How Was the Katana Made in Ancient Japan?
Nowadays, you can build your own katana sword, customizing them according to your taste and requirement. But things were not that easy in ancient Japan. Only a few authorized swordsmiths were allowed to make katana swords only for the samurai soldiers of the emperor.
In ancient Japan, swordsmiths collected the raw metals from iron sands and forged them in a controlled method. To make the sword durable, they used multiple layers of steel to produce a single katana sword. Moreover, almost every katana sword bore emblems and motifs of cultural and religious values.
This article elaborately discusses how ancient Japanese swordsmiths made the legendary katana swords. Moreover, you will know about different types of katana swords in the latter part of the article.
How Did Ancient Japanese Make Katana Swords?
The ancient method of making katana swords was very methodological. Only some chosen swordsmiths could make katana swords. There were some specific stages of making a katana sword.
Production of Steel:
Ancient swordsmiths used Tamahagane as the material of the blade of a katana sword. This is a special type of iron sand that is found locally and naturally pure from common impurities that make metal brittle like phosphorus and sulfur. This iron sand is forged into steel in a complex oven by steel makers. This process usually took days to complete.
At this point the steel is usually crude and unshapely. These are then sent to swordsmiths who heat it and hammer it to small steel plates.
Making The Blade:
The swordsmith took a few pieces of steel plates and covered them with wet paper, mud and ash to prevent oxidation. They are then reheated to 1300°C and hammered to fused them into a single chunk of heated metal. This hammering process also drives away any impurities that might still linger in the Tamahagane.
The formed chunk is then heated and beaten constantly. It is beaten until elongated, folded and beaten again. This cycle is continued 10 - 15 times. This is done to distribute the carbon inside the forged steel chunk evenly throughout the steel. It is also why you get the characteristic wavy pattern of the katana.
Usually two different types of iron chunks are used to make one katana. The sharp end is made from a harder iron. It contains more impurities making it harder and easier to sharpen. This hard iron is then folded onto a softer iron chunk which gives durability and flexibility to the blade. These two chunks are then beaten to fuse together and elongated into the shape of the blade.
Hardening The Katana:
After the blade cools down the sword smiths added a layer of mud on the katana to protect it during the hardening process. A layer of mud and carbon mixture is added to the sharp end which gives a wavy pattern separating the sharp end from the blunt. This is called the hamon.
Covered in mud the sword is heated again until it is bright red and instantly placed into cool water that hardens the blade. It is also at this stage the sword bends, giving it the katan’s distinct curved shape.
Polishing the Blade:
After giving the rough structure of the blade, swordsmiths send them to master polishers, who are known as Togashi. They refined the shape of the blade and added aesthetic values to them. It was a long process where the polisher used three types of stones.
The Decoration Phase: Swordsmiths decorated most of the katana blades with motifs of ancient Japanese culture. Japanese samurai soldiers believed that the decorations brought good luck for the warriors.
Mounting the Sheath:
Sheath makers started their work with the sword after the katana blade was ready. They installed the scabbard, handguard, and other art pieces to the katana blade to complete the process.
The whole process of making a katana manually is very time consuming and labour intense, you can still buy katana that made in such way, but the price is very expensive.
Different Types of Katana Swords In Ancient Japan
There were mainly three types of katana swords made in ancient Japan. Each of them had some distinct features. They represent the different ages and artistry of ancient Japan.
Tachi: The main feature of the Tachi katana swords is their curved handle. This type of katana sword was popular in the Koto period of Japanese history.
Uchigatana: After tachi katanas, came the age of uchigatana katanas. They had a straighter handle than the Tachi katanas. The curvature of the blade was also a bit different.
Shin-Gunto: Shin-Gunto means a new army sword. This katana sword first came into presence in the 1930s. However, historians criticize this version of the katana sword. Because Japanese warriors used the sword to execute prisoners of the Second World War.
Knowing how rich the history of the katana sword is, you may become encouraged to build your own Katana. However, you can avail of a custom katana of good quality if you order it from a highly experienced katana maker.