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Old 01-29-2007, 12:41 PM   #10
Neil Yamamoto
Location: Seattle
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 7
Re: Bokken and jo set from Aikiwood

I wrote up a review to post and never posted it. Since Jeremy mentioned the Aikiwood products we had used, I'll flush out the details with my review. This was written fall of 2006.

I tried out Aikiwood products based on a whim to try a new supplier.
I bought an ironwood hanbo from their ebay store and a purpleheart bokken a few weeks later from Aikiwood directly.

Ironwood Hanbo
Cost was $30 plus shipping. Since this was from ebay, the price will be higher on their website I believe. The hanbo I thought was a bit thin, about 1" in diameter. I'm told that in new products they are thicker. These are obviously made by hand and the quality of wood is very good. Not quite rounded, you can tell where it was shaven down. Still, the feel in hand is very good.

The finish is tung oil and looks fantastic. I do not like tung oil finishes. The feel of tung oil is tacky to the touch to me and I prefer to use mineral oil or a lemon or orange oil. This finish was no exception to my dislike. Personal dislike of the tung oil aside, the craftsmanship in applying the finish is very good, you can tell there was care in how this was made.

Aikiwood uses differing woods to create a decorative end cap on their products. Laminating dark and light colored woods for contrast gives their products a distinct look, which you may or may not like, your personal tastes will decide. I do like the look but my concern was the possibility of any breaking in the joining of the endcap on the weapon.

Upon taking it home, it went outside to my standard telephone pole testing. I proceeded to beat a telephone pole repeatedly with the hanbo for about 10 strikes. This is my standard procedure to see if a new toy is durable. This ironwood hanbo is tough but I noticed this one was very susceptible to vibrations from impact and could transmit that shock to the hands quite a bit.

Purpleheart Bokken
Cost was $65 plus shipping. The bokken is of very good quality wood. I'm partial to purpleheart since I've found it to be durable and I like the feel and weight of the purpleheart bokken and jo I've used. This one is no exception to that. This is one tough hunk o' wood! Again, the tung oil finish was nicely done but still tacky to touch and not to my liking.

On the bokken, I do think the decorative endcap is a nice touch. The point of balance is right at 7" from where the tsuba would be. I like it to be about 6-8" depending on the bokken weight, so this was just about right for the weight.

What I don't like is the shaping. The bokken is boxy really. It's too square for my hands in the tsuka area and the same criticism came from others in the dojo. The kissaki area could use a bit more shaping as well. Some room for improvement here. With a bit more shaping and overall balance improvement as a result, this would be a very nice bokken. As it is, It's still superior to some of the bokken for which I've paid much more and is extremely tough as mentioned.

As a side note to the bokken shaping, In an email about my hanbo, Paul offered the comment that the boxy shape in the bokken was for a reason. He found this helped prevent any denting to the bokken more than an oval shape. He will do other shapes upon request, and makes custom shaped bokken for a few dojo and a sword maker who has Paul make bokken to his specifications. So, if you have a particular shaping you like, just ask and I doubt you will be disappointed.

Again, upon arriving home, this went head to head with my standard telephone pole test. This one held up very nicely, and is what I've come to expect with a well made bokken and quality wood.

Use over 6 months use report
Purpleheart bokken
As mentioned above, these are pretty tough. The quality of wood used is obviously good. The tung oil finish is no longer an issue. Rather than sand and refinish with mineral oil the two as I normally would do, I let them just get used. In about a month time, the tackiness disappeared. This is my objection to tung oil, it takes longer to dry properly. If you have no problem with this, tung oil does provide a very nice finish.

The bokken has taken a real beating in use and continues to do so. Very few dents, even with hard direct strikes in use. Lots of scruff marks though.

Eight months of use as of this writing. Final note - the endcap on the bokken did come loose through use. While the quality of wood and crafting is apparent, the endcap design can be a weak point in my view.

