Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Unusual Chinese knife / Dao

Over the years, I’ve seen a remarkable variety of different blade shapes,  but this one is really quite unusual for a Chinese knife.

Chinese Dao

overall length                   755mm
blade length                     615mm
grip length                       140mm
weight                             1088gr
p.o.b                               180mm

The blade is 5mm thick at the forte, tapering to 2.5mm at the tip, and is sharp along the full length of the bottom edge.

In contrast to the blade, the handle is typically Chinese in style and construction.

Brass coin motif and lanyard hole

The wooden grip scales are made from a kind of dense hardwood frequently used for Chinese sword handles. They have been attached to the tang using 4 brass rivets. The handle also has a brass coin motif through it and a brass lined lanyard hole. 


The tang is quite thin and the grip has strips of steel riveted between the wooden scales and the tang, perhaps to increase rigidity. 

Riveted copper discs

Instead of having a guard, the front faces of the grip scales are covered by copper discs. These are held in place by two copper rivets passing through the blade.

The front face of the above wooden scale is cut at quite a different angle from the one on the other side of the grip. No real attempt has been made to fashion a symmetrical handle. The crude nature of this workmanship is quite normal for such functional weaponry. 

Brass end cap

The end cap and lozenge-shaped washer are both brass, and are peened to the end of the tang.

Overall, it is moderately heavy and forward weighted. Quite comfortable to hold but one would require a reasonable strength to wield it accurately and effectively. 

It is very likely that this knife was made using a recycled blade, perhaps from a pole arm, or maybe from a farming implement. Quite unusual though, never seen a Chinese blade of this shape before…….so,  does anyone have any ideas where this blade/shape might have originated from?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Iron mace head

 This a rather odd item. It is a Chinese mace head of archaic form. Date of manufacture is uncertain, but given the extent of the patination, I would say that it is not a recent item. I am not aware of other examples that would help to date it. It could be from the Qing dynasty or it could conceivably be much, much earlier. Surprisingly, it is made of cast iron, a material which is notoriously brittle and unsuitable for tool or weapon manufacture. The picture below shows some damage, the most likely cause of this is that the points have chipped off due to impact damage. Possibly suggesting that this mace head has been used to strike with.

Chinese iron mace head of archaic form

Why would a mace head be made in an unsuitable material like cast iron? Well, one can only wonder, perhaps it was a test piece? perhaps it was a decorative item? Whatever the reason, it is a very nicely made item, and much time and care has gone into its manufacture.

Oblique view showing arrangement of 'panels' and points

Irrespective of why it was made, it stands on its own as an inherently beautiful sculptural item.

View through the eye of the mace head

It weighs 360g. It is 60mm in diameter and 40mm tall. The eye is almost perfectly circular, 27mm in diameter. The head would have been mounted on a wooden haft.

 For comparison of form, bronze mace head.
 Reference: ' Zhong Guo Gu Dai Leng Bing Qi'  -  ISBN 978-7-807040-220-6

Bronze mace head

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Cast brass guard

Commonly, Chinese sword guards were fabricated from sheet metals and brazed or forge welded. The following example is of a one-piece casting, and probably dates from the late Qing. The four lobe design was a popular one in the Ming and Qing Dynasties and it can be found on both jian and dao.

The hole for the tang is a trapezoidal in shape, indicating that this guard was once fitted to a dao blade.

Dao guard with casting defect
 The top lobe of the guard (above), has a void in the brass where the molten metal didn't fill the mould completely.

The guard has been roughly fashioned without taking time to make it truly symmetrical, and the thickness of the rim is quite variable. This is normal for the fittings of ordinary Chinese swords. In contrast, modern reproduction fittings are usually pretty neat and pretty accurate in their symmetry. I prefer the crude, rustic charm of the old ones.

The cast surface on the inside of the rim is quite irregular

This brass guard was not brightly polished, it had been covered with black paint/lacquer. In the left lobe (below), there are two patches where the black coating has peeled away. The parts in the centre where the brass is showing bright, were caused by the loose hilt rubbing away the coating and patina.

