Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

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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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Nik » Thu Apr 30, 2009 9:17 am

My I say that the swords each forged under my advice by Juan Manuel Herrera Luzon personally will cost around $500 too (not in China but near Solingen). ;) Unless of course he dies away meanwhile, since he had a stroke too. :cry:

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by bond_fan » Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:45 pm

Nik,

Sorry to hear about your friend's poor health. I hope he has a quick and full recovery.

One thing to remember is most of the antique swords today are not as stable as they were when the were first made and that subsequent polishes, metal fatigue or alterations like reforging, adding fullers changing the shape of the blade are likely to have changed the characteristics of them in comparison from old to new.

Francis Boyd told me that in the Ming dynasty it was common for them to use blades made during earlier dynasties and to rehandle the bare blade. He said rather than make a proper handle made of two halves and routing for the tang to sandwich it between the wood pieces they would drill a hole down the center to put the tang through. Then they would shave down the tang to very small proportions and stick it into the small hole.

So when we are making comparisons between modern and antique steel it is not really an accurate assessment, because who really knows if that antique was really that flexible to begin with?

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Nik » Fri May 01, 2009 7:31 am

I would like to hear others opinion about Ming era smithes using a welded thin tang. The training weapon I used when starting again to play a bit with swords 15 years ago had such a construction with a welded rat-tail tang, and one strike and it was bend by 45°.

BTW, I just talked to Thomas Stöppler, and his training weapons made by my smith 2,5 years ago, heavily abused two or three times a week, have NO nicks at all. Other weapons they were using, from the well known cheaper fabrics, broke frequently. And he said the only way properly made swords that are not of completely inappropriate material to lose their hardness is when they were repolished too often, and the hard layer was simply grinded off.

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Peter Dekker » Fri May 01, 2009 11:11 am

I can hardly imagine they would be so stupid with jian in the Ming dynasty, but I haven't seen too many Ming era jian so I can't comment much on that. Those that I've seen the tang of, had sturdy tangs of good proportions with no signs of what you describe. Handles were made out of one piece not because they were lazy, but in order to make a nice handle without any seems. The inside channel would be cut to fit the tang, not the other way around. Of course, there has got to have been some idiots living in China in that time so who knows someone once shaped the tang instead of the handle but I doubt it was ever common practice.

Getting back at an earlier question on what I would find affordable, that would be in the 500-1000 range. For the higher part of this range, most people would expect forge folded blade with a pretty pattern, just because Huanuo does that. Most martial artists even find 500 dollar swords on the expensive side but for serous cutting there's hardly any cheaper option to date.

On hardness of steel changing with age, I wonder how long this should take. Could you point out any proper research on this area to me that explains that this is the case? People that I know that have done metallurgy tests never mentioned this and they frequently tested hardnesses of armor plates, arrowheads and swords for purposes of research and reproduction. If an antique blade would lose hardness due to age, it can never be a lot because old blades are rarely soft and reproductions of weapons in historical hardnesses perform really well.

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by bond_fan » Fri May 01, 2009 5:52 pm

Peter wrote,
I can hardly imagine they would be so stupid with jian in the Ming dynasty, but I haven't seen too many Ming era jian so I can't comment much on that. Those that I've seen the tang of, had sturdy tangs of good proportions with no signs of what you describe.
Those were mainly dao that got cut down. He showed me a piece of a dao tang he had to cut off and re weld a new tang on the blade, because the blade was so big the tang would have probably broken off the handle if the blade had struck anything with great force.

The reason why he showed me the tang is he wanted me to see the through body center san mai construction, as opposed to a dao with qiangang, the hard inserted edge. He sanded off the rust on the end, so I could see the three piece construction. The center piece on this tang was thinner in the middle than on the edge, and he said it was a result of reshaping the blade and drawing out the tang by reforging it.

