You might ask yourself what swords have to do with Woods Monkey. Well it’s a good question but I’ve got a pretty good answer for you. If you’re reading the Monkey then you know that we do a lot of blade reviews. A lot of our writers have a background in the cutlery industry or have a keen interest in that field. Many times that interest drifts from the basic tools of the outdoorsman to more historical pieces.
Couple that with an interest in martial history and it should really be no surprise that knife guys have a fascination with swords too. Over the past year we’ve had the opportunity to work with the folks at CAS Hanwei and had the chance to check out some of their excellent field knives and folders. In the process I found that they have an extensive line of swords and many of them are not only fully functional but downright affordable. When I found swords that cost less than some production folders that I own I really started to take notice. Now I’ve probably been interested in swords ever since I was a kid. The problem was that I was always torn between settling for an affordable but unusable wall hanger and justifying the cost of a buying a real sword. Although I’ve wanted to pull the trigger on a good sword for years every time I was about too something else came up, or I just couldn’t justify the expense. CAS Hanwei takes away that conundrum by offering top quality, functional blades at prices just about anyone can afford. The Chinese Military Dadao is a great example of that.
In Chinese, Dadao literally means “big knife” and big the Hanwei Military Dadao is, sporting a 22 7/8 inch 5160 high carbon steel blade mated to an extra-long 14 1/8 inch long handle. The Dadao has a squared off cleaver-esque tip on its massive blade which is over 3 ¼ inches wide towards the end. It starts off at nearly 3/8 of an inch thick above the guard and tapers down to about 1/8 inch thick at the tip. A full flat grind and a set of double fullers helps lighten the blade and maintain its balance. The blade came with a utility edge on it.
The handle is wood covered in a leather wrap and is topped by a double guard on the top and the classic Dadao ring at the pommel. While made of stainless steel, both pieces have a hand forged appearance suitable for a blade of this pedigree. The handle has more than enough room for a two handed grip even for those with Sasquatch sized meat paws. The 2 lb. 7 oz. weight is such that the Dadao can be easily used one handed if need be as well. The Dadao comes with a basic leather blade cover that holds the blade in place with two leather straps secured on studs. A heavy welt ensures that the sword won’t cut through the front of the scabbard.
Like many peasant weapons the Dadao was an evolution of an agricultural tool and its broad blade is best suited for cleaving and slashing and doesn’t require the sort of training and expertise that some other swords do. That makes it perfect for someone like me with my minimal edged martial arts skill. That isn’t to say that the Dadao won’t perform in the hands of a skilled user, just that it’s an easy blade to master even for those with little experience. This made it a popular choice with peasant militias and revolutionaries in China up into the 1930’s. The particular sword that this Hanwei was based on was the military variation which was used against the Japanese during their invasion of mainland China during the Second Sino-Japanese War prior to WW II. You can also see this style blade in photos from the earlier Boxer Rebellion as well.
When it came time to test out the Dadao I had no shortage of volunteers. Everyone who saw the blade had to pick it up and try it out. I had it with me back in April at the annual Practice What You Preach event in North Carolina and the Dadao drew admiring stares from everyone who saw it. I had a number of people try to buy, swap, or swipe it off of me while I was there. Considering its agricultural background and use by peasant troops I’m pretty confident that many a Dadao saw use in camp as much as it did on the battlefield. While I wouldn’t normally suggest using a high quality sword in the role of a machete we did so some basic testing that you could anticipate troops in the field 80 years ago might have done. We cut some weeds and thorn bushes that would likely impede ones progress through the woods and cut some small saplings of the type that could be used for building a shelter or clearing out a camp site. The Dadao’s slightly tip heavy balance worked well for sweeping and slashing cuts needed to take out such targets of light resistance. Even the ½ inch to 1 inch saplings and branches easily fell away when the Dadao’s massive cleaving blade came in contact with them. We then moved on to more specific cutting tests on green bamboo around 3 inches in diameter. For this I enlisted fellow Woods Monkey staffers Andy Blanchard and Joe Flowers, both of which have actual martial arts training. While rolled tatami cutting mats would probably be a better medium we decided to try bamboo since it was what was on hand, and also something that may well have been encountered by Chinese troops facing their Japanese adversaries back in the 1930’s. Andy and Joe have a lot more experience than I do and with some form and technique were easily able to slice clean through these sturdy hunks of bamboo. We had just sunk the pieces into the ground and I am fairly confident that the cuts would have been even easier still if they had been more securely placed. Even the cuts that didn’t fully sever the bamboo sunk extremely deeply into it. One thing to keep in mind too was the factory provided edge. It was a semi-sharp edge. A sharper edge might have facilitated the cuts to some degree but I suspect it also would have been much more susceptible to damage. We did some fairly rough usage of the Dadao and I think the provided edge was probably a good compromise for that sort of work. If you plan on doing more traditional cutting of tatami mats, and even water bottles you’d probably want to refine the edge some more.
I later did do some testing at home on water filled milk jugs. Even with the utility edge on the blade I found that I had no problems cleaving the jugs in half. A fellow Monkey staffer commented during a katana test that I swing a sword like a Louisville Slugger and that probably is in fact true. In this case, that style seemed to work out just fine with the Military Dadao. What I may lack in technique this brutish blade makes up for in mass. Milk jugs do not stand a chance. I look forward to trying it out on melons and perhaps pumpkins in the fall as well. After some jug testing I used the Dadao for some more utility work and cleared away some overgrown weeds and low hanging vines from the rear of my property. The blade is fairly nimble and handy to use for its size and while I wouldn’t use it in place of an actual lightweight machete for utility purposes, I could easily see how the Dadao would have been pressed into camp service during military field expeditions.
The CAS Hanwei Military Dadao carries an MSRP of only $165.00. That’s pretty crazy for a quality built, 5160 chopper like this. Even crazier is that actual street prices are even lower at places such as Kult of Athena near Woods Monkey HQ in Illinois. If you’re looking for an interesting military historical piece, or even just an affordable, practical sword to take out and actually use, the Hanwei Dadao should definitely be on your short list. Even without a serious martial background, I certainly wouldn’t feel poorly equipped repelling borders from my Junk in Victoria harbor, in case of a genetic experiment induced zombie apocalypse, or during intelligent ape uprising either!
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