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Thread: Quality Iaito on a Budget?

  1. #1
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    Question Quality Iaito on a Budget?

    Not now, but in the next 4 months I'm going to be looking to obtain an iaito of good quality. I've collected a handful of swords in the last 6 months and I learned very quickly that good quality costs good money. The quality of the sword I bought that sells for $1500 MSRP is vastly greater than the quality of the first sword I bought, which cost me $180. Unfortunately the big sword suppliers are not big iaito suppliers. I didn't know it was such a specialty item to the extent that it is even more of a specialty item than a genuine quality shinken.

    I don't see any stickies about this, so I hope it's not an FAQ: where do I go to buy a good quality iaito for up to $500? It's an arbitrary number; I can save more money and buy a more expensive one if the $500 price point doesn't buy the kind of quality that will stand up to the rigors of a decade of daily practice. So the question is somewhat fluid; the most important point is to purchase a decent iaito, not to save as much as possible. Cost is definitely factor (that can't be denied), but I'm looking for something that isn't going to be a showpiece here. I need something that's going to serve as a training implement. It's going to be used. A lot.

    Please guide me. I can google "aluminum iaito" just as easily as anyone. However I seek the wisdom and guidance of the members here whose understanding and experience vastly overshadows mine as a humble but grateful beginner.

    What I'm looking for:
    • Aluminum zinc alloy blade, simulated hamon optional but appreciated
    • 28.5 inch nagasa (measured from kissaki to the top of the habaki; i.e.- height of habaki not included in blade length measurement)
    • 10 inch tsuka (more on tsuka below)
    • Bo-hi, naturally. I think it would be hard to find a real iaito without bo-hi.
    • Strong hardwood saya. Buffalo horn kurikata and kojiri would be nice. Handwoven sageo definitely not required.
    • Kurikata should not be too far from the koiguchi (standard 3 inches of distance is what I'm looking for; when the distance is too great it makes the draw and the noto more difficult than it should be)
    • Iron or steel tsuba
    • Iron or steel fuchi, kashira (koshirae)
    • brass seppa and habaki preferred
    • Any motif is fine, menuki not even necessary
    • Two (double) mekugi preferred
    • The items below I can arrange myself if necessary (I know someone to whom I can ship the iaito for complete refitting)
      • Hardwood tsuka 10 inches
      • Genuine and high quality raw (white) samegawa, full wrap--not panels
      • Panels would only be OK on the condition that the tsuka is beefy (I have big hands)
      • Cotton ito with hishigami and classical wrap style


    Again, all guidance is appreciated. Thank you for your advice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by atrixnet View Post
    Not now, but in the next 4 months I'm going to be looking to obtain an iaito of good quality. I've collected a handful of swords in the last 6 months and I learned very quickly that good quality costs good money. The quality of the sword I bought that sells for $1500 MSRP is vastly greater than the quality of the first sword I bought, which cost me $180. Unfortunately the big sword suppliers are not big iaito suppliers. I didn't know it was such a specialty item to the extent that it is even more of a specialty item than a genuine quality shinken.

    I don't see any stickies about this, so I hope it's not an FAQ: where do I go to buy a good quality iaito for up to $500? It's an arbitrary number; I can save more money and buy a more expensive one if the $500 price point doesn't buy the kind of quality that will stand up to the rigors of a decade of daily practice. So the question is somewhat fluid; the most important point is to purchase a decent iaito, not to save as much as possible. Cost is definitely factor (that can't be denied), but I'm looking for something that isn't going to be a showpiece here. I need something that's going to serve as a training implement. It's going to be used. A lot.

    Please guide me. I can google "aluminum iaito" just as easily as anyone. However I seek the wisdom and guidance of the members here whose understanding and experience vastly overshadows mine as a humble but grateful beginner.

