Huawei Shobu Katana
This is a review of a Huawei Sword shobu katana.
I purchased this sword from Huawei Sword’s Ebay shop for full price, with my own money. I am not employed or otherwise associated with Huawei Swords and am not being compensated in any way for this review.
I purchased this sword from Huawei’s Ebay shop on September 4th, 2018 and received it on September 21st, 2018. Before purchasing I asked the owner/operator of Huawei, Jacky, a couple of questions regarding this sword via ebay messenger and he replied promptly. I received an EMS tracking number about an hour after purchase.
Item description as seen on Ebay: “Functional Shobu Zukuri Hishi-Gami Iron Mokko Tsuba Shinken Japanese Sword”
Item cost: $268.00 with free shipping
The sword arrived in a styrofoam box sealed in yellow packing tape. While it may look like an underwhelming and inexpensive way to send something through the mail, it provides excellent protection as the inner foam is carved specifically for the shape of the sword and doesn’t allow any movement inside the container. Opening the box revealed a black cotton sword bag, wrapped in a plastic sleeve. The blade was covered in another smaller plastic sleeve and coated in plenty of oil. A quick inspection showed that nothing seemed out of place and everything looked as it should.
I thought it looked exactly like the pictures I viewed previously on Ebay, except for it coming with a slightly different tsuba. I looked for any dents, dings, scratches or frayed ito and found none. I felt the sword was light and easy to handle. Although I don’t care much for the saya color, fittings or ito, I knew it would come this way so I wasn’t disappointed or surprised in any way.
Steel type: T-10
Nagasa: 27 9/16″ 27 9/16″
OAL: 40 1/4″
Motohaba: 32mm 32mm
Motokasane: 7.2mm 7.6mm
Sakihaba: 21.5mm 24mm
Sakikasane: 4mm 5mm
Sori: tori/.70″ .70″
Weight w/saya: 2.30 lbs
Weight w/out saya: 2.72 lbs
Tsuka: 10 1/4″ 10.4″
Ito: synthetic silk
Nakago: 9 3/8″
Hamon: gunome midare
The tsuka is essentially in a haichi shape, the mune (bottom) edge has a slight concave curve and the ha (top edge) is relatively straight. The overall shaping is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to grip and flows well with the blade and saya. The tsukamaki is in hineri-maki style and is very tight, nothing moves, including the menuki and the diamonds are even and consistent on both sides. The ito is flush with the fittings on the edges as well as the faces, which is important functionally as much as it is aesthetically. In this case, the end knots are on the correct sides and as usual, the tsukamaki folds alternate properly. Folded paper hishigami were used, as advertised and was not an extra charge.
Underneath the ito are two strips of black, tanned samegawa leather with a glossy finish. The samegawa has nice and evenly sized nodules along the full length of both sides. I noticed some small details such as the mekugi-ana in the samegawa are not blown out or torn, as is common with many low budget tsuka and the samegawa also went all the way to the fuchi and kashira without exposing any wood underneath, also a common issue.
The menuki are cast in solid brass and depict flowers, peonies, I believe. The tsuka is secured to the nakago using two hard bamboo mekugi, which are easy to remove and replace.
The fuchi and kashira are made of brass and are painted or powder-coated in black and depicts what looks like a fern leaf. They aren’t beautiful but they are strong and functional and are cleanly cast and cut.
The tsuka core was in great shape with no cracks or splits. The wood was clean and had plenty of meat where needed. There are shims used in the inner channels but they are made of wood and placed securely and permanently so there won’t be any shifting and they won’t fall out accidentally.
I’m adding some additional pictures of the now unwrapped tsuka. Notice the deep grooves, necessary for inlaying the samegawa strips properly.
The samegawa strips were glued on very securely and one ripped while trying to remove it. The kashira was extremely hard to remove due to the epoxy used, which is normally a good thing if you are not trying to swap it out. Close-ups of menuki, mekugi and hishigami
As I mentioned in the first impressions, I don’t care for this particular saya paint scheme but it was neatly done with no drips, scuffs or any other surface damage anywhere along the full length. In this price range the Huawei saya do not come with a horn kurikata or kojiri and instead of a full horn koiguchi, there is only a simple and fairly thin plastic ring used. Although it doesn’t include the higher tier parts, the craftsmanship is clean and professionally executed.
The wood kurikata comes with two cast brass shitodome and is tied with a rather thin synthetic silk sageo made of the same ito as is on the tsuka. The fit of the koiguchi on the habaki is nice and tight but without preventing a smooth draw or sheathing and has a nice “click” when fully seated. There is a slight but noticeable rattle from the tip end of the blade if you shake the sword.
The blade is in a shobu sugata, which means the kissaki is styled after the tip of an iris leaf and it also has no yokote, which is the defining point where the blade body meets the kissaki. You can see the boshi runs up on the top of the kissaki mune and that the iori mune runs perfectly straight all the way to the end of the tip. The blade is thick and powerful without feeling overbearing and cumbersome. It is also razor sharp with no visible burrs or flaws.
The length of the blade from the tip to the mune-machi is 27 9/16″, which is right at the measurement listed in the ad. It’s made of T-10 tool steel and is differentially hardened using clay, which means that a clay mixture was placed on the spine in a pattern and the blade was then heated until red and then quenched in water (a very simplified description). The clay causes the spine to cool at a different rate, resulting in a harder edge and softer spine and the visible edge pattern called a hamon (again, a very general description). This hamon could be classified as either a gunome midare or sanbonsugi, depending on how you look at it.
