Prepping 101: Blade Snobs – Testing Chinese Swords from Budk & Ebay

Full Tang High Carbon Katanas on Budk
(note that the $40 one is now $43 and sold out)
The Zombie Killer (not suggested)
(see the old article for the types of carbon steel, clay tempering, etc.)

It is not every week that I get to do something substantive for this column, so this week I chose to try an experiment that I suggested to Blannelberry some time ago, after my original article/video, Hacking at Humans, on choose a sword as a secondary prepper weapon. As many of you know, he is a blade snob, so when I did my original project with swords, he claimed that my cheap examples from China would fall apart as soon as you whack something with them.

One of them actually did fail, as you’ll see in the video, but I kind of expected that because it was pretty out there to expect different. On Ebay you have to be careful, because there are a lot of cheap swords that are meant for decoration, and they are not hardened carbon steel. I bought that green one about a year ago and I thought I remembered that they had advertised it as such.

There are also some great buys on Ebay. You just have to look at feedbacks and selling history. There are swords that will say “high carbon” steel, some that will give you a percentage, and some will just say T10, which is a specific Chinese brand of sword steel. What is the difference between a $300 sword and a $100 sword? I have yet to figure it out, and I’ve actually asked some of the sellers from China directly. To some degree it is just how they look.

On Budk it’s a whole different story. I’ve been a customer of theirs for years, and with Budk you just have to read the details. If you spend $14.95 on a knife or small sword, most likely it will be stamped stainless with a black paint on it, similar to the Michone sword in the video. But if it says hardened carbon steel, or T10 or whatever, that is exactly what you’ll get, and they generally will also tell you how sharp it is as well.

Why do the blade snobs refuse to accept that from a self defense standpoint, a 50,000 lb. per square inch press does every bit as a good a job as some dude in his garage with a big hammer? I don’t know. I have had a specific blade snob tell me that he’d rather have a 5″ custom made $600 folding knife than one of these $40 Budk swords, because the sword was just going to fall apart. Wake up! The international blade market is extremely competitive between India and China, and it has been for years. Quality has come way up, and prices have gone way down.

I touched on a point in the video that kind of explains why a handmade American knife costs way more than an import hand made, or partially machine made knife. We don’t make knives in the US anymore on a very large scale. Even most of the Gerbers are now import, so much so that they have a specific “built in the US” page on their website. And swords? Forget it. There are plenty of small makers, but the entire art of blade craftsmanship has had to be relearned.

Why does China take our currency in trade for durable goods like these swords? Our money is just paper, or blips on the screen, and since Richard Nixon decoupled our dollar from gold in 1971, our currency is completely unbacked. The answer is that in that same era, the Saudis agreed to only accept US dollars in exchange for oil. That led to a world hegemony for the dollar, and it because the only true international reserve currency since that time. Without dollars, you can’t buy OPEC oil, so China, and the rest of the world, sell their natural resources, and the almost slave labor of its people, for our currency.

The election of Donald Trump showed that America has had enough of this system. It has cost us nearly all of our legitimately high paying manufacturing jobs here, and the unlimited flood of dollars has created the most immoral zero interest financial system in the history of mankind.

But for now, while you can swap this worthless currency for cool stuff, do it! Since my last article the prices have come up probably 20% for high carbon or T10 full tang katanas from reputable Ebay sellers. The clock is ticking, in more ways than one.

{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Dan C July 28, 2017, 12:52 pm

    If you want to be serious about it look into ARMA. They are a historical ‘club’ that trains with swords. None of this fancy BS U see on TV. They are real. I was a member for a couple of years and then my health got in the way. Learned a lot about how to handle them and. use them and the methods used in the Middle Ages.

  • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 5:07 pm

    Paul, another informative but light-hearted article. You’re a morale booster, for sure. However, please don’t ever display your arse crack like that again. I nearly brought my evening meal back up. I could smell your grinner from here.

  • Cliff April 14, 2017, 3:37 pm

    See; ZOMBIE Tools!

  • Norm Fishler April 9, 2017, 10:01 pm

    I have two swords for all the reasons outlined in the beginning of the presentation. Both were in the $1000-1500 range & both were hand forged from Mac truck springs. I realize that not everyone is in a position to afford such a luxury, but I too highly recommend the acquisition of at least one. Cold Steel has many different grades to choose from, plus they offer boken, practice swords manufactured from polymer. Older ones were fashioned from oak.

