Friday, March 25, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Forging One's Own Japanese Katana Sword


by Nima Maghame

There is no arguing the beauty and reverence of a hand-made Katana. Their elegant and specific design has been poured over in movies and literature. Infamous for being able to cut down an enemy in one fell swoop, Katana swords are one of the most sought after historical weapons in the world. Katanas, also referred to as samurai swords, are traditionally made from hand. Japanese blacksmith makers would mold metal in a hot forge with fine precision to make battle ready swords. Katana enthusiasts have kept up the age old blacksmithing process in the face of technological metallurgy advances. Making these swords is not easy but with a little guidance any novice artisan can try their hand at fashioning a Katana of their very own.

Once you have prepared your forge, take a long piece of steel and heat it up. If you are just starting out, you'll want to start things off with a tanto sized bar of AISI 1050 steel. This will create a Katana of knife size. Once you get the hang of things you can attempt a customary Katana. Warm your bar of steel till it glows orange and red. The heat will make the steel soft enough to hammer down. Overcooking your metal bar may ruin your work. You'll know things are getting too hot when the bar burns yellow or white. If you see sparks, that is pieces of steel being burned away.

Flatten out your piece of metal by hammering it down on one side. Next, you will want to create the tip of your Katana. To do this, heat the side of the bar you want the tip to be. Once it is thoroughly heated in the forge, hammer off a diagonal piece. The diagonal should create a pointy tip on your steel bar. Afterwards, take the bar and lay it on its edge with the tip pointing towards the ceiling. Hammer down the point till it is firmly aligned with the bar's spine. This will create a sharp edge as well as direct the steel's grain. Continue flattening the blade on both sides till the metal becomes thin.

Opposite of the tip is the tang. The Katana tang is the bottom of the blade that is fashioned with a holding grip. A samurai sword tang should be one third of your entire blade. Create your tang by filing down the end of your blade on both edges. You will want to file the bottom until it has shape similar to a "V". You don't want the bottom to have a sharp point, simply a shape easy to fashion a grip to will suffice.

After filing your tang, submerge your blade in vermiculite for eight hours. Vermiculity is a saw dust like material that is popular amongst blacksmiths for cooling metal. The name comes from the look of the material which resembles vermicelli pasta. Once your blade is successfully cooled, you can begin coating your Katana with clay. The clay used to coat samurai swords is a mixture of red pottery clay, sodium hydroxide and some water. This is ground down and painted on fifty percent of the blade's surface. Put on a coat of no more than two millimeters and make sure not to trap in any air bubbles or dents. Once coated, heat the blade until the sword has a low red glow. Make sure you don't overheat the Katana at this step. If you have trouble seeing the red glow then dim the lights or use a dark bucket.

The clay coat allows the blade to be further cooled at two different speeds. The uncoated part will cool faster making it harder. The process is called martensite and happens when steel, which is made from iron and carbon, changes temperatures rapidly. Martensite is how Katanas get their curve. Repeat the process to get an even meaner curve on your sword.

Use a hard piece of material to scrap off the remaining clay. When that is done, you will need to polish your hand-crafted Katana. It is known that traditional Japanese sword making apprentices train up to ten years before they can truly polish samurai swords. The ritualistic process includes special Japanese stones that vary in grittiness. With water one uses these stones against the blade to clean it of imperfections. Starting with the least gritty stones and working up to the grittiness ones, Japanese Katana polishing can be back breaking labor. Though, nothing worth anything was easy. Start your hand made sword collection by creating your very own Japanese samurai sword.

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