were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Sword typology and Edge Weapons forms of the Chinese Empire and related cultures with an emphasis on their relationship to Swordsmanship.

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kevin (the prof)
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were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:17 pm

Hello Everyone,
I am curious. I have seen a large number of jian with blade lengths from 15" to 22" on various "historical" sword sites. All for sale, of course, and all supposedly from the 19th century.

My curiosity is a little more than just idle - I have a very nice blade blank of san mai construction with cable and w2 tool steel. The blade from this would be 17.5".

If there is a good historical precedent for something of this size being shaped as a jian, then I will go with that. I made this blank on the assumption that the blades I was seeing were more than just tourist junk. But, I thought I would ask before I make something silly out of this wonderful billet (meaning I don't want to use really good steel and construction to imitate a piece of junk).

please advise,
Kevin

Nik
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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Nik » Wed Oct 12, 2011 9:00 am

I know that short jian existed, and that I have seen blades that fall into your measures in the Klingenmuseum in Solingen and in a private collection. Which doesn't say a lot about how common one or the other length has been in a given period. However, these swords were heavy in comparison to their length, meaning they weighted at times almost as much as a full size jian.

You can find some samples on http://www.chinesearms.com.

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Wed Oct 12, 2011 8:52 pm

Thanks Nik, that is one of the sites I have searched. That and the oriental arms site. If one looks closely, especially at the oriental arms, the steel on the short jians looks relatively unrefined and horribly finished. The fittings looked like pretty bad castings, too. Not the built, carve, chiseled, etc. type of construction.

I have started a subtle pattern welded billet. I have, at present, combined 11 layers of w2, low mangansese 1075, and the relatively lower manganese 1095. I plan to put in a couple of layers of 1020 to bring the carbon down a hair. I am going to cut, grind clean, weld, draw... repeat... repeat... until I have a billet of about 500-600. I know I can put a very nice heat treatment pattern on something like this.

I will make a shorter blade out of the cable san mai billet, and probably go with something single-edged.

I will show the progress as I go. I am still open to advice, and appreciate it very much.
kevin

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Nik » Sat Oct 15, 2011 5:51 pm

Well, this pic shows accurate fittings you may be looking for, they are almost the same (minor differences in carving) on the Klingenmuseum one, in the private collection of a friend, and in some auctions I saw. Which means they're either a common style produced in some numbers during late Qing, or are fakes made after the same source original. :oops:

BTW, the handle is rather tiny, my hand covered the full handle from guard to pommel.

Image

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Graham Cave » Sun Oct 16, 2011 11:15 am

Nik wrote:Well, this pic shows accurate fittings you may be looking for, they are almost the same (minor differences in carving) on the Klingenmuseum one, in the private collection of a friend, and in some auctions I saw. Which means they're either a common style produced in some numbers during late Qing, or are fakes made after the same source original. :oops:

BTW, the handle is rather tiny, my hand covered the full handle from guard to pommel.

Image
Here is the same sword with a couple of others for comparison:
Image

The jian above it has a dragon's head guard and a horn handle. Both the lower sets of brass fittings were standard patterns for late 19thC/early 20thC duanjian. However, the quality of the blades did vary. Some blades were purely decorative, and some were ok steel, even if not substantial or well finished. Others were of good steel, were more robust and were definitely intended for use. Jian that had steel fittings were almost invariably designed for use.

The top jian in the photo has a folded sanmei blade, iron fittings and a grip made of high quality hardwood. This one has seen some action and has a number of notches from contact with other blades. The grip length including the ferrules is only 80mm......that's just over three inches and it is really quite slim. In comparison, the bottom grip is much larger overall and nearly four and a quarter inches in length.

Specs top to bottom:

blade length - 18.75" weight 520g
blade length - 18.50" weight 410g
blade length - 17.00" weight 365g

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Sun Oct 16, 2011 8:05 pm

Thank you very much for the reply and info.

Yes, I have seen 7 or 8 variations of almost identical fittings in different places, usually for sale by "antique dealer."

I am making an attempt at a Tang style dao with the rounded point and false edge. It may or may not pass muster when I am done. Totally new geometry. While working on it, I am making a proper billet for a full-sized Jian.

I hope the dao comes out ok. I have more faith in my ability to make a jian, since it is a simpler geometry (believe it or not). Plus, the basic geometry of a jian is sort of common (center ridge, distal taper, profile taper but neither taper proportional through length). The dao geometry is one-of-a-kind.

At least now I will feel better if the billet for the jian yields a sword blank of 19" or longer. I hope to go 25"-29" but we will see what actually happens.

thanks again.
Kevin

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Nik » Mon Oct 17, 2011 7:43 am

Do you do monosteel on the dao, or qianggang style (inserted edge) ?

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:40 pm

The two outer plates in the construction are welded and folded eips wire rope. The inner plate for the edge is W2. W2 has a little vanadium and more carbon and will be harder. The wire rope, after welding, forging, folding...welding, forging, folding... will have a medium carbon and a very tough structure (about like low manganese 1075 or 1070).

I have heat treated to create a hamon, which I am curious to see how it interacts with the san mai construction. I think that it will work out so the cable begins about halfway up the cutting bevel, and of course the entire spine of the blade and back half will be both sandwiched in cable and soft due to clay heat treat.

It will be a very small, very light, very fast blade. I will post more when I get it polished. It is 15.5" long and just under 1 1/8" at shoulders. Yes, if you are reading closely, I shortened the blade by 2" because I toyed with putting the triangular tip seen on many Tang dao and I decided against it. Off with the tip, forge on the new one. It was already a short sword, anyway.

take care,
kc

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Tue Oct 18, 2011 1:28 am

Here is a pic of the blade with a rough sketch of what it will look like when done. I can't draw to save my life.

