The Musashi Bamboo Katana is proving to be quite a popular choice for the sword enthusiast on a budget.
Musashi have always been a very innovative sword making company, seemingly creating products at a very low price point, and then doing their darndest to squeeze every last bit of value out of their creations.
So when they turned their considerable experience towards designing the lowest priced, differentially hardened Katana on the market - a range of carbon steel swords that retail as low as $80 - when previously the lowest priced Katana with a real hamon was between two to three times this price - it naturally got my (and many other Katana collectors) full attention...!
In this review I will be taking a close look at one of their budget priced natural hamon Katana, dissecting it and testing it thoroughly to find out if it really is too good to be true..
Review by SBG Editor in Chief, Paul Southren
My own review of the Musashi Bamboo sword was a little late to the party, mostly due to a site wide overhaul and a thousand other projects that all seemed to take precedence, but as I watched the reviews come in on the SBG forum, there was a common thread (pardon the pun) - everyone who bought one was VERY happy with their purchase, loved how lightweight and fast this sword was, and for the money, considered it to be one of the best sword purchases they ever made...!
One of the best written reviews, which was done one year after purchasing, suggested that this sword was actually the reviewers favorite sword out of ALL of his collection - and that after 1 year of contiguous use, the sword held up remarkably well...
So now maybe around 6-8 months after I bought it, and having tried it on a variety of targets under a variety of conditions, I'd like to add my $0.02 to the fray!
Now there is nothing even remotely fancy about the box that the Musashi Bamboo comes in, which is kind of reassuring - after all, for $80 - every CENT counts, and money spent on the box and presentation that could have been spent on the sword is something that I really dislike seeing at the lower end of the price spectrum (after all, it is factored into the price!).
All that is there is a simple colored box, with the sword inside - propped up by two Styrofoam supports, and a spec sheet in an envelope on top.
The sword itself was inside a basic black cotton sword bag - and when I picked it up I was struck by how lightweight the sword itself felt. Gingerly unwrapping the bag, I took out the sword and spent some time getting to know it, looking it over from top to bottom, and this is what I thought...
Now for $149, it is not fair to expect too much for a swords fittings. But in all honesty, I have seen swords at well over twice this price that are not as well assembled...
Part of this actually has to do with the fact that the blade of this sword is not hand made but made on a machine, so of course tolerances are a lot higher when you remove the 'human factor'. But overall, I was impressed - everything was tight, no looseness or rattles anywhere - indeed even the Kashira was tight (though I suspect it is glued on, which is in itself not a bad thing).
The cotton ito is somewhat 'shoelacey' and fluffy in texture, but quite tightly wound over the real rayskin panels and bamboo themed menuki (ornament), which looks to me to be black powder coated brass.
The tsuba itself is actually very impressive, and I confirmed with a magnet that it is indeed iron as advertised, which is really a must for such a delicate bamboo themed design.
The seppa (spacers) are of course brass, a little stained from some of the finish that was applied to the mouth of the saya, but good quality overall - and to be honest - I was pretty surprised by how decently made this swords handle fittings were..
Indeed, even the way the blade fit into the glossy black saya was pretty much perfect, not too tight and not too loose (though to be honest, even the best fitted blades can end up tight or loose after they leave a forge due to atmospheric conditions, but I could still not help to be impressed).
Naturally, I my inspection of the sword required it to be disassembled - the bamboo mekugi pegs came out nicely, and even taking off the tsuba was not that hard - almost a perfect friction fit, though the first inch was pretty darned tight (again, not a bad thing).
Expecting to find a cracked tsuka, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it intact, but that it was actually pretty well made (one side seemed to be made of a darker wood than the other, but that's really just cosmetic - and since it is under the hood - of no real consequence)..
On the tang was the name of the swords designer, Mr Sam Sung, who is the president of Musashi swords. So far, so good!
Ok, now here is where it gets interesting..
The blade is described by Musashi as differentially 1060 carbon steel and the "hamon is formed by the clay temper process during production". It is also described as hand made, though I think that this MUST be referring to the clay tempering - the blade itself could not possibly be hand made at this price point..
I have to admit, the hamon is a lot more attractive than I thought it would be..
It's quite subtle, shifting in and out depending on the angle it faces, but below are a couple of pics showing it at its best, the first by me and the other by another gent who picked one up some time ago..
In terms of sharpness, this blade is pretty nicely honed and most definitely 'paper cutting sharp'..
In truth, at this point I was starting to get frustrated.. Even the kissaki (tip) was nice and smoothly polished..!
There had to be a catch, and I did have a nagging doubt..
It's actually pretty common practice for Chinese forges to 'step up' the quality of the steel because, well - who is really going to know? And when these swords first came out, I recall that they WERE described as 1045 carbon steel and then suddenly changed into 1060...
Now I have not subjected these swords to a detailed (and expensive) metallurgical analysis.. However, the price point tells me a lot.. 1060 carbon steel is harder to work than 1045, and more time means more money..
I will come back to this in a moment, because while it is no deal breaker - I did find some minor issues with these swords - and must admit, I was kind of relieved to find SOMETHING not perfect about them, because so far it really was too good to be true - and it gets better before it gets worse...
Weighing in at 2lbs 2oz, and with a point of balance only 4.5" from the tsuba, the Musashi Bamboo positively sings when in action - the bo-hi slicing loudly through the air with every swing.
Changing direction like a ballet dancer, it is definitely fun to wield - and even though personally I prefer a sword with a bit more power behind it, you can feel that it wants to cut, and I was more than happy to oblige it.
The edge is well honed, it's very fast in the hand and all the fittings are secure (actually, the fittings are pretty darned exceptional for an $80 sword)..!
Now comes the fun part, cutting some stuff up..!
Because I was convinced that this was a 1045 carbon steel, machine made blade - I expected at best for it to be a light duty cutter, something you'd use on pool noodles, water filled bottles and that kind of thing, maybe with the occasional tatami mat..
But to really know how hard or soft the steel was, I had to add in a slightly more challenging target..
See for yourself what happened..
VIDEO: Test Cutting
From light to relatively challenging targets, the Musashi Bamboo is put through its paces. Note I called it "$80" Katana as this was the price when it came out! (it has, of course, increased in cost in the years since and was seemingly underpriced at first release)
The Musashi Bamboo really did surprise me - it actually cut targets all the way up to a tatami mat as good, if not BETTER than Katana two, three or even four times its price..! But ironically, it was hardened bamboo (which I know for a fact is not that hard to cut with a decent blade) that pushed it over the edge.
The heat from the CNC machinery, plus the softness of 1045 carbon steel to begin with means that a sword at this price range can only be used so far.. But it's fine for normal usage!! And for safety reasons, better a cheap sword be too soft than too brittle...
Look, for $150 - this sword is a real gem..
The fittings are excellent, the hamon is REAL, the blade is keen, the fittings are iron - not zinc alloy, it handles like a jet fighter, cuts light targets like a light saber and it looks good too!
Sure, it isn't martial arts grade - but I tell you what, if it was just a little bit tougher, Musashi would put a lot of sword makers out of business with this thing!!
Definitely worth getting, a few years ago a sword like this would simply have been unheard of for $150...
I hope this review of the Musashi Bamboo Katana has been helpful. To return to A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from Musashi Bamboo Katana Review, click here