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Thread: The Low Cost Stigma ...

  1. #1
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    The Low Cost Stigma ...

    Figured I'd start a new friendly discussion about low cost katana to see who else is in the same mindset that I am.

    I have a problem ... and this problem I'm calling "The Low Cost Stigma". I call it this because most of are just leery of sub $400 blades. We know the work that's involved in making them so we tend to steer clear of them when we're looking for quality. Am I wrong? My problem is when I DO fine one that is, I have a hard time believing it ... even if I'm holding it in my hands. There HAS to be something wrong!

    What made me think of this is, I recently purchased a blade from Huawei Swords. Many of you are familiar with them, some not. I purchased this blade based on just that ... the BLADE. They had pictures up of a FOLDED T10 blade without any mounting on it. It looks GORGEOUS. The hamon was light but beautiful and the grain in the blade was just the right amount (light but noticable). After a week or so of thinking it over, I ordered it. Picked my koshirea, my ito/sageo color, had them wrap it in katatemaki adn paid a bit extra for a full same wrap. I even had same on the saya.

    Now I've only owned Hanwei blades, some lower end some higher end, and Cheness blades (not counting my 25" 9260 Kris bare blade I have yet to mount). So I don't have a lot of comparison. I mean lets face it ... in many ways, a Hanwei blade is a hanwei blade. You can look at a blade for 2 seconds and tell it's from Hanwei. Point is ... this Huawei is unbelievable for the price I paid; i mean the blade is the most beautiful I'VE seen besides a real nihonto or pictures of a modern production blade of $2000 or more. Every time I look at it I think how beautiful it is but at the same time just can't help but think about how little I paid for it and what the "catch" is. This the "stigma" Sure, it has cotton instead of silk, but the the cotton they use is high end. Ok they drill right through the tsuka and nakago to put the mekugi in instead of hot punching it ... minor detail. Sure, you know the koshirea could be better than brass and are a bit generic, but they do have gold and silver plating and could be A LOT worse *cough* cheness *cough*. The only complaint I do have is the ito could be tighter. That's one thing i will say about every Hanwei I've owned is the ito is immovably tight.

    So basically, I'm just saying I'm having a horrible time getting my mind past this stigma of "what the catch" type of thing ... tell me your view on this ...

    and i'm excluding paying for a "name" and also tradition. I'm talking about quality and beauty
    Last edited by Braden A.; 08-24-2011 at 10:55 PM.
    "For I am Braden, King of cretins. May all lesser cretins bow before me."

  2. #2
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    Your gut-feeling is correct. It is a budget sword, and should be treated as such (ie. with constant awareness of it's potential flaws).

    Have you disassembled it? I'd be curious to see what lies under the fuchi..
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  3. #3
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    A question, as i am looking into the Huawei swords as well, is a hand forged, clay tempered, T10, water quenched, DH, hand mirror polish sword good for tamashigiri or will it bend easily?

  4. #4
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    Alright guys, I think your missing my point. I was using that sword as an example to explain the stigma we have that no matter how nice a sword is, even if we're holding it, we automatically judge it and are leery of it because of it's price point. When that shouldn't always be the case.

    That being said,

    Timo: yes, I have taken the tsuka off. It was a little more difficult to get off that I'm used to but it did come off. I couldn't tell you what its made of by looking at it, but it was nicely shaped and had a full same wrap as I requested; no cracks.

    Sean: I've never cut with it and don't plan to. The only blades I cut with are through hardened spring steel (5160, 9260, 1060). T10 is supposed to be excellent for cutting though. I only use the TH spring steels because they're the most forgiving and they're inexpensive enough that if I gets bent, chips, etc, I don't feel bad about it and just buy another one. In my opinion, the Huawei is too pretty to cut with as well. Plus, ok I admit it, my "low quality stigma" is there making me worry about it "breaking". I shouldn't be like that. I've found no flaws in QC and have read reviews where others cut with them and they cut like a hot knife I guess. I've also never heard anyone complain about their quality. A few complaints about their service (which I had amazing service from Jacky btw)
    "For I am Braden, King of cretins. May all lesser cretins bow before me."

  5. #5
    A sub-$400 sword might be tough and get the job done in terms of cutting, hacking or whatever. But then, so will a $10 machete.

    I've owned a wide range of nihonto, custom, semi-custom, and production blades over the years... and have learned the hard way that there is a lot more to a "beautiful" sword than the superficial details... especially if we're judging against the standards by which nihonto are measured.

    Some of the more obvious things people tend to look for: a curved blade, smoothness of polish, brightness of the yakiba and pattern of hamon, even-ness of diamonds, etc. However, to fixate on those details is like saying that any woman can be "beautiful" if she has 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 eyes, 10 fingers, 10 toes. Well, the poets and romantics (and the blind) out there will indeed say that all women are beautiful... but whatever.

