Mar 01, 23 10:15 PM
Swords of Northshire is a Texas based company that has more or less come out of nowhere to claim a relatively large share of the Custom Katana market by taking a different approach than most other sellers.
The returns issue is a big one - Swords can be shipped from China but not TO China, they are all routed to Shanghai and are confiscated as they are a prohibited import there. This means that if you buy from eBay or Alibaba, etc - once you are committed to the order, you simply cannot make a return - so their guarantees are worthless..
Swords of Northshire, by having a Texas based business, ARE able to accept returns, solving one of the biggest obstacles to going China direct.
Their business model is quite clever, Swords of Northshire have formed an alliance with a Longquan based sword distributor and found a way to deal with two of the biggest obstacles for people buying swords direct from China - the fact that if there is a problem, swords cannot be shipped back to China and the communication barrier commonly encountered when dealing with Chinese based sellers whose command of the English language can cause all kinds of misunderstandings and errors.
The review of one of their custom sword orders below is by a relatively new and inexperienced sword enthusiast - which while it does not make it any less valid - may need some extra input from SBG to determine if what they got was really as good a deal as they may think - and I will do so in an addendum after the reviewers conclusion.
So let's turn it over to our intrepid reviewer to see if he got his $180 worth..
Review by SBG member themagicalmark
So last November i was hunting around for a good Katana for under $300 USD or so and came upon the Swords of Northshire website.
Swords of Northshire is run by a merchant named Bryce who handles all
the logistics to my knowledge. They communicate out of Texas with select
forges in Longquan China. They also sell blades from other known forges
such as Ten Ryu.
After browsing the site for some days I took their 'Custom Sword' option which I'll be reviewing.
There is a lot of hype around Tamahagane - Nihonto made in Japan all use it, from one cenral forge. In China, there are only 2 forges that can make it, quality is not the same as Japan, and the steel actually produces an inferior sword.. So unless you are buying a sword in Japan - Chinese Tamahagane is basically a major rip off..
As you probably know the methods for smithing Japanese blades takes a lot of work and time. Good Tamahagane can be extremely pricey however, so I opted for the 1060 carbon steel option which is completely non traditional of course. The alloy fittings you can choose are a mix of historical and non historical designs, I just went with what i liked without too much regard for accuracy, but its definitely an option.
This was my first sword purchase ever so I'm probably not as experienced
at knowing good balance on a blade and such, but I have a good
understanding of ideal craftsmanship from reading as well as watching
videos. I may have made a terrible mistake buying from Swords of Northshire but it is
what it is.
Right on arrival I could tell this thing was packed pretty solidly. What
you can expect is a solid styrofoam block completely wrapped in packing
tape with a cutout in the middle that fit the blade. My only complaint
is that not knowing where everything is positioned inside you run the
risk of cutting into the handle wrap or some other part when you try to
open it, but that's more of a nitpick. Its packaged very well.
sword with the Saya (scabbard) came in a layer of plastic. If you get a
sword bag with the purchase it will be inside of that as well.
the sword the first time the blade was pretty generously coated in
grease. After removing that I could see the blades mirrored finish which
i brought out with a museum wax polish. I noted a couple scratches on
the blade but they were fairly minor. Checking the fit of all the
fittings everything was pretty much perfect. The leather wrap was super
tight and really satisfying
Ordering this was very easy, the website is easily navigated and everything is well explained save for a few questions I had about the forging process, I was very pleasantly surprised with the customer service.
The vendor replied to my emails within the hour I sent them with very helpful replies, and they kept me updated with other steps in the ordering process. Once the sword was done they sent me several pictures of it (which I've attached) so I could confirm everything was to my satisfaction.
Going with the custom option I had to wait about a
month for the sword to actually be made so it'll take a bit to get there
from overseas. Surprisingly I got free shipping which is normally
pretty pricey for something like this, as I understand.
Before we get into it I'll list some of the options you can choose from when getting a custom Katana from Swords of Northshire:
Blade: Nice curved Katana blade, I ordered mine with a fuller and a fake hamon line, which doesn't look that great but its passable. It rubs off with little effort so I'm glad the feature had no additional cost. The blade itself is very well made, very ridged, but it does flex a bit. Its mirror polished and has no visible forging marks. Again there was a couple scratches but nothing huge. There's also an option for engraving which I took. It came relatively sharp but there's room for improvement, it has no secondary bevel, which is a feature I prefer.
Handle: Wonderfully solid handle construction, very tightly fit, the leather
wrap is as good as I could ask for as well. I haven't a single complaint
about the handle construction. The mekugi were fitted and cast nicely
Tsuba and fittings (Koshirae): I went for a snake design they offered, I really like the coloration and the texture. Its very well cast, good solid construction.
Saya: While usual saya have fittings made from horns, this is completely a hardwood construction. It was a nice lacquered finish and the saya as a whole is very light. The cord wrap on the saya is Nylon and had a bit of fraying in a couple places, since I got it I've had to retie it once but its overall pretty good. The cord is held in place by two brass fittings on the saya. It fits the blade really well however, even shaking it upside down a few times doesn't make the sword fall out.
Handling and Cutting: As mentioned earlier I don't have too much experience handling swords at the time of writing this review, but from what I do know this handles well for me. This sword feels good in the hands and swings around pretty effortlessly.
I did further cutting and abuse testing cut through milk jugs
cleanly with the factory edge and suffered no damage or looseness from
being hit against a dead tree repeatedly.
This sword only cost me $160 USD (at a discount i received, without it would have been around $199) The base price for the custom katana is $199 minimum an it costs more depending on what options you pick. I think its good for the price, I don't feel like i wasted any money and it has yet to fail me so far.
I can recommend purchasing from Swords of Northshire overall, while I'd
be comfortable buying from them again I'll probably try out other forges
in the future.
If you're looking for a reliable custom vendor this is a pretty good option, I'm sure there are better ones out there but for what it is, this is just fine.
If you're more of a high end collector this will do fine as well, it may not impress you however.
As Mark stated, this is his first sword - total spend $160 with free shipping. The sword itself is nothing all that special, and the most expensive part of the sword is not the blade in this case but the fittings, those work hardened copper fittings alone are worth around $60-80!!
Considering the lack of a communication barrier typically encountered when buying direct from China, the large number of customziations possible, updates along the way and the option to return it if it doesn't work out, overall that's not a bad package..
If this was a production sword for this price, it would still be a pretty good deal. But with all considered and many possible customization options, it's one of the best choices out there for those looking for a customized/personalized sword with lots of options. As such, Swords of Northshire services that end of the market quiet nicely and is well worth a serious look.
Their custom swords are available on their website Swords of Northshire.com
As noted in this review, the base cost is $199.99 for a monotempered 1060 blade with your choice of fittings and custom options. Other options can quite dramatically increase the base price, for example a differentially hardened 1095 carbon steel blade adds another $250 to the base price to the point where if you go for every premium option it can cost as much as $600 or more, in which case you would probably be better served with Master Smith made blades such as those from Forge Direct. However, they have a lot more possible custom options so it really depends on how specific your design needs to be
I hope this information has been helpful. To return to the Ultimate Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from Swords of Northshire Custom Katana Review, click here