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Peter Dekker » Mon May 04, 2009 5:29 am

bond_fan wrote:Peter wrote,
I can hardly imagine they would be so stupid with jian in the Ming dynasty, but I haven't seen too many Ming era jian so I can't comment much on that. Those that I've seen the tang of, had sturdy tangs of good proportions with no signs of what you describe.
Those were mainly dao that got cut down. He showed me a piece of a dao tang he had to cut off and re weld a new tang on the blade, because the blade was so big the tang would have probably broken off the handle if the blade had struck anything with great force.

The reason why he showed me the tang is he wanted me to see the through body center san mai construction, as opposed to a dao with qiangang, the hard inserted edge. He sanded off the rust on the end, so I could see the three piece construction. The center piece on this tang was thinner in the middle than on the edge, and he said it was a result of reshaping the blade and drawing out the tang by reforging it.
This is interesting. I've seen my share of "monkey business" on antique Chinese arms, some were poorly done period repairs and others were recent. I am sure Philip Tom and Scott Rodell can add to this in their many years of collecting and trade. Not all people that got these in their hands were skillful, and some may have done idiotic things to them. Other reasons for repairs that render the object useless may be for collecting purposes. I've got a really nice saber, with a tip that was newly welded on. The tip is way too soft, but the repair was done a long time ago, not recently. Probably this item has been a collector's item for a long time, perhaps it was a saber someone had special memories of, and who wanted to display it on the wall of something. An old jian once in Scott Rodell's collection had lost its temper, probably in a fire but was still mounted in sumptuous gilt fittings to serve as a precious collectible. Other times, people may just have been impractical.

On this peculiar saber, I wonder how it was dated Ming. If the tang was messed with to such great extent, we can only date it by the blade. What features of the blade made it so positively Ming? And if one example enough to state that "in the Ming, they did this..."?

And lastly, any maker of handles will reckon that it is easier to make a handle out of two pieces than of one piece. Especially when using hand-tools only like they done in their time. So it doesn't look like laziness to me. More like, more work than necessary.

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characteristics of antique blades

Post by Philip Tom » Wed May 06, 2009 12:56 am

It's hazardous to generalize about the characteristics (edge hardness, resiliency, etc) of steels used in antique blades of any culture or period. Simply because in a pre-industrial age, the materials used varied in their characteristics, since there tended to be a multitude of relatively small local centers of production using non-standardized methods. There were also no "industry-wide" classifications of grades or types of steel and what's more, the swords themselves were hand made by smiths of varying skill and who often were wedded to specific techniques aimed at creating blades with characteristics which they and their customers thought especially desireable.

So, not all jian are "springy", and so forth. And the same with Moro kerises, Japanese katanas, etc: as a restorer I have encountered enough variation in the steel in all these types of weapons that even in the same class, you have harder and softer edges, blades that are pliable and those which take a "set" easily, and so on.

One thing that has been pointed out to me by at least one swordsmith is that when blades are differentially hardened (i.e. edge is harder than the spine or the medial ridge) it's more difficult to achieve the springiness that can be more easily achieved with steels that are quenched to the same hardness through and through. The reason that so many European swords are so "springy", at least compared to their Far Eastern counterparts, is that these particular blades tend to be of uniform hardness.

Even stout-bladed weapons like katanas will take a set if the user's technique is bad. I've seen my share of bent and twisted ones--even a beefy World War II smith-made one that was tweaked at the forte which is the strongest part of the blade. The problem can be worse in older blades which have been polished too many times, and thus have lost too much of their hardened edge area, leaving the softer spine both thinner and unsupported by harder metal.

A discussion of whether springy swords cut better than stiff ones needs to address not only metallurgy, but also issues such as distal taper and edge geometry. Also, what sort of cuts are considered effective in any given style of swordplay. Remember that you can put an opponent down with something less than a helmet-splitting chop or a stroke that would decapitate an ox. There are lots of factors at play here and again, there is no one size fits all answer.
Phil

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Re: characteristics of antique blades

