I have been pretty
excited about this project for a long time and finally found some time
to sit down and write about my experience with a custom sword designer
and a custom sword smith.
re•view: look at something critically (transitive verb: to examine
something to make sure that it is adequate, accurate, or correct).
Other words to describe “review:”
I will, however, write of my experience, as I feel I am more than
capable of doing this.
|I must say, when I started down this custom road, I was a newbie. Not
having any experience in Japanese Swordsmanship, my discerning eye has
always been to the craft as a connoisseur of art.
When I first met
Antonio, it was over at Sword Forum International. Having been a
member since the year 2000, I have always been fascinated with
Antonio’s creative/innovative sword projects. I admired his attention
to detail and the contemporary designs that he created. I imagined
that if the Japanese blade smiths of several hundred years ago were
alive today and still making swords, that their designs would be more
of a contemporary nature, rather than staying with that particular
What makes someone choose a particular design or theme for their sword
project is anybody’s guess.
My life, my career choices, my being revolves in the outdoors. Earth, fire, water, and stone.
way to express my love for the outdoors in shirasaya made of three
different woods? I was not looking for traditionally made katana,
wakizashi, tanto, saya, tsuka, etc. I wanted my three blades made by
three different smiths in three different woods.
I chose Birdseye Maple for the tanto. The wakizashi is made from
Amboyna and lastly the katana will be made from Bubinga.
birds eye maple
For years, I have collected production swords. Also, for years, I have
sold my production swords to get better production swords. It was not
until I saw a rapier on Vladimir Cervenka's
and learned that I could customize a project, that my sword collection
was starting to change direction.
A while ago, I asked Antonio Conceicao Junior to assist me with the
concept and design of 3 blades; a Japanese-style katana, wakizashi and
tanto. The first project that Antonio helped me with was a tanto; that
is another story. (Please note – I had asked Antonio to design all
three Japanese-style blades for me and he has an invaluable resource
for me. His designs are unique, one of a kind and beautiful.)
After seeing Antonio’s
Masters of Fire exhibition at the Macau Museum
of Art, I was intrigued and awed at the talented contemporary blade
smiths from around the world. I saw and admired Jesus Hernandez’s
Ayasugi Dagger. When I looked at
Jesus Hernandez's website and saw his
Cable Bowie, I instantly knew that I wanted him to be the blade smith
for my next project, a Japanese-style wakizashi.
Antonio introduced me to Jesus and we corresponded back and forth for
several months discussing the possibility of this project. The
internet in this day of age is a double edge sword. Too many times
with this instant telecommunication, we expect people to answer our
emails instantly. If they don’t, then we get annoyed. (Please note, I
am not included in this category.) I can say that Jesus without a
doubt is an honorable and trustworthy person. He answered my emails in
a reasonable time period and he was excellent when sending me project
updates or photographs of the project in progress. I digress for a
moment; Antonio was just the same as Jesus. Both were very good in
answering all my emails, addressing my concerns, and responding to my
many questions. Both are professionals in every sense of the word.
The wakizashi wood, Amboyna, was chosen for its warmth, the beautiful
color pattern, and exotic appeal. The steel, forged folded cable and
san mai, was chosen for the beauty of the steel. The blade smith,
Jesus Hernandez, was chosen for his ability to work cable, san mai and
This project has been a wonderful journey. With both Antonio and
guiding me through the process of design, wood stabilization,
construction, etc, they have been great in helping me understand the
complexities of this process, while documenting the entire process.
Anyway, back to the experience.
While finding someone to complete the project is no easy matter,
unless you are an experienced martial artist or sword aficionado, the
actual design, the specifications, choice of fittings, wood, etc. can
be mind blowing. Antonio has been a member of many edged weapon forums
for a number of years and coupled with his years of experience of
design (clothing, jewelry, graphic design, swords and other edged
weapons, etc.), he is more than capable to provide the utmost
experience in design and creativity, as he is sought after by many for
advice and designs. I, for one, when faced with a difficult decision
or am at an impasse, rely on Antonio's knowledge, skills and abilities
to help me decide where the project will go.
Antonio’s fee for design services includes his vast professional
design experience (over 25 years) and his ability to not only work
with his client to find out what they would like, but he makes many
suggestions and has many options so your project will be a custom
design and a unique sword. He designs the sword, the blade/saya
specifications and even the mountings. Antonio has gathered an immense
knowledge and database of blade smiths and craftsmen throughout the
world and is able to suggest craftsmen from making the blade to those
who can make and mount the furniture and complete all the finishing
I always remarked to myself when I saw Antonio’s contemporary designs,
whether it as a
clothing, or exhibits from
the Macau Museum of Art, I always enjoyed his work. I knew that
someday if I could afford a custom sword project, than I would choose
Antonio to design it for me.
