Kris Cutlery Katana 26A
January 25th 2012
Many of you already know that I am a fan of Kris Cutlery swords and after more than two years since I purchased my first one, I’m still in love.
After reading about their line of Katana in the very few reviews I could find, I was interested but not yet convinced to buy one. I stumbled onto the SBG forums in my search to learn more and found a review for the new Katana from a longtime member. before I saw it I was under the impression that the Tsuka was still permanently attached and the blade was hollow ground.
I quickly learned I was wrong and found out that this sword was even better than I thought, now I was convinced.
After some time I picked up the 26II because even though they still weren’t stocking the A model I wanted to try out the shorter length. as I thought, it was perfect for me. I have a background of FMA and was used to shorter single handed blades so reducing the length by 3″ was an easier transition and ultimately more comfortable.
More time went by and I have amassed a small horde of Katana and Wakizashi as well as a few Tanto, most of which I later customized. I was only recently able to get my hands on the long sought after 26A Katana. my sub $300 Katana dream come true.
While I’m a huge fan of the products that Kris Cutlery manufacture and sell, I am in no way associated with the company or owners. I found a product that I have been consistently happy with for years and felt I should write up a review to express my personal impression of it.
I will be as objective and unbiased as possible. I was not offered any money or compensation.
Sugata(style/shape): Shinogi-Zukuri(sword with ridge)
Nagasa(length measured from mune-machi to tip): 26″, 27″ from Tsuba to tip
Motohaba(width of blade at Habaki): 31mm – 1.2″
Sakihaba(width of blade at Kissaki): 22mm – 0.86″
Motokasane(thickness of blade at base) 5mm – 0.19″
Sakikasane(thickness of blade at Yokote) 4mm – 0.15″
Kissaki(from Yokote to tip) 35mm – 1.37″
Koshi-Zori(curves near handle), Sori(depth of curvature) 13mm – 0.5″ in
Tsuka(handle) 10 1/2″
Weight 2.6 Lbs without Saya
Steel – 5160 carbon steel
Hamon(temper line) – Suguha(staight) differentially hardened and water quenched
Nakago(tang) 9 7/8″(from mune machi)
POB 4 1/2″-5″ from Tsuba
The sword comes packaged in a sleeve of bubble wrap and placed in a narrow box with a few packing peanuts. the packaging could be better but so far I haven’t had anything arrive damaged. Upon first inspection I can’t help but notice how different it is from your standard black with black Katana.
Once the Saya comes off it’s all about the unique features of the satin polished 5160 steel.
The order usually arrives in about 1 week via UPS and tracking #
Fit & Finish
As mentioned in the stats above, the Sugata(shape/style) is Shinogi-Zukuri which is the most common style of modern production Katana. The blade features a basic practitioners polish with a burnished Shinogi-Ji and Mune. The Suguha Hamon is created by quenching the edge of the
blade in water instead of the usual and traditional use of applying clay. there are a few relatively rare features found on the KC blades such as a Mitsu-Mune(three facet spine), a geometricYokote(beginning of physical planar shift near tip) and the follow through of Sori into the Nakago as
well as the generous amount of niku present.
Some imperfections of note:
In addition to the overall low polish of the blade the geometry can suffer from soft lines which is an issue of aesthetics rather than function. The Kissaki occasionally has a slightly rough cross polish on the Kissaki and there can be very light to medium waves felt throughout the length.
While I find these elements part of the hand made charm of the sword, some would be happier with a finer polish and crisper lines. The Tsukamaki is very tight, almost painfully tight but can be a bit neater. Since Hishigami aren’t used the diamonds aren’t as crisp or even as they could be.
The Kris Cutlery line of Katana are definitely meant for one thing, use, and it is obvious as soon as you wield it that it is a total workhorse. Utilitarian in design and execution, from plain yet powerful fittings to the thick strong tsuka wrapped in tough synthetic Tsukaito and the iron reiforced Saya. The steel is tough and forgiving while sporting medium Niku(meat).
I recently found out that the Tsuka lacks Same because the owner likes and respects fish so did not want to use them for his swords. In it’s place there is a fabric mesh sealed with lacquer, it adequately serves it’s purpose of protecting the wood and providing grip for the ito.
I don’t believe there is any particular historical example this model is based on and seems to have elements from different time periods, regions and schools of sword smithing. The Koshi-Zori is seen a lot in swords made by the schools of the Bizen region.
There almost seems to be Fumbari although not as large or obvious as most antique examples so it might not qualify. It also reminds me of a Tachi that has been cut down, like a Uchigatana. I’m not sure if the cylindrical Saya has any historical background but I’ve read that the rounded or oval kojiri does.
A no frills solid workhorse Katana that while good to go right out of the box, is also one of the best choices for customization. Considering the fair price and strong and meaty foundation, there is a lot of room for modification without having to break the bank.let’s take a closer look at the individual parts.
