Steel Types for Japanese Swords

While some steel types may sound great to use on swords, the truth about great blades is that they have to be made with certain very precise materials. This is simply because of a sword’s blade purpose: to cut through hard materials, come back to its shape, and be easy to care for and maintain. Now, certain steel types have properties which are favorable to use in a sword’s blade. Here is a list of steel types used to create swords:

  • Stainless Steel. While Stainless steel sounds like a good idea because it requires little to no maintenance, it is not, in fact, ever used to create functional swords. It is only used for wall-hangers and unsharpened swords that are in many cases not even fit as bokken – for martial arts practice.
  • Carbon Folded or Unfolded Steel. The most widely used steel type for swords is High-Carbon Steel. This is a type of steel that (). Carbon Steel can also be Folded (creating the beautiful “Damascus Steel” pattern) and Clay-Tempered to create a Hamon.
  • Spring Steel. Another very widely used type of steel is Spring Steel. It’s the favorite steel type of the survivalist, for it is very resistant and can withstand heavy bending and come back to its normal shape.
  • Kobuse Steel. Then, we have Kobuse Steel – our Premium steel at Swords for Sale. This is a mix of Clay-Tempered 1095 Steel for the Core of its blade, and 1095 Folded Steel for its outer part. This makes its core soft and its outer, cutting part very hard – a truly superior blade. It’s also polished with our special Hazuya stone giving it an amazing look.
  • Tamahagane Steel. We have Tamahagane Steel – also called crown jewel steel – the original steel used by traditional, feudal Japanese forgers. Today, the art of making blades from the tamahagane steel ore is almost extinct. The traditional processes for smelting, forging, and refining a blade is very expensive, so nearly no one does it. In addition, the particular ore (Tamagahane) needed for the conventional procedure is extremely expensive and rare. Finally, it is extremely difficult to export any of these highly valued works of art from Japan because swords remained illegal since the Samurai were abolished. Nowadays, many sellers sell fake Tamahagane from China, which is not real in 99% of cases.

Stainless Steel: is it a great idea for swords?

Stainless steel, often known as inox steel or inox from the French inoxydable (inoxidable), is an alloy of steel with a minimum mass percentage of 10.5% chromium.

This chromium content makes it so that the blade oxidises much more slowly – meaning it will not rust. Stainless steel swords require low maintenance and also are more easily sharpened. It’s very widely used to create knives and small cutlery.

If the process of oxidation is left unchecked, iron will change into a different iron oxide, or more frequently, rust. If it is exposed to moisture, even a tiny quantity of moisture in the air, the blade will start to rust. By producing a thin film on the iron that essentially blocks moisture, chromium prevents rust.

While Stainless steel sounds like a good idea because it requires little to no maintenance, it is not, in fact, ever used to create functional swords. It is only used for wall-hangers and unsharpened swords that are in many cases not even fit as bokken – for martial arts practice. This is because these swords are too hard and brittle – they can easily break at the worst moments. The chromium content helps maintain the blade’s quality – but it is not fit for the battlefield or any kind of longer blades.

Therefore, stainless steel is a good idea for maintenance and wall-hanger swords, and also for small cutlery and knives. However, it is not fit for true, authentic Japanese swords – such as those here, at Swords for Sale.

High-Carbon Steels: the forger’s favourite

The most widely used steel type for swords is High-Carbon Steel. It is made of steel with a carbon alloy, as the name would imply, for improved qualities. Three broad categories can be used to separate carbon steel: Low carbon steel, often called mild steel, medium carbon steel, and high carbon steel are the three types of steel. Carbon Steel can also be Folded (creating the beautiful “Damascus Steel” pattern) and Clay-Tempered to create a Hamon.

  • Low-Carbon Steel (also called Mild Steel), with its 0.04% to 0.30% carbon content. It can be used to create sheet and strip for presswork, tin-plates, wires, rods, tubing, car bodies, screws, concrete reinforcement bars, structural steel plates and sections for houses and buildings, etc.
  • Medium-Carbon Steel, with a carbon content of 0.31% to 0.60%. It’s used to create shafts, gears, railway rails, springs, etc.
  • High-Carbon Steel, containing 0.61 to 1.5% carbon. It’s used to create hammers, saws, cold chisels, punches, shear blades, high-tensile wire, etc. From 0.95 to 1.1 carbon content, high-carbon steel is perfect to create knives, axes, picks, etc. High-carbon steel is also, of course, used to create all kinds of  swords – as our 1060 steel has 1.06% carbon content, while our 1095 steel has 1.095 carbon content.

We therefore use High-Carbon steel for most of our swords, as it provides:

  • A Strong, Hard Blade

First off, a carbon steel sword’s blade is extremely strong — much stronger than a stainless steel sword. Japanese swordsmiths employed carbon steel to create katana swords after learning about this characteristic of the material in feudal Japan. Carbon steel swords can withstand combat whereas other metal swords are readily broken when needed.

  • An Effortlessly Sharp Cutting Edge

Swords made of carbon steel also have the advantage of having a lasting edge. In other words, the sword’s sharpened blade won’t break or simply shatter. Before carbon steel was developed, the Samurai would repeatedly sharpen their knives. Just a little amount of pressure might have harmed their blade, so they had to be very meticulous with it. Carbon steel swords, on the other hand, are more resistant to this kind of harm due to their strength, allowing them to keep their edge.

