Batch 22 Officially Open!

The title says it all.

Batch 22 is open and the Custom Katana 3.0 is officially taking new commissions for the next 2 weeks. I’ll be keeping you all updated if we reach the forges maximum capacity early, but at this stage we should be closing off on the 6th of May.

Already the orders are coming in and I am seeing some very cool designs – seems to be a fairly even split between the iron and the work hardened copper sets and I’m seeing some really cool combinations so far, great to see that despite the streamlining it’s still possible to come up with something very uniquely, well, you.

Have fun folks!

Click here to design and reserve yours now!

Yes, it’s official – April 22 is the SBG Custom Katana relaunch..!

It’s back from the brink of extinction after 5 years of continuous production – the SBG Custom Katana has been reborn!

The biggest problem we encountered over the last 5 years was the ‘fiddly bits’. Now true enough, a custom made Katana is a very personal thing, so ‘fiddly bits’ come with the territory to some degree. But as we were the first and the only company to bunch a whole heap of orders together under one umbrella and STOP TAKING ORDERS until these were completed and shipped from the forge, the more basic the options chosen, the better. And most people DID pick from the basic options, and got GREAT swords that they still talk about today!

The problem swords were almost always the ones with minor deviations from the standard, i.e. a 12″ tsuka instead of 11″, an engraving in English (which if done wrong, meant we had to throw the whole thing away and start again) and because we offered a wide range of alloy tsuba, there were some delicate designs in there – and delicate designs should really be made of iron, brass, hardened copper or steel..

In short, after the last batches have been delayed by these kind of things and the error rate shot up due to the number of possible combinations we were offering, and the costs kept going up but we never passed them on – we were at one point quite recently ready to throw in the towel, wrap it all up and call it a day..

But tempting as that might be, we knew that there were still people out there who would be more than satisfied with one of our best made swords. The forge does GREAT work, how they managed to handle all those possible combinations is beyond me.. (I’m not all that good at maths, but the combinations seem to be in the billions!) – and their blades, well it was their blades that got me interested in them in the first place..

So instead, I went back to the drawing board.

And came up with this..

The number of combinations now are enough to satisfy the vast majority of people, but deliver a more consistent, better product. Everything has been upgraded – the alloy fittings are entirely gone, instead we have been able to get a reliable supply of solid IRON tsuba in a number of excellent configurations (i.e. Classic Mokko, C Ring Musashi, Crane, Kuramono – heck, even one of the one used on the original Kanbai Katana!) and match them with some basic iron fuchi and kashira.

But we go one better, because for one flat price if you want something a bit more ornate you can upgrade for free to a pre-matched themed ornate brass set. I hand picked these for their uniqueness and availability – classic designs like the Torakami and Tsunami to some VERY unique themed sets that are just begging to be put on a one off, unique sword design combination..

Here’s some of my favorites..

Take the Tsunami design, give it a blue saya and blue ito with a solid bodied blade 27″ blade and there is one design straight out. Or mount the Bunka set on classic black ito with white rayskin, a 28″ blade with bo-hi and you have a super traditional looking blade. Or how about a classic ‘Torakami’ recreation as a Daisho set, or a black hobgoblin with red saya and folded steel…

You get the idea.. And that’s just a sampling of the offerings!

I’m excited in that I think we have come up with the ultimate evolution of this line – the only drawback is, to do all this we had to raise the price by a fair bit..

We have been selling these swords below cost for a long while.. Our attempts to perfect the kissaki and the itomaki had already increased the price, now we were offering proper bo-hi termination, solid iron or exotic, premium grade gold and silver plated sets – something had to give, so we had no choice but the raise the price to $499.99 shipped (free in Canada).

Now honestly, while this is a jump, it has to be done – we can’t keep the project going if it keeps running at a total loss every time. And when you consider now what you are getting, $499 is still a total bargain! ($499 is still VERY tight for what we are offering!).

Anyway, I am now in the final stages of preparing the product listing itself, adding in all the options and getting it ready for the April 22 relaunch.

But the good news is – it is happening. And I realize that the streamlining may upset some, but we need to it for the others that we KNOW we can delight, and keep this unique product alive on the market for those who want to make a unique sword that fits their taste and personality.