You can clearly see the curve starting near the nakago as opposed to in the middle of the length or near the tip of the blade. this is called Koshi Sori or Koshi-Zori. There is a nice tight and straight grain in this steel which under close inspection reveals a unique banding structure. The Hamon though hard to see normally will really pop with tons of detail with a simple acid etching using vinegar or fcl. Some owners have also had success bringing out the Hamon
with a finger stone polish. Here is a picture of another KC blade after acid etching in vinegar
On the last few swords I picked up the Hamon was rising pretty high to the shinogi (one even going into the shinogi-Ji) but this one has a very nicely steady and straight 1/4″ thick Hamon visible only at the right angles.
I really like the curved and relatively narrow nakago, it makes reshaping the Tsuka core easier without the risk of going through the wood. It does not have Yasurime(file marks) which are found in different patterns on many Nakago but it does have a nicely started patina which aids in a tight fit in the Tsuka.
There is no Mei(signature) present or any identifying marks other then the numbers in marker near the end(22).
You can see the width of the base of the blade changes within approximately 2″ of the Mune-Machi. It goes from 31mm to 29mm and then averages about 25mm to the Yokote. In the above picture you can see there is even fumbari present on this blade which is a very rare feature on production blades.
Usually the spine of a Katana blade comes to an angled, two sided peak or is almost flat or slightly rounded. you can see there is a flat center at the top with an angled edge to either side of it. As with the polish in general, this mune isn’t as crisp as some would like it.
Accenting the geometry of the Kissaki
The shape/style of Kissaki is somewhere between a regular Chu-Kissaki(medium size with even curve) to Kamasu-Kissaki(stright angle with little to no curve) and can vary slightly from piece to piece.
This never really bothered me but I guess if I had the choice, I would have it with more of a even curve.
In some areas of the blade surface there is an almost mirror polish as you can see here by the reflections.
I think what most people prefer is to not be able to feel waves or bumps along the length. this is the biggest
gripe with the polish on these swords.
The Tsuka of the KC 5160 line are of Morozori style/shape(equally curved on top & bottom), the Tsukamaki is alternating and very tight but does not use Hishigami in the folds.
I personally do not like the feel of the stock synthetic ito and have to change it out before using for practice or cutting. it can be a bit rough on bare hands in my opinion as well as feeling a little slick.
sometimes the end knots are not on the correct sides and while this makes no difference to me, it might bother some people. the lack of Samegawa is also
something I don’t mind but this is because I modify it later on, plus, it would most likely add a lot to the cost anyway. a fabric mesh material soaked with lacquer is used in place of Samegawa.
I’m not sure exactly what the fabric is made from and there has been speculation that it could be fiberglass and epoxy but I don’t believe so. probably just some cheesecloth and lacquer/shellac.
it’s strong and does provide some grip for the Tsukaito.
The Menuki(handle ornaments) are usually some type of dragon but I have also had tigers on a couple of swords. They are often made of brass or bronze and of decent to good quality with crisp details. My favorite are the bright brass dragons because they are indeed a proper set and show great detail.
The Menuki on this sword are intertwined dragons facing each other and are made of bronze(I think) but are not a real set as they are both identical. The Menuki seem to be randomly chosen from sword to sword.
The Tsuka core is thick and strong made from a good quality hardwood. you can see the core is numbered(22) to fit with the matching blade and fittings. Much like the wood for the Saya, the grain seems to be matching from side to side and shows that the pieces are cut from the same block which is nice.
The Tsuba is blackened iron and 3″ in diameter and 4mm thick with two small holes that I have seen on a couple of antique Katana. They are not however Hitsuana(holes for Kozuka and Kogai but rather Udenukiana which have been described as being a representation of the sun and moon and also meant
for tying wrist cords through or to just secure the sword in Saya. Again, you can see the number 22 stamped into the metal.
Nicely rounded edge
Plain blackened iron is the theme here. no frills but strong and meant for heavy use. the Fuchi is made of two pieces and welded together. It is also numbered(22) though you can’t see it here.
Is solid iron and extremely strong but as you can see the holes could be a bit rough. A little filing can remedy this if it bothers you.
You will find brass Habaki on most production Katana with an occasional copper one but the KC is equipped with a Habaki made of what else? That’s right, steel. A little square and chunky with a lack of shape or any fancy design, again we are reminded that this isn’t a sword built for looks but for business.
It is roughly 3mm thick. The mune side has the same three facets as the mune of the blade the fit is ok but on some I’ve seen pretty large gaps but because they ship them out with a shmear of grease in there, I doubt much water will get underneath it while cutting wet targets.
This is also the first sword I’ve seen from KC without a slit for the Ha-Machi. I’m not sure why.
