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Old 14th December 2017, 04:47 AM   #1
ashkenaz
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Default How Strong are Luzon and Visayan Blades

I've been seeing claims around some forums that Luzon and Visayan Blades are so weak, that they are made of incredibly soft iron, that they break after a few uses and that even Aztec wooden weapons are more effective, how accurate is this claim?

Thanks
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Old 15th December 2017, 04:14 PM   #2
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Hello ashkenaz,

Welcome to the forum!

Interesting question that you pose. I don't use my antique weapons to do any heavy cutting. I don't want to damage them. However, I have tried a number of WWII-era and later blades on various cutting chores and they perform well. Hardening of the steel edge is variable but I have not found any failures/breakages yet.

Are you referring to some of the modern reproductions perhaps? I view these as largely decorative.

Ian
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Old 15th December 2017, 05:02 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashkenaz
I've been seeing claims around some forums that Luzon and Visayan Blades are so weak, that they are made of incredibly soft iron, that they break after a few uses and that even Aztec wooden weapons are more effective, how accurate is this claim?


Hello ashkenaz,

all Luzon and Visayan blades I have in my collection are very well worked and frankly said I can't remember to have seen many broken blades from this region.
And let me make one remark, when a blade is worked from soft iron it will get bent and when on the other hand you have a "hard" blade there is the danger that it will break.
Do you can show us such claims?

And from me as well, welcome to the forum.

Regards,
Detlef
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Old 15th December 2017, 07:43 PM   #4
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"Soft" and "weak" are different.
Central Asian knives were always deliberately made soft: that made them unbreakable but easily sharpened : the natives used the bottom of a ceramic "piala", a teacup. Any small rock would do, too.
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Old 16th December 2017, 02:41 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashkenaz
I've been seeing claims around some forums that Luzon and Visayan Blades are so weak, that they are made of incredibly soft iron, that they break after a few uses and that even Aztec wooden weapons are more effective, how accurate is this claim?

Well, the Aztec were a warring people with well-trained warriors and the skill of the person wielding a weapon is usually much more important than the skill of the craftsman making it. I've also met Filipinos, especially from the Visayas, who were/are also highly skilled...

For working blades, the Filipino approach is to have a differentially hardened blade on the soft side of things (in old times often with an inserted steel edge): it will easily take a sharp edge and can quickly be resharpened in the field or in the jungle with any pebble from a stream. As already mentioned, the chance of accidentally breaking a decent blade with a soft back is nil. Pure fighting blades tend to be a tad stronger hardened but still will bend under abuse rather than break (and that is a good thing as already mentioned by others). Antique Filipino blades are usually very well crafted with some early laminated pieces equalling Moro blades in quality; and Moro blades were regarded by the Spaniards to be on par with their high-end Toledo steel blades...

The areas under strong colonial rule apparently got reasonable access to imported European steel which results in younger antique and later blades to be often forged from monosteel. Still, these tend to be of reasonable to very good quality. I'd prefer them any day over what is to be found in the drawer of an average "modern" kitchen!

As Ian mentions, modern reproductions may well fall short of expectations, especially if done in stainless steel - obviously, these are meant as curios/wallhangers!

It is to be expected that some bladesmithing skill has been lost during the last century. However, it should be noted that locally crafted Filipino blades are still in active service as fighting blades while most other armed forces just have mere camping tools and rarely a dagger or two left in their arsenals...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 16th December 2017, 03:36 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
...... most other armed forces just have mere camping tools and rarely a dagger or two left in their arsenals...

Regards,
Kai



Hope you are not saying it in company of Gurkhas or Chilean commandos.

It would be sad for all of us to lose you:-)
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Old 17th December 2017, 12:41 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashkenaz
I've been seeing claims around some forums that Luzon and Visayan Blades are so weak, that they are made of incredibly soft iron, that they break after a few uses and that even Aztec wooden weapons are more effective, how accurate is this claim?