    What I'm looking for:
    • Aluminum zinc alloy blade, simulated hamon optional but appreciated
    • 28.5 inch nagasa (measured from kissaki to the top of the habaki; i.e.- height of habaki not included in blade length measurement)
    • 10 inch tsuka (more on tsuka below)
    • Bo-hi, naturally. I think it would be hard to find a real iaito without bo-hi.
    • Strong hardwood saya. Buffalo horn kurikata and kojiri would be nice. Handwoven sageo definitely not required.
    • Kurikata should not be too far from the koiguchi (standard 3 inches of distance is what I'm looking for; when the distance is too great it makes the draw and the noto more difficult than it should be)
    • Iron or steel tsuba
    • Iron or steel fuchi, kashira (koshirae)
    • brass seppa and habaki preferred
    • Any motif is fine, menuki not even necessary
    • Two (double) mekugi preferred
    • The items below I can arrange myself if necessary (I know someone to whom I can ship the iaito for complete refitting)
      • Hardwood tsuka 10 inches
      • Genuine and high quality raw (white) samegawa, full wrap--not panels
      • Panels would only be OK on the condition that the tsuka is beefy (I have big hands)
      • Cotton ito with hishigami and classical wrap style


    Again, all guidance is appreciated. Thank you for your advice.
    Apologies as i cannot find the link but there are some great discussions on Sword Forum about purchasing iaito.

    There are some very knowledgeable people around here too who will hopefully post.

    Stephen
    Stephen Baker

    "Never cruel nor cowardly, never give up, never give in." Doctor Who

  4. #3
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    I don't think you're going to find all the items you're looking for for $500. Possibly not even $1500. I can, however, suggest a site I have used in the past and that has proven to have iaito of good quality:

    http://swordstore.com/japanese-sword...m-order-1.html

    Hope this helps.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Owens View Post
    I don't think you're going to find all the items you're looking for for $500. Possibly not even $1500. I can, however, suggest a site I have used in the past and that has proven to have iaito of good quality:

    http://swordstore.com/japanese-sword...m-order-1.html

    Hope this helps.
    Thanks for the tip, Brian. Your statement surprises me, I'll admit. I can get all of that in a nice shinken for $700. You are talking about double that. I wonder if this goes back to the nature of an iaito as a specialty item...

    That does put a damper on purchase time frame, because I'd have to save for twice as long. It's a worthy investment though, and the piper must be paid. "If we must, we must"

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    Kim Taylor is selling iaito for about $750-$850. http://sdksupplies.netfirms.com/

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    If you go to the "Contact Us" page on the SwordStore site you can send an e-mail to them giving your requirements as listed in your post, and they can give you a firm quote on the price. The price can seem high, especially when compared to some of the Chinese-made swords on the market, but rest assured that there are good reasons for buying based on quality rather than price; reasons that may not seem important until one has been practicing for awhile.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Practice sword on a budget. What is wrong with Tozando? I have a couple they are solid enough for iai practice. Practice with one of those for as long as you have to and save for what you really want instead of a another middle of the road step model.

    NOTE - I have not bought a sword in YEARS. I assume Tozando is still putting out the same products at the same price points with the same quality..... I know that is a lot of assuming.
    Ed Boyd

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    Quote Originally Posted by CEB View Post
    Practice sword on a budget. What is wrong with Tozando?
    There's nothing wrong with Tozando, and in fact I had originally put a link to them in my post; I edited it out, though, because of the degree of customization Mr. Butler is looking for. The last iaito I bought, about 10 years ago, came from Tozando, and it was very nice.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	My Iaido Shrine Bare Blade Crop -- 800.jpg 
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ID:	10811
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    You're putting the cart before the horse there Tommy. Before you can get particular about what you want to buy in an iaito, you first need to learn more about what constitutes a good iaito, and then work from there. I see several things in your original post that need to be rethought.
    First, you're are not going to find hardwood used for either tsuka or saya. This is because it is extremely difficult to carve properly for saya, doesn't have the correct elasticity for use as a tsuka, and in the case of oak and related hardwoods, can react badly with the metal in the sword. Japanese swords made in Japan will use honoki for saya and tsuka as it is a soft, springy, non-reactive wood that has been used for this for centuries. I have heard that birch and aspen are suitable substitutes in the U.S.

