Step 3: Katana Reviews – Top 3 Katanas by Price Range

Step 3 - Katana reviews

Top 3 Katana Reviews

Alright here it is, a compilation of my, as well as my friends’ katana reviews.

Based on our experiences I’ll compare my top 3 favorite katanas that we have so you can get a framework for what to start with. I organized it from lowest to highest priced so you can get an idea of what to get depending on what type of funds you have at your disposal (if you’re like me it’s under $1,000).

Why only 3 katana reviews? Well because I like things simple and hate being weighed down with lengthy content to read through. Just get to the point, which I’ll try to do.

Level I – Hanwei Musashi Elite Review

Katana Reviews - Hanwei Musashi Elite ReviewFirst of all, please don’t get this confused with the brand MUSASHI! You will notice a flood of cheaper priced (~$80) Musashi swords as you shop around. I’m not a fan, they usually are produced in mass numbers and lack the durability as well as blade sharpness longevity. In my mind they do a injustice to the legendary swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi for whom these style katanas are named after.

Now on to the ‘good’ Musashi katana review, the one Miyamoto would be proud of…

If you are looking for a reasonably priced katana for sale and don’t want to break the bank the Paul Chen Musashi Elite by Hanwei is a good deal.

This Hanwei katana not only looks beautiful but also is quite functional with a strong and clean edge that is very capable of cutting soft or hard targets. The photo below shows the bashi & kissaki.

Katana Reviews - Hanwei Musashi Elite

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The edge is rated HR60 which is a metric (based on the Rockwell Scale) used to determine the hardness of steel when impacted by another substance, in this case a diamond cone. I believe the diamond bit is pressed into the tempered steel under a standard pressure and the depth it penetrates is measured. The higher the number, the harder it is. Since there are a number of types of steels different steels have different optimum Rockwell Hardness levels.

The Musashi holds a durable edge capable of withstanding multiple cuts. The blade is 1065 high-carbon steel (remember this type from step 1) made through ‘monosteel construction’ which CASIberia explains through a six step process:

  1. Rough Forging: hot forging of high-carbon steel. Repeated hammering provides even dispersion of carbon throughout the steel for strength.
  2. Rough Shaping: Scale (iron oxide) is removed and the blade is shaped. At this stage, the steel is still in the soft state and the blade has not been given a curve yet (known as ‘sori’).
  3. Clay Covering: A special clay is applied to the blade with a thin layer near the edge and a thicker layer everywhere else on the blade. This causes a quicker cooling of the edge during quenching which provides a harder edge & softer back.
  4. Quenching: With the clay covering still on, the blade it is heated and quenched in water. The shape and continuity of the hamon, the sori, and blade straightness are all determined during this quenching process.
  5. Sizing: If necessary the sori is adjusted to set the point of percussion and balance point. After this the blade is de-scaled. This is followed by polishing and the fitting of the habaki.
  6. Finishing: Any blemishes are removed through fine polishing and the remainder of the katana parts are placed on the sword.

The traditional double ring style tsuba is iron which provides a durable guard as well. It’s not the most decoratively designed tsuba I’ve seen however this style holds true to the traditional tsuba design.

Katana Reviews - Hanwei Musashi Elite

Finally I love that it came with a cleaning kit as well a sword bag, the complete package. The sword was designed to be a good economic cutting sword with the ability to make multiple cuts in normal targets without dulling.

If the 1065 high-carbon blades weren’t something you were aiming for then I’d say skip down to one of the other two katana reviews I’ve provided overviews on here.

Breakdown

  • Length: 29″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Material: 1065 High-carbon Monosteel blade
  • Weight: 2 lbs 11 oz
  • Take away: for a reasonable price this provides pretty good quality to any novice-moderately skilled swordsmen

 **Check Pricing for Hanwei Musashi Elite Here**

 

Level II – Tori Elite Review

Imagine finding the perfect balance of quality, price, sharpness, length, and style. You have just imagined yourself with the Hanwei Tori Elite katana, my favorite sword.

If you consider yourself serious in the realms of Japanese sword arts then this masterpiece should be in your arsenal. This is another of Paul Chen’s many masterpieces that doesn’t disappoint.

The balance is perfect at 5″ down from the tsuba. Right where you want it within that 4″-6″ range. This provides for a clean swing, not too front heavy, not too tail heavy, so it is easy to recover from every cut quickly without tiring your arms out.Katana Reviews - Hanwei Tori Elite Saya

The brown leather wrapped tsuka provides for a great grip. This is actual leather as well, not suede or some faux leather. Some aren’t a fan of the leather due to the more ‘tacky’ grip but I personally prefer it. Helps maintain better control.

The photo to the right gives you an idea of the color of the fittings and the wrap. You can see there is a crane design on the pommel that adds a little extra flare to the overall aesthetics of the blade.

The diamond patterns where the leather crisscrosses aren’t the same shape which is slightly annoying however it doesn’t affect the tightness of the wrap.

Even the saya is a piece of art with ~9 inches being rattan wrapped (see below), which gives it the appeal of being a high quality luxury component. Not to mention the added benefit of a better grip which is important for performing noto (the sheathing and unsheathing of the sword). Another perk of the saya is that it is made to be ‘fingerprintless’ so you don’t need to worry about cleaning the smudge marks off after a sweaty practice with it.Hanwei Tori Elite 4

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I’ve had this for about a year now and the blade has yet to run dull. Now I also don’t treat my katana poorly by slicing into sheet metal as I’ve seen other do. And to be fair nor do I use this katana every time I practice or cut, so it’s not a year’s worth of continuous use every week. I tend to alternate between a few different katanas.

This katana features a hand crafted blade which is folded out of ASSAB K120 C Swedish steel, which if you remember from step 1 in the katana readiness guide, the folded steel is a high quality forging method.

If you’re wondering what the difference is between other steels and the Swedish steel used in this katana you’re not the first but I’ll explain from what I know; Sweden has long been known for their excellent iron ore deposits throughout the country. Steel coming from Sweden usually has very few impurities as well as contain small percentages of other metal ores which make steel produced from it a natural alloy. This makes for a much more durable steel during & post forging.

Cost, I know you are all curious. I’ve seen this sell for around $1,400 yet luckily I picked mine up for a little under $1,000. For my budget it was a perfect fit. Though I couldn’t afford a Praying Mantis or Furui Shishi, I also didn’t want to skimp out again as I had done in the past.

All in all if you’re looking for the full package this katana delivers.

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Breakdown

  • Length: 28.5″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Material: Powder-steel forged and folded blade
  • Weight: 2 lbs 11 oz
  • Take away:  best option for those moderately skilled looking for a high quality katana on a $1,000 budget

**Check Pricing for Hanwei Tori Elite Here**

 

Level III – Furui Shishi Review

Looking to go all out and have the Cadillac of katanas? A buddy of mine bought this sword and let me tell you, if I had saved all the money I spent on crappier katanas (and was a little taller) I would have this baby in a heartbeat.

The Furui Shishi by Thaitsuki is a very nice katana, as are most of the upper end Thaitsuki katanas now. With a 29 1/2″ blade it is a little too long for me but perfect for anyone 5′ 8″ to 5′ 10″. This baby is remarkable right down to the saya (wooden hand rubbed lacquer finish).

The blade is impeccable, I mean it cuts through bamboo like it’s a piece of cheese. This could be due to my friend’s skills being moderately better than those of my own or due to the clay tempered & water quenched blade. Clay tempered is a method used during the cooling process that involves spreading clay in varying thicknesses over a blade during the quenching process resulting in an exceptionally hardened edge and a softer body.

Katana Reviews - Thaitsuki Furui Shishi Blade
Grain on the Furui Shishi

The blade’s edge hardness is a 60HRC on the Rockwell Scale while the body is a 35HRC. Again this means that the edge will be harder which allows for a sharper blade while the body of the sword will be softer to prevent breakage and provides the correct flex.

The Furui Shishi does have the groove or ‘bo-hi’ running along the top as well. The bo-hi (meaning ‘blood groove’) is cut into the katana to lighten the sword’s weight. This is something else you should think about when looking to buy a katana, is whether or not you would like the bo-hi style blade or prefer it without bo-hi. The bo-hi blades usually will run your more money though. Beyond functionality I think the blade’s hand polishing job really makes the grain standout.

As with my Tori Elite, the tsuka on this one also has a beautifully braided leather overlay (I guess I’m just drawn to leather). I’m not the only one drawn to the feel of the leather though, a look through any other reviews of this sword and you’ll find a trend in what all the positive feedback is about; 1) the perfect balance of the blade and 2) the feel of the leather wrap for practice.

Katana Reviews - Furui Shishi Review
Love the Tight Leather Wrap

katana reviews - Furui Shishi

The habaki & kashira on the sword are made using 98% pure silver, this gives it a different look from most others that use a brass, copper, or bronze. The tsuba though in my mind really isn’t all that decorative, it’s a pretty basic design (see below) so if you’re looking for the decked out artwork on the tsuba then unfortunately this sword will lack in that area.

Katana Reviews - Furui Shishi Review
Tsuba is Pretty Basic

Another great perk of this katana is that it came with a stand as well as a cleaning kit which we all will need at some point. The stand comes in a dark black with engraving on the front of it.

The high price makes it better? False.

In terms of katana reviews I don’t think price is always an indicator of quality, heck look at Jaguar or Land Rover, dang things cost a fortune and they seem to be more susceptible to mechanical flaws than your standard priced Jeep.

This however is a superior quality katana through and through and as a result of the exceptional quality is higher priced, not the other way around.

Katana Reviews - Thaitsuki Furui Shishi Review

Breakdown

  • Length: 29.5″
  • Tsuka: 11″
  • Material: Hand forged high carbon steel – folded 1024
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Key takeaway: over my budget but if money isn’t an issue and you want unmatched quality here it is, the combination of clay tempered forging process and the close attention to balance in this blade’s weight dispersion makes it an exceptional katana for use in training or cutting practice.

**Check Pricing for Furui Shishi Here**

So there you have it, the top katana reviews in my mind. I hope you find these valuable and they provide some direction in terms of what models to start looking at whether you are interested in getting your first katana or just upgrade your current arsenal.

Now after reading these katana reviews on to the next step of the katana readiness guide; “where do I find a katana for sale?” Well let’s get into that on the next page.

 

Where to buy one of these swords…

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Step 2: Katana Parts and Proper Sizing

Parts of the katana

Before you can run out and start buying your next katana to add to your arsenal we must first discuss what size you need by running through a few simple methodologies on how to size a katana. We also need to go over the various parts of the katana so you can identify each properly.

Parts of the Katana

To become proficient in using the sword we need to first understand our weapon from the top down. This is important when looking for the optimal katana since it will help you better understand the sword descriptions and what each component is made from. The nice thing about katanas is that though the parts all have the same name, there can be a wide variation of material used to create them or just in the general aesthetics of the parts.

For example the tsuba alone could come in brass, steel, silver, or gold and can have an infinite number of designs on it. The tsuka most commonly comes in a leather or nylon wrap but can also come in more unique materials. The metal itself as we learned in the previous step can come in various steels and forging methods.

I made the image below to help you identify the various parts of the katana. Now other samurai swords such as the Tanto, Iaito, or Wakizashi will have slightly different components as well and vary in their size and use.

Katana Parts & Common Materials Used In Them:How to Size a Katana - Katana Parts

  1. Kashira (Pommel) – Brass, copper, gold, silver, steel
  2. Tsuka (Handle) – A form of steel at the core yet can be wrapped in nylon or leather (occasionally stingray leather)
  3. Tsuba (Guard) – Brass, copper, gold, silver, steel
  4. Habaki (Blade Collar) – Brass, copper, gold, silver, steel
  5. Ha (Edge) – A form of steel
  6. Hi (Groove) – A form of steel
  7. Bashi (Curved Edge) – A form of steel
  8. Kissaki (Point) – A form of steel
  9. Mune (Back of Blade) – A form of steel
  10. Saya (Scabbard) – Commonly wood which can be covered with leather
  11. Sageo (Hanging Cord) – Nylon or leather

If you are looking at any katanas that have plastic for any of these components DO NOT buy them. These are either cheap imitators or solely are used as novelty props or Halloween costumes.

How to Size a Katana

The length of the Tsuka (or handle) is very important so that we can have the proper leverage and balance. Depending on what training you are in the length required can vary.

Why is sizing so important? Well if you enjoy having all of your body parts and intend to keep them then yea it’s kind of important. If you try performing any martial arts with a katana that is too large for you you then run the risk of misjudging your distance from the target, or yourself with the blade which could result in an accidental slash.

I strongly advise talking with your sensei to get the proper length before buying. However, if you do not have a sensei to go to for advice on these highly specialized weapons, or are just looking for some loose sizing recommendations I can give you the sizing guide that my friends and I go by. You could also seek advice from various online forums (or in our forum here as well) to get feedback on how to size a katana.

Again, as a little disclaimer remember to use these weapons at your own discretion since they can be very dangerous and anyone using a katana should have the proper training before doing so.

Measuring the Tsuka

The best way to measure yourself for a blade in my opinion is the tsuka-to-arm-length ratio. This method involves using the length of your forearm to get an idea of how long the tsuka should be.

To do this you’ll just need a simple measuring tool. Get out a tape measure or ruler and measure the length of your forearm. So from your elbow to your wrist; this distance is how long the tsuka should also be.

It is ok if it isn’t the exact length but I usually do prefer it to be within plus or minus an inch. Most katanas will have an 11″ tsuka, so unless you are either very short or very tall you most likely would go with an 11″.

How to Size a Katana - Ninja Weapons - Katana Length
Forearm Length Methodology

Another method that I’ve seen some use is the hand measurement technique. This is where you place your hands down flat on the table side by side so that they are touching, make sure the fingers are closed (as in the image below), then measure the width of them combined (from the left side of the left hand to the right side of the right hand). Whatever the width is you would then add 3″-4″ to this measurement to provide you with some room on the tsuka.

How to size a katana

Measuring the Blade

There are a ton of forums out there with numerous sizing information so it’s difficult to go with a one size fits all approach, which again is why I suggest talking with a sensei first. Factors that can influence the exact nagasa (blade length) you need are: skill level, height, and use (iaido, kendo, etc.).  In terms of the most common height to nagasa ratio, please reference the table below I made for you.

How to Size a Katana - Ninja Weapons - Katana Height

If you can’t seem to find something that fits you perfect it’s always safer to go on the shorter end than the longer. These blades will be lighter and quicker to draw.

By going with a shorter blade you also reduce the risk of inaccurate depth perception. This is when you assume a target is further away than it actually is from your sword which could result in accidental slashing. Let’s avoid that situation.

Great, now that we’ve got the first two steps in the Katana Readiness Guide out of the way (these are usually the lesser ‘fun’ parts of the process) we can move on to the fun part, choosing a katana. Since there are so many variations of katanas out there I’ll help you focus your search with a few katanas I believe are good quality. You are by no means limited to these swords but they can help you find a starting point for what you may like, so lets get into my katana reviews!

 Ninja weapons

Half way down this page is another great katana breakdown.

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