  • steve hammill April 9, 2017, 6:08 pm

    I buy Walmart pocket knives because I lose them; my good knives are in my emergency packs. In the event of an emergency, a sword is a legitimate tool for the purpose of keeping a bad guy off of you – minus the racket of a firearm. Any equipment in my emergency packs must be of good quality because it must be dependable; I don’t dare risk an equipment failure that might have been avoided by spending a hundred or two more.

    The question that must be answered for me is: What are the least expensive options capable of the task when failure is not an option?

    Your article has convinced me that $50 swords are a foolish choice for emergencies, but might be okay to take into the woods for fun.

  • John Currens April 6, 2017, 1:07 pm

    While its true that some of the cheap ones will hold up well they are still swords and swords are not meant for cutting brush. Katanas are too long to take that punishment and eventually will fail no matter who the maker is. And bending it back after you put a big bend in it makes failure come sooner. Big knives, hatchets, knives, tomahawks, axes even heavily built Wakizashi with a 20 inch blade are better suited. Try something like who can outfit you with a good polled tomahawk and can educate folks as to what might meet their needs at a less than $100. CRKT has a great polled tomahawk too there are a lot of options out there that are better and can be used for self defense. And if you carry a sword I would choose one with a blade length of around 20 inches which can also be used inside as well. I keep a less than $100 tactical Wakizashi by my bed
    . I am not a blade snob but do believe in using the right tool for the right job
    BTW Pleeeze use some duct tape, crack spackle or better yet a long tail tshirt from Duluth. Man you are proof testing my gag reflex

  • Matt April 5, 2017, 1:04 pm

    After I read this, I had to scroll back to the top to make sure it wasn’t published on 1April.

  • john hemeyer April 4, 2017, 4:51 pm

    I wondered who bought fake Jap swords. Now I know. Who would buy a sword that bends if they knew it beforehand? I did enjoy the article and practical demonstration on yard trash. You know, the U.S. military spent a lot of time and money testing their stuff. When they issue a machete, it’s probably pretty darn good. I have two U.S. military machetes which have served me well for decades. Plus, they don’t look like cartoon junk. “Zombie Killer”? What a p.o.s.

  • Missouri Blacksmith April 4, 2017, 10:15 am

    There is a few differences in quality blades and their mass produced cheap cousins. Lets start with the steel. Often china and india steel is recycled and the quality varies throughout the lot and you wont get a even heat treat. This causes hard and soft spots that can either bend or crack. Carbon steel is a broad term referring to steel in general. 1018 is a low carbon steel that can not harden, 1045 will harden but not good for knives, 1085,1095 is a good simple carbon steel for knives but some prefer O1, 4150, 4340 or even really depends on the application one steel will be good for a folder but not a sword.
    Next lets talk about how it is fabricated. Some places will stamp, torchcut or lazer cut out of a sheet. Sheet steel has a different grain structure because of how it was made. It may be 1095 but not as good as forged steel. I can go on and on. But you really need to decide why you want the blade and what you are going to use It for. If its going on the wall in your parents basement and maybe cutting a watermelon get a $40 katana.

    • Paul Helinski April 4, 2017, 12:06 pm

      The same regurgitated nonsense. Like you have actually looked at or held one. Words like “often” and “some places” make your comments useless. And you make a competing product.

      • Missouri Blacksmith April 4, 2017, 1:32 pm

        Well… my son has a cheap katana and i make blades. Im also a machinist (full time) i know a few things about metal. I bought some pattern welded steel from india thinking i would save a bunch of time forgwelding my own. It did make a beautiful knife but wouldn’t hold an edge very long. I have not used every blade in the video but have plenty of cheap carbon steel blades from China, pakastan and india. Of those i have a few i like but require reshaping and sometimes re-heatreating. Edge geometry isnt always that great either, thats the easiest thing to fix. I have a sog kukri i beat the hell out of but constantly needs the blade reworked. Its too soft. I have a pakastan bowie i re-heattreated it since the handle was easy to take off and reattach since it only had a nut on the pommel holding it on. If you would rather have more cheap blades than a few good ones keep buying them. And metallurgy isnt regurgitated nonsense it science.

