The Best Katana by Spending Limit

The Best Katana – Authentic Katanas

The best katana in my mind are the ones made hundreds of years ago, the Nihonto (日本刀, nihontō) blades, which means a ‘Japanese sword made in Japan by a Japanese swordsmith under the original forging methods’.

I believe these are best not because of their durability, which actually in some cases at the time was inferior to modern katanas, but because they were the foundation forges to many great swords in production today and their purpose of being produced in that time was for much greater causes than those forged today.

Best katana - authentic katana from edo period
Sword from the Edo period in the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo

In ancient Japanese times these blades were forged with the utmost dedication and meant to be a life long companion to any Samurai. Whether it be to avenge a loved one’s death or to overthrow a dictator’s oppression on their people, these blades were meant for purposes beyond being a wall hanger or back yard cutter.

If anyone ever wants to see a ton of actual authentic katanas they need to check out the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo Japan. This place is probably number 1 on my bucket list. I’ve browsed their site numerous times checking out all the ancient katana swords they have there and can’t wait for the day I actually get to go there in person.

To buy one of these katanas from the ancient times you would have one heck of a time finding one, and even if you do, you’ll be paying $20,000+ for an authentic katana from hundreds of years ago and the use beyond it being a wall hanger or museum piece now is practically nothing.

There are however some great katanas being produced in modern times under the old forging methods that are actually functional. I’ll run through the best katana by price point, some of which you may have already noticed in my other katana reviews post.

The Best Katana Sword - Katana Sword Reviews

Best Katana Under $10,000

You ever hear the saying “If I’m paying that much for it the thing better be made of gold”? Well in this case it isn’t gold this katana is made from but the next closest thing, silver; well ok sterling silver, which is why it comes in at a price a couple thousand dollars lower than $10,000 at a price of around $7,000. If I am ever planning on actually spending $10,000 on a katana it had better have all the fittings made of gold though.

the best katana sky jiro ume blossom

This katana is one of those I mentioned when I said there are still some katanas being produced under the ancient standards. It comes from the reputable Sky Jiro forgery and is being sold by SOTE where they use top of the line folded Tamahagane steel treated with clay tempering for differential hardening followed by an intensive show-grade polishing job.

The sterling silver fittings (Kanagu) on this authentic Japanese katana really make it stand out plus provide the benefit of focusing the balance of the blade more towards the tsuka. This gives you more control over the swing of the blade. The tsuba is iron and modeled after 300 year old authentic Japanese metallurgy and craftsmanship.

To be a $7,000 katana it has to be more than just having silver fittings. Yes the fittings are the only thing silver on it otherwise a blade forged from silver would be too soft and non-functional.

The tsuka is wrapped in cream stingray skin then covered in brown leather. I prefer leather over nylon for the sole fact that I believe it provides a better grip during training. The saya is beautiful in itself as well with a red lacquer finish giving it a smooth look.

the best katana ume blossum katana

Since this katana is one of the ‘collector grade’ katanas, the number of these forged is very limited so don’t be surprised if you’ll have some difficulty finding it. The craft time is longer and there’s a Kinzan Master Smith Signature on the Nakago so you know that the utmost precision and dedication goes into making this blade. It truly earns its position as the best katana under $10,000.

Breakdown

  • Blade Length: 28″
  • Tsuka: 11.5″
  • Material: Tamahagane
  • Price: Usually ~$7,000

Best Katana Under $10,000

Best Katana Under $3,000

Thaitsuki Nihonto is a Japanese forgery that is known for high end katanas and wakizashis. They produce their swords in smaller batches to create an exclusive feeling for those who buy one of their swords. When looking at the Thaitsuki katanas there are two styles they offer them in: the Maru and the Sanmai.

  • The Maru katanas are forged from a single steel with a hardness that usually ranges from 40 to 60 HRC. These tend to hold an edge pretty well however are not made of folded steel, though it is still hand forged. The Maru are the lesser expensive of the Thaitsuki swords.
  • The Sanmai are the higher quality katanas that are made from three time folded steel over a 40 to 60 HRC core. This allows for a hard edge yet more durability throughout the rest of the blade so that when it makes contact with a target it will be able to absorb some of the shock without breaking. Since each is hand made no two sanmai swords will look identical, giving each their own grain pattern and unique look and feel.

