When I got home this evening, a 3 foot long box was on my bed. Oh yeah, I know what that is!
Open the box and this is what you see. The sword comes in a nifty case with some cool bronze latches. Paul Chen of Cheness was nice enough to throw in a bonus little sword stand. I ordered the Musashi style "higo" tsuba with the sword, since I like it better than the one that comes with the Kaze model I ordered. Paul also gave me the seppa (spacer) for free with the new tsuba. Open the case and you can see you get a free carry bag with the sword too. Awfully good value for a ~$325 purchase!
(In this next part, I start using Japanese terminology for the parts of the sword, so you may want to flip this page open for reference.)
Bottom of habaki/blade collar to boshi/point: 29"
Nagasa (mune-machi/spine-notch to boshi): 28 1/4"
Tsuka/Hilt: 10 3/4" from top of fuchi/top-collar to bottom of kashira/buttpiece.
Sori/Curvature: 1.8cm / 0.7"
Mihaba/Width: At habaki 3cm, at yokote 2.3cm
Kasane/Thickness: At habaki 0.7cm, at yokote 0.5cm (These are estimates only, as I do not own a micrometer)
Weight: 2.??? lbs? (Don't have a scale accurate enough)
The blade looked good. The ito felt tight. The saya was gorgeous. The same definitely looks and feels real, but I am not nearly well versed enough in traditional sword construction (or rays!) to say for certain. The weight was, surprisingly, slightly more than I expected. My favorite "440C stainless steel - Taiwan" junkblade is exactly the same length but just slightly lighter. Though naturally it's nowhere near as sharp or tough as the Kaze. And if the "zucchinishigiri" results later on are any indication, I suspect the heavier weight will grow on me.
I could detect no wiggle at all in the handle. The blade was very solidly pegged. Though oddly enough, the fuchi still had a millimeter or two of rotational play. (The fuchi is metal, BTW.) There seemed to be some slight marring on one of the edges of the habaki, but you can't see it in this picture. I also noticed the only actual flaw I've found on the sword - there was a crack all the way through the outside ring of the tsuba! Since I was going to throw away the stock tsuba and put on the higo one I had ordered, this was no big deal to me. But if you liked the stock tsuba, you might have been disappointed.
The blade came with a thin coat of grease to protect it while in transit from where it's made in China. (A wise move - it's unbelievably humid in the belly of a trans-pacific cargo ship.) So I began by taking the grease off, to get a closer look at the blade. For those of you unfamiliar, the recommended way to wipe down a blade like this is to get your wiping cloth or paper, put it around the spine of the blade where it emerges from the handle, pinch gently, and stroke out towards the tip. Just make sure you don't let your fingers wander up over the edge. Or else you'll get what I got - a nice clean cut through the paper towel, and a paper-thin skin shaving off my middle finger that I didn't even feel. Yes, this blade is Sharp with a capital "S". It probably falls just short of being usable for shaving, but the edge is still very keen.
As Cheness advertises, the hamon is quite subtle. I lucked out and managed to get a reasonble picture of it here. But you have to imagine it being about one-third as noticeable as this to get an idea of what it really looks like. It's basically as if the softer body has a slightly larger grain size, leading to a slightly cloudier sheen. The harder edge has a much smaller grain size and has nearly a mirror finish.
With the blade clean, it was time to put on the new tsuba! I got my rubber mallet out and gently tapped out the two bamboo pins that keep everything together. After that, it took about about 25 minutes of slowly tapping on the bottom seppa to free the blade from the tsuka. No wonder the handle doesn't rattle! There was a slight bit of rust by one of the pin holes, but it came off in about three seconds when I took a paper towel and oil to it. The nakago seems to go almost all the way to the end of the tsuka. I estimate there's about 1-1.5" of unsupported handle. Not visible in this picture is a small hanzi on the nakago that looks approximately like the kanji for "furui". The other side of the nakago has the manufacturer(?) or smith's(?) signature on it (my Chinese is nowhere near good enough to attempt a translation), plus an amusingly modern western "8" put there with black marker. Manufacturing lot number or date code, perhaps?
At this point I could get a better look at the crack in the stock tsuba. I think I'll probably send it back to Paul so he can use it to beat on the QC guys at the factory. There are also a bunch of pock marks around the blade slot in the old tsuba, as if someone had to forcefully hammer it down onto the nakago with a punch? No problems at all on the new tsuba - it looked great and slipped straight one with no problems. The holes in the hilt are not perfectly perpendicular to the outside surface, though I probably would not have noticed if I hadn't taken the pegs out. The top hole is much worse than the bottom one in this respect. It doesn't seem to me it's going to have any real effect on mechanical strength, it just looks a little sloppy. I wonder if they're using a drill press to make these holes, or just a hand-held drill?
I like the higo tsuba much better - just personal preference. I noticed just a tiny spot of corrosion on the edge of the kissaki. A little rubbing with oil didn't take it out, but I suspect a little powder will.
Okay, so, those of you who actually practice the traditional Japanse Sword Arts need to stop reading now, and start running away. Yes, the annoying gaijin is going to use your noble sword for stupid things. You have been warned...
Not being able to resist the temptation to try it out, and seeing as how I had three enourmous zucchini from my co-worker's garden, I went outside and set up a zuke on the box the Kaze came in.
I have some serious problems with my technique. ("O RLY" says everyone looking at the picture!) The small piece on the lower-right in particular shows very clearly an incorrect entry angle, followed by the blade straightening itself out and making a nice clean cut through. I also tend to swing considerably outside of the spot I'm aiming for, leading to large thin slices like the one in the middle of the picture.
Finally getting my aim better, I cut a nice clean slice through the zuke. Ignoring the left edge damage where this piece hit the ground, this shows how nicely the blade can cut.
Tiring of vertical cuts, I went for a horizontal slice. This stroke was much better, and the Kaze slipped through as if I was chopping little more than air. My technique is sad and the edges of the cut are slightly ragged as a result. Even so, a very nice demonstration of what you can do with a real blade and a good stroke. The amount of effort to make this cut clean through a 2' long monster zucchini was miniscule.
What do I think? Given the price, I'm completely satisfied. I looked everywhere and I couldn't find a better blade for the money. Yes, you can definitely get nicer fittings and more expertise in the forging by going to Bugei or high end Hanwei blade. But those will cost you at least $600, and as much as $1200 at the top end. For my money and my (strictly beginner) level of skill, I can't recommend the Cheness Shura and Kaze blades enough. Particularly for someone who actually plans to cut things with your sword as opposed to just hanging it on the wall. Don't expect $10,000 worth of workmanship in the polish or fittings. But then, would you risk a $10,000 (or even a $1500) blade on a zucchini that could possibly have grown around and incorporated a small rock?
I wanted a sword I could actually use, and I've found it. It's not going to win over the hearts of any art sword collectors, but let them chatter about "the depth of expression in the hada" at their art galleries. I'm an engineer. I want things that work, in both the mechanical and productivity senses of the word. And I don't want to pay a small fortune. The Cheness 9260 katanas fulfil my criteria for what constitutes a great sword in every way that matters to me. If you want a katana for actually cutting stuff... get yourself one of these ASAP.