LK Chen Flying Phoenix Nov 14, 2019 15:18:32 GMT
Post by themuffinslayer on Nov 14, 2019 15:18:32 GMT
Hello all, first time posting a review on here and this format. All of my photos are on mobile and I'll try and have this updated with pictures before the day is out.
I've always had a fascination with Chinese swords, particularly the Han Dynasty style jian. Unfortunately the vast majority of these swords are non functional, especially since Jin Shi went dark years ago, and my experience with the offerings from Sinosword/JKOO were...less than stellar. I have no desire to go bashing on them in particular, but the piece I had received from them had cut corners I had found unacceptable. I had all but given up on getting a proper Han style Jian except for saving for a forge direct. Then a youtuber I follow, swordsage posted a video, and along came LK Chen.
This particular sword doesn't appear to be based entirely on one particular example, however the dimensions of the sword itself are based on the "blueprints" that come from precise measurement of original swords dating from over 2000 years ago. Many other models have fittings that are cast from copies of surviving originals. In the case of the Phoenix it seems the desire was to capture the overall aesthetics of swords of this type. My choice in this particular sword was due to its measurements appealing to me more than those of the other single hand size swords they offer.
I purchased this sword with my own money, and am in no way affiliated with LK Chen with the exception of keeping in contact with them to help advise in improvements they can make to the swords themselves. I'd also like to note here I have less than no training formal or otherwise in chinese martial arts. My experience with swords up until this point is a handful of katana for basic cutting and general messing around with, and twelve years of experience with european swords ranging in quality from Cold Steel, Hanwei, custom examples from Lyn Driggers, Lutel, Valiant Armoury and Angus Trim. I will be framing this swords performance in the comparison of swords in a similar price range, and substantially higher. While this may seem unfair at first I will explain my reasoning when I get there.
I ordered my sword in early August and LK Chen's website states to give them thirty days to make the sword and one-two weeks for delivery. It was at my door in a grand total of twenty one days. I was impressed. The sword itself came in packaging familiar to people ordering swords direct from China, a styrofoam box wrapped in enough yellow brown tape to make a box cutter shiver. After releasing the sword from its tomb I found it wrapped in a golden silk sword bag, pretty standard for the course and a small spray bottle containing sword oil which I thought was a nice surprise. Inside the silk bag I found that the entire sword both inside and outside the scabbard was wrapped in tight fitting plastic wrap. Once all of this was removed I took a moment to examine the sword and was a little let down by the pommel. It had, and still has a dent in its edge that looked to me like it was dropped in shipping. Moving along the grip felt very good in hand. The silk(?) cord wrap provided excellent traction and what's more, wasn't shaped like a wooden dowel from the hardware store. The guard was well formed and was seated tightly to the blade with little gap, and also encompassed the top part of the grip, giving a tighter and more compressed fit. The blade itself was beautiful to look at and far more narrow than I had expected in the last third, being very akin to a rapier in the top of the blade
Overall Length: 42.375in
Blade Length: 33.973in
Blade Width: Base: 1.25in
Mid point: 1.063in
Blade Thickness: (from their site): 7.2mm-2.5mm Eyeballing it looks about right.
Weight: 1lb 6oz
Fit and finish
Now this is the bugbear of the entire sword, so I'd like to get my gripes out of the way now. I'll be singing it's praises in the component section. My sword has a couple of issues. That being said, in the $300 range, none of these are bad enough to make me not recommend the sword and I have been in contact with lk chen to see improvements made in this area. Starting from the bottom and working my way up.
The pommel has the aforementioned dent in the side. It doesn't affect handling, as it is bent away form the point of the sword. If bent in the other direction I would probably have made an effort to bend it flush. I have experience working steel but not bronze so I didn't want to risk over stressing the material.