The sori of this blade is in the tori shape, which means it’s deepest part of the curve happens in the middle of the blade’s length and is the most common type seen in production katana.
There is some very interesting activity in the hamon, the habuchi in particular, showing a little nie. The polish isn’t as well executed as on blades I’ve seen in their higher price range but I think it’s better than I would expect for this price point. The geometry is well defined with fairly sharp lines on the shinogi and the mune.
I noticed there was a bit of niku on the lower two thirds of the blade but there seemed to be less within the monouchi. The first picture is of the lower portion and the second is about 5″ from the tip of the kissaki.
The nakago or tang of the blade is very nicely finished for this price point, as well as for much higher priced production swords. The surface is filed smoothly and the rims of the mekugi-ana are chamfered so there are no burrs to snag the inside of the tsuka core. The end of the nakago is well shaped and the edges all around are also beveled and smooth. You can see how crisp and even the shinogi line is here, even under the filed surface. This is the cleanest nakago I’ve ever seen on a katana under $300. Too often you will find the ha and mune machi on affordable katana are poorly finished and roughly shaped with an angle grinder but you can clearly see how neatly and carefully these were finished on this blade.
The one that came on this sword is a kind of multi-lobbed or kiku shaped, double ring design and is made of steel (notice the magnet) and powder-coated in black. It’s not the mokko shaped, double ring style one that was advertised but it’s strong and attractive enough and completely functional and I actually prefer this one over the other aesthetically.
What really stands out about the tsuba to me is the amazing fit to the nakago. Traditionally, many tsuba weren’t made to fit right up against the blade like this but had soft metal inserts called sekigane, that were shaped to fit the nakago and kept the harder metal of the tsuba away from the blade. For the most part, we want our production sword fittings to hold tight during frequent cutting and use and we also want our swords to be as low maintenance as possible so fitting a tsuba tightly against the nakago in this case is a good thing. You can tell it was carefully filed to fit rather than it being peened or otherwise manipulated to fit, as many are. There are no gaps and absolutely no movement at all.
This set is made of brass and while production seppa are usually pretty simple and unspectacular, these are made well and the decorative coin style edge is cleanly cut and consistent around the entire circumference. They are strong and thick enough to not bend easily and also size well with the fuchi and saya koiguchi, as seppa should. They also don’t come with a company logo or anything else stamped on the faces, which is nice.
this habaki is cast in solid brass and is extremely well made, in my opinion. Poor fitting and constructed habaki are a common issue in the lower cost katana market and are rarely fit well to the blade and often have epoxy or fillers added, making up for a better initial fit. I’ve seen habaki with large gaps in the top and some that were so loose they slide off freely and even some that were twisted and torqued or that left the fragile ha-machi hanging out in the open, exposed.
This habaki however, is fit with no gaps and no movement and completely cradles the ha-machi. The casting is practically flawless on all edges. The finish is in high polish, which I don’t really care for but can be easily scuffed with sandpaper or a sctochbrite pad to achieve a satin finish. I try to pay close attention to the fit of a habaki before buying a katana because it’s one of the harder to replace parts on a production sword and it can also be very expensive to have a new one custom made. It’s such an important part of the katana and it seems Huawei understands this, judging from the many well fit habaki I’ve seen from them over the years.
I find this sword to be agile but also with enough blade presence to feel confident in taking on heavier targets. It feels well balanced and lively and everything is solid with no movement anywhere. I don’t particularly like the feel of the synthetic silk as it feels both rough on my skin and at the same time, slightly slippery. The shape of the tsuka is thin enough and has a low enough profile that I can maintain a firm grip without straining but I would feel much more confident with it wrapped in something of higher quality. I would suspect that with enough use, the ito will form better grip due to the built up dirt and sweat. It’s not the stoutest shobu sword I’ve handled but I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing.
I consider this Huawei shobu-zukuri katana to be a wonderful option for the $268 price tag. I would say it exceeded my expectations but I have purchased many Huawei over the span of 10 years or so and I have never been disappointed, so I already knew what to expect before I bought it. I don’t think there is a better option in this price range for an “off the shelf” katana and while some other makers come close on some points, none hit all of these marks consistently, at this price, in my opinion. The attention paid to all of the details is impressive, especially considering the very low price and I have seen much more expensive swords fall short in comparison. Not only is this sword perfectly fine to use as is for cutting or display, it also makes a great base for customization with the healthy tsuka core and well fit habaki, the cleanly shaped and finished nakago and of course the excellent blade.
I think Huawei is a great brand for affordable katana and have been so for over a decade and while they might lack in consistent long term communication quality and may take longer than average to produce a custom order, I feel you can’t really go wrong with one of their in stock swords. My only gripe here is that they don’t seem to be producing as many options for immediate sale as they used to, although I was told to expect more added to their store soon.
Great low price, free and fast shipping, high quality construction and craftsmanship and a sword worth building on. I will continue to buy from them as long as they keep producing swords like this one.
Great blade with well executed hamon and crisp geometry
Well fitted parts with no gaps or movement
Healthy tsuka core with no cracks or splits
Good clean craftsmanship all around
Low price and free shipping
Strong and capable but still agile
Slight saya rattle
Thin sageo made of ito
Lack of horn parts on saya