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Recovery of a Type 95 NCO sword

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Part 1 – the DISCOVERY.   

About 3 weeks ago I went to an antique show, browsing and picking through things that I had no interest in ..search for “gold.”   As I was about to leave the show, a guy had a VERY RUSTED UP Japanese katana.   I mean… terrible shape.  It was a struggle to get the sword in and out of the scabbard.  I looked at the fuchi, which has dark patina , and it revealed a Suya logo with Tokyo first inspection and arsenal marks.    I flipped over the scabbard, and out rolled rust flakes, which explained why it was so hard to get the sword back into the scabbard easily.  The seller revealed that when he discovered the sword,  it was so heavily rusted that he had to get his son to help pull the sword from scabbard, then they heavily oiled the blade.  The rust was so bad I could barely see the blade.  He gave me his price – I walked away.   I walked back to the sword twice.   The Tsuka was missing at least 85 – 90% of it’s paint, revealing the aluminum handle.  However -  the stamps seemed fine, brass tsuba and clip function nicely, a scabbard with at least 60% of original paint .. and then the serial numbers, which were a match.   I was able to talk the price down to below half of the average going rate of a quality NCO sword with matching numbers. I didn’t get him down to 360.00 USD (my target), but I got him close.   I took the filthy, rusty katana home.      It’s a project, and I might be a fool for taking it.  Next I will share my effort to clean it up.  Attached is a picture of the blade at initial stages ... very black/flaky .. . and worse than the photo depicts.  

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Part 2 -  THE RECOVERY (SOAKING)  

First of all, let me share that I wouldn’t think about doing this for a modern gendaito that was traditionally made.  I also had no intention of “sharpening” this blade …simply removing the rust to restore to the greatest degree possible.  I have no experience in polishing traditional swords, but I have re-conditioned and sharpened modern knives/blades.   Even so, I know there are folks won’t agree with my work – I get it.   For the saya, no action required other than to remove rust and debris from the internal sheath.  At first I soaked the internal element with CLP for about two hours.  I cleaned (and re-cleaned) using a small caliber rifle cleaning brush to remove all lose particles.  Then I simply lubricated.    For the tsuka – didn’t touch it.   The big project is the blade.   For the first phase, I took a 3 inch PVC pipe and sealed the base with a cap, and I soaked the blade for about 10 hours in plain household vinegar.   I told the blade out about once an hour to simply wipe off rust with rag.  

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Part 3 -  RECOVERY (STONE  and SANDING) 

 

After soaking – the delicate work of removing the stubborn rusts and stains began.  No electric operating tools to be used.    First up – I used a tri-hone sharpening  stone (6”) and I took the stone to the blade …keeping the blade on a flat surface.  I avoided using the stone near the distinguishing elements (serial numbers).   Between each phase, I would oil, clean and/or lubricate.  My favorite is frog lube CLP (the green cream) …it is a natural product, non-abrasive and really projects the blade while removing particles. For sanding, I only use wet/dry paper (and I WET it) starting at 100 grain (up/down and left/right) … and going thru 200, 400, 600, 800,  1,000, 1,500 and 3,000.   Again, I focus on the flat surfaces.  I really don’t want to impact the edge or “sharpen.”  There are a few knicks in the blade edge and for all I know, they could be from WW2 combat.  Who knows – but I retain them.   To me, it’s part of the philosophical difference between the modern military sword and the nihinto -  different approaches, but I hold both in high regard (not to get off-track on this thread).    The sanding process has taken me over 3 hours thus far, and I have only done ONE SIDE of the blade, but I wanted to share the process thus far.   There is still pitting and some stains, but I am hoping to restore to the degree where the sword can be properly represented and cared for.  

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Great project, and for a monosteel machine-made blade with no forging or hamon....restoration by an owner wouldn't be looked down up the same way as if it was a regular Showato etc.
Looking forward to seeing the progress. Just remember that the blades aren't flat and you need to keep that "niku"
As you mentioned, don't try this on any other Japanese swords.

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Great work Dan!

I love returning an old war beast to it's original beauty, especially when it's obvious the rust and deterioration are a result of neglect. Sounds like you're done with the inside of the saya, but if you do more, keep in mind it's lined with a wood liner, just like the officer saya. You can remove the single screw on the top, side, of the saya and the endcap comes off, freeing the liner to slide out. If you try this, do it gingerly as sometimes they are in pieces (one of mine was, the others came out intact)

 

I'd love to see focused pics of the fuchi stamps and serial number.

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Good catch Brian -  I do some leatherwork (sheaths) as a side hobby, and I neglected the key point that I attached some leather strips on the base board to support a portion of the blade and ensure an even sanding.  A critical point.    Also - I mis-spoke:  I used 2 inch PVC, not 3 inches.  2 inches means less vinegar required and I could rest the Tsuba on the outside.  There was no rust on the Tsuba and I wanted to protect the patina -  so critical to keep it out of the tube.  I wish I would have done a before/after photo of vinegar .... when I dumped it out, it was "heavy"  brown, like emptying out a 100 year old rusted pipe.   !!

