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Thread: A Review: The Swords of Yao Yilin dba Hanbon Swords

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    A Review: The Swords of Yao Yilin dba Hanbon Swords

    THE JAPANESE SWORDS OF HANBON KNOWN ON EBAY AS SWORDMAKER688, OR YAO.

    I am not a sword expert. I am an enthusiastic user of Japanese swords and I maintain a small but growing collection of twenty or so replica swords, mostly katana, which I use for Iaido [the art of drawing the sword] and tameschigiri [the art of cutting with the sword], or “just waving it about in the living room” as my wife says. I call it “practice”. I do not own any Nihonto [authentic Japanese swords] or any of the big dollar replicas. Some swords I buy just because they strike my fancy but some are intended for defense. Yes, I am one of those barking-mad crazies who think that they could defend house and home from drug addled baddies with his katana. That delusion, however, does give purpose and incentive to my sword studies.

    From buying and selling, although my wife sees the latter as an insufficiently developed activity, along with voluminous reading and hours of You Tube, I have formed what I think is at least a superficial feel for and understanding of, quality in swords. I’ve also learned a lot about how they are made and being an inveterate do-it-yourselfer I feel I’ve become at least competent at polishing, remounting and otherwise fiddling with my blades. All of this, coupled with an ego that verges on narcissism, has compiled into a howling self-deception that I somehow know enough to write a review for this forum. You can decide the truth of it.

    Those of us in the Japanese sword obsession, in all its many incarnations from back-yard bottle blasting to Iaido, are probably, at some time, going to buy an actual sword. If possessed of the coin to go shopping in Japan then you will most probably have a good chance of being satisfied with your purchase. But for we poor unwashed mortals, the trail often leads to eBay. Sure a simple Google search of “Japanese swords” will get you a stack of online retailers who offer everything from Samurai wigs to “Dragon Kingdom” fantasy swords, hopefully with a section devoted to replica Japanese swords, usually from China. Sorry to the retailers who may cruise these forums but to a mature buyer the web store-fronts are pretty flaky looking and even at the best inspire little in the way of confidence. Those that are professional and tasteful are such a breath of fresh air that they get immediate posting in my Favorites.

    If you are savvy enough to know the manufacturers and their products well enough to have formed a preference then you are in luck, so long as you can afford that preference. But, like so many, if eBay is your method, be prepared for the most stunning plethora of pointy ended sword like objects you have ever imagined. Virtually every Chinese manufacturer and retailer is represented there and they all make essentially the same claims about their swords. They are all “razor sharp” and “full tang” or “Kill Bill” or “Samurai” or, my personal favorite, “almost Nihonto” swords and you know that their claims just can’t all be true.

    But how does one sort out the wheat from the chaff? Sure you have the eBay protections of return and some confidence that, should you be so disappointed that a return Is indicated, you can get your money or a portion of it back, but the hassle, oh the hassle. Squeezing it back into that ubiquitous Styrofoam box and sending it back to China, hassle upon hassle. So much better to be able to buy with the confidence that what you ordered, what you thought you would get, is always what you will find in those foam and tape bindings.

    Well, I offer that help may very well be at hand. At hand in the form of a small, relatively new sword maker located in Longquan, China, the habitat for many of China’s sword makers including Han Wei, a name you most probably know.

    About five months ago I wanted another, less expensive, sword for my collection. Don’t k now why, just had the itch; I’m sure you understand. My last purchase, made through Amazon, was a Han Wei Tori XL katana purchased specifically for Tameshigiri. While the origin of the “sport” is grizzly at best (see picture) the present embodiment of that activity is a very safe and satisfying, if somewhat expensive, use of one’s hardware in an almost historically accurate setting. Tameshigiri was used in the Samurai period as a practice and training method. Straw mats certainly must have been cheaper in those days. Condemned prisoners were free.