Post by alfanator » Wed May 06, 2009 8:00 am

Philip Tom wrote:...One thing that has been pointed out to me by at least one swordsmith is that when blades are differentially hardened (i.e. edge is harder than the spine or the medial ridge) it's more difficult to achieve the springiness that can be more easily achieved with steels that are quenched to the same hardness through and through. The reason that so many European swords are so "springy", at least compared to their Far Eastern counterparts, is that these particular blades tend to be of uniform hardness. ...
This part is interesting an i have been wondering about the Huanuo katanas. I saw some in person and the gentleman demostrated its bendyness by stepping on it and letting it spring back several times. Impressive. First thought that crossed my mind is how did the temper edge survive without damage? Then How did the ridge (shinogi and shinogi-ji) not wrinkle? and finally, wow I do not have to pay attention to my technique too much cutting with this thing. It is like a car with ABS, traction control and stupid driver aids!

Then I looked down the sword in all angles and was hard pressed to find a temperline like i would in J-swords, no nie or nioi, just a hazy boarder that looks polished on. Perhaps it is san-mai with a hard springy core with no tempered edge? Not a ding on them, if it works great it works great. I ordered one to test out:)

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Nik » Wed May 06, 2009 8:13 am

Just for info, the industrially produced military sabers of the Solingen make are not hardened through, they have a defined depth of hard layer from the outside to the inside. The core stays soft. However, that outer layer has a single hardness, it has no soft spine like a Sanmei construction. I will experiment a bit with these different ingredients (or to be more honest, the smith because I tell him to ;)) once I have a larger number of fittings and enough top quality steel here. At the moment he buys his raw steel kind of at the pharmacy at incredible prices (30 euro / kg ) because of "low order fee".

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by bond_fan » Wed May 06, 2009 12:27 pm

Alfanator wrote:
Then I looked down the sword in all angles and was hard pressed to find a temperline like i would in J-swords, no nie or nioi, just a hazy boarder that looks polished on. Perhaps it is san-mai with a hard springy core with no tempered edge? Not a ding on them, if it works great it works great. I ordered one to test out:)
Could be a poor polish or there is no temper line, because the blade was not differentially hardened. I just talk to Francis Boyd last night and he said many companies try to simulate temper lines by making the transitions between steel layers look like temper lines, but they are not. The reason why they do this is to save the time of heat treating the blade. The problem is the blade is just soft steel that will easily send, but isn't worth a damn.

Part of the reason why temper lines are seen on nice swords is they are usually heat treated differentially by the hand application of clay and that what brings out the beautiful temper line. Many makers of Japanese swords have this down to an art and almost always can control the look they want to achieve in heating. That's what makes the swords an unique work of art as well as a deadly weapon.

Boyd also told me there is a style of sandwiched Japanese and Chinese swords where the interior layer is iron and the outside steel differentially hardened. Imagine a hot dog where the center is iron and the bun the steel. The iron is surrounded by the steel except for the top part.

He said these will bend easily and cut, but that the quality of construction is poor, because with these materials and construction method it was less likely for a blade made in this manner to last as long as one with true san mai or greater lamellar construction. These were easy to mass produce like the Japanese did during WW II, because they were quick to make and by using iron they saved on an important material, steel for the war effort.

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Re: characteristics of antique blades

Post by Peter Dekker » Wed May 06, 2009 12:58 pm

alfanator wrote:Then I looked down the sword in all angles and was hard pressed to find a temperline like i would in J-swords, no nie or nioi, just a hazy boarder that looks polished on. Perhaps it is san-mai with a hard springy core with no tempered edge? Not a ding on them, if it works great it works great. I ordered one to test out:)
I wonder which kind of Huanuo sword it was you've seen, they have numerous versions especially of the Japanese line. They have various models, last time I checked they did have them with "nie" and "nioi". Even many of their Chinese folded sabers show this effect near the edge.

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Re: characteristics of antique blades

Post by alfanator » Wed May 06, 2009 7:14 pm

Peter Dekker wrote:
alfanator wrote:Then I looked down the sword in all angles and was hard pressed to find a temperline like i would in J-swords, no nie or nioi, just a hazy boarder that looks polished on. Perhaps it is san-mai with a hard springy core with no tempered edge? Not a ding on them, if it works great it works great. I ordered one to test out:)
I wonder which kind of Huanuo sword it was you've seen, they have numerous versions especially of the Japanese line. They have various models, last time I checked they did have them with "nie" and "nioi". Even many of their Chinese folded sabers show this effect near the edge.

