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.