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Thread: Iaito - alloy practice swords postwar invention?

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    Default Iaito - alloy practice swords postwar invention?

    I've tried the search function but can't find an answer - is the aluminum alloy iaito a postwar invention? When did these things first get used? thanksLance Gatling

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    I don't have documents to prove it, but I was told by my sensei that alloy iaito were first used after WWII, when possession/use of live blades was severely restricted by the occupation government. The Meirin Sangyo Company claims to be the oldest manufacturer.

    http://www.nipponto.co.jp/english/core_e.htm
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    ---Brian---

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    Hello Lance, This time you don't need to read portuguese I found an interesting site: History of Steel in Eastern Asia http://www.arscives.com/historysteel...troduction.htm

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    Thanks to both - the iaito being a postwar invention makes sense. Prewar you often see bokken used to demo the Nippon Kendo Kata and such.

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    Shinken production in Japan was restricted after the war to two swords/month/smith, in order to halt mass production but allow art swords to still be produced. Not sure if this limit is still in place but to this day it is a major PITA to transport steel swords in or out of Japan. Alloy blades were developed to allow mass production of affordable training tools. Turns out they are better than steel in some aspects - repetitive strain disorder can be a big problem for people and the lighter blades help with that.
    Neil Gendzwill
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    The limits on the number of blades a smith can register are still in place. Most smiths dislike the number because they are capable to producing more (the number was determined using the production put out by an very respected, but very slow smith who did everything himself down to making the coal for his forge). Because of the low numbers smiths have to charge more for a new sword than many Edo period pieces go for, in order to have any chance of making a living. Many argue that if they could produce more they could sell them cheaper and it would be easier to make a living, but the government doesn't seem interested in changing the current system.
    Rennis Buchner

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rennis View Post
    The limits on the number of blades a smith can register are still in place. Most smiths dislike the number because they are capable to producing more (the number was determined using the production put out by an very respected, but very slow smith who did everything himself down to making the coal for his forge). Because of the low numbers smiths have to charge more for a new sword than many Edo period pieces go for, in order to have any chance of making a living. Many argue that if they could produce more they could sell them cheaper and it would be easier to make a living, but the government doesn't seem interested in changing the current system.
    It's an awful law. And you PERFECTLY hit the nail on the head about how the current system disadvantages new shinsakuto in the marketplace against antiques that cost much less.

    Thankfully, it seems like some are fighting the good fight on behalf of the smiths: http://www.embu-shinken.com/

    I wonder why the JP government doesn't care to change the system.... Could you say a little more about how the number was determined? I always wondered who set the limits and the number allowed, but hadn't heard this story before.
    Jonathan Lee

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    Quote Originally Posted by Iai-nut View Post
    Could you say a little more about how the number was determined? I always wondered who set the limits and the number allowed, but hadn't heard this story before.
    I am typing from memory here so don't take this as 100% accurate but my understanding is that when they were looking to determine the number of swords a smith could make (technically register. They can make more, but can't sell them until they are registered) the officials basically said "who is the best smith living right now?". Said smith's name was given and they went to see at what rate he produced blades and the total was 2 full length katana/tachi per month (if memory serves me right, someone please correct me if this is off). The government officials then basically said "OK, the best can make two a month so that is the limit for everyone". What wasn't taken into account was that said smith was a super ultra traditionalist, making and doing everything in the process by hand himself, from hunting down metal to coal and so on.

    Most of this work is what caused his production numbers to be so low as the process of getting things together to make the sword took so long. Most smiths, even then, but especially now do not do all this. Most just buy the coal. You can buy chunks of metal to use. Most smiths have a power hammer in their forge so they don't have to rely on having apprentices to do all the hammer of them, etc. As a result modern smiths can produce fair more blades of perfectly good quality than the law will allow them. From memory they are allowed to register two katana/tachi length swords per month or slightly more (3?) wakizashi. Tanto length blades I believe are unlimited in the humber they can register, but there is little market for them so this doesn't help them financially, so in order to make a limit the prices on modern newly made swords is disproportionately high. Obviously with these numbers alloy iaito are needed simply to supply the number of iai practitioners out there with weapons for training.
    Rennis Buchner

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    Given a system like that, I would imagine the smith would make a large batch of blades in one go, then register them 2-per-month for the rest of the year. What other work can a smith do for the rest of the year?
    David Noble
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripitaka of AA View Post
    Given a system like that, I would imagine the smith would make a large batch of blades in one go, then register them 2-per-month for the rest of the year. What other work can a smith do for the rest of the year?
    A significant number are custom ordered, not built on speculation, so that doesn't work so well. If someone is going to spring for a very expensive sword from scratch, then they request the options they want to see.

