Hanwei

All posts tagged Hanwei

The Tori Tanto is a Chinese made replica of a Japanese tanto knife. Mine arrived today, and I have to say, I am impressed. It is one of the first 50 that were made with T10 steel instead of the Swedish powdered steel Hanwei uses. They were recalled, but this one got away.

My first impression was “this is a big knife!” The blade is 11”1/4. Overall length is almost 17”. I had to grab some junk mail on the kitchen counter and cut it.. Wickedly sharp is an understatement. The blade goes through paper almost like it wasn’t there. The mount is solid, with a very nice ray skin tsuka. That grip won’t slip, that’s for sure. My blade is not folded, like the new ones. The hamon is very prominent and looks artificially enhanced, something I wish Hanwei would stop doing.

Cutting palm fronds was very easy, as you’ll see in the video. The Tori Tanto cuts even better than my Cheness Kaze Ko Katana. I did not want to try it on bamboo. It would be a shame to scratch that blade. I know what the result would be anyway, given how sharp it is.

The tanto must have been a formidable weapon in it’s time. They were worn by Samurai inside as a backup, when wearing a sword was impractical. A skilled swordsman could probably chop a wrist clean off with one of those. It is still as formidable today as it was then, as far as self-defense goes. My interest in knives has always been about how such a simple tool can take so many forms, as well as metallurgical and historical factors. The Tori is a lot of knife for the money. Priced at around $300 new, I believe it would still sell at twice that amount. So, when I found mine at $230, I couldn’t let it go.

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[warning]A carbon steel blade such as the Tori Tanto must be cleaned and oiled after each use and you should never touch the blade with your fingers after that operation, otherwise, it will rust.[/warning]

Like I say in the video, if you are hesitating about buying one, don’t. I have no affiliation with Hanwei, but I recognize quality when I see it. Other than the enhanced hamon (hardness line), the Tori Tanto is close to perfection.

After weeks of consideration and research on the web, I finally decided to buy a katana. Not a cheap wall-hanger, but a practical sword, forged by hand and differentially hardened. I am very familiar with knives, even started to forge my own. Swords however are mostly unknown to me. Why would a grown man buy a sword you may ask, well, I have a few reasons, and they have nothing to do with the “cool” factor. Swords are not toys, but deadly weapons. I place them in the same category as handguns and rifles. I came to believe that they are one of the best home defense weapons available. My interest in knives came from the staggering number of designs found for such a simple, primary tool. Metallurgy, the forging and hardening processes have always fascinated me. I have barely scratched the surface of that art, but I can certainly appreciate the skills it takes to forge a blade longer than a few inches, then harden and temper it properly. My life-long interest and practice of the martial arts also influenced my decision. I have long ago found out that most Asian disciplines only work in their context. Russian Systema however works in any circumstances and can make use of any weapon. Give me a frying pan and I’ll be immediately efficient with it using Systema principles. A sword, though presenting some challenges, shouldn’t be too much trouble. Of course, I will use a dull one or bokken for practice. Other sword designs were interesting, but the Japanese katana in my opinion is the best sword. It is light, razor sharp, and simple in design. Nobody wears armor these days, so a heavier sword would make little sense. The way these swords are made is also fascinating. Even if you have no interest in swords, you can’t but admire the dedication and skills of Japanese sword-smiths in their pursuit of perfection. I never get tired of watching the following documentary from National Geographic:

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I can’t pay three highly skilled artisans for three months to forge me a blade, so I have to accept some technological shortcuts. Modern steels like 9260 Silicon Alloy Carbon Spring Steel are even better than traditional tamahagane. It’s not traditional of course, but much cheaper. The folding process becomes superfluous, since the carbon content of modern steel is constant throughout the material. I would love a folded blade, but the cheapest ones, forged in China, start at around $1000. More than I am willing to spend for a first purchase. A San-Mai construction like my Cold Steel Master Tanto would be desirable too, but simply too expensive. There is one feature I really want however, and that is a differentially, clay-hardened blade. This process of covering the back of the blade with thick clay before quenching in water produces a very hard edge and a soft back (watch video above). This way, a sword will bend but not break, while still holding a razor-sharp edge. It also produces a visible line of hardness called the hamon. Most replicas have a fake one, acid-etched on the blade. I can’t accept “fake” anything, so my choice becomes fairly limited for an affordable real sword. Thanks to companies like CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc., real forged blades from China are available, starting at around $160 for something that won’t come apart in your hands and take a lot of abuse before breaking. Shell-out $200 to $300 and you get a serious tool. My choice is the Kaze Ko-Katana. With a 21-inch blade, this katana is about seven inches shorter than a regular sword. These swords are also called chisa katanas, and are easier to use in tight places. Here is another review of the Kaze (watch the cutting test video). I got a 10% discount and ordered mine for less than $200, with free shipping.