The blade is heat treated, and filed, but not polished at all. So, there will be a lot of improvement. If you haven't seen cable folded several times, then I can post some pics of what that will look like. Essentially, it looks just like smelted steel, though.

If you follow this link, you can see better pictures of the blade next to the Tang dao shaped one. It is made from cable, and has a hamon. That will give you an idea of what the back bevel and part of the cutting bevel will look like on this blade when done. Especially look at photo# 7 in the collage in Picasa to see what the grain of cable looks like.
https://picasaweb.google.com/1152478917 ... directlink


This will be an interesting blade when I am done. It looks rough if you are used to seeing polished swords, but they all pass through this stage.

kc
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kevin (the prof)
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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Sat Oct 22, 2011 12:31 am

This is the result of about 5 hours of polishing, from the most polished of the above pics. This is just the "base polish," and I am not quite done with this side. The other side needs at least another two hours. When the base polish is done, there won't be any divots or dips from the mistakes on the belt grinder (I gotta learn to just STOP at 120 grit until I can get some ability with the higher belts. I can't "feel" them bite and I screw my lines every time and the edge of the belt cuts little divots across my ridges that take a lot of work to fix with files and stones).

Once I get the base polish down, there won't be anything but scratches from stones and sandpaper. At that point, I will be a little over HALF done with polishing.

It is about now that I remember how much I like to make 4" hunting knives.

Anyway, I can't tell where the cable ends in the san mai and the W2 starts. I have a feeling that the cable will end somewhere just past the beginning of the actual edge bevel. So, the whole back half of the blade plus just a little more should be cable. That will look cool, since the hamon will start just about where the edge bevel and the back bevel meet (by what I can feel with files and paper when I polish).

Once polishing proceeds through the grits of paper up to 2500, it becomes fun, at least. That is when etching and work with loose pumice begins. I like that part a lot, because that is when you get to bring out and decide which parts of the hamon to emphasize.


I hope that all of the work to get there will seem, "worth it." It always does if there is a nice hamon underneath it all.

There almost always is!

thanks for looking, I know progress is boring at this point.

kc
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Nik
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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Nik » Mon Oct 24, 2011 7:04 am

My eyelight may fail me here, but could it be that the top 40% of the blade have a 3-4 degrees angle to the first 60%, i.e. it isn't entirely straight but also not curved ? Somehow an unusual blade layout ?

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Mon Oct 24, 2011 3:00 pm

Nik - that is an effect that happens much of the time when you have clay on the back of a blade. You get a small induced curvature. It is taken to extreme by the Japanese smiths, who use this effect to create all or most of the curve in their blades. I think this is one of the reasons that the Japanese started making blades with the curves they did. If you try to lay out a perfectly straight sword like a Tang dao, but you quench edge down in water, and coat the back with clay, you get the traditional wakizashi/katana shape. It is called "sori" by the Japanese.

I don't know the Chinese term for quench-induced curvature, but there would have been one.

Interesting aside - I quenched in water, then oil, in an interrupted pattern.

If I had used only water, the sori would have been very pronounced "positive" or tip-up.

If I had used only oil, the sori would have been very pronouned "negative" or tip-down.

As it is, with the combo, I got a slight positive sori.

good eyes.

kc

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by kevin (the prof) » Wed Nov 02, 2011 5:05 am

!@#$$%^^&&*

This project is dead!

Honestly, it is dead because I did not like the line from heat treating. This led to re-heat treating and some more adjustments because they always warp a little in heat treatment. The adjustments on something this close to final size led to dings and dents that are more than the blade can spare. For a non-bladesmith, the difference may not have been noticeable. It probably would be noticeable for someone who did a lot of cutting. If I took off all of the material needed to get rid of the dents and dings, there would be one ridge of the blade that stood slightly farther out from the middle of the blade than the other. If I would have ground to bring this bevel back down, the whole thing would have been too thin and not balanced. Most importantly, it would not have been stiff enough.
No good.

I lose about 1/3 or 1/5 of the swords I attempt. This was the first one with a new design. These thing happen. Makes each sword just that much more valuable.

the type of flaw I am speaking of here would not be something most could or would ever see or feel, but it is outside of my own personal tolerances.


now, what do I want to try next?

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Re: were shorter jian common before 19th-20 Century

Post by Scott M. Rodell » Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:20 am

Sorry to be commenting so late in the game...

Concerning the duanjian in the above photos, these are not good examples of what we might call combat jian. A fair number of these have turned up with similar or the same fittings. And though that often have fairly good blades, they lack sufficient weight or length to be effective employed in real combat. What this type of duanjian was originally made for is not known, but I suspect there main purpose was something like fengshui, or as gifts for the scholar to decorate his studio, much as wall hangers are made today.

There does appear to have been an increase in the popularity of duanjian during the late 19th c., as we encounter duanjain from that period in fairly large numbers & as a greater percentage than from the 18th c. The likely reason for this is the increasing instability of society as the Qing dynasty began its decline. Village & town defense fell to local militia, as did much of the offense against rebel groups. These militia (& eventually provincial armies) were organized & lead by the literati/landed gentry, who, by the way, had a very real stake in the status quo. These literati liked carried duanjian for both self defense & as a sign of their position in society, as opposed to carrying dao like military officials.

Concerning the effective use of duanjian, having handled a fair number of antique period pieces & having cut with modern duanjian, it is clear that a minimum length of 24" & weight of no less than 1 1/2 lb. is necessary for effective swordplay. Shorter duanjian handle & play more like long dagger than short swords. Furthermore, they lack the mass or balance to effectively deflect the type of weapons one would have encountered in either self defense or running street battles. On the other hand, duanjian 24 to 26" in length are an excellent choice of weapon for crowed city streets or back alley, where a full length could be encumbered.

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