A Beginners Guide To Buying Authentic Japanese Swords
By Paul Southren
Authentic Japanese swords can and usually do cost a small fortune.
In fact many (though not all) sword collectors maintain that to get a half way decent sword you need to be spending around US$1000. And the maximum? Well, the sky is the limit (there are quite a few Japanese made Katana that sell for around the US$25,000 mark).
So what about all those $50 swords being sold on ebay and everywhere else?
Well, at the end of the day, these swords are often junky ornamental "sword like objects". They can't be used as a martial arts weapon. Even just swinging them around with moderate force risks the blade snapping off at the handle...
But if you know what to look for, buying authentic Japanese swords at a reasonable price - say for around US$150 to $500 is quite possible. And in some cases, for even less than this amount of money, it's possible to get a nice sword that is well balanced, sharp, strong and an excellent 'bang for your buck' buy.
For start though - let's take a very quick look at what separated the authentic Japanese swords from the ornamentals:
- Japanese swords are slightly curved, sharp and single edged
- Authentic Japanese swords are light, fast weapons and should weigh no more than 3lbs max. They are also very well balanced
- Real Japanese swords aren't made from stainless steel - they are made from high carbon steel. They also have what is called a "differentially tempered blade" - meaning that the sharp edge of the sword is harder than the spine, giving the sword flexibility (so it doesn't shatter on impact) but also extreme cutting power.
- Real Japanese swords also have a tang (the part of the blade that goes into the handle) that is made as part of the blade, not a length of steel welded on afterwards (called a "rat tail" tang).
There are also a few other factors, such as traditional appearance and fittings to consider...
Now in our target price range of US$150 to $500 - there are only a few swords which qualify - and you'd be surprised, it isn't necessarily the most expensive ones either...
The first is the Generation 2 BWT Katana (around US$329 + shipping)
While I really like Gen2s line of European swords as top quality yet very affordable "beater" swords, their BWT Katana - while a good choice, still has a few major drawbacks. There are two versions of this sword - a more traditional but rather plain looking one and another that uses a lot of brown suede and has an almost surreal "cowboy" quality to it...
Neither are particularly attractive. But the biggest problem is a structural flaw - in that the BWT Katana uses water buffalo horn for the small but critical band under the hand guard (called the fuchi) that has actually been known to occasionally crack on impact...
A lot of people like the Nahuarra of Mexico Katana (RRP around US$200 - but they are almost impossible to actually buy at this price and tend to go for US$400+)
Unfortunately, they are a bit too plain, too heavy (around 3.52lbs), poorly balanced, sharp (but not as sharp as they should be), difficult to find and - well...
Cold Steel make a very durable "Katana" for just a tad over the US$300 mark. These swords are sharp and extremely durable. But they aren't in any way traditional. They aren't differentially tempered (they are a mono-steel sword, like a European blade - all of one uniform hardness) and they aren't balanced properly...
BUT - they aren't a BAD choice... Only thing is, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many Japanese sword enthusiasts the world over) there is a better and even cheaper alternative.
If you are really looking for an affordable "entry level" Japanese sword - there really is only 1 choice, and that's the Practical Katana and the Practical Plus Katana by Paul Chen's Hanwei Forge.
These swords have it all - and for an online price tag of around US$279 for the Practical Plus Katana and US$169 for the plain vanilla model - they offer outstanding value for money.
They are light (under 3lbs) and incredibly well balanced. They are made from top quality high carbon steel. They have a "differentially tempered" blade, a solidly constructed tang and boy - are these babies sharp! I've cut everything from cardboard boxes to lengths of rope, water filled plastic bottles (of all shapes and sizes in a row and hanging), bamboo and traditional rolled tatami mats and it's no exaggeration to say that I have never once actually felt any resistance to my cuts. In fact, many of my friends who aren't sword nuts are able to effortlessly cut a plastic water bottle filled with water so easily that they swore that they missed (until the water comes gushing out over their feet that is).
I just love these swords! And what's so cool about them is the price! NOTHING COMES CLOSE!
Now sure, they aren't the same as swords ten times the price. But I remember seeing on a website when I was first checking them out a side by side comparison of quite a few different "entry level" Katana - and these were the only cheap Japanese swords that even got a look in - and overall, they were just 33% behind swords TEN TIMES THE PRICE!
Anyway - at the end of the day, if you love authentic Japanese swords, and don't have (or don't want to spend) a whole lot of money, you should have a serious look at these swords! I guarantee, you'll join me and a small army of raving fans across the world...
For more information on Authentic Japanese Swords, including test cutting results and heaps more, check out my article by clicking on the link or visit my websites homepage: Sword-Buyers-Guide.com
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