Ross Wood wrote:
How good are his blades? I'm looking to get a Katana for cutting and I'm looking at Howard Clark or Thaitsuki Nihonto. Does anyone know anything on these swords?
Really it is an apples and oranges comparison.
Howard Clark has been working full time as a professional sword smith making almost only Japanese style blades for a long time. He does it for a living. This isn't a hobby, not a quick past-time, not an easy way to pass the hours. He has literally made hundreds of blades and they are *VERY* popular among the top practitioners in the Japanese Sword Arts. And fwiw, he is currently making a daisho set for the head of a very old traditional Japanese Sword Arts ryuha in Japan who comes to the US periodically to conduct seminars. This man comes to the US periodically and wanted a set of swords he could use here for training when he visits rather than dealing with the strict paperwork of taking his usual swords (both very nice antiques) in and out of Japan.
Howard is probably the best active smith today outside of Japan working in this style. He worked extensively with Bugei for a long time doing custom order blades for martial artists. Currently he is backlogged into 2007 and not taking new commissions.
When Howard makes a sword you get a blade in "binsui" stone finish with a simple habaki. They are not finished, they are not fully polished and they are not mounted. Just the bare blade will cost many times what a production katana from entry-level blade vendors like Thaitsuki. They are also many times more expensive than even the more expensive production offerings from companies like Bugei and Swordstore.
His L6 bainite blades are 3800. His 1086 blades run about 2400 (if memory serves). They're not cheap. But they are incredibly tough, well forged, beautifully heat treated, and will outperform basically anything on the market.
For quality polishing and mounting you're looking at adding another 3500 and up (not counting fittings). There are lower cost options out there, but frankly I think that if you're going to go for an expensive custom blade you should consider an appropriate polish and mount. High end mounts are usually more about higher performance, better fit and finish, and much more attention spent in all the subtle details.
But at this point you should realize you're looking at over $7000 for the finished piece. And fittings can really push the price up. As well as cool stuff for the saya, etc. And realize that the few working professionally at this level of quality are themselves backlogged and/or not even taking on commissions. So even if you can get one out of Howard and find someone to do the mounting you might be looking at 2-3 years before it is even close to done.
Anyway, this is getting way too long. There really is no comparison in terms of quality, worksmanship, etc. assuming you go to people who know what they're doing. But then again, the prices are also completely different as well. And depending on how much discretionary cash you have and how long you have to wait, well, it may not even be feasible in the first place.
But to keep it in perspective, I recently helped sell a daito (long blade) in full polish in shirasaya. Modern smith in Japan. The blade sold for over $20,000. And I just recently purchased a kogatana from a Mukansa smith in Japan. The kogatana is a small utility knife that fits in the saya on some mounts. That particular blade smaller than a letter opener is worth over $2000. You could buy a couple production katana for that price. So keep this all in perspective. It is much like asking "which is the better car - the top end Mercedes luxury sedan or the bottom end Ford econo-box?" Well, in one sense there is no difference. They're both cars, both have engines, both get you from point A to B. But in every other detail there is a world of difference. And there are good reasons why there are huge differences in price.