Purchasing a custom Katana cannot be exactly categorized under “regular” purchases. But, you will be surprised to know that there are abundant choices available. Hence, in this article today, I will be exploring some of the best custom Katana makers in the market at present.
Table of Contents
- What is a Katana, a famous Samurai Sword?
- When was Katana used? What is the special feature of Katana?
- A List of 58 Custom Katana Makers
- How is a Daitō Made?
- The process of Creating a Katana
- A proper Katana maintaining
- Quality Handmade Katanas That You Can Buy Immediately
What is a Katana, a famous Samurai Sword?
Katana: Does the word ring a bell? Well, if it doesn’t then, you’re very behind on your Japanese/ anime knowledge. So, for everyone’s convenience ill start off with a tale of the “Legend of Amakuni.”
The first generation of Katana sword was different from the present form that we are familiar with. Katana drew its inspiration from Chinese sword and was a straight, double-edged iron blade during its initial stage.
Somewhere around the end of the 10th century the Chinese and the Japanese cultural ties deteriorated. This ultimately led to the creation of the modern Katana by the Japanese as we know today.
There isn’t any specific evidence on how the Katana got its “modern” design. But, many legends seem to point to a particular Swordsmith called Amakuni. Amakuni was a swordsmith who lived around 700 AD in the Yamato Province.
According to the legends, Amakuni observed that half of the Samurai came back with broken swords, especially when battling Mongolian Invaders. Thus, He re-invented the Katana by using the best Iron Sand Ore to increase the sword’s durability. Amakuni also re-shaped the Katana with a curve to make it slice-efficient.
Legends also go on to say that the death of Amakuni is not known and that He was immortalized by all the blood his Katana drew.
When was Katana used? What is the special feature of Katana?
The indigenous name of Katana in Japanese is called “nihontō.” The nihontō is a family of the sword that has specific length limitations. In the Japanese unit of length, the Katana measures 2 shaku which in standard unit comes to approximately around 60 cm or 24 inches.
Amongst Western cultures, Katana is also known as daitō or dai. In Japanese, daitō is a general term for describing a “long sword” or “big sword.”
The Katana shares some similar features with tachi, which has a more curved design than the traditional Katana. The Tachi is a slender, curved, and a single-edged blade with a squared or circular tsuba (guard).
One more crucial method of distinguishing between the Katana and the tachi is to identify the location of mei (signature) and nakego (tang). In tachi, the mei and nakego are faced outward since it has a cutting edge down. Whereas, the Katana has the cutting edge up, hence, the mei would be in the opposite side of the tang.
The history of the evolution of Katana
Until 900 CE – Jōkotō
From 900-1596 – Kotō
From 1596-1780 – Shintō
From 1781-1876 – Shinshintō
From 1876-1945 – Gendaitō
From 1953-till date – Shinsakutō
The evolution of the traditional tachi into the modern Katana occurred primarily during the Moromachi period (1337-1573). During this period (1400), some samurais started wearing the teachi with the cutting edge up in order to enhance their “response time” during combat.
This ultimately led to the popularity of the “katana-styled” sword design. This styled design ensured quicker draw and response as compared to the traditional tachi sword.
The inception of Katana also led to the creation of obi (belt-like sash to keep the carry the sword).
The length of Katana has also seen its fair share of revamping over its course of existence. During the time period of the late 14th to early 15th century, the length was about 70-73 cm. During the early 16th century, the length reduced by about 10 cm, making it approximately 60 cm.
By the late 16th century, the length increased by about 13 cm making it close to 73 cm again.
A List of 58 Custom Katana Makers
How is a Daitō Made?
The process of making a Katana is not an easy task by any means. But before you can even think of building your samurai sword, you must be familiar with all its minor parts.
The Hamon is the outline of the sword which is formed by hardening of the steel, which represents the sharper edge.
The Hi is the groove located under the spine of the sword. Its primary function is to reduce the overall weight of the blade with minimal compromises to its strength. It also distributes even stress throughout the length of the blade.