  • Avon April 3, 2017, 9:17 pm

    I’ll take an El Salvador Corona machete over any of the el cheapo Chinese swords, anytime, anywhere. And take out a 2 inch sapling, “L” make that a 4 inch sapling with one swipe! I use to race my step brother cutting down 14 inch pine trees. Him with his double bit Swedish axe, me with my Corona. Louisiana Hackaberry trees were the bane of my existence, had one once take a bite out of my British Army machete. With the Corona’s sixteenth of an inch thick spring steel blade, it has less resistance as it cuts into the wood. I like my edges razor sharp. Also, remember to draw down and pull back with your swing, like a Samurai..

    • American April 5, 2017, 4:28 pm

      If you don’t have a chainsaw handy one of those Corona machetes will work. Why not get a made in the USA Ontario machete,if it fails they’ll replace it. I myself wouldn’t have a fake sword that’s just cheap junk. Ontario 18 inch machetes cost around $25.

  • DH April 3, 2017, 8:06 pm

    Good lord man! Do you have a tramp-stamp or is that a G-string? I was afraid to show video to wife, as she might swoon.

  • Cleophus April 3, 2017, 4:57 pm

    Paul, if you really want to do an article on a “budget” sword that you can absolutely stake your life on, then do an article on Cold Steel’s rendition of the pattern 1917 Navy Cutlass. This is absolutely, hands down, the perfect prepper blade for most every situation. It is perfect for defense in that it is tough in the extreme, being made of 1055 high carbon steel with an actual deep gun blue finish, (no paint). The Cutlass boasts a blade that is almost 3/8’s of an inch thick of expertly tempered American steel, and handles extremely well. It has an overall length of 29 5/8″, with 25 inches of that being blade. The handle consists of the classic “half basket” knuckle guard with two slabs of rosewood fitted to the sword and held in place with brass screws. The cutlass also comes with a very nice leather wrapped wooden scabbard that sports both a brass entry thimble and a brass toe drag. You can pick this sword up for a very reasonable $150.00 to 175.00 every day, (very reasonable for an American made blade). It even comes in a left hand model! If you know anything at all about the Company known as Cold Steel, then you know they don’t build anything “just for show.” Everything they sell is tested in the real world, for use in the real world. Let me say that I am in no way affiliated with this company, I simply use their products because they are some of the best around.
    I have own a Cold Steel 1917 pattern Cutlass for more than five years now, and have subjected it to some of the most punishing work that any blade could be called upon to do, and it has held up wonderfully. I use it mostly, I guess you would say, as a machete, using it to hack brush, chop limbs for firewood, split kindling by batoning the spine of the blade with a heavy piece of wood, and it has taken it all with no problems. This sword has to be the best kept secret in the blade world. If you want a blade that really does “do it all,” then get your hands on one of these. You’ll be thanking me from now on!

    • Paul Helinski April 3, 2017, 10:16 pm

      The Cold Steel stuff is sourced from the lowest bidder so they can stamp their name on it. Why don’t you go spend $150 on an Ebay sword and compare. You’ll never go back to CS. Even the $40 Budk sword is as good. I don’t like the weighting of a cutlass. I’d rather have a broadsword or katana.

  • zupglick April 3, 2017, 12:22 pm

    SOG has a couple of blades that I like.

  • SuperG April 3, 2017, 11:13 am

    Check your local laws before ordering one folks. In some states, swords like these are a felony.

    • Mark Wynn April 3, 2017, 11:48 am

      Not only that, SuperG, but brandishing a “sword,” whether letting blood or not, seems to get extra attention from law enforcement and the judicial system, especially if used outside one’s home. At least, that seems to be what I’ve read in sword incidents. For carry in a vehicle or out building, a “tool” such as a Gerber hatchet, USAF survival machete, or Cold Steel “shovel” might be better rationalized to authorities. That’s what I carry in the truck, and what I would be telling law enforcement if stopped “It’s an emergency tool I carry in the truck.” … although I admit my “tool theory” might not hold water. (Honed the Spetsnaz shovel knife-sharp on all edges, and then re-blacked the edge with a Sharpie so as to look “stock.”)

