The katana is a single-edged sword once worn by samurai.
There are all kinds with different materials, a precise polishing according to the artist who made it, different lengths, etc. …
Here is our complete guide to choosing your katana.
The choice of materials
For the blade, we will use steel of more or less good quality depending on the katana we want to forge. It is this steel that will greatly determine the price of a Japanese sword:
Maru steel : This is an entry level steel but very simple to forge. This steel can contain more or less carbon. The more carbon, the harder and more expensive the steel.
1. The 1045 steel is recommended for beginners because it forgives ill-fitting shots.
2. The 1095 steel is in the upper range of the Maru steel. Its blade is very sharp but must be handled with dexterity because it is less flexible.
- Composite steels Composite steels are steel combinations that allow to obtain particular characteristics. A kind of sandwich is formed with a soft steel in the core and a hard steel on top.
- The laminated steels: It is also called Damascus steel and is made of two different steels. The blacksmith binds layers of steel together by hammering. The latter folds the steel into several layers, which gives the blade a laminated appearance. The blacksmith must make several thousand layers to obtain a blade of a beautiful aesthetic.
- Tamahagane steel: it is the best steel you can find for a katana. Tamahagane has a very high carbon content which gives it dense and fine properties. Its price is very high because it is of very good quality and it takes a long time to produce.
For the scabbard, light wood is often used and lacquered on the outside. It is then surrounded by ray or shark skin with a cotton, polyester, etc. rope.
The length of the blade
There are different sizes for a katana blade. Depending on the size of the blade, a different name will be associated with it:
- The Nodachi These are large swords with an average length of 90 cm. Only great warriors were allowed to wear them on the battlefield. This katana is not very common because it is very heavy and not very practical for tameshigiri for example.
- The Kodachi: it has a 60cm blade. It was not used much during the war and was rather used as a weapon for celebrations. The Kodachi is similar to the Wakizashi but is different in its shape and deformation.
- The uchigatana This is the Japanese sword that we know with a length of about 60cm. The sword is usually placed on the waist and is sometimes accompanied by a wakizashi.
- The wakizashi This is a much shorter katana that reaches a blade length of about 30cm to 60cm. The wakizashi appeared during the Muromachi period and was used in conjunction with an uchigatana.
- The tanto It has a blade of less than 30 cm. It is traditionally used to decapitate an enemy in a blow.
- Naginata It is a weapon with a long handle. The latter can reach a blade length of 120 cm. It was used a lot before by the Northern and Southern dynasties. It was sometimes used as a spear because of its large size.
3. Types of forge
Forging is crucial to give the blade its strength and sharpness.
Our master blacksmiths are in charge of the making of katanas following thousand-year-old techniques.
a) Homogeneous forge
Homogeneous forging is the simplest technique to make a katana blade. It is based on a process that aims to take a piece of steel and give it a particular shape.
This pressing technique can either be done by hand or assisted by a hydraulic or mechanical press.
For this type of forge, you can get katanas for around 200 euros. These are decent swords that can be used by beginners.
b) Composite forge
Composite forging is a slightly more complex process than homogeneous forging. Here, several different steels are used to give the blade specific characteristics.
A combination of soft and hard steel is used to prevent the blade from breaking too easily and to make it cut better. This type of blade already offers a much better performance than those in homogeneous steel.
c) Laminated forge
The laminated effect of the high quality blades is achieved by the bending of the steel. The smiths extract the impurities from the metal to keep only the purest elements.
For this sophisticated form of forging, a name is given to it which is the Japanese Damascus. Master smiths use this technique to produce the famous tamahagane steel which can be found on swords costing more than 2000 euros.
3. The Hamon
The Hamon is the temper of the Japanese sword. This last one aims to make the blade sharp and to solidify it. This is when you know if the blade will be good or not. Hamon is done on clay-coated swords.
Japanese smiths only partially temper the sword to keep it supple. Incorrect tempering can cause the blade steel to become brittle.
The sharpening of the katana is done through another master of the practice. The blacksmith then delegates the task to a polisher who will clean and sharpen the blade.
For sharpening, the latter uses stones with various and increasingly fine grains. The goal here is to bring out the full brilliance of the blade in addition to giving it its edge.
A Hamon is done over several days or weeks.
5. The saya of the katana
Saya is the name of the scabbard used for the katana. They are made from quality wood, light and lacquered on top to protect it.
Quality sayas are made of magnolia, because it is hygrometric. That is to say, it is very resistant to variations in air humidity. The scabbard of the katana is indeed subject to time and external inconveniences.
A quality wood will need less maintenance, but don’t neglect it!
Want to master the vocabulary of katana in more detail? See our complete lexicon.
FAQ : how to choose a katana ?
A good katana is forged with tamahagane steel obtained by a very slow traditional firing. Be sure to select a blade that has been thoroughly polished by a master. Finally, the scabbard must be made of magnolia wood and assembled in a precise manner.
Simply because they are made with different forges and materials. Low-end katanas will be made of maru steel while the more expensive ones will be made of tamahagane. For a good Japanese sword, you will have to go for a model made in the tradition of the country.