One way of knowing whether you are buying an authentic Japanese Samurai sword is through the price. An authentic one is around US$30,000.00. China made ones can go to as low as $100. However, anyone can put a price tag on their piece.
Now, there are two issues. First, what makes authentic ones so expensive? Next question is whether or not it is worth buying the authentic ones. Below are basic information on what makes authentic Samurai Sword so expensive and whether it’s really worth buying one.
Read on and have fun.
How Traditional Samurai Swords are Forged
Back when there were no machines and Samurais were regarded an elite member of the society, back when they were swinging their swords to defend the leader they swore allegiance to, Samurai swords go through three stages:
- Folding – the process of moulding the steel
- Differential hardening – the finishing to give them the shape it is known for
These were done by hand during the ancient times. They had machines, yes, but those were mechanical machines. For them to shape the blade, achieve the sharpness they want, they had to heat the steal and pound it using their big@ss hammer to shape it, cool it and sharpen it with bare hands.
That was then. Now, there are machines that could do those things. Making one Samurai sword could be done the same way canned products are done, through mass production and still produce the same quality, if not better. So, what’s especial about the manual process?
Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Folding
Folding is the process of lumping coals together and pounding on them until they stick together. The process usually involves folding the coal over and over again. It is said that coals may be folded up to 200 times.
There are those who claim that traditional authentic Samurai swords are folded up to 1,000 times in order to come up with a steel that is strong enough for fighting, can cut through people in one blow, cut through steel and everything else. I don’t think there is truth to that. Science already proved that coal may only be folded up to 200 times. Even if I double that, it’s not going to reach 1,000.
If you fold steel billets about 15 times, you will end up with 32,768 layers. So I will call the 1,000 folds, naught.
Ancient Japanese didn’t have access to good quality ore. To create really good Samurais, they put the ore through high amount of heat for more than three days. This allowed them to create the Tamagahane, a steel used by many jewellers today. This is further folded until the carbon is even out. If there is too much carbon, the blade breaks easily. If there is too little carbon, the steel will bend like raw iron. That’s the reason they do the folding, to purify the steel. As mentioned, there are so many steels that’s strong enough to be used as a sword without the folding.
There are those who sell “high quality Samurai sword” made of stainless steel. Don’t go for those. Look for high carbon forged steel or folded steel. These ones are almost impossible to break.
Step 2: Laminating
Laminating is the one step that is still being used to this day. Lamination is the process of fusing different kinds of steel together to enable the sword to hold the sharp end. There are different strategies on how lamination is done:
- Kobuse – uses hard and soft steel The
- Honsanmai – uses the medium steel to support the outer edge, soft steel on the inner blade and hard steel as the pointed portion
- Shoshu Kitae – uses soft, hard and medium steel but also has several layers. This is the most complicated of all
- Maru – is the simplest, it uses the hard steel
Other methods include Shihozume, Makuri, Wariha Tetsu, Orikeshi Sanmai, and Gomai. Kobuse is the most commonly used. Only the best smiths use the Shoshu Kitae technique.
Naturally, the harder the technique, the more expensive the Samurai sword. The end objective is to achieve the right amount of flexibility and hardness to absorb impact and still have a sharp edge.
Step 3: Claying
The usual construction of a Samurai sword includes a thick spine and a thin edge. They heat that sword in a very high temperature and then dip it in water. That’s what you often see shown on Hollywood movies where they hold the heated steel and drop it in water creating a beautiful frying sound and smoke.
That process will cool the edge faster and will make it the hardest steel known to man. It’s called martensite. The edge will remain sharp without being too hard.
Authentic Samurai Sword vs Modern Samurai Sword
Modern Samurai swords are the ones that weren’t made by blacksmiths. They are essentially mass manufactured. It doesn’t mean they don’t have good quality, it only means they are cheaper because they are able to produce more pieces faster.
However, it doesn’t hold the spirit of what a Samurai sword stands for.
Why Go for Traditional Samurai Sword?
It’s simple, because of tradition. I wrote about how the Samurais began and how they developed their reputation. Their swords were the extension of their honor. That is why each sword were specifically done for someone. It was never mass produced. If you intend to keep the spirit of the Samurai alive, then buy the traditionally made Samurai swords or look for a smith that will make one for you.
These swords may actually be used which means it can kill someone, it can chop woods and cut through different things that you never thought would be possible to cut using steel.
If, however, you are simply going to display it, why bother with an authentic one. Buy something worth $100 and just make sure you maintain the steel and it should last a long time in perfect condition.
If you want something in between, look for a Samurai sword that has gone through the Lamination and Claying process. If you find the right kind of steel, you may still be able to use the Samurai sword. This should be between US$1,000 to US$2,000.
If this is still too expensive, I suggest you find a sword that went through the claying process. Lamination and Claying actually serve the same purpose. However, claying produces the real Japanese Hamon.
So, those are your choices. Think long and hard what’s the Samurai sword is for. If it is something important and you believe in the Bushido, an authentic Samurai sword is worth the price tag.