Thanks


id rather an iron blade than any wooden thing.

ut ok here goes.

modern stuff you get in asia is beyond bad most of the time..

much of it is useless.
some of it is ok
some of it is good
and some is excellent

if you go to a very isolated part of the Philippines youll still see people living in a very basic subsistence life. nobody owns a chainsaw.

the bolo knives theyll make will be good and solid as poeple dont have much money and if the makers makes a poor knife they will return ruining his reputation.

the natives in mindoro still make good cheap high quality working knives.
the ifugao sill make good stuff as well
most populated areas the knives are cheaper and less quality just turned out for 150 or 200 pesos as thats all people will pay. no sheath basic grinding no sharpening ect. its like mass production.
the vasayas are like that in some areas. but in a pile of cheap junk you can usually get a few good blades for working.

most knife makers in south east asia dont know of tempering and the spring its still a novelty. there was very little transfer of metal working from europeans oddly.
so their blades will have no hardness except for about 1cm along the edge.

this is why a blade can be bent but its still had enough to cut a nail in two.

there is however tempered blades i have seen and i have even seen oil quenching but its either information that was kept secret and not spread by locals or it was not spread due to cultural aspect.s

for exampe even today the fugao do not know what a metal plane is so they in history hammered their blades smooth and then smoothened them on a stone. but in the lowland migrans tagalogs visayans ect took with themform what is now indonesia when they mograted the metal plane.. so they will plane their blades smooth with a special tool when they are soft .
like you plane wood.

but you see even such a usefull tool due to cultural differences didnt spread.
so i have no doubts that tempering didnt spread due to again ethnospecific knife makers and lack of cultural exchange.

if an edge quench is poorly done i.e the blade is not hot enough it will just be iron and will be useless and if its to great an area they blad eiwll just chip or snap like a carrot.

so thats where the bad reputation comes from


to prove that the edge quench is done correctly more ifugo knife makers leave one side of the edge bevel with the quenching scale so the buyer can see its a clear quench line that is the right width.

the worst knives in the phillipines come form dagupan as there its mass production and lowest price counts but ill be honest. ive never broken one in the blade. mostly its the handles that are loose or something

generally the worst blades in the phillipines are much better than anything you could buy in thailand or kambodia ect and actually better than much of the indonesian stuff.
they are cheap and they work..
the vasayian stuff is mostly single beveled though. much like japanese kitchen knives.. so you must state if you require left or right handed knives.
what sort of blade were you looking to buy?
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Old 17th December 2017, 06:20 PM   #8
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Aztec obsidian weapons were incredibly sharp, but incredibly fragile as well. They were designed more to maim, so that the opponent could be captured and then sacrificed to the gods. I imagine they would have to be repaired after any serious use by replacing the obsidian.

As noted, 'soft' is good for blade spines to prevent brittle breakage, and hard is used for the edge to hold an edge longer, but not too hard, or they will chip like glass obsidian too. Again, they can be difficult to sharpen. I have a 'Sting' boot knife that is that hard, they have been known to shatter if dropped. Real pain in the keester to sharpen too.

Better an iron/steel weapon bends than breaks in field use. A bent weapon can be beaten or re-bent back into useable shape easily. A broken blade and you are dead.
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Old 17th December 2017, 07:46 PM   #9
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Ausjulius,

Thanks for the information. Some of this I did not know. Do you have a picture of a metal plane--I'd be interested to see one and get an idea of how it was used.

Ian
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Old 17th December 2017, 10:28 PM   #10
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I just want to add to this discussion this: centuries ago good quality steel was in short supply. After the Spanish came and then especially after turn of the 20th century, better quality steel (i.e. spring steel, etc) became increasingly available, and thus less of a need for laminations in steel.
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Old 17th December 2017, 11:12 PM   #11
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Just to add some context to current Filipino knives, here are two that I believe are from Mindoro and were made recently. They are almost identical in style and have the same mark ("MIN81") stamped at the base of the blade. It appears they were made at the same time by the same person.

These are high quality blades, both well sharpened with a single bevel to the edge (in the manner of most Visayan knives). The handles are good and tight to the blind tang. Good working knives, practical and inexpensive, that would serve as a weapon if necessary.

Ian.

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Old 18th December 2017, 09:30 AM   #12
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I have a pair of those too, garabs, nice working knives, right-handed chisel edge (single bevel). Also, have a similarly edged, scabbarded and gripped ginunting and a pinute sword. I gather they are HC tool steel... All made by DaSilva.
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Old 22nd December 2017, 07:26 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Hello ashkenaz,

Welcome to the forum!

Interesting question that you pose. I don't use my antique weapons to do any heavy cutting. I don't want to damage them. However, I have tried a number of WWII-era and later blades on various cutting chores and they perform well. Hardening of the steel edge is variable but I have not found any failures/breakages yet.