Proceed to the full review

An often overlooked home self defense option is the sword. They work as well today as they did centuries ago, as we can read about in this recent news article. A Baltimore student killed an intruder with a Samurai sword. At short to medium range, a good sword is deadlier than any gun. It never jams, and never runs out of ammo. Modern reproductions of Japanese katanas made in China have come a long way and are now available for a couple hundred dollars. So, is a sword the self defense weapon of choice?

Well, it depends.. As with any weapon, are you willing to spend the time to learn to handle it safely and practice on a regular basis? “It’s just a sword” you might say, but a 28-inch razor sharp blade can ruin your day very fast; just look at this:

Sword injury.

Sword injury.

Picture from the excellent site:
Swords Buyers Guide

And this is what happens when you mess with a cheap stainless steel wall-hanger:

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Avoid stainless steel like the plague. Be very suspicious of movie related products or cheap “Ninja” katanas. A sword, even a bad one, is very dangerous. The difference about a bad one is that is is as dangerous to you or people around you as it would be to an intruder. It only has to touch you to cause gruesome injuries. Sword makers offer non-sharpened models called iaitos, used in the discipline of Iaido, which is the art of drawing. They are a good investment and insurance policy for your early training..

As far as Japanese sword arts, you might want to look into Iaido, Kenjutsu, Kendo or Shinkendo. My opinion is that your best bet is an art that actually teaches to cut targets (Tameshigiri). I would personally look into Shinkendo or Toyama-Ryu, which are modern swordsmanship systems. You don’t have to become an expert, but learning a few basic techniques, cuts and safety are a minimum.

Are you willing to spend $200 or $300 for a decent blade made of carbon steel, forged and mounted properly? These figures are actually cheap compared to real Japanese swords starting at around $6,000. CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc. are the major manufacturers of decent quality reproductions. Hanwei also offers medieval swords worth a look, if you prefer the Highlander type of hardware! Cold Steel also has a good collection of practical swords (I like their Chinese War Sword). See below how Cheness forges a blade:

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Though not made in Japan (Nihonto or modern Shinken), the Chinese reproductions are real swords made by hand using somewhat similar techniques. For most people, they are the only accessible models, with a price range of about $150 to $3,000. For home defense, a $300 spring steel model would do just fine. I like the cheness Ko-Katanas, which are a shortened version for tight spaces, like a house. You’ll never (hopefully) carry your sword outside your house, so you don’t need a long one. A wakisashi would do fine as well (one-handed). Watch below as Paul Southren from Swords Buyers Guide tests a Cheness katana. Very impressive.

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Carbon steel rusts.. You will have to clean and oil your sword at least every other month. It isn’t a high price to pay to keep your weapon ready and in good shape. Aside from that, a good sword will never let you down. If you practice swordsmanship, you also have an excuse for owning one and grabbing “the closest thing that could be used as a weapon” when it comes to explain to a judge why you cut a robber in half instead of calling 911 and waiting for the cops while getting beaten-up or killed.. And yes, the above mentioned swords will cut someone in half if you practice long enough to get a perfect cut. More often than not however, just showing the sword tends to convince intruders to turn around and start running.

I may have a preference for Japanese swords just because of their light weight, but any good quality medieval or antiquity reproductions would do fine, from European blades to sabers, scimitars, Chinese swords, there is something out there for everyone. With anti-gun laws looming on our horizon, a sword might be a good choice. It sure beats a jammed gun any day. You never have to buy ammo, so practicing might involve just a bit of your time and sweat, maybe a membership fee and a few tatami mats.. If you do decide to get one, be responsible, get professional advise, and learn about self-defense laws. Be safe 🙂