Ordering a production sword through a store is easy. You can walk in
or even use the internet and purchase the sword. You have a limited
amount of sword lengths, handle lengths and fittings. If you want to
customize this production blade, then there are few people to send it
to. But, depending on their backlog, etc, you may or may not be able
to finish your blade in a reasonable time period. But if you want a
custom sword, custom fittings, something that will cost more than a
PPK and last longer in your collection than a top of the line Paul
Chen, then using a custom sword designer is the way to go. One can
appreciate the fact that their sword is unique and specially designed
Blade Style: Hira-zukuri in Ô-Kissaki
Steel: San Mai with Forged Cable Steel so that the strands will look
elongated and the core will act as a kind of hamon.
Nagasa: 21 inches
Nakago: 7 1/2" long
Sakihaba: 28 mm
Motokasane: 6 mm
Sakikasane: 5 mm
Kissaki: 2.5 inches O-Kissaki
Of course from the above
link (Wakizashi), you can see the website
that Antonio set up for me, all a part of the service that he offers.
After saving a sufficient amount of funds for the project, I contacted
Jesus and explained to him that I have been considering a set of three
(katana, wakizashi and a tanto) Japanese-style blades that are custom
made by three different blade smiths. The three blades will be a part
of my family as heirlooms and will be passed to my children as family
keepsakes for generations to come. I primarily view these blades as
objects of art, but also should be capable to perform functionally if
After conferring with Antonio and Jesus, I needed to choose a wood
suitable for this piece. I saw Amboyna was used on one of Jesus’
projects and I instantly knew that my wakizashi should be made of the
same material. After talking to Jesus and discussing with him my
choice for wood, we agreed that it could be done. Now the only problem
was finding a piece of Amboyna large enough for this project. Jesus
found a large enough piece for this project.
The Amboyna used for this project is pictured below and above. Because
it is a burl, stabilization is a major concern. Wood is like any
natural product and can crack, warp, shrink or even split; even after
it has been shaped and properly dried. The process of stabilization
minimizes that possibility, but there is still a chance that the
stabilization process will shrink the wood, darken it or even deepen
the color. I did not want to take a chance that when this project was
finished, the saya and tsuka would crack, warp or split in 6 months or
even a year. There are very few people in this country that can
stabilize wood of this size.
WSSI is the group that performed this.
The Amboyna burl has 12-14% moisture and I knew that this was too
high. I relied on Jesus and WSSI’s judgment and experience for this
part of the project.
I also explained to Jesus from the very beginning, I was in no hurry
to have this project rushed. I would rather the artist take their
time, as my project is least in importance to other things in life,
like spending time with wife or kids, work, etc. I explained to him
that he could also take “creative license.” I was going to own this
piece forever and wanted to pass this to future generations of my
family, so I wanted him to take his time with it and be satisfied and
proud of the final results.
Jesus did a fantastic job with this project. Words like beautiful,
magnificent, hypnotic, gorgeous, astonishing, rare, exotic, dazzling,
fantastic, flawless, and spectacular come to my lips when describing
This project was completed in six months, from concept and design, to
manufacture and shipment. So, the bottom line is that I would highly
recommend Antonio and Jesus if you have a project in mind.
Jesus periodically submitted photographs and text to Antonio and me to
document the progress of the wakizashi. This information was set up on
a webpage by Antonio and can be viewed
Jesus made the fittings and even included a tutorial on the making of
my habaki. It can be seen
Personally I think that Jesus is very conscious of his art and spends
a tremendous amount of time perfecting it. He spends a lot of personal
time, both at the job and on the computer, to make sure that the
customer is informed. I would not hesitate to work or commission
another project with Jesus or Antonio again, as they are consummate
This project has gone past my wildest expectations. This wakizashi is
a magnificent piece of art. When this project was in its infancy
stages, I showed some co-workers the design and kept them apprised of
the progress of the project. You should have seen their faces when
they had it in their hands. Their looks were priceless. All I heard
from them was “museum-quality.”
Needless to say, I won’t be selling this ever, so please don’t ask. It
will be passed down from Larsen generation to Larsen generation. I am
very proud of Antonio’s and Jesus’ work and skills. Saying “Thank you”
does not seem to fully express my appreciation for the work, sweat and
energy that they have put in this project.
Domo arigato gozaimasu.