 

I'll at some detailed photos soon on fuchi, numbers, etc.   The patina/paint topic is interesting.  The blade was nasty because I feel it was improperly stored for a long time, and if in moisture area, all the worse.  The saya has some paint loss, but minimal rust (!!), and the fuchi, Tsuba ... dark patina.  So, when did the Tsuka lose all the paint?    I remember one of my High School teachers was a USMC vet of Iwo Jima (yes, I am not that young) and he brought back an NCO sword.  He showed it to me a long time ago, and I remember the bright "silver" (aluminum handle).  He kept it very nice.    I know that, generally speaking ... aluminum is susceptible to the formation of oxide when exposed to moisture, which can lift the paint.   I can't help but think that for the NCO swords captured in harsh theater conditions (jungles, etc...) the Tsuka had to be the first to suffer to environment conditions.  I don't know if this issue has been touched on in previous discussions.   Dan  

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Let me agree with Bruce and add my enjoyment of this story.

Thank you Dan, for responsible treatment of a historic arm. If the world ever needs a grand history of WWII era Japanese military swords it will have to be written based on observations and research done my American collectors. There must be information somewhere in Japan on the production and design of these swords, but it seems not to have barely surfaced. The bayonets I have seen in Japan were all really beat up and  I never recall seeing anything like Type 32 swords. I think that means that the stuff and the interest seems to be solidly "over here.". Does anyone know if weapons like the Type 32 amd Non-com swords can be imported back to Japan? Do they need to be registered?

When it comes to preservation of "samurai" swords, we can draw on the standards and expertise of Japanese collectors. For Non-com swords etc, WE may be defining the standard. You are making the rules, Dan!

Peter

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T32 and NCO swords are illegal Peter, cannot be legally owned in Japan and the few that slip through the cracks are very, very scarce.

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So essentially, the entire population of T32 and NCO exist in countries that took them as war trophies. I wonder what percentage of them survived the war to this day?

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Hmmm, good question, Chris. Of course, the major part of the IJA was disarmed in China with lots of that material being smoothly transferred/repurposed into Chinese forces. Bits of data gleaned from inspection of odd pieces I have seen suggested that the Chinese military was hard on their gear. Thus, stuff that came home in a dufflebag before being hung above the mantle may be the best that there is ... left.

And taking another big step, can it be that - statistically speaking - nice clean noncom swords are "rarer" ( and therefore a better investment) than - say - 16th century koto?

Peter

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Dan,

 

The topics you brushed across cover pages and pages, both in books and on our forums! A couple you'll clearly enjoy:

 

http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/Japanese-militaria/short-development-history-type-95-gunto-676112/

 

and

 

http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/Japanese-militaria/short-development-history-type-95-gunto-676112/

 

I don't know the metulurgy that you've already touched on with the tsukas, but a large majority of them seem to be completely devoid of paint, so you are probably onto something there. I can't swear the NCO's did it as often as officers, but it was common to wrap white cloth arount the tsukas to protect them during the war. Guys with money could outfit them in leather, and there are a couple of NCO examples of this.

 

Here's a fascinating chart on Type 95 production found by Nick Komiya at Warrelics;

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Peter good point about rising value of NCO swords. Price follows from rarity, collectibility and demand, all of which apply  to NCOs. Don't know how many for sale listings for old blades I've seen, where the seller says "below what I paid for it".   

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I'm glad Bruce brought up the fact that there has already been extensive research performed for 95s,and mostly outside of America, would you believe ;)

 

Great job Dan. There's nothing wrong with restoring 95s. Electrolysis is the best way to remove the rust without losing any of the 'good' steel, but that's pretty extreme. You've done a good job. I'm not for repainting, but luckily the saya looks good. I'd not worry about the tsuka. Plenty of nearly white handles out there and it's not much of a detractor.

 

The best swords are not those in mint condition, but those with the correct amount of patina and wear to show they were carried or used (but obviously not extreme wear).

 

They seem to be the best investment around, and once the book is written I'm sure they'll have another great surge in popularity.

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Bruce - thanks for the link.  I am still digesting some information in that thread!   From the chart, I also didn't know how big production ramped up towards the end, but I assume those are mostly the late war variants, gearing up for home defense.   

Once confusing aspect is that the information on prototypes doesn't align with the "aluminum back to copper" prototype that Samurai Monkey introduced on his video in a separate thread!   (ok, my poor attempt at humor).    :laughing: -  Dan 

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Ha! I’ll get Nick Komiya to investage! Ha!

 

Yes, an amazing number in that last year, and I agree, likely the poorest of the late war version. A fascinating spin off subject is the rental/purchase of NCO gunto by officers because of shortages.

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Thanks Dan!

Tokyo 1st Arsenal (star), Tokyo Arsenal Inspector stamp (center one), Suya Shoten Co contractor. I'm amazed the stamps are so clear, as these fuchi with the steel plate tsuka are steel also. Can you test it with a magnet and see if it's steel or just a copper fuchi painted black?

 

Shamsy or Stegel might correct me, but the Tokyo 1st star should put the manufacture date at or after 1941, as the Kokura arsenal (stacked cannonballs) ceased administering these after that date.

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.

They seem to be the best investment around, and once the book is written I'm sure they'll have another great surge in popularity.

I saw how you quietly slipped that in Steve! Do we have a rough time-frame?!?!

 

Dan - yes, I think you're right, it's just patina. Nice example, I'm glad you've returned it to some of it's glory.

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