    Second, Japanese swords (and iaito) made in Japan are still measured in shaku, sun, bu. You would be looking for a 2.4.0 nagasa, which is about 28.6 inches. Here is a handy shaku/centimeter/inch convertor ... http://www.kampaibudokai.org/Script.htm

    You will not be able to find a Japanese made iaito with two mekugi. This is due to where two mekugi actually came from. The Japanese sword traditionally only has one mekugi due to how the tsuka is built and installed. A properly made tsuka will be held tight to the nakago because it is carved precisely so that the nakago compresses the wood of the tsuka without pushing it past its breaking point. This is why a softer springy wood is needed. The mekugi is meant to keep the tsuka installed fully on the nakago to keep that pressure fit tight. When Japanese style swords began to be made in China, the workers making the tsuka weren't trained the way they are in Japan, and the wood being used was not dried and stored the same way, so the second mekugi was added as insurance because of the higher probability of the tsuka loosening up. A second mekugi is redundant in a properly made tsuka, and can actually be counterproductive in some instances.

    You'll not find a full samegawa wrap in an iaito unless you have one custom built (mucho moola!) All the iaito being built in Japan will come with panels. That's OK though, since all you'll be cutting is air (we hope!) so it doesn't have to endure the same stress a cutting sword would.

    So, all of that being said, you are going to be pretty well off with most iaito currently being made in Japan. I would advise staying away from the lowest price point iaito as they generally have those being made by the least experienced people in the shop, and I've heard of people having issues with them fairly recently. Stores such as Tozando, Nishijin Sword, Yamato Budogu, Meirin Sangyo, Swordstore.com, Mugendo Budogu, SDK Supplies, and Samurai-store.com all sell quality iaito made in Japan.

    There's a lot out there, and a lot to learn. Have fun with it!
    Last edited by pgsmith; 19th January 2015 at 21:58.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgsmith View Post
    ...You will not be able to find a Japanese made iaito with two mekugi.
    Au contrare. My Japanese-made iaito that I showed above has two mekugi, and I have seen many others that have two as well. Here's a detail crop of mine, a Masakuni Dotanuki replica:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	My Iaito -- Tsuka.jpg 
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ID:	10815

    That said, I visited the Tozando Web site and I see there is no checkbox for a "two mekugi" option. I can't recall if that was an option when I ordered mine, or if it was automatic with that sword due to the heavy blade and long tsuka. (It's a 2.6 shaku monster.) Maybe they don't offer that at all anymore.
    Last edited by Brian Owens; 20th January 2015 at 11:41.
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    I'd dispute that you can get a nice shinken with all those features for $700. You can get a Chinese blade with so-so fittings for that price.

    Last I checked (and that was quite a while ago), new shinken made Japanese style were starting at $6000 or so.
    Neil Gendzwill
    Saskatoon Kendo Club

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Owens View Post
    Au contrare. My Japanese-made iaito that I showed above has two mekugi, and I have seen many others that have two as well.
    That's interesting Brian! I've never noticed two mekugi in any Japanese made iaito. I'm going to freak people out at the Tucson tai kai in March when I start asking to check out tsuka! Maybe I'll volunteer to work the sword check table so I get to check out the iaito of everyone participating.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgsmith View Post
    That's interesting Brian! I've never noticed two mekugi in any Japanese made iaito.
    I just found this one: http://www.tozandoshop.com/The-Legen.../340-zs124.htm

    (The blade only goes up to 2.4.2, so I hadn't looked closely at it before.)
    Yours in Budo,
    ---Brian---

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Owens View Post
    I just found this one: http://www.tozandoshop.com/The-Legen.../340-zs124.htm

    (The blade only goes up to 2.4.2, so I hadn't looked closely at it before.)
    That's a nice looking sword! It's a monster at 2.5 pounds though! My normal practice sword that I usually cut with only weighs in at about 950 grams or so.
    Paul Smith
    "Always keep the sharp side and the pointy end between you and your opponent"

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    As a relative newbie I can share that 2.5 pounds will be REALLY HEAVY. From areas of other expertise I would suggest a lighter sword so you can learn the movements properly and not get accustomed to muscle strain that should not be there once you get comfortable. The learning curve will be skewed if you are just fighting the weight let alone the proper path. My two cents.
    Stephen Baker

    "Never cruel nor cowardly, never give up, never give in." Doctor Who

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