-Peter
I beileve it was one of the san mai ones with very clear grain structure. Nie and Nioi glistens in light, nie particles are larger, darker and more sparkly where nioi particles are whiter and more pearlescent, both go deep into the steel. What i saw was a dull whiteish line that is not deep. Might just be the one sword i was looking at. It did not bother me enough to not order one, which i will study closer ad test out.

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by Peter Dekker » Thu May 07, 2009 3:45 am

Perhaps the different structure of the nie and nioi are due to different properties in the steel, or the way the blade was polished?

A number of their swords I've seen had hamons that looked to consist of nie entirely, which could probably be done artificially as well. On some of their high-grade Chinese sabers the effect is not brought out so much, but in certain light I could see a nice wavy pattern of nioi and a greyish nie going from there to the edge. I also saw this on their naginata, a few years ago. But I never looked good at their Japanese stuff as I'm so focused on Chinese arms.

Unfortunately my own saber is from a generation before they did that, it just had a grayish tint near the edge like more commonly found on antique Chinese blades. My heat treatment is hard to see in its current state as I've done some practical polishing after test-cutting.

Anyway I'm interested to hear what you find out!

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Re: characteristics of antique blades

Post by Peter Dekker » Thu May 07, 2009 4:15 am

Philip Tom wrote:...One thing that has been pointed out to me by at least one swordsmith is that when blades are differentially hardened (i.e. edge is harder than the spine or the medial ridge) it's more difficult to achieve the springiness that can be more easily achieved with steels that are quenched to the same hardness through and through. The reason that so many European swords are so "springy", at least compared to their Far Eastern counterparts, is that these particular blades tend to be of uniform hardness. ...
I notice the same difference between Huanuo monosteel and folded steel jian. Hitting the pommel, I could tell them apart with my eyes closed just feeling the vibration as the monosteel ones are more wobbly and the sanmei ones are pretty stiff.

This is why I said earlier in this thread that I thought that a monosteel sword with the same properties as sanmei swords could probably only be created with a process of differential hardening. As far as my experience goes, one needs different hardnesses on different places in the blade in order for it to perform like folded steel no matter how hard and tough this monosteel would be. But it is perhaps much easier to create a blade like this using different steels to begin with, so in the end we may come back to a lamellar construction anyway. It just makes more sense. Not to say a monosteel sword wouldn't cut well or be able kill a man, it sure would. But I'm looking at the little nuances that make one sword "ok", and the other sword "fantastic". The rigidity I feel in my antiques, a gentle "humm" instead of a wobble when tapped, that's fantastic to me.

All healthy antique jian I've felt (so without over-polishing or loss of temper) were just a bit stiffer even than Huanuo's sanmei.

I've found something similar in bow-limbs. Asian bows were always of composite construction but most of their modern replicas have limbs made of a single material: fiberglass. While on paper fiberglass can be made to shoot about as hard and fast as traditional composites, the traditional construction outperforms them in many subtle ways: less hand shock (=greater accuracy), greater stability, more equal power distribution along the draw (and thus solving fluctuations of draw length for the archer, basically filtering out human errors), and superior durability. Fiberglass bows last a few years, some 100 year old composites can still be used today.

So if we would only go by arrow velocity and kinetic energy on impact on bows, as much as we judge modern swords by hardness and toughness, modern stuff can be called superior in some cases. But if we dig deeper, at least for me, most modern stuff is missing out on many of the subtle details.

It is too bad I never met Paul personally, or handled any of his forge folded stuff. It sounded like he could approximate what I mean.

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Re: Springy swords vs. Rigid swords

Post by KyleyHarris » Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:12 am

This was quite an interesting topic to read.

If Peter is still reading, I would love for you to take some time to make a youtube video or some other presenting some of your Antiques and demonstrating the vibrational tendencies compared to say the Huanou that you also have.

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