    The Tori is nicely enough built and has a very heavy, broad blade suitable for straight line cutting but would probably be an impediment to the quick moves necessary to any of the other kenjutsu [ancient sword arts] forms. Also, the slightly faint but quite real hamon [tempered area at the edge], has been so chemically enhanced as to preclude any further augmentation or adjustment by polishing. I worked on mine and was rewarded with a thin and coppery (betraying the use of copper sulfate) hamon surface. Add to that a quite average koshirae [fittings] and you have a sword that is arguably less than what I expected given it’s $875 price tag. In all it is a good quality sword that excels at tameschigiri but still my personal opinion is that they are overpriced. I’m also fully aware that they have a considerable following including many on this forum and, where there is that much smoke, some fire must reside. I understand the devotion and if you can afford it, you could stick with Han Wei and probably rarely be disappointed.

    In my search for an affordable BBC [backyard bottle cutter] I came across an eBay auction for a 1060 steel katana with attractive koshirae and with only 15 minutes to go. There was no reserve mentioned and no bids as yet. The starting price was $48, so I did the only honorable thing, I put in a bid at the starting price and, as so often happens at my age, promptly forgot about it. Next morning in my inbox I found a notice from eBay congratulating me on winning the auction with an invoice for same. Being more amused than surprised I paid the $48 (did I mention that this included free shipping…from China no less) and, you got it, promptly forgot about it again.

    About two weeks later here comes our mail lady with this long yellow package inscribed with Chinese characters and way bills. I’ve bought enough swords from China to know what a sword package looks like and so started in stripping the yellow tape thinking of how to use this cheapie. Let’s see, I could take the edge off and use it as a blade to blade sparer, or maybe a melon/Coke bottle slicer, whatever, it was cheap enough to not worry too much about but, at any rate, it would certainly not be a sword to be taken seriously.

    Once inside I was greeted by a pretty darned nice silk sword bag, properly tied with nice chord, but, this still fits into the “typical” range. Hmm, nice looking outside with the koshirae and saya depicted in the ad so I slid out the blade and exposed, well let’s just say that I was pleasantly surprised.



    For here was no cheapie junk wall hanger but rather a nicely profiled and polished blade in the shinogi-zukuri [having a center ridge] pattern with a crisp shinogi [ridge] and a strong bright yokote [the vertical line separating the blade proper from the tip] and the chu-kissaki [medium size tip] was suitably formed and polished. There was no hamon of course in this model but all in all this was a much cleaner, nicer blade than I expected.



    The katana came to me from…well I didn’t know who the maker was. The name was not on the ad, anywhere, and neither was it on the sword, the box or the way bill, the latter only stating that it came from Long Quan, China with a street address. A search on eBay revealed that the seller was swordmaker688 and he had 1788 sales with a 99.7% positive approval. Well, being me, I couldn’t take it and fired off an eBay message to Mr. swordmaker688 congratulating him on the fineness of his blade and apologizing for raping him since I was certain that a mistake had been made in the pricing. No mistake replies swordmaker688, just good luck for me and he signs the email “Yao”.

    I have since, through my communication with Yao discovered that they in deed do have a company and a web site. The company’s name is Hanbon Sword and I can only assume that the easy success on eBay has lured Yao into being perhaps a bit lax regarding his web site because it is far from complete, even to the point of being a bit misleading. For instance someone, who I assume was his web master, put a ridiculous price of $3,000 on a sword which remains to this day and which may have done who knows how much damage to his business. The website is “HanbonSword.com” and will be a fine site once finished.

    Since our meeting Yao, whose Chinese name is Yao Yilin, (Yao being his family name, a well known name in southern China) has become a friend through our many emails and messages. This has allowed me to ask a number of questions and to gain a fairly comprehensive understanding of his business. It has also allowed me to learn a lot about Yao Yilin the man and I find him to be quite an honourable fellow. His business practices are clean and he likes to keep things simple and very straightforward. I credit him with being an educated, honest businessman and have seen nothing to make me think otherwise. I regularly fire off money through PayPal without a single worry that I won’t get what I ordered much less get anything at all.

    Okee Dokee Mr. Yao, if this is an example of your every day work and pricing, my guess is we’re gonna do some business. So I go back to eBay and pour through the listings for swordmaker688 to find a nicely fitted out katana with folded steel plus traditional differential clay hardening. If you are not familiar with this process please go to You Tube and search on “hamon” or “clay hardened”. There you will find many examples of the look, the process and just how it’s done.

