We will now take a look at other considerations: Quality, Forge, Materials, Techniques, Fit, Finish, Balance, Design, and Service. There are all things that can make a big difference in your final product. Let’s take a closer look.
It is now possible to make better quality Butterfly Swords today than the Chinese could historically. We have better materials, the additional knowledge of Western knife making techniques, and better tooling. Sadly most modern product is so far below the standard of antiques as to not be comparable.
Most importers make 500 swords of a single low quality model in a cheap Asian Factory. This segment of the market is the most profitable. EWC has a practitioner-oriented philosophy and instead does small runs (in many cases only 5 to 10 pair) of focused high quality designs in a family run forge to better support the varied needs of the community. This is a bit more expensive and often less profitable but gives the community a lot of options as well as a ground-breaking level of quality in hand-made weapons.
It is our strong belief that EWC’s BJD are the best you can buy outside of full custom. They are affordably priced by EWC for martial artists rather than tagged at their true value as appraised by custom knife makers and demonstrated in sales through knife collector venues.
It is worth recapping some of the innovations discussed previously in this article that you should consider when evaluating Butterfly Swords. The sections on fit, finish, balance, design and service below are adapted from Jay Fisher’s web-site discussion of what you should expect from a fine custom knife. Prior to the 2010 revolution in Butterfly Sword quality started by EWC and Modell Design with the famous Integral Knives reference to custom knife standards would have been futile.
Modell Design was originally formed to bring some of the key features of custom Butterfly Swords to high quality knives affordable by most serious martial artists. It took over three years to find a forge willing and able to do this specialized work. Qualifying forges is an expensive process. The road kill along the way included but was not limited to a Chinese forge making custom Jian’s.
EWC’s Butterfly Sword lines are made at Iron Man Steel, a third-generation overseas family forge run by Forge Master Khurram Ali. The operation has modern equipment including a CNC machine but is at heart a blacksmith able to make any metal tool or weapon. They are experienced making high quality and luxury grade Butterfly Swords using the stock removal method, hammer and anvil, and hot drop forge production.
Iron Man Steel has more experience making high quality BJD than any factory, forge or custom knife maker in the world. They also make an excellent hoof pick exported to Austria and custom knives used by U.S. law enforcement, military and contractor personnel.
While skill is essential, will is equally important. Forge Master Ali wants to make the best Butterfly Swords in the world, and his work shows it.
EWC routinely uses thick high grade weapons quality blade steels, which are identified, including Böhler 440C stainless tool steel and Böhler D-2 carbon tool steel, as well as hammered new AISI 9260 Spring Steel. You can find these fine steels in the catologues of custom knife maker supply houses. The EWC blades are sent out by the forge for professional expert heat treatment (and by now we all know the heat treatment is critical).
Most Butterfly Sword manufacturers do not use weapons grade steels and do not identify their steels. They apparently aren’t too concerned with the quality of heat treatment, either.
EWC makes extensive use of AISI 304 stainless steel for D Guards, an outstanding material far better than anything available historically. It is so tough and difficult to work it is seldom used by even famous custom knife makers. The D Guard on EWC’s Flagship Line is hot drop forged, a process that produces a stronger D Guard than common casting.
While fine naturally stable woods have always been available for a price, these are not what you see on mass produced Butterfly Swords. Modern stabilized wood and laminated stabilized wood are good looking, adhere well to the hand when polished, more stable than what was previously available and, in the case of the latter, affordable on production Butterfly Swords. EWC’s standard handle material is a laminated stabilized wood product in black, brown, or red/black (a martial artist favorite).
The combat proven Chinese historical method of construction was a quality hidden tang running the full length of the handle. Many modern Butterfly Swords have a low quality hidden tang, generally a separate piece of rod poorly welded to the end of the blade. The tang on some is a mere stub poorly fastened to the D Guard. EWC offers full tangs and mortise tangs – both stronger than the original Chinese tang — and quality hidden tangs.