The grip came unwound on the base of my sword. Now, this happened over the course of about six weeks of use, during which I tried to put the sword through 45min-1hr of use a day in order to collect data for this review. I emailed LK Chen about this issue and sent detailed instruction on how to rewrap the grip as well as photos to show properly how it was done. Of the several examples ive seen of this sword used by aforementioned sword sage and others I believe mine was just a lemon in this regard. I also couldn't get a rewrap to work for me because I have the motor skills of a baboon that's three sheets to the wind. My solution ended up being gorilla brand hot glue. Since then its been rock solid. Worth noting here is that the grip wrap was not loose above where it had come undone and continues to not move in the top of the grip.
Guard has a small casting flaw in the point of one of the wings, nothing to write home about but I'm being as picky as possible. Also of note is that it is fitted extremely well to the blade with only about 1mm gap in the wider places.
Blade: The blade of the sword came to me with a slight burr on one edge, and the point on the same side was slightly asymmetrical. It was repaired with two passes on a leather strop.
Scabbard: Only issue and it's been a persistent one since I received the sword is it appears to have some epoxy/glue in the point that makes the sword difficult to sheathe in the last 3-5mm, and leaves a residue on the point I have to wipe off every time it's drawn. Of note is that it has caused no actual corrosion or damage to the sword, so I don't feel its as bad as it could be.
Grip: I don't know the type of wood, but I have little doubt they'd tell me if I asked. My only experience with hardwoods range from oak to hickory to ash since those are the ones I use on my tool and sword handles, so I'd have no input here anyway lol. The grip is a flattened oval in top section, rounding out towards the pommel. its extremely secure in hand and gives immense aid to edge alignment. The cord used seems to be silk, I don't know for sure but it is of more than acceptable quality with little fraying and occasional fuzz that came up early in use. Since then sweat and oil from my hands has more or less removed the issue entirely.
Guard and Pommel: A lighter colored bronze, both done very well for the price category, an observation I wish I had taken a photo of when the wrap became unwound was that there is a pin almost 1/4in diameter pinning the grip, tang and pommel together. This is historical and gives the sword far greater structural integrity to threaded and glued attachments. It was honestly this fact that pushed me to hit the buy it button on this.
Blade: Pattern welded 1065 and T8 steels. Hardened to around 55hrc. This blade. Wow this blade. The pattern is vibrant, and gorgeous to look at. The diamond cross section and temper give this sword a blade stiff enough to rival some small sword examples I've seen. The edges with the exception of the earlier noted burr are some of the sharpest I've had out of box, with no secondary bevel and a strong edge geometry. The sword actually surprised me in how competent a cutter she is but I'll elaborate in the handling section. It has plenty of flex when heavy pressure is applied, and springs true. The polish is excellent, with only one side of the blade showing minor ripples from finishing at the point it suddenly narrows to the last 9in of blade.
Scabbard: Unknown hardwood with bronze components. The scabbard is apparently finished with a traditional tree sap lacquer. It gives the scabbard a very deep red/brown luster that pops in the daylight and is well finished overall. The decorative painting is done by hand and it is obvious that it is, however it isn't at all sloppy. There are just little details left behind in brush strokes that give it quite a bit of charm. It grabs the sword very well even when the issue with the glue is taken into account with little rattle. The chape of the scabbard is the same light bronze and is almost seamlessly affixed to the end. It is a beautiful scabbard that is properly thin and gives the entire package a very sleek and aggressive look to my eyes.