I love the solid brass Seppa used on these swords. They are thick, plain but unique and each one is hand cut, sanded and matched for the individual sword, no cheap stamped tin gears here. You can also notice that they are two different sizes as they are meant to fit with the specific shape of the
Tsuka and fittings. These are also ripe for easy modification like adding decorative file marks or other designs. (numbered 22)
The two Mekugi are of excellent quality, thick and strong with a nicely cylindrical shape tapering near the end. They seem to be made of rolled up mesh fabric soaked in lacquer, possibly the same stuff they use in place of samegawa, and they hold up very well over time with little to no damage from the Mekuginuki.(brass removal hammer)
The Saya is of thick and strong mahogany wood with a clear coat of lacquer over the surface. The Kurigata is black buffalo horn and Kojiri is solid blackened iron. The Koiguchi is a blackened iron band instead of the more common horn which is more than adequate for reinforcement of the Sayaguchi. I have had saya with a tight fit while a few including this one has a small rattle near the tip if shaken vigorously. I do not practice any real form of JSA but I could understand if some that do might find the Saya too thick and round to be comfortable. It’s approximately 28mm near the koiguchi tapering to 22mm near the Kojiri. Of course it is also numbered 22.
I tried to capture the geometric Yokote with this piece of paper leaning on the flat blade surface. you can see where the metal suddenly drops away from the paper.
I find the 26″ Nagasa perfect for me even though I think for my height of 5’11” I should be using a slightly longer blade.
It is quick and easily manuverable while still feeling powerful. it is one of the best balanced swords I’ve handled even compared to some swords more than twice the price. With a POB of around 4 1/2″ – 5″ and weight of 2.6 Lbs, it is practically effortless to swing and cut with. It is nimble enough to be wielded with one hand with practice.
The apple seed edge is deceptively sharp while maybe not necessarily paper shearing sharp. it will cut light to heavy targets with little trouble, but with a simple stropping, it will even slice and dice tricky pool noodles with ease. You might not be able to do multiple cuts with one hand while talking on your cell phone and reading the paper but to preform some decent cutting, you might have to learn some basic cutting technique and practice it.
The 5160 is a tough but also forgiving steel that will take a bend or set on a really bad cut rather than snap or crack. Kris Cutlery guarantees their blades form breaking for up to a year with normal use. This is a tough, if a little rough, everyday cutter that will probably be your go-to blade for years of reliable cutting.
I just find it fun to use and no other sword feels quite as right in my hands at this point.
I have nowhere safe and or legal to cut and rarely get the opportunity to find a spot suitable. Unfortunately I have no pictures or video of this sword cutting anything but from past experience using three other models I can say it cuts like a dream.
I have cut plastic bottles of all kinds, cardboard boxes, pool noodles and a few melons and 1″ – 2 1/2″ thick branches. I have also cut into cutting stands of wood and plastic with no serious incidents. The worst of it was one set that I was able to take out with care and patience.
Because of the Niku you really have to be aware of your edge alignment and follow through to make clean or silent cuts but once you get used to it, the blade just slices away target after target.
Pros and Cons
tough and durable everyday workhorse cutter
light, quick and easily manuverable
has features rarely seen on most other production swords in it’s class
curved and comfortable Tsuka
under $300 including shipping (UPS ground)
best customer service around…..period
hand made in small batches by the same forge in the Philippines
polish could be better including cross polished Kissaki and soft lines
fittings are plain
thick cylindrical Saya
does not come with accessories such as cleaning kit, stand or sword bag
Tsukamaki can be neater
I love this Katana for the quality craftsmanship and materials as well as the handling and performance. Since I wind up customizing them I don’t mind the plain fittings and lack of accessories such as samegawa and sageo. I would like to see a slightly higher level of polish and crisper lines but maybe not as much if the price were to rise much higher because of it. IMHO this is a terrific sword to use everyday as well as a potentially stunning custom with some work.
I would highly recommend the Kris Cutlery 26A to those who care more about performance than looks and accessories or to those who have the means to modify it to their liking. To those looking for a shorter blade length, excellent balance and easy maneuverability should also look into the 26A, 26II or 26III Katana.
I would not recommend this sword to anyone wanting or expecting an out of the box display sword equipped with all the bells and whistles or one that is modeled after an historical example. The polish and fittings could disappoint some folks and it’s not winning an award for being pretty anytime soon. But of course……beauty is in the eye of the beholder is it not?
An additional note on the 5160 line of Katana
There are two blade lengths, 26″ & 29″, and choices with or without Bo Hi plus two different Tsuka options, standard Tsukamaki and spiral wrapped. All of these swords are produced in the Philippines and none are available with Samegawa. These Katana are also not the same steel or forge as the folded steel line KC carries. The swords with the folded steel and Samegawa and black lacquered Saya are produced by a forge in China.