The historical tang was quality peened. Many modern BJD use a protruding cheap nut that can easily be stripped. EWC uses a high quality recessed peen that is both strong and attractive in appearance. On full tang and mortise tang swords with a steel D Guard, the tang is properly welded to the D Guard beneath the handle. Welding is a superior construction method to peening.
Modern custom knife makers generally use two pins and glue to attach handle scales on a full tang knife. EWC’s full tang and mortise tang scales are triple pinned or screwed and glued. Special projects and custom work is sometimes pinned with eight smaller pins in the same manner as the best custom tactical knives. One vendor’s “premium” 2-in-1 BJD features a scale that has merely been glued on. We suspect that specific model has a stub tang so it is affixed to the D Guard casting rather than the tang.
While it is pretty easy to imagine how little effort goes into making cheap factory Butterfly Swords, martial artists seldom understand what it takes to craft a true weapon. Here is the process used at Iron Man Steel to make a standard limited production run EWC Flagship Line Butterfly Sword:
- Cut the blade on a power press with D-2 steel cutting die;
- Straighten the blade with hammer and anvil;
- Drill holes in the tang for the pins using a high speed steel Dormer Drill;
- Grind a distal taper using a manual hand cup grinder ;
- Re-straighten the blade with hammer and anvil;
- Scribe the center of the future cutting edge;
- Mark the bevel with a jig and paint marker;
- Make the rough bevel with a 16 inch grinding stone wheel;
- Make functional fullers on the both sides of the blade using a milling machine;
- Re-straighten the blade with hammer and anvil;
- Third-party expert tempers the blade using a vacuum heat treatment specific for each steel;
- Re-straighten the blade with hammer and anvil at 350 degrees. This also anneals the blade to make it strong. The process is very sensitive as blades can and do break or generate hairline fractures and need to be scrapped.
- Grind and polish the blade flat surface in a 13 step process of increasing refinement ranging from stone wheel to polish;
- Grind and polish the bevel in a 13 process;
- Polish the functional fullers, which is very difficult to do
- Hot drop forge the D guard out of AISI 304 stainless steel. Make forging oversize so surface imperfections can be ground out.
- Slot D Guard with the end mill cutter on a milling machine;
- Finish the inside of the slot with a hand file for a perfect fit;
- Reduce D Guard to size on a belt sander using belts of increasing refinement;
- Fit the blade into the D Guard using a chisel;
- Punch number the blade and D Guard;
- Remove the blade from the D Guard the polish the top side of the D Guard;
- Refit the blade into its specific D Guard;
- Grind the blade and D Guard inside the handle using a 1 inch stone pin grinder;
- Expertly weld the tang to the D Guard using an argon welder;
- Grind the inside of the handle with a 1 inch stone pin grinder;
- Polish the inside of the D guard using belts;
- Fill the pits arising from the heat of the welding with 304 stainless steel electric welding;
- Polish the welds to eliminate potential structural weak spots;
- Fit the scales to the full tang with glue and pins;
- Make the handle profile on the belt sander by hand. This takes real skill.
- Polish the entire sword by hand (12 to 13 steps); and
- For sharps, do a final sharpening on the cutting edge.
If that sounds like a lot of work, you understand correctly.
Fit: Components put together and assembled must be so with very close, even tight tolerances.
Gaps should be minimized with increasing vigor based on intended quality and non-existent at the full custom level. The blade and handle must be solid with no rattles or wiggles. Jay Fisher notes “Anyone can notice it, fine fit it is difficult to produce, and it sets fine knives, swords, and art apart. It is very important.”
Martial artists have had plenty of experience with poor fit. There is often a gap between the base of the blade and the D guard on modern production Butterfly Swords. The common generic brass Chinese D Guard has wide gaps between the blade and slot. Handle blocks and scales must be solidly affixed to the tang (assuming there is a decent tang). The manufacturer may use a handle material that expands and contracts loosening the blade and creating a rattle. Full tang scales will eventually be felt by the hand, but they should join smoothly on the tang edge at the moment of completion and appropriate materials should be used to minimize the contraction.
