As a young knife enthusiast, I never dreamt that I would one day have my very own katana. To me, these legendary swords were something that only the samurai could wield. Yet somehow, here I am today with a katana of my own.
My katana is by far one of my most prized possessions. There’s something surreal about owning one of these. It can, with all its cultural significance, fill you with a sense of unworthiness. That’s why when the time came for me to sharpen it, I was filled with dread.
I was already experienced with sharpening all types of blades, but this was a new challenge. I was so nervous. Not only are katanas beautiful swords, but it would be a huge disrespect to Japanese culture to mistreat one of these.
But with slow and careful work, I was able to get the job done perfectly. How? Let me tell you.
What are Katana swords?
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know what a katana is. These curved blades are all over our pop culture – in movies, comic books, video games, and more.
However, there are a lot of myths surrounding this legendary blade. Katanas come with a bunch of stories, it can be difficult to tell which is true and which isn’t. So before we get to the sharpening, let’s clear some of this up first.
Katanas are one of the highest and most honourable blades in the world. Their reputation comes from the fact that they were the primary weapon of the samurai. Katanas and the samurai are inseparable. They go together like a blade and hilt. They go together so well, it was said that the soul of a samurai is attached to his katana.
Like all swords, katanas are made for killing. Their length (24-30 inches) and a distinct curve make them deadly in battle. The samurai could easily take down their opponents with a couple of slashes.
But what makes the katana so special is that it is both sharp and strong. It is sharp enough to cut through leather armor and strong enough to never shatter.
Unlike ordinary swords, so much care is put into the manufacture of every katana. It takes months to forge a katana the traditional way. The process was long and grueling, and each katana was made for a particular soldier. As I said, the samurai and his weapon were inseparable. When a samurai died, his katana was buried along with him.
Today, katanas are available around us as collectibles. Most are no longer forged the traditional way, nor do they carry the same significance as they did in medieval Japan. But the heritage of katanas continues forever.
How are Katanas Made?
Every swordsman knows that sharp edges are brittle, and strong blades go dull easily. It’s very difficult to get a sword that balances these two well. Yet somehow, the katana gets the best of both worlds. Japanese swordsmiths found a way to create a weapon that is both razor-sharp and strong enough to withstand heavy blows. This “secret” process is known as steel folding.
The best katanas use not one, not two, but three different types of steel. These vary in hardness, from soft to hard steel. Basically, katanas have a soft core, a medium layer, then hard steel covering the other layers. These folded layers of steel are what give katanas their sharpness and strength. The soft interior isn’t sharp, but it is impossible to shatter. The hard exterior, on the other hand, is what gives katanas a deadly edge.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Katanas
Katanas have so many advantages over other swords. This is why they were the weapon of choice for the samurai. Aside from the perfect combination of sharpness and strength, katanas can also kill with one slash. The reason why these swords are curved is so that unsheathing and slashing can be done in one motion. Samurais could kill their opponent before they even knew they were in a fight.
Compared to some other medieval swords, katanas are very mobile. They are light and can allow the wielder to move a lot while fighting.
Now, this brings up the question, “who are you going to fight with your katana?” For most of us, the answer is no one. Katanas have no practical uses today. You may be able to use yours for self-defense. But there are so many better options for self-defense than a medieval sword. You’ll also have to master the art of sword fighting before you can use a katana.
But that isn’t why you have a katana, is it? No one gets a sword like this thinking it will be useful. No, we get katanas for their beauty. We get katanas because they are noble. We get katanas because they are steeped with cultural significance. We get katanas because they are legendary. Katanas are art, and owning one of these gives you something that the most practical knives can never give.
The Katanas Sharpening Problem
If ever your katana is dull for some reason, you can sharpen it by yourself.
The problem is that this is a difficult and intimidating task. You’ll need to be extra careful when sharpening a blade like this. Remember, months of work were put into forging this blade. But you can ruin everything with a few minutes of carelessness.
How to Sharpen a Katana Blada?
Before I show you how I sharpen my katanas, let me warn you that this is not a task for beginners. If you don’t have experience sharpening blades, DO NOT try this. Katanas are far too valuable for a risk like this. Your best option is to send them to the professionals to be sharpened.
There are several ways to sharpen a katana. You can even use electrical sharpeners if you want.
But I found the best way is the classic way: by sharpening a katana sword using a sharpening stone.
Step 1: Wet your stone
If you’re using a whetstone, you’ll always want to soak it before you start sharpening. You should soak your whetstone for about 30 minutes before sharpening. And as you sharpen, be careful to splash it with water as it dries. In the same way, oilstones also need to be oiled, especially before sharpening like a katana.
Step 2: Set your stone
You’ll want to make sure that your stone is as sturdy as possible. You don’t want it to wobble as you sharpen your katana. Choose a good flat surface to set your stone. I like using clamps to hold my stone in place, but that is optional.
Step 3: Sharpen your blade
With one hand on the hilt and the other on the blade, rub your katana gently against the sharpening stone. Stroke the edge of the blade with a diagonal motion at about a 30-degree angle. Make sure to test for a burr after every few strokes (over-sharpening is the last thing you want).
Be careful that you don’t apply too much pressure on the blade. If you push down hard, this will slightly bend the blade and the sharpness will be uneven. Instead, use gentle strokes and let the stone do its work.
As you sharpen, you’ll notice tiny diagonal scratches on the sharpened blade. This is because you are sharpening diagonally. What you want to do is to create an “x” shaped scratch. So start sharpening in the opposite diagonal. (Ex. If you’re pulling your blade from the top-left of your stone to the bottom-right, switch to top-right to bottom-left. This will create that x-shaped burr we’re looking for)
Katanas are double beveled. So once you’re finished sharpening one side, flip the sword and work on the other side.
Step 4: Polish
Now that your katana is razor-sharp, it’s time to polish it. Polishing is a very important step when it comes to katanas. After all, what’s a katana if it doesn’t look good? To polish a katana, use a sharpening stone with a higher grit level. Repeat the same process, and you’ll notice the scratches becoming smaller. Keep doing this until they disappear.
You can also use fine sandpaper for this. Gently rub this along the edge of the blade in a straight motion. This should get rid of any visible scratches.
9 Tips To Sharpen your Katana Sword
Sharpening a katana isn’t that hard. But you need to be extra careful when you do this. Once your katana is ruined, it’s ruined. This job needs to be taken very seriously. I like to keep these tips in mind whenever I work on my katana.
- Make sure you have a steady and even surface to work on
- Remove all distractions! Turn off the TV and don’t talk to anyone while doing this job
- Be patient! Never rush sharpening a katana
- Always test for a burr to prevent oversharpening
- Make sure your stone is always well-watered or oiled
- Use safety gloves! The last thing you want is a katana cut
- Don’t apply too much pressure when stroking your katana
- Use higher and higher grits until you’re happy with the polish
- Wipe your katana after sharpening
Katanas are so special, sharpening needs your utmost care and attention. That’s why I recommend letting a professional do this for you if you have doubts. But with a sharpening stone, some experience, and these tips, you can sharpen your katana like a pro!
Sources to Learn More About Katana Blades: