Iwa Shobu Katana Review
Iwa shobu-zukuri katana
By Feilong Swords.
This katana was sent to me simply to see what I think of it. I was not paid or otherwise compensated for this review and I have no association with the company that sells it nor the owner of that company other than knowing him through facebook.
The shobu-zukuri (iris leaf) katana is a style of blade that is known mostly by the obvious lack of a yokote and instead, tapering to it’s slender and graceful tip.
It was popular in 14th century Japan and used against the Mongol invaders as the design was thought to be more effective against their armor.
Typically the shobu style blade is a bit heavier than the more common shinogi-zukuri blade and is excellent for powerful slashing attacks.
Steel – T-10
Nagasa – 27 3/4″
Overall length – 40 1/8″
Motohaba – 32 mm
Sakihaba – 22 mm
Motokasana – 6.5 mm
Sakikasana – 4.5 mm
POB – 6 5/8″
Tsuka length – 11″
Nakago length – 9″
Sori – 3/4″
Weight w/saya – 2.88 Lbs.
Weight w/out saya – 2.36 Lbs.
Hamon – notare midare/choji
Mune – iori
As soon as I pulled this katana from it’s protective bag a smile started growing on my face. This smile is unfortunately a rare thing for me when unsheathing swords since most of what I’m opening is in need of some type of repair or facelift and has seen better days.
What I thought was hmmmm ok, black on black on black on black, nice and clean but…..
Then I pulled the sword from the saya and my eye caught that unmistakably warm color of the red copper habaki and seppa! I then quickly eyeballed the graceful shape of the blade and noticed the striking hamon.
This regular black katana just got better looking!
The tsuka of the Iwa is a nicely shaped rikko style that is comfortable to hold and flows well with the rest of the sword. As mentioned above the Iwa has a black on black theme with Cotton ito over lacquered samegawa panels.
The samegawa is of average quality with small but even nodes and neatly drilled mekugiana. The ito is nothing special but nicer on the skin than synthetic ito in my opinion. The diamonds are neat and even and there is card stock hishigami underneath and the end knots are on the correct sides.
The menuki are a three-section mitsudomoe design in solid brass and the mekugi are a nice set of smoked susudake and as they should be, are inserted from opposite sides.
The Iwa has simple higo style fuchi/kashira which while not made of iron, are made of blackened brass which in my opinion are much better than zinc alloy or pot metal. The Musashi-esque themed tsuba is also made of blackened brass.
The tsuba measures approximately 3″ high x 3 1/2″ wide and is a decent casting without any sharp edges to scrape your hand.
This in my opinion is the nicest part of the Iwa’s koshirae. It is said that the habaki is the heart of the katana and in this case it’s heart is warm and flows with red copper blood. Copper has been a common metal for many habaki on nihonto but unfortunately it has been replaced with brass on most Chinese made production swords these days. It is rare to see one made of this beautiful metal and even more rare to see one made as well as this one is.
The habaki sits on one of a pair of red copper seppa that have hand filed grooves and fit nice and snug to the nakago.
The ha-machi is aligned perfectly with the front of the habaki
A very clean fit
The mune of the habaki has a nice file pattern which provides grip in the koiguchi
The first thing I noticed about the saya other than that it was black, was the size and shape. It is a slimmer profile than most I’m used to, (maybe other than the couple of Citadel I’ve handled) and feels great when gripping it.
The lacquer is average with a gloss finish
It has a buffalo horn koiguchi and kojiri but the kurikata is made of wood. I’m guessing the forges just don’t feel like sculpting the kurikata out of horn rather than the idea that horn isn’t easy to obtain. The kurikata has gold colored metal shitodome and a black synthetic silk sageo tied in the typical presentation knot.
The fit of the habaki into the koiguchi is perfect and there is a nice little ‘click’ when it’s pushed all the way in. The friction is on the mune and ha only as it should be to avoid scratching up the sides.
This shobu-zukuri blade is made of T-10 steel but what is strange is that it seems to have a grain pattern I’ve never seen in T-10 before. It is acid etched to bring out the natural notare midare/choji hamon so it might be some nice side effect of this process.
And here is the elegantly forged shobu kissaki
It’s hard to see in this somewhat blurry picture but the mune runs perfectly dead center all the way to the very tip
Some very interesting patterns going on here
The nakago is very attractive and clean and has a well chiseled mei
The edge is paper slicing sharp and the body has decent niku but for those who like crisp lines and a smooth polish, this is a great example of consistency. I couldn’t feel even the slightest wave when running my fingers down the sides.
Handling Weight and Balance
The Iwa feels very substantial with powerful presence but does not feel too heavy. In fact, I was able to wield it with one hand a number of times before I felt it in my forearm. In two hands this sword is easily maneuverable and it’s not difficult to stop in a swing or to change directions quickly.
I am seriously out of practice when it comes to cutting (I’m not sure I was really ever in practice when it comes to cutting with Japanese swords) and I was able to cut for about 45 minutes to an hour before my arms felt the strain.
I had my 1095 and my KC 26II to compare with the Iwa and while my 1095 is the lightest and quickest sword by far the Iwa was almost on par with the handling of the shorter 26. This sword was a pleasure to cut with even though it might not look like I’m smiling in the vids. honestly, I had to really concentrate to pull off even the most simple cuts, lol
Now keep in mind that I fix and customize katana, I never claimed I was any good at using them! Go easy on me please
I talked to Dave Lorrez, the owner of Samurai Sword Shop and Feilong Swords before I posted this review to let him know some bad news. I felt like I should at least let him be the first to know that I had found some issues with the Iwa after my cutting session, even though he already knew I am always honest and forthcoming in my reviews.
He said basically, “look, I have nothing to hide and sometimes reviews aren’t perfect so I have no problem with what you have to do”
Dave is a stand up guy and backs all his swords and is known for his excellent customer service. Yes, we all know there are always a few lemons when dealing with Chinese forges and mass produced swords. In this case, it’s part of a new line that hasn’t been extensively tested yet. I think this one is also a prototype but even still, some sellers might be tempted to not be as transparent with less than stellar results.
I respect a guy who let’s it all show whether it’s good bad or otherwise. He has taken the info and pictures I’ve sent him and will be contacting the forge to work out the issues. I feel that finding these now is a good thing and will ensure better quality for this line in the future. There have been others who have inspected the Iwa and found no negatives at all so I really do think this could be an isolated incident, it happens to the best of them. Next time I will remember to check the tsuka before I do any cutting with it to both determine if it was damaged before or after cutting and for my own safety.
The Bad News
When I was done cutting I felt a tiny bit of play in the tsuba and noticed that the ito had shifted on the tsuka. After I removed the tsuka I noticed that it had a cracked mune that traveled a couple of inches down toward the kashira.
The following isn’t a flaw of course but since it’s part of the “after cutting” section, I am mentioning it here. The only signs of use on the blade after cutting (including cutting through the hard plastic necks and caps) were a few very light surface scratches and one slightly deeper scratch which could be polished out without too much effort, and of course, the usual plastic residue which came right off with a little glass cleaner
I think the Iwa Katana is a simple but elegant everyday backyard and dojo cutter with nice balance and sturdy fittings. I personally love the breath of fresh air in the copper habaki and seppa and I’m sorry I don’t see them on more production swords these days.
If you’re not into the Musashi themed tsuba, I believe there are other models in this line to choose from but I also found this appealing as it is iconic and represents so much with such a simple shape.
The saya feels great and the weight of the sheathed sword feels comfortable while the thinner profile would make it easier to grip and maneuver in an obi.
The added beauty of the hamon and the shobu style blade would make this seemingly plain sword really stand out at the dojo.
It’s funny but after doing so many customizations I sometimes start to crave the simple look of the basic black sword again.
I think the Iwa shobu-zukuri katana would be a great choice in it’s price range of under $450 and you really can’t go wrong dealing with a respected and stand up guy like Dave Lorrez.
Less common shobu-zukuri style blade
Vivid and attractive real hamon
Copper habaki and seppa
Nicely shaped saya
Great balance and maneuverability
Brass fuchi/kashira instead of iron
Cotton ito instead of silk (but better than synth silk)
Now while the last two cons were likely an isolated issue, I had to list them since I am reviewing this particular sword.
The Follow Up
Greetings, I have received some news from the owner of feilongswords.com, Dave Lorrez.
Dave said that after checking his stock, which he did right away after hearing my news, he luckily did not find any other swords with these issues. All of the tsuka were in good shape with no cracks present and also with tight ito.
I glued the crack and let it set for a day, and then overnight, and then tested it by doing some more bottle cutting. The thing is I noticed that the tsuka fit was very tight especially in the last 2″ and I had to use a mallet to get it on all they way, so I wasn’t surprised to find it cracked again (in the same place) after I was done. the nakago is obviously too thick or wide for this tsuka(channel is too shallow for the nakago actually)
I was really curious about the blade strength though so I put the tsuka back on and went out to do some slightly heavier cutting (something nobody should ever do with a cracked tsuka!)
I cut some 1/2″ and 1″ saplings which felt like I was cutting through butter, I actually felt more of an impact cutting the pool noodles, lol
I then cut a branch from a dead tree about 1 1/2″ thick and while it cut it, it wasn’t clean all the way but rather broke the wood at about half way through, which I could easily blame on my terrible form.
I have a few stalks of dried bamboo from last year, about 1″ thick that are as hard as pvc. I was debating over using these but I finally gave in and gave it a whack.
The first hit sent the pole flying across the driveway but had put a nice 1/4″ deep slice into it. the second hit did the same in a different spot (like I could hit the same tiny mark again, lol). the third hit (new spot) wound up cutting halfway through and breaking a length of bamboo about 4″ completely off.
I wasn’t really expecting the blade to go all the way through in a clean slice since the pole was so tough and dry and because my cutting sucks something awful, but I wanted to see what would happen to the edge. well…..nothing happened to the edge.
There were a few scuffs and residue which came off quickly with rubbing alcohol but not a single chip or dull spot that I could see anywhere. I thought I had uploaded the pics to photobucket but I guess I didn’t so I’ll get those up tomorrow (now added).
I can say that despite issues with the core and ito, this T-10 DH shobu blade is one tough mother. I really don’t think there would be any targets harder than this dried bamboo that anyone would be using as a regular everyday cutting medium so I’d have to say that this blade is as tough as you would need…period
what are your thoughts on T-10, DH, or perhaps the shobu style that made this a successful tough cutter?
Added Pictures and Video
So here are the pictures of round two cutting with the Iwa.
First I cut through a small horde of the usual sword fodder
Including a few caps and necks
A double cut I was lucky enough to get on camera
Then I took on a year old dried bamboo pole about 1″ thick
You can see the residue of plastic and bamboo but there is no edge damage or deformation at all
After the bamboo I did a nice static cut on a liter bottle with a clean result
The Iwa is currently undergoing repairs and I’ll post some pics of this soon.
Again, a very tough blade and excellent heat treat and edge retention in my opinion.
Edit – Repairs finished
I just finished the tsuka repair and re-wrap so the Iwa is good to go now and off to a dojo for some more test cutting(not by me). I forgot how nice Japanese cotton tsuka-ito is to do tsukamaki with as well as to touch. The cotton that most production tsuka are wrapped with feels more like it was made from a scotchbrite pad than from cotton but the good stuff is a pleasure.
I would still say that premium Japanese silk is my favorite but high quality cotton is next in line.
Some pics, sorry for the lousy light and background but it’s been raining here forever and this is the small 10 minute break in the rain shot. Oh, and I know it might look the same as before, black on black and all but the ito is brand new and the maki is super tight now, almost painfully tight.
Before I re-wrapped it – I removed some metal from the nakago and also some wood from the inside of the tsuka, just enough to ease the stress, and then cleaned and epoxied the crack closed again. After it cured I took her back out to cut some more targets and everything held up perfectly. I didn’t film it this time because it was raining and I did everything so quickly, plus I didn’t want a wet t-shirt video of me going viral on youtube