The best katana I suggest for this price range is the Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai (Triple folded steel) made from 1024 layers. A beautiful katana that is quite functional having the durability and edge to cut through bamboo without any issue.

Best Katana Under $5,000 - Thaitsuki Roiyaru

The Thaitsuki Roiyaru also has silver fittings, though not to the extent of the katana we just reviewed for $7,000. On this katana you’ll find silver Seppa (spacer), Habaki (blade collar), and flower Menuki (handle ornament), the Tsuba however is made of brass.

It is forged in Koto style which was an early forging method during the Edo period and a can be disassembled for cleaning. I do however strongly suggest not taking it apart unless you have experience in disassembling and reassembling katanas. If you do this process incorrectly you not only chance ruining your katana but even worse is risk harming yourself.

The bo-hi on the blade only runs partially down the blade, which is unique however I’m not sure the exact reasoning for it. Since the bo-hi (groove) usually is placed to control weight and balance past the tsuba my guess is that the way the blade is weighted is that there only needed to be some weight reduced closer to the tsuba but I’m not positive.

Best Katana Under $5,000 - Thaitsuki Roiyaru

Thaitsuki when they first started caught some heat for being overpriced and not worth the money they were asking. After much backlash from buyers the switched up their manufacturing process and started placing a lot more emphasis on really taking the time to forge quality pieces that actually warrant the price they charge for them (since it’s still not all that cheap).

I think most today would agree that Thaitsuki now vs Thaitsuki 10 years ago is a completely different company and really upped their game.

Overall the Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai is just one of many katanas they offer, each in their own style, forge, and price tag. The sheer aesthetics, forging process, and the ability of easy disassembly makes it (in my mind) the best katana under $3,000.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 41.5″
  • Blade Length: 29″
  • Tsuka: 11.5″
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs.
  • Price: Usually ~$2,500
Best Katana Under $5,000 - Get this katana

 

Best Katana Under $2,000

Like a mantis snagging a fly, the Hanwei Praying Mantis katana snatches its place as best katana under $2,000 for a few reasons beyond its amazing green nature themed aesthetic appeal.

praying mantis 4

The first and biggest of which is the unique steel used in this katana – L6 Bainite Steel. Bainite is a high-carbon special purpose low-alloy steel. This means it’s highly resistant to bending, almost to the point of near unbreakability (I say ‘near’ because we all know everything has its limits).

Another perk to the Bainite composition is that these blades can be lighter and thinner yet still remain stronger than conventional steel or 1086. Where most folded steel katanas have a softer outside with a hard core to prevent breakage they don’t have the springy reaction that this katana has, meaning it can flex more than a normal blade without altering the shape. Blades such as the Praying Mantis made with Bainite are excellent for tameshigiri as well as general sword work.

Now since this is made from Bainite steel you will not find a Hada on the blade. The hada is the grain pattern that you’ll find on folded katanas, so if that is something you absolutely want then this may not be the best katana for you.

Best Katana Under $2,000

The green silk ito looks great on the white rayskin wrapped tsuka with the golden praying mantis menuki. The tsuba is made of copper and from what I’ve read online is that it isn’t as worn as the promotional images released by Hanwei appear it to be.

As with some of the others on this list, the Praying Mantis katana has a bo-hi running the full extent of that blade providing for lighter swings. This not only looks beautiful but is a functional katana exceptionally strengthened by its L6 Bainite steel forge.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 41″
  • Blade Length: 29″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs
  • Price: Usually ~$1,700

Best Katana Under $2,000 - Praying Mantis

Best Katana Under $1,000

If you read my other post on katana reviews then I think you know which katana will take this spot as the best katana under $1,000…you got it the Tori Elite!

