, considering it’s almost 6″ pob out of a 38 1/2″ overall sword length.
I have dry handled it for a week and have not experienced any resulting pain, outside of my regular every day pain. I have noticed the ito has gotten a touch fuzzier but not close to being out of control. If not lacquered, it will likely develop it’s own “human patina” over time which will keep the fuzzies in line.
For this review I did a very small amount of cutting, just to get a better feel for the handling and performance. The results are certainly not a measure of the quality of this sword in any way since I know next to absolutely zero when it comes to proper, traditional katana use, and, they’re just pool noodles after all. I am working at about half capacity in an overall physical way so please, go easy on me. I even threw together a cutting stand just for noodles.
I somehow lost half the footage I took, all of my slo mo vids :(
Anyway, it came as no surprise at all that the Dharma Wheel katana easily sliced through most cuts and only got caught up on my terribly misaligned attempts. One of the clips that got lost was me cutting with one hand. This was a bit tougher on my wrist but I was able to make about three clean cuts before my wrist and shoulder started to waver. At full health, I’m sure I’d be able to do more.
This sword is fast, powerful and super fun to use and I had a blast using it and just hope I didn’t go overboard on my poor body. Sure was nice to cut something again though, it’s been years.
More Cutting (sorry, my vid embedder isn’t working)
Well balanced and fun to swing
Bold and clearly visible hamon
Solid furniture fit, even after disassembling/reassembling and tsuka core is not cracked or split
Good quality inlaid samegawa with emperor’s node
Well cast fuchi & kashira
Slimmer saya with a low maintenance finish and all horn parts
Good fit in koiguchi
Filing marks on tsuba
Rough texture on tsuba
Thin paint on saya
Final thoughts and opinions
Overall, I’m really liking this new and very different addition to the Feilong Swords line of production katana. It feels a little exotic which is fun and adds interest, making it as good for collecting as it is for using.
The new fuchi and kashira are well done and add something special to the otherwise understated koshirae. I’m not crazy about the tsuba’s finish or file marks and I think if the filing was done prior to coloring, it would be fine. It is still made of steel though and of course 100% functional.
The aesthetics of the overall blade polish are pleasant and interesting and looks great even with such a simple hamon style.
This sword retails at around the $800usd mark and so far from what I’ve seen, I think this is a fair price for what you get. There is a lot of value here in the solid construction and functionality as well as in the aesthetics and uncommon style of the blade.
The proportions of the Feilong swords overall are closer to historical examples than most other production katana in this class and price range, from what I’ve seen. A more comfortably shaped tsuka, slimmer saya and a lot of thought put into the balance and performance of this sword make it a better choice for me than most other daily cutters.
I’ve always admired the way Feilong katana are put together, their quality materials and craftsmanship and it always makes it easier to customize a sword when it starts out so nicely made, if you are so inclined. I haven’t needed to do any reshaping or remaking of the Feilong tsuka since they seem to have already nailed the perfect shape and size, in my opinion.
I especially love the way their habaki fit, from the very first Feilong I reviewed to the current model and while some brands occasionally get it right once and a while, I haven’t seen any others as consistently well fit as these.
The Feilong line of katana aren’t what most would consider an “art sword” or neither a terribly interesting or particularly pretty brand of sword but they’ve always been at the top of their class in sound construction, good proportions and excellent functionality. Feilong swords are proven workhorses that get it right from the inside out in the name of practicality and performance and they are solid, trustworthy, dependable and very fun to use. With the addition of new saya and a step up in polishing and fittings, there is now more to a Feilong katana than just being a great daily cutter.