I have worked on a lot of Cas Hanwei katana and tsuka over the years, and I find that they are easy to work with since they are more “production line” than many others and you get used to what you need to do but in a way, they are more challenging than most due to the amount of work you need to do. Cas Hanwei tends to overbuild their tsuka in my opinion, possibly to prevent issues such as cracked cores or premature fatigue but these katana are most often used well and used hard by their owners so I guess it might be worth it to some. There are still occasional flaws that get by QC but I would say that out of all the Chinese manufactured katana I’ve handled in my time, there are less serious tsuka core issues with the Cas models overall.
So this all sounds like it would be the best way to go then for producing a healthy and strong sword for years of continuous use right? Well, in a way it is, but many, including myself, find the tsuka too bulky which can lead to finger and hand fatigue which will make handling it for long periods very uncomfortable. To bring the tsuka’s profile down to a more manageable shape, you will need to remove a lot of wood from the edges. This in turn requires that you remove material from the faces as well so you don’t wind up with a short but fat tsuka. Essentially, you need to remove the samegawa panels, chisel the channels deeper and re profile the core so that everything is proportionate in the end.
For the most part, tsuka should be thin and the edges in more of a slim oval shape than a round or flat shape. Many people refer to these Cas tsuka as “axe handles” since they tend to be beefy and rounded and straight with little shape. I usually have to do more work on one of these tsuka than most others when the request is to give it a traditional shape. There is even more involved when I need to fit them to a new aftermarket set of fuchi & kashira since the Cas fittings are typically larger in both opening height and width than any of the available sets from popular suppliers.
Here is an example of a typical Cas Hanwei katana tsuka being fitted for an average fuchi. So far only the collar has been sized and you can see how much more there is to go to. You not only have to reduce the girth enough to allow for the thickness of the new ito but also for paper or wood shims which aid in final shaping and even more material must come off if you’re applying a full samegawa wrap. I typically wind up with a large pile of wood shavings and sawdust when I’m done.
Not all of the Cas Hanwei tsuka are like this however, models like the Shinto, and Musashi have a more slender and tapered shape. Sacrifices are made to ensure a higher percentage of undamaged tsuka and I feel that while there could be more improvement to the construction, the large and uncomfortable handles are better than a completely useless broken one.
What’s the best of this situation? Buy a katana with an intact if a little beefy tsuka from Cas Hanwei and then have it re profiled and re wrapped by someone like me ;)
Here is a recently finished Bamboo Mat katana tsuka I re wrapped in Brown Japanese silk ito with lacquer, in hinerimaki style. I didn’t reshape this one but the Bamboo Mat tsuka isn’t as large and beefy as some of the other models. Adding the lacquer to the ito strengthens the wrap and helps it fight off moisture better while maintaining the look and feel of silk. Under normal use, this method of wrapping will likely last as long as the sword itself.