A quality niuweidao | Mandarin Mansion

A quality niuweidao

Overall length: 86 cm / 33.9 inch
Blade length: 66.8 cm / 26.3 inch
Thickness: forte 5 mm, middle 2.5 mm.
Blade width: forte 32 mm, widest 56 mm.
Weight without scabbard: 872 grams

A late Qing dynasty niuweidao (牛尾刀) or "oxtail saber". These sabers originated in civilian circles somewhere in the 19th century and their widespread use among rebels and martial artists have made it known as the archetypical Chinese saber. They are characterized by having relatively thin blades that flare out considerably near the tip, where they have a rounder cutting section than other Chinese saber types. This design is optimized for cutting soft targets, something that reflected the disappearance or armor of Chinese battlefield when firearms became more widespread.

The blade of this saber is thin and wide, with a clear audible ringing tone when you strike the steel: An indicator of good steel. The pattern in the blade is interesting, hardly noticeable at some points and in others it exhibits a fine grain reminiscent of Indo-Persian wootz steel. It has a pronounced inserted edge, and at some points you can see some brass between the cutting edge and the "body" of the blade. It's the first time I see this, and I'm not quite sure what the function it. The blade is obviously in the higher end of the spectrum of this genre, which is generally on the crude side. Blade has two fullers of different width. At the start of the largest fuller is a chiseled "crescent moon" shape. When looking at the back of the blade, it becomes ridged right where the fullers start. All these details are mostly stylistic and showing off the smith's skill, but they are very well done.

The hilt fittings are well-crafted. The parts of the iron guard are put together with brass, its seams very precise and prominently visible. The grip wrap was lost, so I re-wrapped it in faded green cord, just like some originals come with. It retains its original scabbard, covered with black ray-skin and fitted with brass furniture consisting of mouthpiece with cloud cutouts typical for the late Qing, and suspension bands and suspension bar. Unfortunately, the chape is lost.

All in all, a very interesting niuweidao that takes the quality of materials and execution in design a step further than commonly encountered.


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Contact peter@mandarinmansion.com