  • Hisashi's Grandson April 3, 2017, 11:03 am

    I’m lucky enough to be descended from Sumurai, so I have a few swords which have been passed down to me. IMO, swords are meant to be hacked AT Chinamen, not hacked out BY Chinamen. YMMV.

    • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 5:09 pm

      Yeah… wax on, wax off. Try harder, Tojo.

  • ron April 3, 2017, 9:21 am

    I’d rather go for the first one. That being said, I would not want to be hit by either.

  • Ryan April 3, 2017, 8:23 am

    Check out Paul Chen swords for high quality carbon steel swords and good prices.

    I know personally these are well made as I used to have a friend who owned one and it cut everything…and the blade took a lot of abuse before it dulled.

  • BrianNH April 3, 2017, 8:16 am

    The article has some points, but my main takeaway is right from the title (it’s also mentioned in the article) – who uses a SWORD as a self-defense weapon?

    • Paul Helinski April 3, 2017, 9:37 am

      Well the first article/video covers that at length.

    • Jonny5 April 14, 2017, 5:04 pm

      Turning up to a fight wielding a samurai sword is totally nails and would mark you down as a complete psycho. Guns are for show. Getting tore in about some geezer with a sword shows you mean business and don’t mind getting your hands dirty. A man’s man, if you will.

  • Mike April 3, 2017, 8:16 am

    Good to see somebody separating the wheat from the chaff with these inexpensive blades. I personally stick to ‘machete’ type designs as I’m not a blade expert but feel even a poorly make machete will give good service if needed.

  • Jeff April 3, 2017, 5:45 am

    There are some pretty decent inexpensive swords, machete’s, and utility knives out there but when it comes to blades, you really do tend to get what you pay for. Cold Steel and CRKT makes some very good middle class and utility blades in various lengths that work very well while still being a quality blade. They are both practical and economical for the price. For serious usage I wouldn’t really go any lower quality than those two types of companies. Seriously though, neither of those two cheap swords you used would stand up to any amount of sustained practical use. My favorite part was when the blade bent on you. Not gonna lie, I laughed pretty hard when I saw that. Still, I agree with your general point but a $40 sword made in China just isn’t gonna cut it, at least not for long haha.

    • Paul Helinski April 3, 2017, 9:38 am

      The whole point is to point out that people like you tend to parrot things that they’ve heard but did not test. They are just brands, and there is no qualitative difference that would ever lean toward a marketing brand when you compare quality and integrity vs. price.

      • Chris H April 3, 2017, 10:37 am

        Well. This article/video was a real eye opener. I learned something. Just because someone gets paid to write articles on a given subject does not mean that they know anything at all, and can even be complete idiots. Wow.

        • Paul Helinski April 3, 2017, 3:05 pm

          Paid? WTF was I supposed to get paid? Time for me to open up a can a whoopass sounds like!

      • Mark Wynn April 3, 2017, 11:51 am

        … and practical tests of equipment are useful and welcome. Thanks

      • Mark N. April 4, 2017, 9:07 pm

        If you are suggesting that there is no difference between a cheap Chinese sword and a properly designed and heat treated sword, you are very wrong indeed. Saying that a Chinese sword, many of which are made of stainless steel, are qualitatively the same as a hand forged Paul Champagne Katana that people willing spend well over $20,000 for is like saying that there is no qualitative difference between a Kia and a Ferrari.You can’t just take a sheet or bar of steel and grind it into a sword like shape and expect that it will compare favorably with an original. Now I am not saying that a factory cannot produce a quality sword, as most of the sabers produced for the Civil War and other armies around the world were factory produced, however, you can’t expect a good product for $40. You get what you pay for. And there are any number of manufacturers of swords today that produce products that are superior to the Chinese products. Perhaps you should buy a few and do a comparison. Look for “battle ready” or “functional” swords (e.g. Albion, for one), swords that can actually be used in combat without shattering or falling apart. Good swords start at around $200 to $300.

    • Mblack April 3, 2017, 3:16 pm

      The second sword now would be good for whacking corn stalks from behind the tractor tire so your dad doesn’t see you messing around when you should be working.

      • Paul Helinski April 3, 2017, 10:17 pm

        Yea but unfortunately you are one of the few people who could even keep track of which sword was which, and you may have even read the article.

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