You cannot argue with the beauty and reverence of a handmade Katana. Its elegant and specific design has turned into cinema and literature. Infamous for being able to take down an enemy in one hit, Katana swords are one of the most sought-after historical weapons in the world. Katanas, also known as samurai swords, are traditionally made by hand. Japanese blacksmiths would hot forge metal with fine precision to make battle-ready swords. Katana enthusiasts have maintained the ancient blacksmithing process in the face of technological advances in metallurgy. Making these swords is not easy, but with a little guidance, any novice craftsman can try creating a Katana of their own.
Once you’ve prepared your forge, take a long piece of steel and heat it up. If you are just starting out, you will want to start with AISI 1050 steel bar of both size. This will create a Katana the size of a knife. Once you get the hang of it, you can try a regular Katana. Heat your steel bar until it glows orange and red. The heat will make the steel smooth enough to hammer. Overcooking the metal bar can ruin your work. You’ll know things are getting too hot when the bar turns yellow or white. If you see sparks, they are pieces of steel that are burning.
Flatten the piece of metal by hammering it on the side. Next, you will want to create the tip of your Katana. To do this, heat the side of the bar where you want the tip to be. Once it’s completely hot in the forge, hammer a diagonal piece. The diagonal should create a pointed point on your steel bar. Next, take the bar and place it on its edge with the tip pointing toward the ceiling. Hammer the tip until it is firmly aligned with the spine of the bar. This will create a sharp edge and direct the grain of the steel. Continue to flatten the sheet on both sides until the metal thins.
In front of the tip is the spike. The Katana tang is the lower part of the blade that is formed with a holding grip. The tang of a samurai sword should be one third of your entire sword. Create your tenon by filing the end of the blade on both edges. You will need to file the underside until it is shaped like a “V”. You don’t want the bottom to have a sharp point, just an easy-to-mold shape will do.
After filing your tenon, soak your blade in vermiculite for eight hours. Vermiculity is a material similar to sawdust that is popular with blacksmiths for cooling metals. The name comes from the appearance of the material that resembles noodle paste. Once your blade successfully cools down, you can start coating your Katana with clay. The clay used to coat samurai swords is a mixture of red clay, sodium hydroxide, and some water. This is ground and painted on fifty percent of the surface of the sheet. Apply a coat of no more than two millimeters and make sure not to trap air bubbles or dents. Once covered, heat the blade until the sword has a low red glow. Make sure not to overheat the Katana in this step. If you have trouble seeing the red glow, dim the lights or use a dark cube.
The clay layer allows the blade to cool further at two different speeds. The uncoated part will cool faster and make it harder. The process is called martensite, and it occurs when steel, which is made of iron and carbon, changes temperature rapidly. Martensite is the way Katanas get their curve. Repeat the process to get an even crueler curve on your sword.
Use a piece of hard material to remove the remaining clay. When you’re done, you’ll need to polish your handmade Katana. Traditional Japanese sword-making apprentices are known to train for up to ten years before they can actually polish samurai swords. The ritual process includes special Japanese stones that vary in texture. With water these stones are used against the leaf to clean it of imperfections. Starting with the less sandy stones and working your way up to the sandy ones, polishing with a Japanese Katana can be a tiring job. However, nothing worthwhile was easy. Start your collection of handmade swords by creating your own Japanese samurai sword.