Ironwood hanbo
The hanbo was not as fortunate in avoiding damage. The use of a decorative end cap can be a problem if you make use of heavy impact strikes in training. We do. The endcap is secured by a wood screw and glue. On the hanbo the caps were both coming loose. I re-glued these and to appearances, it was fine. What happened next in class was one end cap screw actually snapped upon a heavy impact and flew across the dojo, and the other end cap screw gave way upon the counter block movement and dropped to the floor.

This I believe was due to the ironwood hanbo's thinner diameter. It simply set up a vibration from impact and caused the end caps and screws to loosen and eventually break. Upon reflection, the sound created with impacts had changed too indicating something was loose or weak. I contacted Aikiwood and this is where their customer service showed as superior. I emailed asking about possible repair, and was sent a new hanbo at no charge. I did tell them of the extremely hard use made of the hanbo but they were more than happy to send me a replacement.

Cocobolo Hanbo replacement
The replacement hanbo is made from cocobolo and is a thicker diameter, about 1-1/8". Paul at Aikiwood made the comment that other people had made the same comment about the diameter being to thin as well. The thicker diameter is a result of that feedback and should prevent any problems encountered with the ironwood hanbo.

The Cocobolo replacement is very well crafted in both appearance and feel. Again, the handcrafted work shows, well shaped and it fits your hand very nicely. The tung oil finish on this one is also better than the finishes on the ironwood hanbo and purpleheart bokken. It appears Aikiwood is working on improving their shaping and finish quality based on what I see in the cocobolo hanbo.

My standard telephone pole test to the cocobolo hanbo was successful. Aside from minor scruff marks to the finish, the wood is top notch and the amount of impact vibration transmitted to the hands was no more than I would expect in a well made bokuto of any sort. I have repeated the telephone pole testing with the cocobolo hanbo several times now and encountered none of the vibration-impact shocks that were probably warning signs with the ironwood hanbo as to possible breaking.

Overtime use- 10 months and no problems with the cocobolo hanbo. The thicker design holds up well. Though we have not had has much heavy impact use with this one given the caution we now have about the endcaps, it still is holding up well.

Using Neil's official Microbrew rating system:
1 bottle - So what else do you have? That wasn't so good.
2 bottles - Not so good… I'd still like to switch to something else.
3 bottles -- Average quality, decent enough and works, but nothing great either.
4 bottles -- Above average, worth the money and trying out.
5 bottles -- Beyond what you expect in quality for the cost and good service.
6 bottles -- Couldn't find a thing wrong despite trying.

Overall, I give Aikiwood a rating of 4 bottles in product quality.
5 bottles for high quality materials used and care in crafting of those materials.
2.5 bottles for the ironwood hanbo. Accidents happen and they quickly made it right, and my hard use played a role in the piece breaking so soon.
5 bottles for the cocobolo hanbo
4 bottles for the purpleheart bokken

For customer service: A full 6 pack
Paul's prompt response to my emails in original purchase of the bokken, his replacement of the hanbo, and for being open to customer feedback for product improvements and custom requests makes them a good vendor in my book.

I would put them right up there with other well regarded sources to consider as a suplier. I still prefer the bokken and products I've used from SDK, Bear Wood products, and Kiyota company. Note: I've had products from these companies break in use too, expect it to happen, it's a training tool!

I don't hesitate to recommend Aikiwood as a reasonably priced source for bokuto with the caveat about overly heavy impact and the endcaps loosening. If you don't make regular heavy impact with bokuto or jo in training, I think Aikiwood makes a product that will appeal to most people who want something that is handcrafted with care and distinctive in appearance, especially with a customized piece.

Legal notice:
This is only my opinion of the product reviewed. These tools can cause injury and It is expected you will seek proper instruction in use of any martial arts training tool, not just go around hitting and trying to cut things up with out any instruction. I bear no responsibility for your experience or lack thereof, in use or misuse of any product I may review and you buy as a result of my review.
Remember, injuries to yourself and others are your personal responsibility. Don't be stupid.

Neil Yamamoto
Tuesday Night Bad Budo Club and Icho Ryu Chief Fluffy Bunny
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