Project T-10 Katana
Today I am reviewing a prototype project katana from a company I cannot name, which will be making it’s official debut sometime in the near future. For now I will just be referring to it as the Project T-10 Katana, for lack of a better temporary name.
I will be trying a different review template this time, at least one change from my usual layout. In addition to the regular review body where I describe all the parts and pieces as I see them, I will be adding a “Picking Nits” section at the end where I will really get um…. picky about what I see, going beyond what is “normal” and “expected” and even “satisfactory”. I just felt that while a review is still informative when aspects of the product are lightly touched on and most of the time it doesn’t require a microscope to determine if a product is a good one or not, in my mind I always want to point out more than I usually do. Sometimes this has come across in a way that is not well received so my instinct would be to keep it to myself but as a consumer, I always want to know as much as possible about something before I consider buying it. I want to hear and see everything good, bad, and indifferent. I will try my best to keep any emotion out of my reviews and basically just aim to offer you a virtual inspection as if you had it in your own hands. We’ll see how this goes
This part will be very short. I received an example of a new line of katana that will be offered by a known company at some point in the future, I inspected it, I will review it. I can’t really tell you more than this for now.
I have no affiliation with this unnamed company and I am not being paid or otherwise compensated by this unnamed company for this review.
Steel type: T-10
Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri w/shinogi-bi
Tempering: Differential hardening with traditional clay application
Hamon: Gunome midare
Polish: Keshi hadori
Boshi: Omaru Nagasa: 27 3/4″
Motohaba: 33.2 mm
Sakihaba: 23.5 mm
Motokasane: 6.8 mm
Sakikasane: 4 mm
Weight w/saya: 2.43 Lbs
Weight w/out saya: 1.97 Lbs
Weight blade alone: 1.32 Lbs/ 598 gr
POB: 5 1/8″
Kissaki: Chu, 37.5 mm
Sori: Tori, 7/8″
Tsuka: 9 3/4″
Ito: Japanese cotton
The first thing I thought when I lifted the sword in bag out of the box was wow, this is light! I have handled the no-hi version of this sword and there is a considerable difference between the two. Once out of the bag I immediately noticed the very well done tsukamaki and comfortable, nicely shaped tsuka. However, I forgot all about this as soon as I drew the blade from the saya….stunning! Swinging the blade felt effortless and I did enjoy the easily produced and almost melodic tachikaze whistling from the bo-hi.
The tsuka of this katana is both a pleasure to view as well as to hold and at 9 3/4″ it feels just right in a standard grip. The ito is imported Japanese cotton and is wrapped so tightly it takes a tool to move it even a little bit. The style is hineri-maki with well executed and even diamonds which alternate properly, utilize hishigami, and finish in correctly positioned end knots.
The tsuka is haichi shaped which flows nicely with the sori of the blade and saya. Also notice that the tsukamaki-shi has used strips of the same ito to fill the spaces at the bottom of both end knots. While not always preferable, it is better than showing white gaps in my opinion, and it is a method I’ve seen used on some higher end production swords before. In my humble opinion this is the best tsukamaki on any production sword currently on the market.
The samegawa is clean and white and has small but tight nodes. The mekugi are typical unspectacular bamboo, a little on the soft side imho.
I like the slim shape of this tsuka which is the way most tsuka should be but is seldom the case.
These are well detailed Kani menuki in an almost pewter color and go well with the fuchi and kashira. The casting is clean and without burrs or lines or other common casting flaws. I also like how the faces are perfectly positioned to peek out of the open diamonds.
Unfortunately, they are not a matched set, meaning they are the same on both sides. I’m also unsure if the positioning is correct, they seem upside down to me. I noticed that on the omote side, they were not placed until after the fourth full diamond instead of the more common placement of after two or three, I’m not sure why.
Fuchi and Kashira
The fuchi and kashira are cast alloy in an antiqued silver nami design with nanako texturing. The details are crisp and the shading really helps to define the features making them easily visible from a distance. I’m assuming they were cast from an original set because the reinforcing strip on the inside of the fuchi is present but not really an applied piece in this case and just cast into the piece.
The seppa on this sword are brass with a coin edge and without closer inspection, wouldn’t seem different than most other production seppa. If you look closely, you will see that the surface is decorated with subtle file work which adds a pleasant texture and character.
If you turn them over you will see they are both punched at the mune to ensure a tight fit at their individual positions on the nakago.
You can also see here that they are both sized according to the part of the sword they are adjacent to and not just the same one size fits all.
A strong and perfectly fit solid brass habaki is at the heart of this katana. While not extraordinary, it fits well with no gaps, is nice and thick where it should be, and has a nice texture to the surface which looks good as well as being a functional element.