Are you referring to some of the modern reproductions perhaps? I view these as largely decorative.

Ian


Eee... no, speaking strictly of historical blades.

There's a narrative going on around that the only effective Filipino blades are almost exclusively, if not literally exclusively, Moro blades.

It's been popping in and out on some websites by a few users.

""Notice how most of the good weapons from the Philippines are all Moro made""

""lmao Filipinos wish they could be as accomplished as the Moros in making swords and weapons. Its been reported that Filipino made weapons have always been inferior to Moro made weapons. Filipinos made soft iron weapons that broke and dented after a few times of use. Even aztec weapons are better than that.""

There are a few users I've seen on a few comment sections convinced by this. As someone who has also himself witnessed beforehand, well made antique Filipino blades, I highly doubt these claims myself, if I lack the justification to refute this, there could be a massive spread of misinformation that no one will be able to control for a while.
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Old 22nd December 2017, 09:29 PM   #14
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Ashkenaz,

I don't know who said these things but I think they are mistaken. There are some fine Visayan and Tagalog knives around, not to mention Ilokano, Ifugao, Bicolano, etc. The T'boli make excellent blades too. Not very well informed comments that you quote IMO.

Ian.
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Old 22nd December 2017, 11:42 PM   #15
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I can see where people might get the idea from. I'm often impressed by the quality of the metalwork on Moro blades. Laminated construction so that a soft body supports a very hard edge and stops cracks from spreading when that very hard edge cracks in use, superb sharp long-lasting edges. Often decorative pattern-welding. The construction quality of the blades, and their artistry, is on a par with that of excellent Japanese katana, superb early Medieval pattern-welded swords, and top-quality Chinese swords (harder to compare objectively with crucible steel/wootz swords, since they're made quite differently, but you could add them too). Since Japanese blades are often of such quality that they attract "these are the best blades in the whole world" fanboyism, it shouldn't be too surprising to see similar for Moro swords. Of course, one also needs some ignorance of the quality of other people's excellent swords, and it's helped along by a good dose of nationalism and/or racism (including 2nd hand nationalism/racism).

That said, there are Luzon and Visayan blades with that same level of quality. What do these people compare? Are they comparing superb 19th century Moro blades with post WW2 tourist bolos? I know I haven't been impressed by the average quality of the post-WW2 Moro kris (including tourist specials). Is it just the magic of "Moro"? (Note that a significant part of arnis/escrima/kali is marketed as "Moro", at least implicitly, with practitioners posing for photos with kris or barong in hand, despite this family of martial arts being historically anti-Moro.)

For sure, a statement like "the only effective Filipino blades are almost exclusively, if not literally exclusively, Moro blades" is not true. While some cheap bolos are junk, many are excellent work knives. If somebody's grandmother has used her Igorot bolo as a work knife for decades and it's still going strong, it is certainly an effective blade. One could, as a matter of taste, condemn it as ugly, but to call it ineffective, weak, soft, fragile, junk, or such - not at all. Same thing for many other work knives. (Tourist knives/swords, OTOH, are often of rather poor quality.)
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Old 27th December 2017, 12:25 AM   #16
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Quote:
Since Japanese blades are often of such quality that they attract "these are the best blades in the whole world" fanboyism, it shouldn't be too surprising to see similar for Moro swords. Of course, one also needs some ignorance of the quality of other people's excellent swords

I'm with Timo. For every excellent katana there were dozens of average examples produced and a considerable amount of rather crappy katana blades...

The same can be found for many other cultures all across the globe.


Quote:
That said, there are Luzon and Visayan blades with that same level of quality. What do these people compare? Are they comparing superb 19th century Moro blades with post WW2 tourist bolos? I know I haven't been impressed by the average quality of the post-WW2 Moro kris (including tourist specials).

And there certainly are also antique Moro kris of rather poor workmanship, too. Not everbody can afford top notch craftsmanship, in any culture.


Quote:
Is it just the magic of "Moro"? (Note that a significant part of arnis/escrima/kali is marketed as "Moro", at least implicitly, with practitioners posing for photos with kris or barong in hand, despite this family of martial arts being historically anti-Moro.)

Some of the displayed ignorance is really sad!