    The sword was “buy it now” so I plopped down the exorbitant sum of $212 (remember, Free Shipping) and waited. Again here comes the long styrofoam package covered in yellow tape containing a sword of precisely the same quality as the first but graced with a strong and very nice looking hamon with the hamon-nie [that bright, silvery line which separates the hamon from the shinogi-hira]. This line is formed during the tempering process when the common softer carbon steel is transformed into Martensite, a harder and highly crystalline form of carbon steel with almost glass-like hardness. It is the Martensite crystals which form the hamon-nie that make us blade-nerds swoon. This line, which can range from an almost straight stratus to a sharply undulating pattern resembling breaking waves at sea, is controlled by the smith and can become his signature. This blade, due to the very strong hada pattern, tended to break up the nie line at its peaks giving the distinct impression of wind driven breakers with the sea foam spraying from the tops. In all, a mesmerizing effect.

    I was and am extremely pleased with this and all subsequent purchases from friend Yao which now encompasses some eight blades, five katana, two wakizashi [mid-length sword or “house sword”] and one tanto [the very short sword-knife in case seppuku is in my future]. One of each are identical in furnishing and make up a complete diasho [the Samurai’s set] although the tanto is not required to make up the set.

    FINALLY – THE REVIEW
    So how to give you a useful review of these swords and by doing so allow you to escape from my ongoing praise and appreciative drivel? How about we take two swords from Mr. Yao, one from the bottom of his line and one from the top? I have one of each here and can hold them in my hands, or at least across my lap, while going over the things I like and the things I do not. Yes, there are things I don’t like about the swords of Hanbon and they are made conspicuous by their rarity. Therefore, to properly pick these two swords apart, lets start from the butt and go to the tip or, for the katana snobs who are waiting to pick me apart, the kashira to the kissaki.

    NOTE: And here I am forced into speculation based on bits of information that Yao has dropped in our conversations aided by my general knowledge of how things work in the PRC. Hanbon ne Yao does not make the fittings of their koshirae. Long Quan is a large, perhaps the largest, sword making community in China, or the world for that matter. Han Wei is located there along with Ryan Sword and others. There appears to be a thriving group of smaller businesses making all the items of the koshirae supplying the sword makers throughout the city. Yao gets his from them and this is what allows him to react so well to the customers choices of customization. It does, however, rather change the concept of a “factory” in the American context. My guess is that Yao employs blade smiths, apprentices and polishers, who work constantly turning out blades to specification. These they send over to Yao who banks them on the rack. In stock he also has a complete array of sayas, tsuba, tsuka (parts) and habaki. When an order hits the floor they select the right blade and full koshirae as ordered and assemble the sword just as you and I assemble ours. Ah, great credit to those Japanese for making a modular weapon. This then, I reckon, is how Yao / Hanbon can offer you a very broad and comprehensive list of options and allow you to “design” your own sword almost from scratch on an eBay auction and still ship in three days. It is a brilliant scheme and is good for everyone. The customer gets just the sword he or she wants at a price that is attractive and the maker gets to employ only partially skilled labor to put the things together. He must put his concentrated effort on the blades. Everyone else just needs be competent enough to put a sword together. Again, the above is not verified information but rather is pure, somewhat informed, speculation on my part.


    SWORD NUMBER ONE: PLAIN 1060 BLADE SHINOGI-ZUKURI WITH BO-HI



    Overall Length: 40.9 inch / 104 cm
    Nagasa Length: 27.8 inch / 70.5 cm
    Handle Length: 10.6 inch / 27cm
    Kissaki Shape: Chu-Kissaki
    Blade Shape: SHINOGI-ZUKURI
    Blade Material: 1060 High Carbon Steel
    Tsuba Material: Deeply Carved Brass Tsuba - Entwined Dragons
    Blade Width (near Habaki): 1.26 inch / 3.2cm
    Blade Width (near Kissaki): 0.91inch / 2.3cm
    Weight (with Saya ): 2.98 lbs / 1.35 kg (approximately)
    Weight (without Saya): 2.49 lbs / 1.13 kg (approximately)
    Saya Material: Hard wood with black and red lacquer finish
    Handle Material: Ray skin + Hard Wood
    Condition: New



    This sword cost me $48 on an eBay auction. This price is far from typical because I was able to take advantage of a low starting price and no other bidders. Your mileage may vary. It has a blade of plain but thoroughly heat treated 1060 high carbon steel.