Oh my here it gets interesting. In all respects this sword surprised me. At 6in pob and around a pound and a half I was expecting a sword that could both feel unresponsive as well as lack punch. I was wrong, so very very wrong. In a single hand, this sword is powerful, and very accurate with the thrust. It screams as it cuts the air. The only louder sword I've swung is a double fullered Lutel. This is one of the most enjoyable swords I've used. My wife remarking at me "giggling like a school girl" after my first couple of dry swings. I can't praise enough this Jians handling. I started collecting with a gunshow Highlander Duncan katana my father got for me when I was around 10 years old. I'm 28 now and in that time I've had dozens of swords pass through my hands. There have been precious few that just "clicked" when I picked them up. Many of you can relate I'm sure. Sometimes a sword feels like a sword, other times it feels like a weapon. I really don't know how to better explain it than this: I love my hanwei rhinelander. I stripped down the grip, reshaped it then put leather over it to make it custom to my hands and give me better control. It feels like a powerful weapon. It cuts well, and handles pleasantly. My Atrim xviiib feels like a sword. It has blade presence, it cuts well of course, but its several levels above the rhinelander in speed and precision. It has that archetypal feeling that we grew up assuming all swords felt like. The Pheonix goes to this level. In to hands, this sword is lethal. At first it actually made me uncomfortable how fast this three foot razor blade was in use. It stops on a dime mid cut, changes directions smoothly and flows like water. Frankly it makes me look better than I have any right to in use. Every gripe I had with the sword in finish vanished with the first set of drills I ran through. My chinese sword experience is limited to the hanwei Scott Rodell Cutting jian and a sinosword Octohedral han jian. I don't want to come across as negative to either, but the LK Chen is the better performer of them.
Another surprise here. As sharp as it is, as light as it is, with the narrow blade I just didn't expect much from this sword in the cut. Again I was wrong. I started with pool noodles. Light target, easy enough to cut with a quick, sharp blade. No surprises there, it ate them alive with cuts from the true and false edge, ascending, descending, flat cuts at eye, throat, and waist level with different mechanics. Even single handed "let it fall and just keep the edge in line" cuts sailed through. Good start. Milk jugs, same result. And thrusts were just devastating. The sword started to surprise me here. Cutting three milk jugs lined side to side without loosing velocity and tearing or moving the jugs. Even the angle of the cut was consistent. I'm usually pretty good at figuring how a sword will handle a cut, but this one was proving me wrong. In a good way. 16.9oz water bottles were just as easily dealt with, one particular cut taking 5 without throwing them to the ground. Thrusts often didn't see these bottles move until the first 8in of the blade had already penetrated. Accidental heavy target testing ensued when I decided to try cuts from a mind dynasty two handed jian manual. "Wipe the eyebrow" Very similar to the "halo" cuts used in European longsword where one cuts with the true and false edge in rapid succession. Well, I dun goofed. I cut my small bottles, and slammed the sword into the seasoned wood of my cutting stands top. Hard enough to shear a 5in long and about 1.5in wide slice off my stand and throw the stand to the ground. I didn't even want to look. I expected an edge roll, a bend, something. The hit didn't rattle my hands, but I checked the sword. Everything was good and tight. No movement. Eyed up the blade, wiped off the wood remains, not even a scratch. Tested the edge, still notebook paper sharp. Still straight as an arrow. This sword exceeded my expectations. The final surprise was my attempt at making the sword fail. I took a 20oz soda bottle and filled it. Now this sword is barely over .5in in width over the last 6in of length or so. I measured my distance, and put the bottle in the last 3in of the blade. I wanted to see exactly where this sword would stop cutting. I tried my best to not overpower the cut. The bottle flew off the stand, the impact was felt in my hand but to my surprise she made it all the way through. Wasn't the prettiest cut, but it severed the bottle and that was all I felt I could ask if not more.
To say I'm happy with this sword is an understatement. For around $300 you're getting an excellent length of steel. My continued contact with LK Chen has seen them add a paper cut with both edges before shipment as well as other improvements to their finishing process. I was told that their desire was to be seen as "The Albion of the East" And the improvements I've seen in my time speaking with them and their continued dedication to these swords and their history gives me hope that we could very well see them become just that. I held off on making this review in order to give the sword time to show me it's flaws, and the excitement of a new blade to wear off. I hope that I came across as fair to the sword, and that this information helps others make a decision on these swords that I honestly saw at first as suspiciously affordable when reading all they offered. All in all from before I ordered until now LK Chen has proven to be an easily contacted, friendly and dedicated company. I wish them the best in their pursuits.
-Finish issues (hopefully mostly addressed at the time of writing)
All in all, I'm happy with my sword and intend to give them more business in the future. Thank you all for reading, I realize I'm about as entertaining as bubonic plague.
TL;DR: Get it if you like jian.