EWC’s luxury-grade Flagship Line blades are expertly inserted into the D Guard by skilled hand. You won’t see this level of craftsmanship (or diligence) on any of the other production Butterfly Swords because it is too difficult and expensive to do. The fit on the Long Stabber-based D Guard lines is also a material improvement. Those martial artists who cannot afford custom Butterfly Swords now have the opportunity to understand good fit.
Finish: The final treatment of the material.
Each material usually requires a different process to finish, and there are a handful of finishes that look good. “Fine finish is appealing, professional looking, and enhances the individual material as well as the value of your investment,” notes Jay Fisher.
Poor finish can make the weapon unfit for use. Failing to sand the interior of the knuckle bow or the flat side edges of the remainder of the D Guard can leave them jagged and sharp enough to cut the user’s hand. Doing a poor job polishing the blade increases its susceptibility to corrosion. Poor quality control or low standards on cast pieces can result in annoying pitting on the D Guard. You can also find imperfect gold-plating.
Butterfly Sword blades are a lot of steel; they take a lot of work to polish and it is easy to spot poor quality work. It takes skill and patience to apply a perfect mirror finish, outstanding glossy finish or great looking satin finish to the blade. The best finishes cannot be done by polishing machines, a common corner cutting method. Iron Man Steel finishes each production EWC blade by hand and does an extraordinary job.
The sheath system is another area where finish is important. EWC’s nylon carry case is the best Butterfly Sword case ever offered, period. It originated the nylon 2-in-1 sheath to avoid exposing BJD to corrosive leather tanning oils and vapors.
Leather sheath finish is the area where we admittedly have the most room for improvement. Our leather sheaths are made by third-parties overseas since making them in the U.S. is prohibitively expensive.
Balance: The physical point of balance of the sword and the aesthetics of the entire project, including the scabbard or holster.
We are martial artists and understand the importance of the properly balancing Butterfly Swords. Chinese factories that mass produce most Butterfly Swords typically give clients a single prototype to approve. It is difficult to understand how that process can provide an outstanding weapon.
Each EWC project goes through a vigorous process that starts with decades of experience using martial arts weapons, three generations of blacksmiths, and ends with making as many expensive prototypes as needed to get it right.
TIP: No one has spent more money or time designing and testing advanced BJD than EWC and its Wing Chun knife design consultant Modell Design LLC.
The visual characteristics relating to balance are important for aesthetic appeal. “Some [swords] look rudimentary, some look refined; this is a balance characteristic.” Jay Fisher.
Butterfly Swords should present themselves like true weapons with each element related to each other and an integrated whole. Modell Design designs Butterfly Swords that have style as well as lethal functionality. Martial artists need not be satisfied with ugly and clunky Butterfly Swords.
If you are going to devote your life to martial arts, use weapons worthy of your time and sweat equity. If you won’t be proud to own it and display it, don’t buy it.
Hudiedao design is a complicated process based on knowledge of historical precedents, martial arts experience with and understanding of Butterfly Swords, experience and understanding of weapons with related features such as the Double Gen, Sai and military knives, modeling at a variety of levels, extensive testing, an understanding of historical and modern materials and their characteristics, methods of production used at appropriate quality levels as well as the capabilities of the proposed forge or manufacturing facility. A miniscule difference in a line on a schematic can profoundly change the weapon. Even a great design can be ruined by inadequate execution. Sanding half a millimeter in excess of the dimensions specified can remove a key design element, or drop the sword from top-quality to something as useful as the typical mass produced sword. Not even a Master Smith can predict the point of balance of a weapon he has yet to complete so there must be good communication and understanding between the forge and the design team.
As previously mentioned, you need the correct design Butterfly Sword for your style/lineage and body size. We are martial artists designing weapons for martial artists. As of December 2012 EWC had offered over 100 different models with a cue of upcoming projects and concepts at least as large. A lot of these sold out and many were one-time only projects. Compare the quality and breadth of EWC’s designs to everything else out there.