The Habaki is a wedge-shaped collar and it acts like a piece of protective equipment in holding the Katana and preventing it from falling out of the saya (scabbard).
The Kaeshizuno is a hook-shaped fitting or lock that holds the scabbard to the obi to ensure quick drawing of the daitō.
The Kissaki represents the tip.
The Koiguchi is the opening mouth of the scabbard.
The Menuki is the decorative handle. Apart from its decorative functionality, it serves as a protective fitting as well.
The Nagasa represents the overall length of the sword.
The Same-Kawa is the liner on the tsuka (handle). Traditionally Sharkskin was used for Same-Kawa.
The Saya is the wooden part of the scabbard.
The kashira represents the butt cap on the bottom of the tsuka to prevent the Katana from falling.
The Sori represents the curvature.
A tsuba is a piece of protective equipment used as a hand guard.
The Tsuka is the handle. It is usually made long to ensure accommodations for both the hands.
The shitodome is a small part used on the kurikata usually for an aesthetic purpose. They often have a gold finish.
The Seppa is a washer below and above the tsuba provided to enhance its fittings.
The tsuka-ito represents the art of wrapping a string to the tsuka of the Katana.
The tsuka-ito is the material used for wrapping on the tsuka.
The wari-bashi is a small pocket on the saya for metal storing chop-sticks.
The process of Creating a Katana
No wonder why it is regarded as one of the best and the most efficient combat instruments. The process of constructing a custom katana requires profound metallurgical knowledge and an ample of precision and of course endless patience.
In fact, in the Japanese Middle Ages, Swordsmiths used to perform special purification rituals before they proceeded to forge a new sword. According to their beliefs, the purification ritual gave them the blessings of the benevolent spirits to enable them to create a new and worthy daitō.
The construction of the daitō by the Japanese also provided a detailed insight into the proper use of steel as a blade material. While western cultures were using single blocks of steel to forge swords, the Japanese paved the way for modernizing sword craftsmanship by using alloyed steel for constructing the infamous samurai sword. The use of alloy steel provided Katana with an exceptional level of sharpness without any major compromises on its toughness.
The entire process of forging is as follows –
The first step is to construct a clay type blast furnace (if you don’t have it already) called “tatara.” This acts as an enclosed area for burning the mixture of iron and charcoal. They are burned for a period of 3 days and 3 nights.
This process is done primarily to eliminate a good percentage of impurities, and it also allows the iron and coal to mix properly to produce steel.
After the formation of steel, and with further purification, we obtain a form of iron sand ore called the “Tamahagane” aka “steel jewel.” This is the core material that will be used for constructing the Katana.
After that, the swordsmith differentiates different qualities of Tamahagane according to their Carbon content.
Hagane – the highest carbon content
Kawagane – medium carbon content
Shigane – lowest carbon content
Hagane and Kagawe are used for creating the core blade external covering. While the lower carbon content metals are used as reserves for usage in smoother blade parts.
All these steels are broken down into 3-small cubes. However, for constructing a Katana, we require 4 pieces of steel cubes. Hence, a piece of steel is recycled from another steel block. These 4 steel planks are then stacked and are warmed up and hammered into thin sheets. After that, they are rolled and stacked on top of one another. This step is repeated over and over again to form thousands of layers upon one another. The same procedure follows until a flat and straight steel block is obtained.
This step not only flattens the steel block but also removes a large percentage of impurities. Thus it improves the quality of the steel as well.
After that, the swordsmith uses the low carbon content block of steel to construct the Shingane. This low carbon steel is molded, folded and hit multiple times (up to 10 times) to reduce the impurities and the carbon content further as well.
After it has been reduced to the flat sheet, the Kawagane is bent into a U shape and the Shigane is melted within its inner portion. The mixture of Kawagane and Shigane are heated and hit until they are fully melted together to form a single block.
This process of forging different blocks of steel varies from one sword smith to another. In fact, it is believed that Masamune could forge 7-different kinds of steels to construct the blade. However, the tip part is always created with either Hagane/ Kawagane.
