Are katanas functional?

A katana’s (and any Japanese sword in general) usability depends on its build, age, and quality - but also on two core technical factors: its metal and its tang.

Type of steel used for the katana’s blade

When buying a katana or a functional sword – the type of steel used is of paramount importance. Good metal workers know any kind of metal has a special purpose. We can’t use the same steel as we do in industrial machinery in a sword.

The goal of good steel is to have a perfect balance of toughness and hardness. While certain types of metals are good for staying on a wall and being looked at, others are good to cut trees and bamboo, all while remaining strong and impenetrable.

The type of steel normally used for modern swords is usually High-Carbon steel. High-Carbon steel, on the other hand, is perfect for functional, battle-ready swords. This type of steel can also be Folded (giving us the look known as “Damascus steel” – with its beautiful wavy patterns. It can also be Clay-Tempered – creating a beautiful natural Hamon on it and strengthening the blade even further. Finally, it can also be Microplated with a special color and then Polished and Sharpened with many different techniques.

It’s a much better steel for a functional than for example, stainless steel – which is often used on decorational swords. Stainless steel is a very hard type of steel – which can become brittle and gets easily damaged under impact. It is, however, easy to maintain and care for – it can hang on the wall for a very long time.

Now, some swords that are in fact “wall-hangers” are also made of High-Carbon steel. This is where we have to look beneath the surface. More precisely: under the handle wrap and its wooden core.

Full Tang vs Rat & Partial Tang Katana Handles

In order to be usable, a katana needs to have a full-tang blade, meaning the blade has a part of steel going into the handle through the Habaki (blade collar) with a wrap (Ito) over it.

That part of steel must be nearly the same width as the blade – which constitutes a full tang. Real, functional swords always have a full tang blade. There are other types of tang, which are of lesser quality and risk breaking when handled.

One is the rat tang style, which can be seen in the picture under. A rat tang is usually welded to the blade, and thus is separate to it. While a rat tang might cut costs for the manufacturer, it makes for a much weaker blade. The sword’s handle could break at anytime, especially while hitting harder targets. Rat-tang blades, or any partial tang blades are definitely not recommended for cutting or martial arts practice – they’re wall-hangers.

Full Tang vs Rat Tang Blade

How does the sword feel?

When handled and while using it, the sword should feel solid and always within control.

The handle or the blade collar (habaki) shouldn’t move, and the wrap (ito) should feel tightened to perfection in our hands.

All its parts have to be tightened together and fitting properly.

This “feel” – along with the steel type and the blade’s tang – is what makes a katana usable – the main features of a sword which isn’t made to be a wall-hanger.

When you’re buying a sword online, there are different things you need to consider depending on your needs – but most importantly – you need to look at the names and titles sellers use on their products.

If you see the following titles and descriptions, your katana and other Japanese swords are definitely usable:

  • Full-tang
  • Battle-ready

If you see the words “wall-hanger”, “rat tang”, or “partial tang”, your sword might be a wall-hanger, and it’s not recommended to cut anything with it.

At Swords for Sale, all our Japanese swords – including katanas – are full-tang and battle-ready. All our swords are fully functional and made by seasoned smiths and sword builders.

Uses in Iaido, Kendo, Kenjutsu, etc.

The katanas and Japanese swords made by Swords for Sale are all good to use as Iaito – training swords for the practice of Iaido, Kendo, Kenjutsu, and other swords-wielding martial arts.

While we don’t provide any bokken (wooden practice swords), our katanas are perfect to train with. The only thing you need to do is select the “Unsharpened” option on any of our product pages. This way, you’re getting a Iaito sword – with a blade that has never been sharpened before.

As a reminder, here are some useful Iaido and Kendo terms relating to the types of swords:

  • A Bokken is a wood sword, which is the most widely used sword in martial arts training – especially Iaido and Kendo.
  • A Iaito is a sword with a blade that has never been sharpened. In our products, you can get one by choosing the “Unsharpened” option.
  • A Shinken is a sharp sword that isn’t meant for martial arts practice – but for real-world cutting and slashing. In our product pages, you can get one by choosing the “Razor-Sharp” or the “Extra Sharp with Niku stone” options.
  • A Habikito is a sword that was a Shinken in its younger days but has been unsharpened through use and abuse.
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