TIP: The time to buy good weapons is when they are available.
If you need a specific design for your school, a few students or a signature pair yourself, EWC can handle that via its Custom Shop Program. Modell Design LLC provides Wing Chun BJD design services exclusively to EWC. Modell Design is available if you need a single full custom Wing Chun pair that cannot be run through the Custom Shop Program or design services for a different style.
EWC previously ran an archive with a list of BJD posted by outside vendors intended to be a service to the community, for no compensation, but there was so much negative feedback on those non-EWC products and vendors that in 2009 the archive was terminated. Caveat Emptor: nearly all of those outside vendors are still in business today.
Jeff once bought a high end pair of BJD from an importer in the U.K. as a gift. The edges of the 2-in-1 D Guard were so sharp that the knives were unsafe to use. He e-mailed the vendor requesting they repair or replace the knives. They never answered. He purchased a Miao Dao that had a problem from a reputable vendor located in New Jersey and was promptly offered a full refund.
TIP: The time to consider potential difficulties with a vendor is BEFORE you buy.
Know who you are doing business with. Think carefully prior to purchasing weapons from an overseas manufacturer or importer, especially generic Chinese-made Butterfly Swords on eBay.
We hope this article has added to your understanding of Butterfly Swords, and wish you the best in your martial arts endeavors.
This video is Part 10 of 10 on Choosing Butterfly Swords by Jeffrey Modell. This video goes along with the blog article, but does not follow the exact same order of topics. We hope you get some benefit, regardless:
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- Ben Judkins, A Social and Visual History of the Hudiedao (Butterfly Sword) in the Southern Chinese Martial Arts. posted January 28, 2013 in Kung Fu Tea http://chinesemartialstudies.com/2013/01/28/a-social-and-visual-history-of-the-hudiedao-butterfly-sword-in-the-southern-chinese-martial-arts/ (March 2, 2013)
- Benny Meng and Richard Loewenhagen, Unvraveling the history of Wing Chun’s Butterfly Swords,
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- Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s Ancient Chinese Weapons A Martial Artists Guide p.77 (YMAA Publication Center, ©1999 Yan, Jwing-Ming),
- EWC Admin., TESTING BJD PROTOTYPES – SMASHING WOOD AND CONCRETE, EWC Blog, http://www.shopwingchun.com/testing-bjd-prototypes-smashing-wood-and-concrete/ (March 22, 2013)
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- http://home.vtmuseum.org/articles/meng/butterflyknives.php (March 20, 2013)
- Jay Fisher, Knife Anatomy, http://jayfisher.com/Knife_Anatomy_Parts_Names_Definitions.htm#Knife_Anatomy_Definitions (March 15, 2013)
- Jay Fisher, Knife Points: Six distinctions that make a fine custom or handmade knife: Fit, Finish, Balance, Design, Accessories, Service, http://www.jayfisher.com/Knife_Distinctions.htm (March 23, 2013)
- Jeffrey Modell, Esq., History and Design of Butterfly Swords, Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine (April 2010)
- Jeffrey Modell, Esq., Modern Butterfly Swords, Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine (August 2011)
- Joe Talmadge, The Blade Geometry FAQ, http://www.knifeart.com/bladgeomfaqb.html (March 11, 2013)
- Les Robertson, Custom Knives Buying Guide v.2 (©2012 Les Robertson)
- Modell Design, LLC, The “Best Steel” for Chinese Butterfly Knives, http://www.shopwingchun.com/the-best-steel-for-chinese-butterfly-knives (March 15, 2013)
- Wikepedia, Parkerizing, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkerizing (March 19, 2013)
- Wikepedia, Tang (Weaponry), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tang_(weaponry) (March 17, 2013)
- Wikepedia, Wootz Steel, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wootz_steel#cite_note-1 (March 15, 2013)
- Wing Lam, Southern Shaolin Kung Fu Ling Nam Hung Gar (Wing Lam Enterprises ©2003)