    Koshirae: Starting at the handle, the tsuka, we come to the first disappointment. While the tsuka properly has real same [ray skin] the skin is composed of very small nodes, meaning it is from the less expensive side cuts of the skin and is applied to the hardwood handle in long panels rather than being wrapped around the hardwood core. But then Ronin and most other Chinese makers do the same thing. Not having a complete wrap makes the ray skin, the same, more for looks than a reinforcement and on this particular sword that breach is made worse by the fact that a bit of wood shows in a corner of the wrap, just next to the kashira. But on the brighter side, the tsuka-ito [handle wrap] is tightly wrapped and it indicates a good wrap method was used to attach the simple cotton ito [wrapping tape]. The minuki [ornament under the wrap] is nice and matches the tsuba [hilt or hand guard]. This is quite traditional and in the modern era the tsuba, fuchi [forward end cap of the tsuka], minuki and kashira are sold to the sword makers in a matching set. Hanbon offers cotton and synthetic silk ito, they do not offer real silk. This is too bad. The habaki [the collar between the tsuba and the blade usually made of brass] is nice, plain except for some light diagonal decorative scratches, and tight.

    Now that we have had an overlook at the entire koshirae except the saya [the blade sheath or scabbard] it’s time to discuss them as a whole. They are, it can be said, generic to the group of all Chinese made katana. Please do not misconstrue that this means that they are not nice. It just means that my friend Yao has chosen to compete on other levels than the quality of his koshirae. And, for the sake of accuracy, let’s agree on the meaning of “quality” in this context. Here, by “Quality” I mean expensive and probably employing precious metals, gold, silver, etc., in their decoration and that they are completely hand crafted by highly skilled craftspersons all of which goes to reinforce that word “expensive.” By a judicious application of “good enough” Yao has made it possible to stock many designs of tsuba and tsuka to support customization. But, I must say that I find his taste and selection no less than excellent.

    The saya as well are generic to his blades and each one is not fit to just that individual sword but rather it will fit all of Yao’s blades. It is obvious that this allows ease of customization at the expense of a somewhat looser saya fit. This will bother the purists and I must agree that it is not how I would like it done but, given the price point and expediency, it is probably just something the market has to live with. Should you think enough of the sword to have a custom saya made, all will e rectified.

    It does mean that you very well may need to do some adjustment of the “locking friction” of the blade to koiguchi [mouth of the saya] fit if you are doing any “do” [Japanese for “way”] like Iaido where the fit and feel of the grab of the koiguchi can make a difference. This technique you can either figure out for yourself or find among the many helpful posts here or in other articles on the web. Yao’s saya tend to be a bit tight on the fit and either you cannot easily dock the sword completely or it can be a fair tug to get out. Having to give a mighty heave to draw your blade is a dangerous proposition both for you and bystanders. It’s easy, my young friend, to belittle such warnings as the silly over-caution of old men, right up to the point where you put a three inch gash in your girlfriend’s arm.




    The Blade: The blade on this sword is nice but as plain as a Jersey cow. Having no “business” such as hamon or hada the length is an expanse of bright, white steel. I notice that 1060 is a very “bright” steel that lends itself to the general feeling of plainness. But here, I think, is one place where this some of Yao's blades may run into trouble with the purists. The polish is too shiny, a mirror finish in fact. Here I suppose that Yao is playing to the cheap seats knowing that the more inexperienced sword buyer likes shiny, the shinier the better. If I’ve got it right, the real Japanese polisher did not seek to achieve a mirror finish but rather a slightly foggy glow on the steel using the hazuya stone [soft polishing stone mounted on paper]. Experts, please feel free to correct me on this if I’m wrong. Yao offers the hazuya polish on his high grade blades and in fact my best sword from him has this polish. I like it and you might as well.