The iri mokko gata tsuba is a four lobbed shape with large cut outs to either side of the seppa-dai. This tsuba is steel and measures 3 1/8″h x 2 7/8″w. If I’m not mistaken, this tsuba has a black rust patina applied which adds a deep color and subtle texture and is not your typical powder coated or baked enamel finish found on most production tsuba. I was surprised to find this to be honest.
You can see here that the nakago-ana is punched for a tight fit to the nakago.
This tsuba design is rather plain but it is strong and simple and adds a nice counter balance to the very light blade.
The saya for this katana is brown with black ishime design which really helps to keep annoying fingerprints from getting all over it with use. It is complimented by a black with brown specs synthetic silk sageo which is just over 7 shaku in length.
It is light weight at 7.6 oz and has a clean cut and shaped koiguchi made of buffalo horn.
I don’t think the kurikata and kojiri are made of horn but instead just wood. However, unless I chipped the paint off I couldn’t really be sure.
Overall, the saya is pretty average but does the job it’s meant to do…protect the blade
Here we are at last, to the part of this sword that makes all the difference and without which, would make it about as deadly as a powered down Light Saber. To give you an impression of how it seemed to me upon first glance…
Yes, I was pretty impressed. Ok, we are not talking about nihonto here but instead, we are looking at what in my opinion is the closest we can get to the look of a nihonto blade in the world of production katana. What makes this blade stand out most of all is the kesho hadori polish. This is a polishing process that highlights the natural hamon on the yakiba and habuchi making these features stand out from the rest of the blade. While this polish is certainly striking, some feel it can hide some of the finer details within the hamon, or at least make it harder to see unassisted.
There is obvious nie present and I can also make out the finer nioi but it was very hard to capture on my camera. I did the best I could with what I had so take a look and see what you can see
I would describe the hada as itame or ko itame but it could also possibly be konuka but honestly it’s hard to tell with my naked eye and I also don’t know enough about the subtle differences to be 100% sure. Take my descriptions with a grain of salt, or rice in this case
The kissaki is a pleasant change from the rough examples we see too often. It has a geometric yokote and the polish is carefully done and shows the Omaru boshi pretty well, at least on one side. The shinogi-bi terminates properly with crisp edges and a nice shape and is smooth and even along the entire length. I did notice that the bottom of the hi seems to be a little too low, running just below the shinogi, and doesn’t merge well with the kissaki. You can tell that care was also taken in the shaping of the fukura and the iori mune runs dead center down to the very tip.
See the planer shift starting at the yokote indicated with the red arrow
The blade seems to have decent niku and you can see it also has a little bit of ha niku so would likely survive multiple polishing without quickly tiring.
The mune and ha machi are cut cleanly without burrs or undesirable shaping.
Although not perfect, an attempt was made at decorative nakago file marks, katasagari yasuri in the shinogiji and kiri yasuri in the hiraji.
The nakagojiri is iri yama-gata and is clean and without burrs
Both mekugi-ana were drilled from the omote side and while this side is free of burrs, the ura side does have a slight ridge.
Fit and Finish
I moved this topic down after the individual parts inspection so as not to reveal too much beforehand. Sometimes this is what makes or breaks a katana that we are purchasing for more than just to cut with. We can pick up a $80 katana that will take on reasonable targets well enough but when you want something that also makes your heart race when you look at it, well, this is important. The fit and finish of this sword is very high up there in the production katana market in my opinion and showcases many of the aesthetic qualities that we hope for these days. A beautifully executed polish, a neat and professional looking tsuka, and pleasant and complimenting koshirae makes a capable cutter more of a well rounded and finished katana. Everything is tight on this sword but not surprisingly since we have already seen the steps taken to achieve this. I feel this is an attractive package that goes above and beyond most other swords available today, in most respects.
There is very little effort needed to wield this light weight sword. It is agile yet has a distinct blade presence without being tip heavy. The bo-hi model is a pleasure to swing but might not power through extreme targets such as 7 tatami rolls at once although in the right hands, I wouldn’t be surprised at what it can do. Admittedly, I have very little experience with using a katana and I’ve never done any real training with this type of sword. I have however had formal training for years with other bladed weapons, so I am not a complete cutting amateur. I personally prefer a lighter blade that is easy to direct and adjust so the bo-hi blade does appeal to me.
I haven’t had time lately to do a lot of cutting and while I cut a few common targets with the no-hi model, I haven’t yet cut with this bo-hi sword. I will be doing some cutting very soon and will then add a description, pictures, and videos to this section.
This is where I will get down and dirty about what I have noticed while inspecting the sword. Well, maybe not dirty but at least honest.
Over the years I have learned a lot about the details of the production katana by customizing many many of these swords from many different manufacturers. While I study the way things should be done traditionally and historically, there is certainly a difference between a priceless antique or a masterpiece nihonto and the mass produced swords manufactured in Chinese factories and forges. I have learned that even though there can be a world of difference, there is still a lot to be valued in these budget swords we have grown to love and respect.