The Lumad, the Visayans and some of the communities of southern Luzon actually had to literally fend off the Moro raiders for centuries; it was them rather than the Spaniards who stood their ground!

A considerable part of the Moro economy was based on a predatory life style; raiders sure appreciate high quality "tools" and also have the means to spend considerable amounts for their blades. I certainly would not be surprised if any of the Moro peoples were shown to having had higher quality blades on average than, for example, Visayan communities. However, it does not follow that high-end Moro blades surpassed high-end Visayan blades. And whatever quality the blades of each side might have had, the outcomes over much of the historic time were not necessarily in favor of the Moro, despite their undeniable warrior skills...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 27th December 2017, 02:24 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Ausjulius,

Thanks for the information. Some of this I did not know. Do you have a picture of a metal plane--I'd be interested to see one and get an idea of how it was used.

Ian


it is an example of a Visayans metal plane
if you want i can find videos of it being used
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Old 27th December 2017, 02:27 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Just to add some context to current Filipino knives, here are two that I believe are from Mindoro and were made recently. They are almost identical in style and have the same mark ("MIN81") stamped at the base of the blade. It appears they were made at the same time by the same person.

These are high quality blades, both well sharpened with a single bevel to the edge (in the manner of most Visayan knives). The handles are good and tight to the blind tang. Good working knives, practical and inexpensive, that would serve as a weapon if necessary.

Ian.

.


hi, yep they look ok , but they are not native mindoro knives they are made by settlers. probably visayans form the lowlands.
but the general rule of thumb is the further from modern life you go in the phillipines the more likely youll find a good knife.
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Old 27th December 2017, 02:51 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
I'm with Timo. For every excellent katana there were dozens of average examples produced and a considerable amount of rather crappy katana blades...

The same can be found for many other cultures all across the globe.



And there certainly are also antique Moro kris of rather poor workmanship, too. Not everbody can afford top notch craftsmanship, in any culture.



Some of the displayed ignorance is really sad!

The Lumad, the Visayans and some of the communities of southern Luzon actually had to literally fend off the Moro raiders for centuries; it was them rather than the Spaniards who stood their ground!

A considerable part of the Moro economy was based on a predatory life style; raiders sure appreciate high quality "tools" and also have the means to spend considerable amounts for their blades. I certainly would not be surprised if any of the Moro peoples were shown to having had higher quality blades on average than, for example, Visayan communities. However, it does not follow that high-end Moro blades surpassed high-end Visayan blades. And whatever quality the blades of each side might have had, the outcomes over much of the historic time were not necessarily in favor of the Moro, despite their undeniable warrior skills...

Regards,
Kai


i think the original poster was asking about modern made knives.
and in generally the muslims in the south have a good deal more martial culture than the rest of the phillipines. for the average phillipino bolos are just tools and cheap disposable ones at that.. there is a few collectors and people interested but they are a small minority..
ifugao for example like them but mostly as tools so the quality of their knives is generally good but its very.. basic they make a few styles and they use them for work not to impress.

in the past there was a big knife culture but over tie in the phillipines with poverty and decline of a the colonial society along with decline of the native material culture its pretty much dead. nobody is strutting round with the latest bolo on to show of any more..

but in plces like malaysia and indonesia there is still a big culture around kris knives and such ect..
its unfortunate in the phillipines its in such a decline..

some knives for example in panay are basically good solid work knives.. but there is no superior knives sold either.. the worst quality is quite good and functional and there is nothing but work tools.. the locals were shocked i would have any interest in knives at all,
with the muslim groups in the south they immediately prick up their interest when you mention you like knives and many people have old knives they keep from their family.. big difference.
its interesting too how there has been such a decline to the point that in some areas the pepole forgot how to split rattan and use "plastic rattan" instead.. or they stopped working with animal horn all together and you see the horns unused,

ive been to many knife making areas of the phillipines and in some areas there is more makers than customers then in other areas there is few makers and more cusotmers ect..

phillipinos dont want to do manual work in fact in all over asia manual workers are just considered stupid or foolish ect for doing such difficult things its like the reverse of northern european culture where the hard working guy is the good example.. im really shocked when somebody is ashamed that their parents are blacksmiths ect and that a "good job in the city"
and generally knife making is a poor "dirty" job and probably one of the lowest professions. which is really a shame. .. and people just dont value it. it dosnt hold the cultural prestige a knife or weapon maker holds in bali for example where they are linked to religion
a general lack of pride in something kills it , just like wood working and metal casting also are lowest of the low jobs.. good job its work for an american or european company with benefits or work in the government where you can snag a bit of graft.