    Important: Hanbon does not apply any fake hamon or nie line of any kind to their swords. I believe that Yao sees fake hamon as a sign of questionable integrity. So do I. In all my blades I wound up with one having fake hamon and it took me a couple of weeks to polish it off. Therefore their plain blades are plain and any hamon seen on their blades is real.

    The bo-hi is well executed in my opinion (I have, in a post, already been thrashed for liking this bo-hi… by an expert too) and terminates cleanly at the yokote [the bright line separating the tip from the blade], the mune [the spine of the blade] and the polish of the kissaki is a medium grit sheen…but not perfect on this particular blade, not perfect at all. It looks as if the polisher got it up to the customary 320 grit polish using the ara-to [rough] and yaka-to [medium] stones and then told his assistant to finish it up. This his dutiful servant did…with a brick. No kidding, the middle of this nicely bounded and shaped kissaki is ruined by a set of awkward cross-hatched lines in the approximate center. Mine had a touch of rust in the grooves that I had to clean up.

    Fortunately this problem has not been repeated in any of my subsequent blades from them so I am willing to call it an aberration. You will do as you please but I’m sure that had I raised a ruckus, Yao would have made it right.

    The final answer, for me, was to re-surface and re-polish the kissaki. With 320 wet/dry paper and using a multi-directional technique you can produce a smooth gray surface with a reflective glow that almost gives the illusion of back-lighting. It is perfect to the application and easy to do if you are careful and have any experience with hand work. Oh, but stay away from the yokote or you’ll be sorry. Smear that crisp bright line even a little bit and you’ll be chasing it for weeks trying to restore it.

    The polish is easy and a boshi [the hamon within the kissaki] will pop right out. If you are afraid of working on your own sword then I am sorry for you. Because of the obscurity of our hobby, there are few places where you can get work done. Packing and shipping the sword or bare blade is a pain and costs money. It is much cheaper in the long run to buy a $50 sword and learn to polish, repair, move or change mekugi [little wooden pegs in the tsuka] and sharpen by one or all of the “approved” methods yourself. Like so many specialties, the required techniques are more hype than substance and if they can do it, you can do it. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

    Sharpness: This is where I take offence with any Chinese made sword I have owned. Their claim of "razor sharp" can only be made by someone with a very light beard. I like my blades “wicked-sharp” and anything less is just unacceptable. I have confidence that I can correct the situation and so I do, on every blade to enter this house, including the Torri. Like anything else, I highly recommend that, if you intend to be a serious sword owner/user then you need to learn to safely sharpen your own blades. The Samurai did and so can you. (see paragraph above)

    With just a touch-up, this blade was sharp enough, and sturdy enough, for cutting up to medium targets and it handles really well with good balance. In fact good enough I took one of these 1060 blades, just like the one being reviewed, and removed the edge. I now use it for Iaido and it feels great.

    As befits the station of this weapon the nakago [tang] is un-signed. It is nice and rough reflecting it’s forged past but not a mark has been put on it including the traditional file cuts. This as much as anything identifies it as a production sword. Truly, it is fully handmade and forged by an individual smith but either they do not allow the time or for policy reasons they do not sign their work. This may also be a part of the Communist culture they have grown up in. Individualism and personal recognition are looked down on as being selfish and egotistical, traits that are discouraged (spelled: punished severely) in the PRC.


    SWORD 2: SHINOGI-ZAKURI - GYAKU-KOBUSE - NO BO-HI – CLAY TEMPERED




    Overall Length: 40.9 inch /104 cm
    Nagasa Length: 27.8 inch / 70.5 cm
    Handle Length: 10.6 inch / 27cm
    Blade Material:1095 steel + folded steel + differential clay tempering
    Blade Construction: Gyaku-Kobuse
    Blade Shape: Shinogi-Zukuri
    Tsuba: Brass carved Dragon Flies – same on Fuchi and Kashira
    Blade Width (near Habaki): 1.26 inch / 3.2cm
    Blade Width (near Kissaki): 0.91inch / 2.3cm
    Weight (with Saya ): 3.06 lbs / 1.39 kg (approximately)
    Weight (without Saya): 2.58 lbs / 1.17 kg (approximately)
    Saya Material: Hard Wood – Ray Skin covered, black and clear lacquer
    Handle Material: Genuine White Ray skin over Hardwood – Black Tsuka-Ito
    Condition: New

