If traditional Japanese katanas are so renowned, it’s mainly for the quality of their tamahagane blade. These curved swords have made their reputation throughout the ages for the sharpness of their blade.
This cutting quality is largely due to the way Japanese smiths make their steel.
Tamahagane steel is very hard to produce because of the low proportion of materials present in Japan. The latter contains many mysteries to unravel to give you a good vision of the unique character of this metal.
Tamahagane steel in a few lines
- It is a rare steel used by Japanese smiths for their katanas
- It contains a very high carbon content
- It is obtained following a slow cooking over several days
- It is specific to Japan and is only produced there
- It is the best steel to combine sharpness of the blade and flexibility
- Only a few hundred blacksmiths in Japan know how to make it.
How is tamahagane steel created?
The secret of Tamahagane steel making is well kept. The exact process is passed down from generation to generation by blacksmith families.
However, it is possible to train directly with a master if you are persuaded. Some blacksmiths open their doors to apprentices who must then dedicate themselves body and soul to the making of katana.
The training lasts about 5 years, and the apprentice can only start practicing after one or two years of observation…
The merging of layers
To begin, the blacksmith creates a special clay oven for firing. This furnace corresponds to what the Japanese ancestors used to create this same steel. It is an ancient art that has been passed down from generation to generation. This oven is called tatara.
Then layers of coal, wood and iron sand are fused into the clay vessel, and a typical black sand from the region is selected for the sand. This sand is made up of very small amounts of iron that the smith collects as it is fired. Two types of sand are actually used, namely acoma and masa.
For the selection of the sand, an expert is called “murage” in Japanese. The latter selects the best quality sands possible. This step will create the best tamahagane swords Japanese possible.
The separation of steel
After preparing all the layers, the blacksmith can now start firing the materials. He will then have to watch over the oven for 3 days and 3 consecutive nights. During the process, the steel will gradually appear as a block.
Inside the oven, the heat can reach 1800 degrees. This is the heat needed to melt all the components and give the famous Japanese steel tamahagane.
The process begins to take shape in a short time. It takes only one hour to see the fire bed appear. It is created as a result of the immersion of iron sand to the bottom of the clay oven. The smith can then use the color of the fire bed to see if the steel is ready or not.
Making tamahagane steel is hard work. In addition to the intense heat from the furnace, the blacksmith must constantly maintain the fire. He must add iron sand every ten minutes and fan the flames with an air blower.
After a few days, the tamahagane steel begins to form. The furnace must be broken to extract the precious metal. The steel is recovered from the bottom of the furnace as well as from the walls. It is on the side that the best parts of the steel are present.
The blacksmith will then select the best parts of the steel. If the latter are grayish in color, it is the hard part of the steel, with a high carbon content. White residue is considered soft.
Hocho Tetsu and Orishigane steel
Due to the complexity of creating tamahagane steel, the lesser quality parts will still be used. The creation of the tamahagane requires the efforts of several people over several days.
The recovered material is very rare and is only found in the most prestigious swords. Its scarcity has led throughout history to the recovery of the worst parts to transform them into Oroshigane steel.
Orishigane is a mixture of low quality tamahagane steel with other steels. Blacksmiths used to enrich this steel with carbon to control its sharpness and strength.
Hocho Tetsu, on the other hand, is a steel that contains very little carbon. It is used to create swords that are not very sharp. A steel with very little carbon will not be sharp but will have a good flexibility.
Is Tamahagane steel the same today as before?
Even though industries have modernized the creation of steel in general, it is impossible to change the method of making Tamahagane steel.
Japan strongly regulates the method of creating this steel. It is theNihotto organization that controls the quantity of steel produced, and controls the quality of Tamahagane steel in Japan.
The organization also manages all the distribution of iron sand essential for production. All these controls increase the price of sand which is already difficult to possess.
However, some foreign companies produce unofficial Tamahagane steel. This one is produced outside Japan and is somewhat similar to the steel produced by master blacksmiths.
Should I buy a katana with Tamahagane steel?
Tamahagane katanas are intended for enthusiasts and practitioners of Japanese martial arts. The tamahagane katana is a real work of art that can decorate a room.
However, its price may dissuade many. It is however the price for a tamahagane that it will be necessary to disburse if you wish to have an object having required materials of arts, a work of goldsmith and many knowledge.
A tamahagane katana, for what use?
It is possible to use a katana tamahagane during the practice of a Japanese martial art. The great masters in kenjutsu use sharpened swords for their martial practice.
Tameshigiri is also the art of cutting with a Japanese katana. If you are a practitioner of this art, a good sword will be essential to make good cuts on your targets.
Apart from that, you will have little opportunity to use your katana while remaining within the law. It will have a very important emotional value because of the quality it shows.
Kyoto tamahagane knives
Japan produces tamahagane knives knives of the Kyoto range in steel tamahagane. They are known for their sharpness. They are recommended for all types of cutting, whether it be on red white pulp, vegetables or fruit.
They are used in particular by the great sushi masters. They allow very fine and precise cuts. The kiritsuke knife will be ideal to adapt to the chef’s activities.
What is the price of a tamahagane katana?
The price of a tamahagane katana can vary depending on its length, origin, etc. As we said before, you can get a katana from Japan or from abroad.
1. For a foreign tamahagane katana, it will be necessary to count approximately 2000 to 2500 euros. This is the best compromise if you have a “limited” budget.
2. Traditional Japanese katanas have a minimum price of 8000 euros TTC. You will often have to pay a deposit of 50% of the amount because the swords are produced to order.
Whatever your choice, you can’t expect to get a very high quality katana at lower prices. If you want to spend a little less on your katana, look carefully at the product, the composition, the production methods, etc.
Our maintenance tips
Although of very high quality, your blade will needmaintenance to avoid rusting and oxidizing. For this, we recommend that you get a maintenance kit for your blade, it is composed of :
- Microfiber cloth for cleaning and spreading oil on the blade.
- Uchiko is a chalk ball made of chalk powder. It will be very useful to clean the surface of the blade. Its particular composition allows it to pass through the envelope when the chalk ball is tapped.
- Oil It protects your katana against oxidation.
- Mukugi These are bamboo pins that hold the blade and the handle of your katana.
- Pin remover It is a small brass hammer with a point which allows to remove the mekugi.
How to buy a katana without risk?
To buy a tamahagane katana without risk, we recommend you to visit our online store. We select our katanas assiduously and from experienced Japanese craftsmen.
Our katanas are very high quality pieces with an exceptional sharpness. If you are passionate and/or practicing in a martial art, our swords are made for you.
Visit our online store now to choose your traditional Japanese katana.
Tamahagane steel is recognized as the best material for sword blades. It is traditionally made in a clay oven. Tamahagane steel offers unrivalled sharpness and flexibility.
For a traditional tamahagane katana, you will have to pay at least 8000 euros. However, you can buy a tamahagane katana available abroad for between 2,000 and 2,500 euros.
It takes between 36 and 72 hours to obtain tamahagane steel from the furnace. It is necessary to find the famous iron sand which is very rare in Japan. To become a katana blade, it still needs to be cleaned and polished to reveal its full potential.