After this is done, the most crucial stage comes. This stage is for hammering the blade to its primary curved shape that daitōs are popularly known for. Clay is spread throughout the length of the blade to ensure that it responses optimally to the hardening process.
The large temperature variation that the blade gets exposed to during this process helps in creating the curvature shape of the blade. This process also alters the crystalline structure of the blade and separates it into 3-different forms; Austenite, Pearlite, and Martensite.
Austenite and Pearlite are both soft but they tougher. Whereas, Martensite is harder but more brittle as well. Both Austenite and Pearlite are formed by a slow cooling method, whereas, Martensite is formed by a fast cooling procedure.
Now comes the step where Hamon is created. Hamon refers to the curvature shape of the Katana which has become its identity over the years. The Martensite crystal is responsible for developing the Hamon. Different thickness of clay coatings is used with minimal clay on the edge (to make it easier for the hardening process). Whereas, the back of the sword is treated with more thickness of clay to allow it to retain toughness and flexibility.
This process ensures the Katana to form its curvature shape aka Hamon. This process is crucial as Hamon is regarded as the primary factor for deciding the quality of the sword.
After the Hamon is formed, the blade is now sharpened by using sand of fine grains. This ensures the blade to form an extremely sharp edge and create a near mirror finish. The end result is a blade whose edge possesses the hardness of a Diamond and an extremely flexible body.
At last, it is given the final touch by drilling a hole in the non-edge part of the blade and placing the bamboo handle by tying a cord.
The custom Katana is thus made.
A proper Katana maintaining
After learning how much effort and time-consuming process the construction of Katana requires, it would be rather inconsiderate of you if you take your Japanese daitō for granted. Every piece should be exposed to regular maintenance in order to protect its authentic functionality and also to prevent the precious Katana from getting rust as well.
The best way to clean your Japanese sword would be to use a Katana Sword Maintenance Kit like the Ace Martial Arts Supply Katana maintenance kit. This particular kit can be purchased readily on Amazon. You can purchase it here.
But before purchasing the kit, there are some crucial Do’s and Dons to remember while cleaning your sword.
- Use only light oils
- Always be extra careful as you are dealing with an extremely sharp object
- Keep it oiled (lightly) at all times
- Keep it in a dry place
- Before applying a new layer of cleaning oil, make sure you remove the previously applied oil with a soft fabric
- Use mineral oils for best results
- Avoid touching it with your hands, as that will increase the rate of rusting on the blade
- Never expose it to direct sunlight
- Avoid using metal polishing products
The maintenance kit that I mentioned before comes with several cleaning materials. These include uchiko ball, mekugi-nuki, fabric cloth, and cleaning oil. You can use all this maintenance kit to clean your daitō at regular intervals.
Here’s a how-to process
Always remember to wipe off the old sword oil that you may have applied before applying the new oil. You can also use a soft cloth and dip in a solution of solvent or pure alcohol to wipe off any impurities/foreign particles on the surface.
Apply powder thoroughly throughout the entire length of the blade.
Use rice napkin to wipe off the powder that you just applied.
After cleaning the powder, now apply a few drops of cleaning oil throughout the blade (on both sides). You can then use the rice napkin again to spread out the oil evenly throughout the blade.
Quality Handmade Katanas That You Can Buy Immediately
After learning how hard and complicated it is to forge a quality Katana, you may want to take an easier route to possess your own famous samurai sword.
Luckily, there are ample of Japanese swords that you can easily purchase on Amazon.
Now, it is of utmost importance for you understand that the quality of all these “available” Katanas are nowhere near the authentic quality of a genuine handmade Katanas.
However, there are some great alternative webshops where you can find Katanas of superior quality. Swords of the East is one such example where you can find fantastic Katanas.
Here is a list of some of the best Katanas that you can purchase on the swords of the East webshop.
