From the battlefields of feudal Japan to the silver-screens of this generation’s reenactment of epic warriors and wielders of this legendary weapon, this weapon is as alive in memory as it was in kind during its time. And now, replicas of the same, as well as preserved artifacts from that period of Japan’s narrative have garnered a growing following of none other than the Katana Swords.

History Of The Katana

The exact year of when the first katana was forged is unclear. But one thing is carved in stone, and it’s that it was meant to be an improvement of what was then one of the most popular and most feared blades, the Samurai sword.

It’s said to have been around 734 A.D. that the curved design of the Katana was fashioned differently from its former predecessor, which was of a perpendicular-blade make. Some variations of these blades were double-edged and took their inspiration from Chinese swords.

But after the Japanese took it upon themselves to be liberated from any foreign government, they cut their ties with the Chinese and decided to come up with their own weapons. Weapons that would be just as, if not more formidable than all others.

Due to the events of the Japanese society being divided according to classes, stronger, wealthier clans warred against each other over influence, power, and riches, and hired militant warriors to be their personal guards. The Samurai.

Clans grew in number, and so did their need more samurai to ensure their protection against enemy tribes. Since then, samurais were feared and venerated for their fighting skills. And their swords were approached in the same way. 

The Renowned Swordsmith Himself: The Age Of Amakuni

It was Amakuni who remade the samurai sword so that another kind of blade would emerge as a warrior’s weapon. He did so in the Yamato Province, and possibly during the Heian Period. According to legend, he became concerned about the samurai’s weak armaments that would often be damaged after being utilised in only a handful of battles (although this was still quite the accomplishment as not many swords had the resilience to face battle, if at all).

When he saw that this had become something incessantly, he decided to enhance the samurai sword and make it truly powerful. Stronger than its predecessor. Deadlier in the hands of a skilled samurai. Thus, Amakuni created the Katana. 

The Katana’s Form

Translated in its literal translation, “Katana” means “a curved, one-sided blade”. And that’s exactly what this sword is. The master swordsmith forged a metal blade with its sharp end outward-facing. He also changed its length, shortening it to 2.5 shaku, or close to that score. Its diversifications are somewhere between 23 to 29 inches. Some deem it as the shorter version of a wazikazu, as long as it falls within the 2-shaku length. And its weight is within the 750 to 1000-gram border.

The reason behind creating a significantly shorter blade is that Amakuni wanted it to strike even more lethal blades as it’s best used in close combat. Its short build plus its lightweight characteristic are what make it such a precise tool in cutting. Or when wielded in battle, wounding, and ultimately lethally injuring the enemy.

Manufacturing The Katana

It starts with portions of tamahagane that are pieced together with clay. After, it is speckled with ash. The clay and ash are prerequisites for the first part of the Katana-making process because they are responsible for slag-removal. Slag, being a glass-like remnant that’s formed through the separation of metal and its raw ore source.

Heat is constantly applied to warrant that said pieces remain intact and bonded to each other. This heating method will produce a metal block that will be reshaped with a hammer. It’s then put under a repeated cycle of folding and flattening until its width is doubled or thickened. As this goes on, the carbon in the steel becomes equitably distributed to the entire piece and is what accounts for equal blade strength on every section of it.

A softer type of steel is added to the tamahagane block, now thickened and strengthened. It might sound counterintuitive, pouring a softer material to improve its durability. But this has to be done so that the steel doesn’t become vulnerable to breaking or shattering when exposed to intense dynamic force, friction, and load.

Several days into its manufacturing and the block is pulled to its desired length. And even this will take another set of days because careful pulling is needed to guarantee that its weight is spread out to each portion of it evenly.

Next, overheating and oxidation are prevented by pouring soft clay on the elongated block. This will also allow it to go through a natural manner of hardening. It’s in parallel to this step that specifics such as the yakib and the hiraji are formed. The hard and the softer, flexible part, consecutively.

The hamon line usually reveals itself here, appearing as a wave-like pattern, and as a result of the heating and hardening processes. Once this occurs, the swordsmith will know that the procedure is about halfway through. This is immediately followed by quenching--- a heating technique wherein the temperature of the heat itself differs according to types of metals. It’s said that this complicated method can only be executed by highly skilled and experienced swordsmiths.

Subsequently, it’s promptly cooled to intensify the level of hardness of the blade. Here is where crystal lattices permeate the martensite. Its final form will appear through a series of sharpening and polishing through the use of stones that vary in granulation. Extra attention and care is given to this part of the process because it has to do with what the swordsmith will want the blade to look like. Every chiseled angle and flattened surface will manifest itself permanently. Hence, the master will complete this step cautiously and with painstaking meticulousness.

With engravings to customise the blade, and the addition of the tsuka (hilt), the Katana sword is, in a beautiful sense of the word, “perfect”, and is ready to be given to its owner.