One of Japan’s most famous exports is the katana, a sword that has been in use for over 1200 years. With this long history, the sword holds an almost divine status among Japanese people. In accordance with this esteem, the sword makers of Japan have continued to produce swords the old fashioned way. That is, until very recently.
The old way of making Japanese swords used only the best Japanese steel called masakage. It was extremely hard and difficult to obtain, so swordsmiths had to search far and wide in order to find it. After finding out where this steel originated from, they would travel back to Japan and fly with their swords in a small plane or ship back.
This method of sword making unfortunately is becoming difficult today due to lack of supply of masakage.
The traditional method is to heat the steel in a charcoal fire until it reaches a certain temperature, and then hammering out different parts of the steel to form the sword. These parts are then forged together with more hammering to form the legendary real katana.
A modern sword is made with an electric forge that heats up very quickly and can also hold a steady temperature. Modern smiths can also accurately monitor the blade’s temperature, so there is rarely any danger of over heating or burning the sword.
It is said that the best way to judge a sword is to see if it can cut through bamboo. The best swords can cut 20 or even 30 stalks of bamboo without losing their sharpness. The traditional method of sharpening a sword is to use waterstones, but modern swords are sharpened by machine.
This might be an improvement on the old way, as it saves time on sharpening and creates a more attractive looking edge. Obviously, this is not as enjoyable as traditional sharpening, but one must admit that it is an improvement on the old method.
This method of making swords uses a special steel that is harder than masakage. It takes 1 year to obtain this steel, and it can only be used by master sword makers. According to the swordmakers, these swords have the best quality of cutting ability imaginable.
In the old method, swordsmiths would carve detailed designs into the blade to make them more beautiful. These intricate designs are called inlays. Modern sword makers are able to carve these intricate and beautiful designs with a laser cutter before the sword is finished, so there is no need for carving the blade.