Now there are a lot of great swords out there but honestly we can’t all have the Ferrari of katanas so we find the best katana within our price range. If you happen to be able to afford one of the previous katanas I mention on this page then go for it. I have friends that have some of these more expensive katanas (hence my familiarity with them) and they will vow anyone who’s got a few thousand to buy one of the more expensive katanas.

The reason I love the Tori Elite is that it is practical, yes it’s still almost $1,000 however it is worth every penny. This is my primary katana and favorite that I own.

The balance point on this blade is 5″ down from the tsuba which for me is perfect. At this balance point it is easy to recover from each swing quickly without wearing your arms out. The bo-hi runs the entire length of the blade which allows for lighter faster cuts.

Best Katana Under $1,000

The biggest perk of the Tori Elite that places it on my list as the best katana under $1,000 is the steel composition used in forging the blade. It uses ASSAB K120 C Swedish steel which is from as you’d guess…Sweden where their iron ore quality is exceptional and has lesser impurities than steel that may be coming form other countries.

As wonderful of a sword as the Tori Elite is it must be know that it is not Nihonto since it’s not made in Japan nor made by a Japanese swordsmith. The Tori Elite is a Paul Chen design produced by Hanwei which is based in Dalian China, so if you’re looking for Nihonto you’re probably best looking at one of the previous swords I mentioned.

I do provide more of an overview on my earlier post talking about the top 3 katana reviews as determined by my friends and I if you would like to read that as well.

Breakdown

  • Overall Length: 40″
  • Blade Length: 28.5″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Price: Usually ~$1,000
Best Katana Under $1,000 - Tori Elite Review

Conclusion

Just because I believe these are some of the best quality blades for the price ranges I’ve assigned them to doesn’t mean everyone will agree. Each student of various martial arts practices in their own way and has their own preference for the sword type they like. Additionally I do not own each of the swords I mentioned here, though I have used some mentioned.

My post here on the best katana is merely meant to be an expression of my thoughts of what I’ve seen in-person or online and isn’t intended to be professional advice by any means. If you are hesitant on what katana to get I always recommend talking with your sensei to find a sword that truly will be the best katana for you. Good luck in your search!

Best Samurai Gifts For a Martial Arts Enthusiast

The Best Samurai Gifts for Martial Artists

It is well known that samurai have many forms of weaponry in their arsenal used for numerous offenses and defenses of an attacker. The most common weapon of which is the well known katana sword. This sword however is only one of many weapons and equipment a samurai would have at their disposal.

In modern times I wouldn’t expect people to be walking around with all of these weapons since there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in jail for brandishing a weapon. That however doesn’t mean you couldn’t have your own stash of samurai weapons at your home for practice.

For those with a strong interest in martial arts that may be curious on what they would need to have what I call the “samurai arsenal pack” or if you’re looking to ideas for someone else these are be top 8 best samurai gifts.

Best samurai gifts

    1.  A Custom Katana – Every swordsman (or women) should have a weapon that is custom to their liking so that it is one of a kind. Martial artists should express themselves and their inner soul through a katana that matches their personality. Making a custom katana with the katana builder program is the optimal gift for a martial artist. (Make one here)
    2. Sword Cleaning Kit – When you invest a lot of money into quality swords you should take proper care of them and be sure to thoroughly clean them. A sword cleaning kit is essential to accompany any sword purchase. (Buy one here)
    3. Hanwei Tori Elite Tanto – As the Tori Elite katana is a beautiful masterpiece so is the tanto. The backup weapon to any katana should be held to the same quality as the primary weapon. (Buy one here)
    4. Tameshigiri Mat Stand – For proper cutting maneuvers a mat stand will definitely help you prop up your target properly for the most effectiveness. (Buy one here)
    5. Thaitsuki Roiyaru Sanmai Katana – One of the top notch hand forged blades with beautiful accents, this sword would make anyone glimmer with satisfaction. (Buy one here)
    6. Tameshigiri Mat – Don’t be a fool and cut random things laying around the house. If you are serious about the art make sure you practice with the proper targets for cutting. (Buy one here)
    7. Unokubi Zukuri Samurai Sword Katana Wakizashi & Tanto – For those looking for the full set; katana, wakizashi, and tanto, this set not only looks stunning but also is effective for target cutting. (Buy one here)
    8. Throwing Star – A ninja’s arsenal isn’t complete without the legendary throwing star. The will take a bit of practice to get used to but are a ton of fun. (Buy one here)

There you have it, my take on this year’s best samurai gifts. If you have a martial artist enthusiast you’re buying a gift for either or all of this would be the complete samurai package!