War Horse Katana
The War Horse Katana by Dragon King will grab your attention as soon as you lay your eyes on it. It’s like a true blend of beauty and functionality.
This handmade Katana has the traditional handle construction with an exotic white ray skin Same. Over the Same, lies a beautiful tsuka with an exquisite emerald color.
The Saya features a deep blue color to nest the deadly and extremely sharp War Horse Katana.
Talking about the overall dimensions of the blade, is is forged with a 65m true-clay tempering steel. This superior build quality gives the blade a distinctive Hamon. The HRC Edge and Back are 60 and 40 respectively making it ideal for any kind of cutting environment that you may want to expose the blade to.
The overall length of the blade is 40 ½ inches, with the primary blade measuring 27 5/8 inch and the tsuka taking up 11 ½ inches. The handle is long enough to accommodate both hands comfortably.
Spring Sakura Katana
True to its name the Spring Sakura Katana by Dragon King represents the exquisite cherry blossom (Sakura) in the spring. Legend has it that the Samurais deemed falling during battle amongst the bed of cherry blossoms as a great honor.
This handmade sword features a blackened cherry blossom design tsuba that beautifully represents the spring Sakura. Also, the Kashira and Fuchi are black as well to accent the design of the blade.
The color contrast comes in the form of a crimson tsuka, the notched sepa (spacers) and the same (ray skin). The habaki (blade collar) is silver in color, and the saya (scabbard) has a black lacquered finishing with a unique buffalo horn-rimmed scabbard opening (koiguchi).
The length of the Spring Sakura katana is 39 ¾ inches. The blade measures 27 inches and the tsuka (handle) measures 11 ¼ inches, and the blade is forged with a 5160 high-carbon steel.
Tenka Fubu Katana
The Tenka Fubu Katana by Dragon King is a blade that has been designed to pay homage to one of the greatest Samurai leader, Oda Nobunaga. Oda Nobunaga was a military leader during the Sengoku period, and this Katana pays it homage by being one of the toughest and sharpest blades to have ever been made.
The fuchi (collar) on the blade features a battle flag and a war fan to immortalize the victory of Dengakuhazama in 1560 where Oda Nobunaga outsmarted the entire army of Imagawa’s force.
The Tsuba also features his signature Kabuto, whereas, the Fuchi-Kashira has the kabuto of his arch-enemy, Tadeka Shingen.
It is said that Oda Nabunaga revolutionized the art of warfare and helped in unifying Japan during the medieval period.
The saya has a lacquered red finishing to symbolize the strength of Oda Nabunaga, and the kurikata (knob) features a buffalo horn design as well. The gold and brown cord (sageo) completes the blade with a brown handle wrapping (tsuka-ito).
The blade is made with T10 blade steel, and the overall length of the blade is 41 ¾ inches (28 ½” blade and 12” handle).
Pine Crane Katana
The Pine Crane Katana by Dragon is a fine example of simplicity and optimal power. This exquisite piece forges two elements that ancient Japanese deem very crucial – the Crane and the Pine tree.
The Japanese culture holds the red-crown Crane in the highest place with regards to its power and respect as well. The Pine tree, on the other hand, is a symbol of wisdom, longevity, and power. In fact, Shinto believes in the idea that Pine tree is the residing place of Gods of Heavens.
This is precisely why it is believed to be one of the most powerful blades.
The exquisite embossing detailing on the steel tsuba, kashira and fuchi can only be described as a true work of art. The black and white combination of the tsuka-ita and same perfectly compliment each other as well.
The Pine Crane Katana make use of the T10 steel blade for its construction, and the overall length of the blade measures 41 ¼”, where the blade length takes up 27 7/8″, and the tsuka measures 12”.
The Fletching Katana by Dragon King is one of the oldest forms of this sword, and it blends the three most crucial elements in the construction – control, strength, and persistence.
The color contrast of the Fletching Katana all blends perfectly with other giving the blade a royal appearance. The white same (ray skin) beautifully wraps the golden tsuka and the buffalo horn kurikata and kojiri also merges beautifully with the back sageo.