    The less obvious details... the proportions of motohaba:sakihaba and whether the taper/fumbari from one to the other "makes sense" both visually and structurally, measured in conjunction with the kasane at each... the angle of of the shinogi-ji in relation to the shijogi and mune and the cutting surface... the intricate construction of the habaki and the interplay between it and the ha and mune machi and the rest of the hilt assembly... etc etc etc....

    Guys like Timo here could probably write a book (or at least a very lengthy essay) on just the tsuka-core alone. And some experts spend a life-time just studying the metallurgy and what happens during the quenching process. Polishers will tell you that there is so much more to a cutting surface than the sharpness of the edge and that whether a yokote is "geometric" or not has little to do with whether it is actually supporting a good kissaki (all of my production blades with "geometric yokote" have had very fragile kissaki b/c the forge was imitating something without any real understanding).

    Don't get me wrong. The point isn't that there is "one correct way" across all Japanese-style swords... far from it, in fact. However, for each particular sword, there is indeed an optimal set of conditions, proportions, and angles, etc. And they are usually impossible to meet in the budget sword category.

    That being said, I just bought a PPK from you. I've owned several PPK and am thrilled about the purchase (thanks again!) and at such a good price. I think that it'll be a fine sword for me to practice maki and whatever else. But there are simply too many things "not right" with it for me to think it is "beautiful" in a similar category as some other blades that really deserve to be called such. Knowing that won't take away from my enjoyment one bit. It is what it is.
    "It is my feeling that to make a good sword, one must make a weapon first, and art second. But if it is really "right", it is both things at once, and in equal measure." -- Howard Clark

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  6. #6
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    JH: First off ... she doesn't need legs (Hey i'm in college, well law school)

    I'm happy to help with the PPK! But if I didn't know the price of either and held and looked over the PPK and the Huawei, I wouldn't put them in the same class. And yes, aesthetics such as the ones used on nihonto def add up in price. Similar to a through hardened spring steel blade vs a hand forge folded ... idk, pick one, L6/W2/Tamahagane. The spring steel blade is going to cut just as well and possibly take less damage even but the monosteel may cost $100 (talking bare blade) as the other, not mass produced such as Hanwei, starting at around $2000. So time and effort does "payoff" in the end but it's not necessary I guess it my point.

    But I digress, I'm getting away from the basic topic. Again, I'm only using this Huawei and an example and not trying to promote them or review them in any way. I'm also not saying that this sub $400 blade is as good as a $2000+ custom. What I am saying is it may be as good as a sub $1000 blade and having that "stigma" we have developed it's hard for me to think of it that way. I think it's blade is beautiful, everything about it and I really can't find any flaws (except like I said, I enjoy the super tight almost HARD ito of my old Shinto for example, which this does not have. It's not lose mind you, I just wish it was tighter. I can't even BUDGE the ito on my Shinto.)
    "For I am Braden, King of cretins. May all lesser cretins bow before me."

  7. #7
    I understand where you are coming from and I have owned sub $400 production blades and yes there is always that "Hmm this cant be as good as it seems". I actually recall reading on these very forums about a person who ordered a sword from a particular company. I wont mention the company or the person but the story went as such. They placed their order for this production blade. It was on the lower price range but from the photos they provided it looked gorgeous. When they got it they wrote glowing reviews of this sword how beautiful it was etc etc etc. Well then they did their first cut with it. And I do mean FIRST cut. It was on bamboo so yes tough cut but still. Their form was good etc but it still produced an inch and a 1/2 chip in the blade. That is a huge chip for a first cut. Even if the cut was bad which he assures it was not as he was under proper instruction and his sensei confirmed his form was good. He returned the blade and turned out the blade was not heat treated properly.

    Now this can happen to any company even if it is production or custom however...with this sub $400 companies you often need to wonder if they are passing on the QA etc.

  8. #8
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    I mentioned "Masahiro Bamboo" in the other thread; I have one and after the remount I love it. In fact it's my #1 cutter. Would do well for iai as well, since it's quite light and reasonably well balanced. I have zero feeling that it isn't as good as it seems, because I *know* what was wrong with it, and what still is, but equally I know that it's now the best sub-$400 sword (not to mention sub-$100, their price way back when) I have handled.

    Similarly, I have PK daisho. Just like Joo-Hwan, I know exactly what they are and what they're not, and I got them relatively cheap so what's not to like?