they should really make some national association of knife makers or blacksmiths and have a registry of all places where knives are made ect as its one of the few ethnically distinct cultural and regional things that survive and its interesting.
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Old 27th December 2017, 04:23 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ausjulius


it is an example of a Visayans metal plane

https://ibb.co/m3keKw https://ibb.co/deiS6b

if you want i can find videos of it being used
Thanks ausjulius. Interesting looking tool. It appears to be used like a draw knife or shaver. I would appreciate a link to the video you mentioned.

Ian.

PS: I've attached the pic in your link for the Forum's files--these links tend to get broken and we lose good information in our archives unless the pics are uploaded to this site.
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Old 27th December 2017, 04:33 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ausjulius
i think the original poster was asking about modern made knives.


No, he was asking about antique blades, look post #13.
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Old 27th December 2017, 05:18 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ashkenaz
... There are a few users I've seen on a few comment sections convinced by this. As someone who has also himself witnessed beforehand, well made antique Filipino blades, I highly doubt these claims myself, if I lack the justification to refute this, there could be a massive spread of misinformation that no one will be able to control for a while.
Ashkenaz,

I hope that some of the comments here will help you change people's minds about the quality of Filipino sandata, and convince them that excellent edged weapons were made by non-Moro groups for many centuries. How else would they have survived Moro attacks over the years?

While acknowledging that Moro weapons were often of fine quality, those of other Filipino groups need to be respected too.

Ian.
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Old 27th December 2017, 11:49 PM   #23
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Maraming Salamat Ian!.............and well said!
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Old 28th December 2017, 01:21 AM   #24
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Walang anuman kong kaibigan! You're welcome Battara.
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Old 28th December 2017, 08:21 AM   #25
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Quote:
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No, he was asking about antique blades, look post #13.

oh ok i stand corrected well we mostly are not testing our antiques that much, but ive never broken an antique blade.. phillipino or otherwise i think they generally much better quality than current made stuff from the same region
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Old 29th December 2017, 06:48 AM   #26
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Here is a relatively recent (late 20th C.) Ilokano knife which is well made. The blade shows a clear hardened edge that I think reflects quenching rather than an inserted edge. The sheath is nicely tooled leather with brass fittings. Hilt is made from horn with metal inserts.

This example reflects ongoing skills in the manufacture of certain Luzon blades.

Ian.

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Old 29th December 2017, 07:39 PM   #27
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Another mid- to late- 20th C. piece. This is a Visayan plamingko from Panay. Again, an excellent blade with a hardened edge (I've not etched it but the hardened edge is apparent in the hand, although not seen in the picture). Good quality hilt and scabbard as well. Nothing fancy, just a well made and very functional knife--just as effective as a gunong.

Ian.

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Old 30th December 2017, 08:48 AM   #28
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Having restored, polished, and cut things with a lot of antique and recent-vintage SE Asian and especially Filipino knives and swords over the years, I can say that they all, being handmade by craftsmen, are highly individualistic in terms of their metallurgical quality. It's almost impossible to generalize by type.

I've worked on old Moro kerises that would truly impress the Spanish colonizers of centuries past for their resilience and temper, not to mention the pattern-welding. Others have less going for them -- forging flaws, or excessively soft cores that take a set easily. Some edges are quenched and tempered very hard like Indian crucible steel, others have a softer and tougher edge like a machete, and a few are just plain soft. And there is no hard-and-fast correlation between steel quality and the artistry of the hilt. Campilion blades are prone to even more variation, understandable since it is quite difficult to temper such long and thin blades in pre-industrial conditions.

Some collectors tend to disparage central and northern Philippine knives for the less-careful finish quality, but many of these are really well-tempered, sturdy, and efficiently designed. It's hard to beat a good talibong for a combo of cutting and stabbing efficiency. Battara is right about the availability of industrial steel in the 20th cent. contributing to greater consistency in the finished product. Nothing wrong with jeep and truck spring steel... A Thai knifemaker told me that Japanese leaf springs from light trucks made up through the 1970s are lamellar, a type of "san mai" construction and that is why they were popular material for dha blades made in Aranyik.
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