Like the 29″ bo-hi Bunka set with white ito, black rayskin and black saya. Or an all Black steel, black iron solid bodied 28″ Mokko with Burgundy Saya and rayskin saya wrap..

Yes, it’s coming back. And I’m very excited – I’ll have all the options and designs ready for the 22nd, so stay tuned folks.. If I could have done it all over again THIS is how I would have done it for sure..!

– Paul

A glimmer of hope…

Thanks to everyone who emailed me their words of encouragement about continuing the SBG Custom Katana series. Batch 21 is not quite all shipped out yet – the majority of the swords have come in and been accounted for, but we still have some stragglers that are due to hit customs this week, so we will be working to get these in and out to their owners as soon as possible.

Anyway, during this period we have been talking with the forge – trying to determine how to reduce the recent spike in the error rate (we used to have an error rate of around 3-5% per batch. When we added all the new options, the first time around it jumped slightly but was manageable. But batch 21 has had an error rate of around 10%, which is totally unacceptable and causes massive delays to correct it).

As mentioned in the previous post, we were looking at 3 options:

1) Raise the prices significantly and reduce the number of orders per batch.

2) Refine the concept, offering less but better options with a small to moderate price increase.

3) Call it a day.

From all the emails of support I received, option 3 is looking less likely. I want to keep offering this line, but I need to find a way to make it work better and to improve it substantially.

Option 1 is tempting – but it’s too elitist for my taste. So that leaves us with option 2..

To this end, I had been talking with the forge about how we can refine the custom Katana to reduce the error rate, improve the quality – without a massive price increase for a base model custom Katana (though there will HAVE to be a price increase to factor in previous cost increases that we did not pass on and the additional cost of better quality components).

Anyway, I think we might be getting somewhere..

Here is what it is looking like:

  • 3 blade lengths, 27, 28 and 29″. All standard Shinogi Zukuri.
  • Bo-hi (improved) or no hi. 
  • Limited selection of IRON tsuba and iron fuchi/kashira
  • Limited selection of brass or copper themed sets
  • Current selection of ito colors
  • Current 12 selection of saya colors
  • Limited number of optional upgrades

To explain this a bit further, because our forge is a very small one it did not have access to all of the components used by other sword makers on the market. We were initially limited to a handful of brass tsuba, 7 iron tsuba – but a large assortment of basic alloy tsuba and fuchi/kashira.

But in the recent negotiations with the forge, we have managed to secure a decent selection of IRON tsuba with iron Fuchi Kashira and I’ve been playing around with how to make it work..

Here’s an example of 6 of the 31 possible iron tsuba we have been able to secure.

All 31 have a black base powder coating, and so do the matching Fuchi/Kashira sets of which we will only have 4 options, but mixing and matching them with the tsuba guarantees they will not clash.

 Of course, the main benefit of using iron components is a huge increase in the swords overall durability and longevity and it is what I would want if I was making it for myself.
Anyway, this will be the basic option – but there will also be an option to upgrade to a brass or copper set which has pre-matched, themed components like this one that we use on our USA based sword customization service.
(this is an example only, I don’t yet know what kind of sets we will offer or how much extra it will cost – but they will be sold as is, no mixing or matching).

Combine this with 3 selected premium upgrades (rayskin on the saya, folding and leather wrap with hishigami) and I think we may have a valid custom Katana that is actually better than the original custom Katana series.

The error rate should come way down again and the price increase, while it will happen, will not be a jump of $160 or so.

I should also mention that the bo-hi option will be a proper bo-hi with correct termination at the kissaki as pictured below.

If we were to proceed with this, I think that we may be able to not only continue the project, but give it a whole new lease on life. But due to the need to avoid errors and cut down the production time, we will not accept any customizations that fall outside of the options we have chosen. It just messes up the whole thing, confuses the forge and upsets the end customer when something goes wrong.

Now like I said, this is all in the early stages – and I cannot guarantee that we will be able to pull it off. Indeed, in many ways it is a return to the basics – but with the experience of several years behind us, numerous refinements to the base product (such as really nice kissaki, alternating ito, etc) I think that if we are to continue, this will be the shape of things to come..

In the meantime, it’s back to bringing in the last of batch 21 and tying up the loose ends. But once this is done, maybe this is the fresh start the project needs..

I’ll keep you posted.