Step 1: Types of Katana Swords

Step 1 - Types of katana swords

What Type of Katana Blade Should I Get?

For first time buyers it may not be known that there are various types of katana swords to choose from. I’m not talking about variances in their external cosmetics but instead in their composition and blade cut. The strength, weight, and cutting ability all comes down to the design, material, and forge method used to create the katana.

Before you decide to get a sword you should make yourself aware of the various types of katana swords and which may be best for the application you intend to use it for.

The Various Types of Katana Swords

Step one is determining the type of katana sword you’d like to get, which you most likely will be faced with any of the following metal types:

Folded Steel (Tamahagane)

This blade has a high carbon composition that is strengthened through its forging method. This is the traditional method used in forging katanas in Japanese culture many years ago. The term “Tamahagane” means precious steel and is created from an iron sand composition.

The process for creating these types of katana swords is very time consuming and involves creating the tamahagane in a large clay mold called a tatara. The sword-smith will repeatedly heat and hammer the sword to remove any impurities that may exist within the material. When he or she is finished they will have an exceptionally durable sword with a beautiful blade pattern giving off a nice sheen.

The age of the steel used also plays a role in the durability of the blade. Katanas made with older steel have a higher concentration of oxygen in them which means that during the forging process the oxidized portions of the blade will be easier to stretch which means that the hammering process will be more effective in removing these impurities leaving you with a sturdy and dependable katana sword.

These swords are usually the most costly due to the extensive time involved in making them. The image below is an example of what is considered one of the highest quality Tamahagane katanas made in modern time- the Taka Katana.

Types of Katana Swords - Taka Katana
Folded Steel Taka Katana

Tamahagane katanas are best for those who have been practicing martial arts for quite some time and have a large amount of disposable income they’re willing to spend on a sword. You can find folded steel blades at reasonable prices though, just do some searching around (I’ll actually recommend some sites later in this Katana Readiness Guide where you can buy a katana from a trusted dealer).

If you are looking to find a strong katana to use for cutting then this blade type would be most preferable. Tamahagane katanas are also highly sought by sword collectors as well.

Usually swords that have taken longer to forge will be of higher quality since there are multiple iterations of smelting, folding, and hammering, so look for information around the forge process. Swords of Northshire’s custom katanas usually indicate the forging times on each sword.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel blades are more aesthetically appealing than useful in dojo fighting, therefore are primarily used as show pieces instead of functional swords. These swords molecular composition isn’t as durable as the folded steel or the carbon steel. This in return means that the blade will be more brittle and can break with hard impacts.

Since the geometry of the blades isn’t as well designed there are issues with poor tang construction, this can make swinging the sword unbalanced and potentially dangerous. Additionally most stainless steel blades aren’t put through the same rigorous heat treatment process that other types of katana swords are put through which strengthens the material.

My personal preference is that if you are looking for a katana that you can actually use then you should avoid any stainless steel blades. Due to their high chromium composition (visually enhances the sword) they do make nice wall-hangers if you are decorating an apartment or your dojo though.

What these blades do have going for them aside from their visual appeal is that due to the chromium element they are resistant to rust and corrosion.

Carbon Steel

When looking for a combination of quality and price the high carbon steel katanas seem to be most preferable and common in the market. These types of katana swords are usually favored due to their strong durability as a result of their chemical makeup. High carbon steel blades lack the chronium component that you’d find in stainless steel which does allow for the carbon blades to be stronger yet on the flip side they are susceptible to corrosion because of this missing component.

Despite their name, carbon steel swords do have less carbon than typical stainless steel swords do which allows them to be more compatible with other metals. Carbon steel is much harder than stainless which creates the ability to hold a sharper and more acute edge. As a result, they are quicker to sharpen and can achieve a sharper edge than the stainless do.

Carbon Steel Katana - Types of katana swords
1095 High Carbon Black and Red Steel Clay Tempered Samurai Katana

As the percentage of carbon in the blade rises the steel has the ability to become more durable through heat treating; however, it also becomes less pliable. Additionally the higher the carbon content the lower the melting point is. So the higher the carbon content the stronger and less pliable the blade is, the lower the carbon content the softer and more pliable the blade is.

Within the carbon steel swords there are numerous types of metal grades, far more than I will take the time to mention and put you through the long, boring definition of the slight variances in each. Instead I’ll let you know the most common high carbon steel blades you’ll probably come across in the katana market.

  • 10xx Steels (where xx could be any combination of numbers signifying the carbon density). The numbers following the ’10’ signify the carbon percent in the sword. For example a 1055 carbon steel means that the sword is 0.55% carbon content, a 1095 is as you would guess…0.95% carbon content.
    • 1045 is what most cheaper swords are made from, they are softer and in my mind I wouldn’t go with anything less than a 0.45% carbon content otherwise it’ll be too soft for functional use unless you’re looking for another wall hanger. At anything below a 1045 sharpening and maintaining an edge becomes more difficult.
    • 1060 (0.60% carbon content) is probably your best bet of the 10xx carbon steels. It is hard enough to be durable yet still soft enough where it is pliable. These swords will hold up pretty well in almost all normal katana uses.
    • 1095 is also a common carbon steel yet you’re more apt to find this in knives. This is a harder more brittle carbon steel that is easy to sharpen and holds an edge better than lower carbon content swords. The disadvantage is that if it is simply 1095 steel then if you hit another hard target with it there’s a greater chance it could break.
  • 9260 Spring Steel
    • The name gives you an indication of how this metal behaves, spring like. Meaning that it has more flexibility and can recover from bends and vibrations better than other steel blades. A little fun fact about the name is that it comes from the same steel being used in the suspension coils of vehicles, hence the name ‘spring steel’. 9260 spring steel adds an additional component to it’s composition – silicon (2%). By adding silicon to the chemical make up it gives the sword added flexibility.

T10 Tool Steel

T10 is a newer steel being used in katana sword manufacturing. It is a Tungsten alloy (tungsten is also what some wedding bands are made of) with a high carbon content (0.90%-1.0%) combined with a smaller silicon content than the spring steel (0.30%-0.35%). Due to the mixture of silicon and high carbon content these swords perform better than other 1095 carbon steels and are more durable.

Remember, having a higher carbon content provides for a sharper edge, adding silicon to the composition slightly helps reduce the brittleness of the blade.

Combination Materials

One of the more popular types of katana swords is the combination of 1095 high carbon + folded steel. This combines the two powerful methods to create a sword that is hard at the core yet durable to avoid breaking on the outer layer.

These combinations usually feature the 1095 as the core component providing the internal structure that is hardened with the 0.95% carbon content. They are then layered in folded steel to protect the inner hard, yet usually otherwise more brittle core. The benefit of this method is that once you sharpen the sword past the folded steel layer you reveal the hard edge of the 1095 component which as I described earlier will hold a sharper edge longer.

So in summary a hard long lasting sharp inner element protected from breaking by the folded steel outer layer. A decent 1095/folded steel blade usually will run you $400 and up.

Types of Katana Swords
1095 + Folded Steel Gyaku-Kobuse Katana

So there you have it, the most common types of katana swords by metal composition. As I had said earlier, there are a vast array of other metals that swords are made from but these provide you with the basics to help you narrow down a path of the type of metal you would like to have in your katana. Now that we’ve reviewed the types of katana swords lets move on to the next step of the katana readiness guide – how to size a katana.

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