  • Beautiful Aesthetics

The carbon steel sword is also visually appealing. With its clean chrome finish, it’s the perfect addition to anyone’s sword collection. But that’s really just a side benefit of choosing a carbon steel sword. The real benefit is its strength and performance.

Folded Steel: the “Damascus” pattern in full effect

Did you ever hear the term “Damascus steel””? It’s a very common term employed by swords enthusiasts all over the world. Usually, people even name the swords we create at Swords for Sale “Damascus” swords. So, what is Damascus steel? While originally from the region of Damascus, it isn’t exactly tied with its origins but with a process the forger uses when creating a sword’s blade. This process is called folding.

  • Folding is done to create the beautiful “Damascus” steel pattern on the blade.

However, this process also makes for a better blade, as high-carbon steel becomes stronger with each folding round, compressing itself to strength. The “Damascus” pattern is done by elonating a steel bar for a first time, then “folding” the blade on top of itself until it becomes a steel bar again, then elongating it again a second time. This is one folding round. At Swords for Sale, our forgers fold and re-elongate all our Folded High-Carbon blades 13 times. Because of this time-consuming process, folded blades usually cost more than simple, high-carbon steel blades.

  • Folding a sword’s blade helps to remove its impurities.

The quality and strength of the sword are likely to suffer if a batch of steel has a lot of impurities in it. Any blade frequently can develop weaknesses due to impurities – and have problems on the length of the blade as it is used. This issue can be quickly found and resolved during the folding process.

  • Folding homogenizes the metal’s blade in its full length.

Carbon is present everywhere throughout the length of the steel blade. However, the blade can become brittle and possibly break if a significant amount of carbon is deposited in some parts of the steel and not throughout the blade. However, folding the blade multiple times leads to stronger blades. Because the steel’s carbon deposits are equally spread throughout, there are much fewer chances of weak spots.

Folding a blade is done in the forging process. It is done by taking a high-carbon steel block and elongating it, then “folding” it on top of itself.

Different forgers use different numbers of layers for their folding process. Moreover, each forger will fold the blade multiple times, up to 30 in some cases. At Swords for Sale, we fold each of our high-carbon blades 13 times – creating stronger, more durable, and aesthetically-pleasing swords. Moreover, high-carbon blades – folded or unfolded – can also be clay-tempered during their heat treatment – creating a beautiful “hamon” pattern.

Spring Steel: The survivalist’s favorite

While carbon steels are amazing for swords, there is another type of steel which creates durable and strong blades. One of them is called spring steel – and contains silicon in its alloy. This is a type of steel that is much more durable than carbon steels due to this silicon content.

Spring steel is called the survivalist’s favorite because its blade can be bended and turned in many ways, but it will always regain its straight aspect. It’s a steel that can be used under heavy conditions and still remain intact. It’s the strongest type of steel we have at Swords for Sale.

Kobuse Steel: The Platinum standard for swords

Kobuse steel is our highest standard of steel at Swords for Sale, and also one of the most beautiful kinds of steel available on the market. Kobuse steel is done by merging an inner core of 1095 High-Carbon steel with an outer core of 1095 Folded Steel. The steel is also clay-tempered in its heat treatment, and finally, polished with Hazuya stones for an impeccable finish.

The Kobuse steel combines the two potent techniques to produce katana swords that are tough at the center but sturdy to prevent breaking on the outer layer: the best for cutting, but also the most aesthetic. The process for creating a kobuse steel blade is also the longest, since two types of steel have to be merged together and refined to forge it.

Tamahagane Steel: Extinct but never forgotten

Tamahagane, literally “jewel steel,” is a form of steel produced according to Japanese custom. The definition of tama is “round and precious” much like a jewel. Steel is what the word hagane means. Samurai swords like the katana and various other tools are made using tamahagane, a material made from iron sand.

Tamagahane steel is always created in a Tatara, a traditional Japanese sword-steel smelter. There aren’t many Tatara functioning in Japan today, and even fewer that produce steel with the grade needed for swords; the Tatara is where Tamahagane is actually manufactured. The foundation costs of making Japanese swords are significantly more expensive than utilizing a flat bar of contemporary steel because of the high costs associated with creating Tamahagane and its limited availability.

Tamagahane is distinguished by having a larger carbon content than standard steel, giving it some unique properties. However, using too much carbon would result in a brittle blade, so swordsmiths must discover the ideal ratio. Today’s Tamahagane steel is made with between 1% and 1.5% carbon. In contrast, it often contains between 3% and 4.5% carbon in feudal Japan.

Jewel steel is thought to have been developed by trial and error. Japanese forgers frequently experimented with different food combinations to see what mixed best. They discovered that producing a high-quality metal that is ideal for forging swords requires combining iron sand with coal and a small bit of sulphur or phosphorus.

The time required to produce jade-faced steel varies depending on the particular jade variety, the maker, and the person’s access to tools. In spite of this, the procedure takes a long time to complete—between 36 and 72 hours. The steelmaker must stirr and twist the mixture very 10 minutes during the procedure. Today, the art of making swords from tamahagane steel is almost dead. The traditional processes for smelting, forging, and refining a blade are very expensive, thus that’s why. In addition, the particular mineral (Tamagahane) needed for the conventional procedure is extremely expensive and rare. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to export any of these highly valued works of art from Japan because swords are illegal there.

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