The tsuba’s round design with a finely detailed arrow spoke is a fine example of excellent craftsmanship as well.
The Blade is constructed from a 65M blade steel, and the overall length of the blade measures 42 ¼” (28 3/8” blade length and 12 5/8” tsuka).
Summer Lotus Katana
The Summer Lotus Katana by Dragon King lives up to its name in representing the fruitful season.
The tsuba perfectly mimics the heart of a traditional Japanese water garden with a frog and snail design embedded in its menuki (handle ornament). The design symbolises good fortune and fertility as per Japanese beliefs.
The summer lotus Katana is a perfect blend of black, white, silver and dark green colors in its various parts. The saya (scabbard) features a dark lacquered green finish, whereas, the white same (ray skin) fuses beautifully with the blackened fuchi-kashira, tsuka-ito (handle wrap) and the tsuba.
The Blade is forged with a 5160 carbon steel blade, and it has the blade length of 28 1/8” and 11 ½” handle (tsuka).
The Tatsumaki Katana by Dragon King manifests its inspiration from the most feared and powerful form of life that the Japanese and Chinese legends have passed down throughout the ages – The Dragon.
The Dragon King’s Tatsumaki Katana carries the Dragon inspired theme throughout the entire detail and design of the blade. The most convincing detail is found on the rounded tsuba where the Dragon is represented in a deeply detailed fashion.
Other than that the fuchi-kashira and fuchi both represent the lightning and cloud theme and the Hamon of the blade features a gunome-midare style. The silver furniture unifies perfectly with the brown handle wrap, sageo and the golden saya giving the blade a superior and deep color contrasting finish.
This sword is constructed with a T10 carbon blade steel making it extremely tough. Apart from that, the Tatsumaki Katana measures about 40 ½” in total, where the blade length measures 28” and the handle length measures 11 3/8”.
Ten Ryu Gold Dragon Katana
Ten Ryu is known for constructing some rather affordable swords without making too many compromises on the blade’s functionality. The Gold Dragon Katana is one such example that highlights Ten Ryu’s excellent craftsmanship in making a fully functional daitō at a minimal price tag.
The blade features a simple design with a black handle wrap and white menuki color integration. The saya features an exquisite Dragon design to elevate its aesthetic aspect.
The blade has an overall length of 41.5” where the blade length measures 27.5”, and the tsuka measures 11.5.”
Masahiro Kiriyama Katana
The Masahiro Kiriyama Katana is another example of optimal functioning sword with a relatively low price tag.
The tsuba of the blade draws inspiration from the mountain scene, and hence, the rounded-tsuba features a detailed mountain design. The tsuka is wrapped with a blackened cotton cloth with a golden same (ray skin) wrapped underneath, and the golden habaki blends with the blade effortlessly.
The blade is forged with a thick carbon steel blade that contributes to the blade’s toughness. This helps the blade to preserve its functionality despite its low price tag.
Masahiro Samurai Sword Tsunami Nin-To Katana
The Masahiro Katana is a fully functional and combat-ready ninja sword. It can be used for both tameshigiri and training purpose as well.
The blade has some unique features about it (apart from all the previously mentioned Katanas). The blade has engravings on both sides which is rare to see even on the higher priced samurai swords.
The tsuba features a rectangle shape with a turbulent wave design. The Tsuka is wrapped with black leather, and it has the traditional same (ray skin) underneath as well. The saya and sageo are both of black lacquer finish.
The overall length of the blade is 40” with the blade length measuring 27.2″ and the tsuka measuring 11.”
Basically, everything you need to know about famous Japanese swords has been covered in the article. Of course, if you want to construct your own custom katana (handmade), you will need a more detailed video tutorial in addition to the information that I have provided.
However, it’s no walk in the park to achieve such feat, so I would advise you to stick with purchasing a good quality daitō from the list that I have mentioned above. You can, of course, check out other great handmade Katanas from the Swords of the East webshop as well.