    I’m not going to discuss the koshirae on this sword for the reason that there is no difference whatsoever except the tsuba set displayed for online customization is perhaps a bit fancier for those who go in for such stuff. As my collecting has progressed, so have I and I now prefer the more plain iron or steel tsuba to the exotic ones. I chose for this sword a dragonfly set in dark bronze with silver leafed wings. Very pretty and nicely set off by the same wrapped saya showing large nodes where the skin was black lacquered and then sanded, revealing the nodes and opening many of them up, and then many, many coats of clear lacquer to seal it and to build up a thick surface. With buffalo horn koiguchi [saya mouth], Kirikata [knob for sageo] and kojiri [butt cap] it makes a stunning presentation which I hope the pictures show.



    The blade here is the main attraction. It has all the attributes of the previous plain steel but so much more. The hada [the grain in the steel formed when it was repeatedly cut and folded by the smith] was the strongest I have seen in a Chinese blade. It is of the makume-hada [wood burl] type with swirls and waves flowing from one part of the pattern to another.

    But, since it has a piece of 1095 steel incorporated into the folded-steel body, forming the ha [the edge], it shows a tiny line through the hamon that looks for all the world like a crack (but wow, that would be some crack), running from under the habaki to the kissaki. This is the 1095 exposed during the polish and is hard as glass if not quite so fragile. 1095, hardened and tempered, will take a great edge and maintain it through many a grass mat or bamboo pole. It would also maintain that edge through lots and lots of necks, limbs and torsos. When you go out back and punish your blade with poly-carbonate drink bottles and green scrub trees please try to remember that it was never intended to cut that stuff. There is no historical record to suggest that the Samurai ever used his sword, the most valuable thing he owned in most cases, as a machete.

    Using a 10X loupe I have spent quite a bit of happily stunned time examining the shinogi-ji [the flat above the ridge] and hira-ji [the blade area below the shinogi]. Both of these were completely covered with heavy visible hada. This alone was nice enough, but then I noticed an effect that I had never observed before. The hada pattern looked as if it was 3-dimensional. You could rotate the blade about, playing the light here and there and the lines looked like ridges and valleys, as if you could see down into the steel or that the steel had low places and high ridges. The effect was so powerful that it was disconcerting to pull a fingernail across the lines and not feel a texture to the surface. The steel is flat, as flat as a shiagi-to [that wonderful natural slate water stone that can reach 12,000 grit] could make it. Yet the eye can see depth. The stone and the art of the polisher have made the steel appear almost clear-coated. Now, you and I know that you can’t see down into steel, it’s not really translucent, not really. But the visual effect is powerful, and beautiful.

    Here's a serious look at this blade. Please make your own calls and let me know.

    How the Steel is Combined





    There is some confusion, at least in my head, on the term Kobuse as it is used to describe the use of two distinct steel types included into one blade. Most diagrams and texts describe it as a softer steel spine incorporating the mune with a hard steel covering which includes the edge. However, it works the other way as well. The smith can apparently have a covering of softer steel with a hard steel core on the ha side which, during polish, is exposed to form the edge. The latter is the method Yao’s smith uses and calls it Kobuse construction which as far as I can tell is correct. Again, you can decide and argue it out in the thread.

    WRAP UP

    The pictures here will tell you more than I can so I’ll et them take up the room and wrap this thing up. Again, I am not an expert at the Japanese sword, however, I am a scientist by nature and education so I know the things I know and I know the things I think, and generally am pretty good at knowing the difference. In the above review where I’ve made definitive statements I’m pretty sure of my facts and would be happy to cite sources and/or argue the point. Hopefully those things that are speculation on my part I identify as such and therefore ask your indulgence and not take me to task over them. The so-stated facts, yeah, there I’m fair game so you can fire away.

