My interest in swords grew out of my martial arts experiences. I’m not one of these self-styled “Japanese sword experts,” but I have enough experience drawing, cutting and sheathing real swords that I have some strong ideas about what a sword or knife should be.
First, a good blade should be durable. If a blade breaks, it’s not just an embarrassment to the sword maker, it’s a potentially lethal problem. Blades have to be made from good quality steel, properly heat treated. I’ve done a lot of experimentation and study to try and get the most out of the steel I use. I won’t say I don’t have room to improve (I do), but I do feel confident that my methods and testing will produce swords that won’t break under normal use.
Second, a blade should feel good. This is a very subjective matter. Different sword schools emphasize different techniques; different body types require different sizes and weights of sword. All I know is that I have ideas about what I like that are based on day-in-day-out practice with swords.
Third, a blade should be sharp. I own a gunto (war-era Japanese blade), and frankly I have pliers that stay sharp better. It used to be a commonly held belief among smiths that high carbon steels (the harder steels) should be avoided for swords because they are too brittle. But the American Bladesmith Society crowd have pretty well proved to my satisfaction that high carbon steels can be wicked tough…if properly heat treated. Right now I’m doing a good proportion of my work with high carbon steels which hold their edges well.
Fourth, a blade should be beautiful. To me beauty has two components. One is just plain-old vanilla esthetics. You can train your eye to see ungainliness, awkwardness, lack of proportion, lack of symmetry and so on. As somebody who grew up around art, who draws and paints, I think I have a decent eye for what’s butt-ugly and what’s not. I try to avoid butt-ugly in my work.
But beauty is more than esthetics. Swords are as classic an example as you can find that practical things are almost always attractive. Form follows function.
But there’s yet another layer to the beauty issue. I try to put my heart into everything I do. Whether it’s playing music, writing books, throwing a baseball with my son, or making swords, I hate doing stuff in a half-assed way. I think that things which are made with commitment and joy have something special about them. To me this, above all, is what distinguishes my work from factory-made blades.
The worst of the factory blades are simply dangerous crap. They’re easy to hate. But the best of them, while adequate for use by serious martial artists, are a little soulless.
My swords, on the other hand, are made by me on a one-off basis. I design them, I forge them, I plunge them into the water to heat treat them, I polish them, I test them, I sharpen them. When you get one of my swords — for good or ill — you get a piece of me.
Which, in this world of mass market plastic same-ol’-same-ol’ shlock, is a beautiful thing.