Dao guard covered in paint / lacquer

Length - 3 6/16" (85mm)
Width - 2 1/4" (56mm)
Depth - 1/4" (7mm)
Weight - 105g

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Precious wood jian hilt

Here a few pictures of the previous jian hilt. This hilt was made later than the blade, and is of a fairly rustic manufacture. It is difficult to the age of the blade, but given the amount of polishing it has had, I would estimate it to be mid-Qing or earlier. This is a well forged blade that has obviously been treasured, and has been re-hilted with precious wood, probably in the late Qing. The wood is very dense and very hard, and is most likely to be a Huali, but if anyone can positively identify it, I would be most grateful.

Huang huali wood?

The brass guard is ellipsoid in shape, and has been made from two pieces: a flat piece forming the body of the guard, and a strip bent around to form the rim. The picture below shows the join where the two pieces were brazed together, and also shows the diagonal scarf joint in the rim. The ferrule was formed from one strip of brass. The strip was bent to shape leaving an overlap and then the overlap was brazed.

The wooden pommel was made from one piece and the wooden grip was made in two halves. The grip sections may originally have been glued together. There is now a visible gap between the sections of the grip. This has been caused by corrosion of the tang forcing the sections apart.

The brass ferrules help to bind the two sections of the grip together and the decorative end cap serves to keep the pommel securely in place.

Carved decoration on the pommel cap

Not only is the hilt beautifully designed and very nicely made, it is also extremely comfortable to use.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Chinese sword stands

I'm always on the lookout for different ways to display swords. These days, there are more and more Chinese-style stands on the market, but so far I've not been tempted by any that I've seen. Also, I must confess that I've never felt right using Japanese sword stands, they somehow seem inappropriate for displaying Chinese swords. However, with a bit of imagination, one can find other solutions....

Qing jian supported by two Pi Xie

These stands are Shiwan ceramic Pi Xie. Beautiful quality. They are a nice size, very stable, and hold blades at an ideal angle for table-top display.  Bought from an online Feng Shui supplier. 

The sword is a Qing dynasty jian. It has a 26 1/2" blade, brass fittings and a precious wood handle. The blade has numerous battle scars and it has been re-polished many times over it's working life. A very nice sword with superb handling.

Shiwan ceramic Pi Xie

I'm not sure that Feng Shui masters would approve of this particular use of Pi Xie, but they do make very attractive and dramatic sword supports!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Removing rust spots

When removing rust spots from blades it is important to use something that is harder than the rust but softer than the steel blade. Abrasive papers are too hard and will leave scratches in the steel, and surprisingly so will ordinary steel wool. Stainless steel however, is harder than rust but softer than blade steel.
Stainless steel wool and wax modelling tools

So, for removing light rust deposits stainless steel wool is ideal.  This is not usually available at hardware stores but can be obtained from automotive suppliers where it is used for filling exhausts. Thicker accumulations of rust are more difficult to remove but they can be carefully scraped away using stainless steel wax modelling tools and then any remaining rust can be removed with the steel wool.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Knuckle-guard jian

This is a rather unusual sword. Chinese jian blades can be found with a wide variety of hilt fittings, but this is the first time that I've seen one fitted up with a knuckle-guard.

Overall length - 26" [ 660mm] 
Blade length - 21 3/4" [554mm] 
Weight - 627g

The blade is very worn and shows unmistakeable signs of combat. The knuckle-guard is probably not original to the blade. Surprisingly, the sword does play quite well, but of course it is limited in movement by the guard. This somewhat restricts the flexibility of the wrist and has an effect on the balance so that the sword behaves more like a straight bladed zhibeidao than like a jian.

The short grip is made of a dense, light coloured hardwood with a thin coating of lacquer. The wood has been crudely cut to size and no attempt has been made to achieve a smooth finish or to remove any tool marks. None-the-less, the grip is quite comfortable to hold, and the irregular surface seems to be an advantage here.

The fittings are typically Chinese in style. Nicely functional, iron, wrought by hand.