– Paul

Future of the Custom Katana Series…

Hi Everyone,

First off, a quick update for casual readers of this blog (customers have already been notified some time ago) – but batch 21 of the custom Katana has ended up somewhat delayed due to two factors:

1) The most senior Smiths father died as we were trying to wrap everything up to go out before Chinese New Year – and naturally he stopped work to grieve and make arrangements for the funeral.

2) Half of the shipment went out before Chinese New Year, but the other half was not completed due to the Senior Smith absense, and as the Chinese New Year celebration lasts almost a full month, I regret to advise that for half of the shipment at least, we are again seriously behind schedule..

It’s all rather unfortunate, because as you can see from the pictures below – some of the swords in this batch are really quite special..

Some of the batch 21 swords (click for larger image)

And the blades have continued to improve, below you can see the prominent natural hamon that this line has been famous for, and the continually refined yokote line and boshi of the kissaki (tip), an area that is so often left unfinished or unsatsifactory on swords around this price point (simply because, it is so time consuming to do).

A batch 21 blade, note the true geometric kissaki with yokote and boshi

Sadly, it would seem that recently – every batch has been delayed much longer than what we are happy with – and the stresses of managing delayed shipments is really getting to be too much. But it is compounded by the fact that we are still selling these swords at 2008 prices despite massive increases in our costs, domestic and international shipping hikes and the fact that with more possible combinations than every before, the slightest error causes us to either remake the sword or offer some kind of compensation – and the losses have reached the point where it is no longer viable to continue the operation as it stands – especially when the amount of time spent managing the project is in the hundreds of hours per batch…

So as customers from batch 21 know, the future of the project is very uncertain..

As such, we are basically left with three choices:

1) Raise the base price and lower the number of orders within a batch to make it more manageable.  The demand is such that now when we open a batch, orders literally flood in and we have to close it up very quickly.

2) Create a new line, custom Katana 3.0 as it were, with less but better options (and again, at a higher base price). Options on ito colors and fittings will still be available, but blade lengths will be standardized and the fittings will be all iron and brass.


3) Call it a day and end the project entirely…

Essentially, we won’t know for certain which direction we will take until batch 21 is all in and accounted for, so I regret to advise to everyone who is waiting for batch 22 – I cannot provide an estimate as to when or if this will happen..

The only good news is that we do not plan on ending our relationship with the forge itself. Their blades are some of the best I have seen, and the SBG exclusive design line – such as the Black Dragon Katana, Yukiken and other limited edition designs that I create myself will continue, and indeed will likely grow larger as the year goes on. Indeed, right now we have two designs in stock and for sale – the SBG Black Dragon Ko Katana and the Oyabun Shirasaya (pictured below)

One of my own designs, the ‘Oyabun’ (Yakuza Godfather). More designs coming soon..

 Anyway, I really can’t say too much more until batch 21 comes in, the forge re-opens from the Chinese New Year shutdown and we sit down and do some serious price calculations..

I’ll keep you all posted, but in the meantime – thanks to everyone for their support. Hopefully we will be able to come up with something in the coming months – I already have some rather interesting designs for the SBG Limited Edition series – but in the meantime for the freestyle custom Katana series, let’s get batch 21 in and see..

Thanks all,

– Paul Southren

New Katana Customization Service Coming VERY soon!

Hi everyone,

Update time – and LOTS going on at the moment. Project X in stock sales are about to begin any moment now (the swords have all landed, been inspected and are basically ready) – the only thing I am waiting on is to complete some listings for a brand new service coming to SBG…

It’s in it’s infancy, and you will see it on the site literally ANY time now (just doing the final testing to make sure that it will work the way it is supposed to). So stay tuned – it’s not going to be cheap as it is a premium service (our customizer is an experienced Japanese Sword Art Sensei based out of Oregon), but it WILL open up a world of options for our customers like never before!

The full skinny will be revealed in the February edition of our online magazine the Sword Buyers Digest due to come out early in the morning of the 1st of Feb, so if you haven’t already I suggest you subscribe!

In the meantime, just wanted to add that Cheness orders will face a shipping lag from now until after the 8th of February as they are taking some time off for Chinese/Lunar New Year (2013 is the year of the snake) – so while you can still place orders for their products they will not ship until around tuesday the 12th.

Got to get back into the fray so talk to you all again soon!

– Paul