    You would have had to be asleep during your reading to not notice that I really like these swords and the maker. However, I harbor no illusions regarding the quality of the blades, fittings or general koshirae. My whole point, for those who wisely skipped to the end, is that these are swords that other Chinese makers are asking eight hundred to a thousand dollars for whilst Yao is asking a few hundred. His most expensive sword, with every bell and whistle, is less than I paid for my box stock Han Wei Torri. Could these swords be better? Sure, if the more expensive components and practices were employed, sure. But, for my money, they are just fine. And, where else are you afforded the ability to buy a sword at auction on eBay and then customize that same sword so that it has little resemblance to its original self all at no additional expense and no additional delivery time. In all, Yao is doing it right. His business practices would compete with anyone anywhere in the world and he appears to do this all the while maintaining his dignity and integrity.

    You gotta like that.

    Submitted Respectfully to the Membership,
    Rob Dorsey

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
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    Minneapolis, Minnesota
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    Thanks for the review Rob. I rather like your style of writing and self deprecating humor.

  3. #3
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    Aug 2012
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    I too am very impressed with Yao. I have a blade in shirasaya ordered. It is the redwood with bull horn fittings. I explained in an email that at least one of the swords I have came not as sharp as expected and I wanted a truly near razor sharp or very very sharp blade. He told me he would see if his sword smith could re-polish one to live up to my hopes. He responded the next day that his smith said it would be better to just make a new blade from scratch and that it would take an extra week.
    I am not a sword expert and in fact I am a beginner although an old one, 64. What I am an expert on is customer service and I have to tell you I have been so far very impressed with Yao, his communication and willingness to work with me. When I receive the sword I will add more along with pictures but Sword Smith has exceeded my expectations in terms of service.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
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    8
    I too am very impressed with Yao. I have a blade in shirasaya ordered. It is the redwood with bull horn fittings. I explained in an email that at least one of the swords I have came not as sharp as expected and I wanted a truly near razor sharp or very very sharp blade. He told me he would see if his sword smith could re-polish one to live up to my hopes. He responded the next day that his smith said it would be better to just make a new blade from scratch and that it would take an extra week.
    I am not a sword expert and in fact I am a beginner although an old one, 64. What I am an expert on is customer service and I have to tell you I have been so far very impressed with Yao, his communication and willingness to work with me. When I receive the sword I will add more along with pictures but Sword Smith has exceeded my expectations in terms of service.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2013
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    19
    Great review, it’s a wonder why some of the self proclaimed experts have not jumped on it though. It seems to some, if you haven’t spent close to a grand, it’s a “Wall Hanger”

    I’m also impressed with YAO. For the money, he’s hard to beat even if he doesn’t sell the Porsche of Swords
    Last edited by FrankL; 06-20-2013 at 04:58 PM.

  6. #6
    Are these swords still going up for sale? Their site can't seem to work. And I can't find any items on ebay. I would be interested in the second sword you reviewed but I can't seem to find any refference to Hanbon swords besides a few forum posts here and on SBG.

    Edit: Is swordsmith668 the same guy that is reffered to in the article?
    Last edited by Panos L; 07-03-2013 at 07:08 AM.

  7. #7
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    Apr 2012
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    25
    Hi Panos,

    Yes, swordsmith668 is the ebay name of my friend and favorite sword maker Yao Yilin in Longquan, China. His stuff is really easy to figure out as the prices go up with features. However, his lowest priced blades are better than many Chinese maker's top line stuff. The reason is that he has his own forge and completely controls quality. He is not a swordsmith himself but instead is the business end of the company, Hanbon. And, if his ad says it is thus and so, it is. He is one of the most honest and straightforward businessmen I have dealt with on any continent.

    You will notice that almost any sword on ebay can be customized to your pleasure at no additional cost so that the sword you receive may bear little resemblance to the one pictured. If you opt for a more expensive blade from Yao, like a folded/DH blade, the kosharei gets better as well. But all have features like alternating ito wrap.

    I suggest that, if you want something special, that you email him directly and tell him I sent you. His direct email is swirdsmith688@hotmail.com [notice that this is different from his ebay name, it is not a typo].