    On the other hand, I had a PC Orchid. Supposedly the most beautiful Hanwei sword out there. The mounts are very nice indeed, and the blade as well, but even when I got it for a bargain ($700-800 I think it was), I didn't like the sword. Way too chemically treated polish, horribly balanced, too slender blade (for my taste) for cutting, and the tsuka was shaped for a teenage girl. Let's call that "High Cost Stigma".. I was expecting more for the price. So I sold it away, while my Masahiro, PK's and other sub-$300 blades remain.

    I do have one expensive blade as well, though, which I found to be worth the price.
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  9. #9
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    I mentioned "Masahiro Bamboo" in the other thread; I have one and after the remount I love it. In fact it's my #1 cutter. Would do well for iai as well, since it's quite light and reasonably well balanced. I have zero feeling that it isn't as good as it seems, because I *know* what was wrong with it, and what still is, but equally I know that it's now the best sub-$400 sword (not to mention sub-$100, their price way back when) I have handled.

    Similarly, I have PK daisho. Just like Joo-Hwan, I know exactly what they are and what they're not, and I got them relatively cheap so what's not to like?

    On the other hand, I had a PC Orchid. Supposedly the most beautiful Hanwei sword out there. The mounts are very nice indeed, and the blade as well, but even when I got it for a bargain ($700-800 I think it was), I didn't like the sword. Way too chemically treated polish, horribly balanced, too slender blade (for my taste) for cutting, and the tsuka was shaped for a teenage girl. Let's call that "High Cost Stigma".. I was expecting more for the price. So I sold it away, while my Masahiro, PK's and other sub-$300 blades remain.

    I do have one expensive blade as well, though, which I found to be worth the price.
    Certified nerd; if you need an Excel sheet or an AutoCAD drawing done, just drop me a PM!

  10. #10
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    Save your money, buy a sword with REAL Japanese silk or cotton ito. You'll be able to spot the cheap tsuka and ito fairly well after handling it for a while.

    The problem with cheap swords, is that they make the tsuka out of cheap wood, tsukaito that slips or wears, tsuka that break... Basically, before you start making blanket statements that they're not that bad and deserve another look, compare it to something that you know is good. Compare it to a nihonto, really. Look at as many pictures of Nihonto as you can, compare them to custom swords and see the differences there, then take the custom swords and compare them to high end (say Bugei or Dynasty) and then look at those, compare these to lower end swords, and then compare these to the sub-400 dollar swords.

    I looked at the swords used in the example, they aren't beautiful. Nice looking, yes, but beautiful... no.
    Last edited by Jeff Ellis; 08-26-2011 at 06:40 PM.
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  11. #11
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    Each sword is hand-made, so I'm sure some display more artistry than others.

    I am an advocate of low-cost swords... for certain things. I wouldn't buy a low-cost sword to take with me to a seminar, or to display on my wall... but if I'm going out back and cutting some mats or bamboo? Sure, why not? Low-cost swords have their upsides: some of them are reasonably well-made for their purposes, they're cheap, and if you screw one up, you don't feel bad.

    But they simply don't compare to a more expensive sword with a real wood tsuka, excellent itomaki, better construction, etc. Then again, a Ford is an acceptable car; it will definitely get you from Point A to Point B, but drive one after driving an Aston Martin and you'll think, "Man, Ford sucks!" Ford doesn't suck, not in absolute terms, but in relative terms.

    So you'll probably never convince a collector with several real swords in her collection that a low-cost Chinese-made sword could ever be the equal of the real thing. Which is true; it won't. But that doesn't mean you can't have a nice-for-a-Chinese-made-sword blade in your collection. You've just got to realize the sorts of people that look down on them are those that are comparing them to much better pieces.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lane H. View Post
    So you'll probably never convince a collector with several real swords in her collection that a low-cost Chinese-made sword could ever be the equal of the real thing. Which is true; it won't. But that doesn't mean you can't have a nice-for-a-Chinese-made-sword blade in your collection. You've just got to realize the sorts of people that look down on them are those that are comparing them to much better pieces.
    It's not that I don't believe in low cost swords, I just know that there are better quality low costs swords.
    I like swords.

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    learn the way to preserve rather than destroy.
    avoid rather than check, check rather than hurt, hurt rather than maim, maim rather than kill.
    for all life is precious, not one can be replaced.

  13. #13
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    I'm not sure cost is a comparitor for any sword these days.

    I mean I looked at my swords and thought "Man, $1100, it's a good deal for a hand made sword".............

    That was the Thaitsuki.

    Knowing Chen and Hanwei have a lot to lose by making JUNK I'm thinking they are just making MORE of them in some sort of production method - that doesn't make it 'Bad' per se...

    The big concern I'd have is - did they glass bed the Tsuka to make it fit or did they carve it to fit?

    How's the tempering etc etc -

    Cost is not always a good comparitor though, one guy in thailand makes junk and charges $1200, where one guy in China makes decent swords for the cost and ch arges $400...

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