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How to Protect a Japanese Sword Blade in Shipping

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E-mail davidhofhine@gmail.com
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The best defense for a Japanese sword when shipping is a sturdy well constructed package.  A strong package along with a reliable carrier is essential to protecting your valued sword.  Insurance is fine, but it will not replace your one of a kind blade if it is lost or damaged in shipping. Shipping insurance can also be difficult to collect on. You must have proof of value such as a bill of sale or a written appraisal from a professional third party appraiser.  To complicate matters further your blade will be more valuable after being polished, so any receipt or appraisal you have will be out of date.  Therefore your best bet on getting your sword shipped without loss is a strong package.

You can ship the blade in its mounting if you would like, but I only need the blade not the entire mounting.  A sturdy new shira-saya with a strong peg is good for shipping, but an older broken down mounting will not give your blade much protection in shipping.  You may not want to ship a very valuable old koshire at all to protect the fragile wood and lacquer.  Finally, your blade may have no mounting, so it can often occur that you end up shipping a bare blade.

Special steps must be taken when shipping a bare blade, but it can be done very safely and reliably.  A bare blade will also give you a smaller and lighter package that will cost less to ship and be less likely to be damaged.  To ship just the blade, take the blade out of the mounting and wrap it in paper such as newspaper to prevent it from being scuffed or finger printed.  Wrap it tightly to prevent it from moving around.  The next step is to mount the blade onto a wooden board that is longer then the overall length of the blade.  A common 1"x2" to 1"x4" works very well.  Drill a hole in the board and put a heavy wire (at least 12 gauge solid) or nylon rope or similar through the hole in the board and the hole in the tang.  THIS IS ESSENTIAL FOR SHIPPING AN UNMOUNTED BLADE!  Further strap the blade onto the board with LOTS of heavy strapping tape.  You need a package that can withstand being dropped on its end from a height of 2 or 3 feet.  Being dropped its end by postal workers will send the blade crashing forward with the force of a hammer blow.

Sword peg sheared in shipping

If you ship a bare blade without strapping it down the tip may crash into the end of the package and be damaged and possibly cause injury!!!  Strapping the blade down like this protects it from the worst forms of shipping damage.  It will keep the blade from poking through the end of the packing.  It will also prevent the blade from being bent if the package is crushed.

This is a very good way to ship blades internationally.  It allows customs inspectors to take the blade out and see that it is a sword, but it is so difficult to get the blade off the board that they will leave it attached without touching the surface of the blade. There is nothing worse then getting a blade back from the polisher with a perfect finish except for the custom inspector's finger prints rusted into the surface!  An unmounted blade strapped to a board is absolutely NOT attractive to a potential thief, especially if they don't know anything about Japanese swords.  A mounted blade, even in just a shira-saya, is VERY attractive to a potential postal or customs thief.  A bare blade strapped to a board in this manner can actually be much safer overall then a blade shipped in shira-saya or other mounting. Bottom line, it's pretty hard to hurt a steel blade strapped to a board, while fragile antique wood and lacquer is rather easily damaged.

Once you have a sturdy shira-saya or board mounting you need a shipping carton.  FedEx and the Post Office both have 38" triangular shipping tubes that are very good for unmounted blades katana length and under. The heavy cardboard core from a carpet roll or some light weight 4" pvc "sewer" pipe can also make a good shipping tube.  Wrap your blade in bubble wrap and seal it tightly in your tube for safe shipping.

Finally you have to chose a carrier and this is essential.  Registered U.S. Mail or
U.S. Express Mail with insurance are best.   Insured US Priority Mail with delivery confirmation signature or FedEx can also be used, but are much less secure.

Registered U.S. Mail is the most secure.  You can insure for up to $25,000.  The package stay locked up and has to be signed for.  It does have special packaging requirements. You must have a "virgin" package.  This is a package with no old postage, address, or other marks on it.  The package also must be sealed with "paper tape".  This is the kind that you have to wet and stick.  They have these requirements so they can put "tamper seals" on the package.  Brown package wrapping paper and paper tape can be found in the packaging isle of most large office supply stores and some hardware stores.
Reinforced paper gum tape
This is the kind of tape you want for Registered US mail shipping.  Click on the image to buy this tape from Amazon.

U.S. Express mail with insurance is an over night service from the post office.  It costs more than twice as much as Registered mail and is not as secure, but the package moves very fast with good tracking which reduces the opportunity for mishaps.  You can use any type of tape to seal an Express mail package.

With FedEx you can only insure an antique Japanese sword for $500 max.  They also consider all damage that occurs during shipping as caused by inadequate packaging and will not pay any claims, so appropriate insurance is NOT available through FedEx. They also insist on opening and inspecting ALL packages valued at over $499.   This pretty much guarantees that swords with higher declared values will be finger printed, scuffed up or otherwise buggered with
, so you really must declare an artificially low value for FedEx shipping.  They do have the best tracking and the packages move fast which makes them less likely to run into trouble. You can use any type of tape to seal a FedEx package.

Your shipping choice must Require a direct signature.  Delivery confirmation is NOT enough.  With delivery confirmation the carrier pushes a button claiming that the package was delivered, but there is no proof that the package was actually delivered or that it was delivered to the correct address.

SWORD SHIPPING RULES
-DO NOT use a gun case to ship swords.  The foam inserts do not hold swords securely and you are just asking to have your package stopped and opened.

-DO NOT stuff a bare blade with no handle into a scabbard for shipping. That's a good way to break the tip of the blade or split the saya or both.

-DO NOT use plastic zip ties to secure a sword blade.  They have high tensile strength but very poor shear resistance.  Translation, they break a lot.

-DO NOT use a wood peg to mount a sword on a board, it will break.

-DO NOT go cheap on shipping, risking thousands of dollars just to save $10 or $20 is not good.

-DO NOT use UPS at all.

-DO NOT use uninsured US Mail.

-DO NOT use FedEx GROUND shipping.

-DO NOT declare a value of $499 or higher with FedEx.  They will open and unpack the box!  They also will NOT pay an insurance claim for over $500 on an antique sword blade so there is no benefit to claiming a higher value.

-DO NOT use retail shipping outlets like The USP Store, Knikos,
Mail Boxes Plus etc.  The hourly workers at these outlets are known to have pretty sticky fingers.

-DO all of your own packing.

-NEVER tell anyone what is in the package.  If someone is nosy enough to ask, I usually just say 'original art work' which is technically true, but not interesting enough to provoke a theft.
Make sure to NEVER use a retail shipping outlet, one of those chain stores that does all the packaging and shipping for you.  One of my clients did this and they not only stole the contents of his original package, but sent a completely different box in its place.  Loss or theft by a third party retail shipper is not covered by shipping insurance.

Finally, please TRIPLE CHECK the mailing address.  If you send your package to the wrong address, you are not likely to get it back.

Every sword I have ever seen lost or damaged in shipping was the result of the shipper either packaging badly or going cheap on the shipping (no tracking and no signature required). Follow the above guide lines and you can make sure that your swords will always arrive safely.  For example, over the last 24 years of full time polishing, I have never had a sword that I packed and shipped lost or damaged in any way.

David S. Hofhine

katana mount

board mounted wakizashi

triangle shipping tube


Chompnar!!!
Puppy announces when the mail arrives!


Please note, the blades featured on this web site are not currently in my possession, do not belong to me and are not for sale as far as I know. An absolute minimum number of blades (usually just one or two unmounted and unpolished) are kept on hand at all times to minimize liability.  -David Hofhine

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