Brian Donahoe of Okenjo was the generous donor of the set of three custom wooden weapons to the Mary Heiny benefit raffle, and it was my great luck to win this particular prize. Having found their way across the ocean from Ireland, they were waiting for me on my doorstep this afternoon. Now that I have eagerly unwrapped them and taken a few practice swings, I thought I would write up a little review for those shopping for new wooden weapons.
The first thing I noticed was the packaging. They arrived wrapped in three different layers of protective material, along with a sizeable amount of tape. While it took me the better part of 15 minutes to get them out, I can honestly say that for anything to have happened to them during shipping it definitely would have taken an act of God. Over the years I've had a number of weapons shipped to me both from suppliers and private individuals, and this was definitely the best packing job yet.
The weapons themselves were beautiful. They were constructed of an Irish oak, which seemed a bit denser than the aging red oak jo I had on hand. The grain had a nice gently waving pattern to it, and was tighter than American white oak. The bokken in particular was carved to really bring out those waves visually. All were unstained and sanded to a silky smoothness.
One of the most unusual features of the bokken and tanto was the thickness of the "cutting" edge. Instead of tapering like most wooden weapons that I have seen, the blade does not taper from mune to ha. That resulted in two benefits that I could see immediately. One, I truly doubt that either one of these would nick as easily as the tapered kind, nor do I think they would be as easy to shatter. Two, by leaving the extra wood along the length of the blade, the balance point of the bokken is moved significantly forward. To me that is a huge plus, since the balance point of this bokken is much closer to that of my iaito than my other one (while I haven't measured yet, I would say it is within an inch).
Brian engraved all of them with my name neatly and clearly in katakana. The engraving was done by wood-burning, and was done deep enough to stand up to regular maintenance sanding for years to come. A very nice feature was the engraving of the bokken along the base of the blade area, rather than along the tsuka where it would irritate one's hands during a long practice session.
In short, I would have been very pleased with the weapons had I paid his regular fees for them. The attention to detail, trueness, and finishing level were completely on par with my SeiDoKai set. The difference in bokken shape gives it a more katana-like forward balance than any bokken I have ever owned. I would highly recommend that you give Okenjo strong consideration when shopping for wooden weapons. You can find him at www.okenjo.ie
Good luck to all, and thanks again for donating these to the raffle Brian!