    He'll do about anything you want, he's done a couple of special swords for me, special blades, special all sego wrapped saya, etc. and the price will be very reasonable. In my collection I have about 10 swords from him, all different and all special. He even did me a complete daisho with matching everything and folded/DH blades. I have 3 blades done in the Kobuse style where the blade is composed of two different steels of differing hardness. His smith does it differently in the Wariha Tetsu manner where the surrounding steel is medium hard while the enclosed steel for the edge is super hard for a fine edge. There is a fine line running down the jihada that looks like a crack but is actually the line where the steels change from the soft to the hard. It is just about on the hamon. Very cool and mine are uber sharp!

    Best - Call Yao!
    Rob

  8. #8
    Thanks for the answer Rob,

    I figured it out although at the start I had a bit of trouble finding his ebay.

    I will trust your word and of all the sword nerds here and buy a sword off your dear friend. Feels really good to know they are hand-forged. I think I'm going to go for either a Mono folded/DH blade or a Kobuse blade. Apparently the prices are on 250/600$ although with the quality you are describing it is certainly worth the money. I should really just go for a Monosteel blade but the Kobuse blades seem really apealing to me with the line were the steel changes etc etc. Do you think the 350 extra bucks for the Kobuse blade are worth it?

    And a sword naab question: What is the point of Differentially Hardened blades when they aren't monosteel? I mean you've got the harder steel on the edge either way.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Florence, KY, USA
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    Panos,

    Well, I paid the extra so I probably do feel it's worth it


    The differentially hardened boundary is the hamon which is the nei line where there is the greatest concentration of Martinsite, the silvery granular structure in the metal which forms the hamon.

    Good luck and let us know what you decided to do,
    Rob

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    The simplified version is to make the sword less likely to break, as the blade can be flexible and yet retain a hard edge that can be very sharp and resistant to wearing away.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Florence, KY, USA
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    Yeah, I'm sure that's the reason for doing the Gyaku-Kobuse [Wariha Tetsu] version of the two steel blade construction. It is no easier or harder to do in the forging process. Both constructions require splitting open the blade billet, inserting another steel and then forge welding the two pieces together. There is no more folding from this point forward; only lengthening the billet until it can be shaped into a sword blade. However, the principal difference between Maru [Through Tempered - Mono-Steel] construction and Gyaku-Kobuse [Two Steel Laminated] construction is that he the smith must keep this always in mind as he pounds out the blade. He must always work to keep the hard steel and the soft in correct juxtaposition.

    But, hell, that's why they make the big bucks, right?
    Rob
    Last edited by Rob Dorsey; 07-04-2013 at 05:06 PM.

  12. #12
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    or it is why they don't. Something to keep in mind when shopping at particular price points.

  13. #13
    I know this thread is older than some of the swords I've purchased from Hanbon Swords, but I want to give my Cudo's to Yao and his forger's.

    As of today, I have purchased 7 (with 2 on the way) swords of various sizes and models, and I must say it is a pleasure doing business with Hanbon. I don't even need to look any further if I'm in the market for another sword. Hanbon Swords will back up your purchase if you have the slightest dissatisfaction. I know this just by talking with Yao. He is a man a with strong sense of pride in his product. Yep, I'm sold on him....... My wife might have some things to say about my love for his swords *grin. It's hard not to go to his ebay store every time I'm in front of this machine.

    By the way Rob, I told Yao about your thread here, and he says to me "Yes, Rob is another good friend"

    Best Regards,
    WR

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Westmoreland, Tennessee
    Posts
    1
    Hello gentlemen!

    First, I have a lot to learn and am a bit OCD about things I get passionate about. I think that's a good quality when you're pursuing something new and interesting.

    I hope this old thread is just as true today as it was when it was written. This is one of the threads that took a small interest and turned it into a decision....so thank you especially Rob Dorsey, and the others here who have had input regarding Yao's work.

    That being said, it's 2016! Are each of you still happy with the quality per $ that Yao is providing today? Is there anything I should be aware of? Seems like a very honest man and I might like to make a purchase or a dozen from him. Has anyone ever asked for the hamon to be Kataochi Gunome and had luck with that on his version of Gyaku Kobuse blades?

    One small concern is how is customs/duty handled coming into the U.S. and I hope the samegawa being ray skin isn't a problem item! Thank you all!

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