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    What Rennis said about 2/month. I'm trying to recall where I read that story, might have been Yoshihara & Kapp's book. Which you should get if you don't have it already.
    Neil Gendzwill
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tripitaka of AA View Post
    Given a system like that, I would imagine the smith would make a large batch of blades in one go, then register them 2-per-month for the rest of the year. What other work can a smith do for the rest of the year?
    Even a very efficient smith can only make about 4 blades a month, unless he's got a lot of help. The process is time consuming. You spend a lot of time just preparing materials and doing the craftsmanship. It's not like making a blade from bar stock. Figure 4 days a month just to prepare charcoal (this is a royal PITA), then at least one day per sword to prepare tamahagane so you can make the base billet. Then a day to forge the sword. Then a day to properly apply the clay for the yaki-ire. A lot of smiths will collect several blades to do the yaki-ire all at once, so that's only one day a month for the whole month's production, but then you have to consider that the failure rate of blades during yaki-ire can run as high as 50%, although for really good smiths it can be 10% or less (I hate the sound of sword failing during yaki-ire!). This really does limit the production capacity of smiths.
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    Quote Originally Posted by pboylan View Post
    Even a very efficient smith can only make about 4 blades a month, unless he's got a lot of help. The process is time consuming. You spend a lot of time just preparing materials and doing the craftsmanship. It's not like making a blade from bar stock. Figure 4 days a month just to prepare charcoal (this is a royal PITA), then at least one day per sword to prepare tamahagane so you can make the base billet. Then a day to forge the sword. Then a day to properly apply the clay for the yaki-ire. A lot of smiths will collect several blades to do the yaki-ire all at once, so that's only one day a month for the whole month's production, but then you have to consider that the failure rate of blades during yaki-ire can run as high as 50%, although for really good smiths it can be 10% or less (I hate the sound of sword failing during yaki-ire!). This really does limit the production capacity of smiths.
    I wondered about the failure rate and mode. Can you please explain what happens? The desired curve not produced, or over curved?

    Then what? they sell seconds, or just melt it all down and start again?

    Lance Gatling

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    Quote Originally Posted by pboylan View Post
    Even a very efficient smith can only make about 4 blades a month, unless he's got a lot of help. The process is time consuming. You spend a lot of time just preparing materials and doing the craftsmanship. It's not like making a blade from bar stock. Figure 4 days a month just to prepare charcoal (this is a royal PITA), then at least one day per sword to prepare tamahagane so you can make the base billet. Then a day to forge the sword. Then a day to properly apply the clay for the yaki-ire. A lot of smiths will collect several blades to do the yaki-ire all at once, so that's only one day a month for the whole month's production, but then you have to consider that the failure rate of blades during yaki-ire can run as high as 50%, although for really good smiths it can be 10% or less (I hate the sound of sword failing during yaki-ire!). This really does limit the production capacity of smiths.
    Just out of curiosity, how many orders do you actually get for swords made by master Kawahira...? I'd think a lot of people get scared by the price tag (I know I am pretty intimidated). If you'd rather not discuss that publicly, I can PM you....
    Jonathan Lee

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    Quote Originally Posted by LGatling View Post
    I wondered about the failure rate and mode. Can you please explain what happens? The desired curve not produced, or over curved?

    Then what? they sell seconds, or just melt it all down and start again?

    Lance Gatling
    The biggest cause of failure is a weld between the layers failing. The sword will have a visible crack in the blade. There are two options at that point. If the crack is far enough out on the blade, you can cut it down for a wakizashi or tanto. Otherwise you break it into pieces and mix the into the next blade.

    It's also possible to not get the curve you want, but by the time the smith has been working a while, that's pretty rare. They're judgement on how much a blade will curve during yaki-ire is amazing.
    Peter Boylan
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