That being said, I will zoom in and share my thoughts. Shaping a tsuka core to properly flow with the fittings is difficult for even a skilled craftsman and when these cores have to be made quickly and without many of the traditional steps involved, it can result in a few things that are off here and there. I noticed that the ito doesn’t sit perfectly flush with the rims of the fuchi and kashira on this tsuka. It is something I personally strive to achieve but is almost always off on production tsuka. On this tsuka it is only off by about a millimeter or two.
I also noted that a strip of ito was used to fill the gaps at the bottom of the end knots and while it looks better than most that leave it open, it is to make up for proper tsukamaki technique. I also see some dried glue on the ito which can bother some people when buying higher end swords.
I have yet to see one company run the ito through the kashira ana in the proper side by side way and this one is no exception. This is a very difficult thing to do neatly and takes a lot of practice and patience to get right.
I am not too thrilled about the kurikata and kojiri being made of wood and feel this is not very expensive or difficult to do, especially if they’ve done the koiguchi which imho is more difficult. I also don’t care for the paint job on this saya, it feels cheap and seems like very little effort went into it. I respect the efforts of companies that go beyond the typical spray paint finish and while maybe not offering hand applied urushi lacquer, they at least use a higher quality product and better technique. This will show down the road after the saya has been well used.
I think there could have been slightly better samegawa used and even though I don’t expect it to be expertly polished, this samegawa is fairly rough to the touch which might wind up wearing the ito down prematurely from underneath. I’d also like to see better quality mekugi used as this is the anchor that keeps the blade in place. My last pick is the F&K. I don’t really see why these couldn’t be made of steel or at least copper. A few more bucks for better piece of mind. I just doesn’t make sense to me sometimes that while so much attention is paid to certain things, others fall obviously short.
Well that’s pretty much it for my nit picking session and remember that it’s exactly that, I’m being extremely picky here and fully understand that expecting all of these things to be perfect would obviously drive the costs way up and therefore be unreasonable. I don’t feel these things I’ve noted affect the overall product and while it would be nice to see, aren’t necessary for a functional and attractive sword. While we should expect quality for our money, there is a reasonable limit for any affordable production sword.
Beautiful polish Striking hamon crisp lines and geometry Excellent tsukamaki Nice aesthetic flow to the theme Great balance and maneuverability
Wooden saya parts and cheap paint job Alloy fuchi/kashira Small nodes and rough samegawa Unmatched menuki
Edit – I am adding a little additional info regarding the tsuka and production tsukamaki in general, hopefully it will be enlightening in some way
Tsuka shape and length are a very personal thing and a “good” tsuka is certainly a subjective thing. I have been trying for years to refine my own skills regarding the shaping of the core and it’s been much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. Especially when a full samegawa wrap is involved
The shape of this one falls nicely within the basic haichi parameters imho and has good flow in to and out from the f&k (other than being very slightly off flush). It is also thin enough while not being too delicate or sharp. What might be making it look boxy is the hishigami and lack of prep work missing from all production tsuka. For one, the hishigami used on production swords, and by myself most of the time are not what are used on nihonto tsuka. Hishigami are traditionally fed under the folds as squares of awagami paper with an awl while wrapping, and this way the thickness and shape can be completely controlled.
The ha and mune sides of the tsuka-ho are also shimmed with wood which stands just a bit higher than the surface of the samegawa so it acts as a barrier between samegawa and ito, a way to smooth and finish the overall shape of the core, and to allow a smooth transition for the hishigami. On production tsuka that use the pre-folded hishigami triangles, and do not use shims of wood or paper on the ha and mune, you will see the shape of the hishigami, both top and bottom, through the ito. This causes little lumps and in harsh lighting, such as the afternoon sun I was shooting in, really shows every detail. This is not nearly as apparent in softer lighting and almost completely unnoticeable when holding it. The edges of the hishigami are even more noticeable when they haven’t been properly made, again as are all of the ones used on production swords.
I personally feel there are many things we should accept for the price we want to pay that wouldn’t be acceptable otherwise. So I’m definitely not saying this tsuka is attractive or comfortable for everyone but I do think it’s the best shaped and wrapped of any I’ve seen so far in it’s class. There are so many facets to tsukamaki and even after wrapping as many tsuka as I have, there are always new things I notice and try to learn for the next time. There is also of course many hybrid techniques I’ve learned to be able to work with production tsuka. A whole different animal for sure.
No-hi test cutting video
No-hi Vs Bamboo
The edge wasn’t damaged at all, no chips or rolls and the blade didn’t take a single set even with my very poor form on some strikes. Again, the polish on the hamon was not affected at all and the blade suffered only typical surface scratches and smudges.
I have to say that John Walter makes cutting bamboo look easy, on some strikes it felt like I was hitting metal pipes and after about an hour, I am kind of over bamboo for a good long while I think. This stuff is hard!