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Thread: Samurai Swords

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    Default Samurai Swords

    I watched a wonderful Nova [PBS] documentary on the making of high quality Samurai Swords. It took the story from the smelting of iron sand with charcoal in an open top clay furnace which took four days of adding more iron sand and charcoal and continuous monitoring. The clay furnace is demolished to get the smelted steel which is cooled and broken into pieces. They contain pieces of both low and high carbon steel. The master sword maker chooses the right combination of both types to make the sword blank. After much heating, hammering and folding the final step is to heat the sword to the corect temperature and then quench it in cold water. Due to the swords construction of hard and flexible steels the sword takes on it's curved shape due to difference in the response to cooling of the different steels. The polishing and sharpening takes many days. The ultimate sword was known as a 'five body sword' since it was supposed to be able to slice through five bodies at one stroke.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesG View Post
    Due to the swords construction of hard and flexible steels the sword takes on it's curved shape due to difference in the response to cooling of the different steels.

    That's interesting. I've always assumed that the blade was hammered into the curved shape. I wonder if the same is true for other curved blade designs like scimitars or kris knives.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesG View Post
    I watched a wonderful Nova [PBS] documentary on the making of high quality Samurai Swords. It took the story from the smelting of iron sand with charcoal in an open top clay furnace which took four days of adding more iron sand and charcoal and continuous monitoring. The clay furnace is demolished to get the smelted steel which is cooled and broken into pieces. They contain pieces of both low and high carbon steel. The master sword maker chooses the right combination of both types to make the sword blank. After much heating, hammering and folding the final step is to heat the sword to the corect temperature and then quench it in cold water. Due to the swords construction of hard and flexible steels the sword takes on it's curved shape due to difference in the response to cooling of the different steels. The polishing and sharpening takes many days. The ultimate sword was known as a 'five body sword' since it was supposed to be able to slice through five bodies at one stroke.
    pretty interesting thing....can't believe tat old man didn't sleep until the end of the 4th day?

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkyKing View Post
    pretty interesting thing....can't believe tat old man didn't sleep until the end of the 4th day?
    The whole thing about the swords is the Shinto religious influence and the warrior's Bushido code. It's all very mystical.

    One thing I didn't mention in the final heat / quench process was the coating of portions of the blade with a slurry of ceramic which also aids the differential cooling as well as creating that fantastic wavy pattern on the blade.

    The Tanaka family of swordsmen [and women] shown in this documentary was an interesting example of maintaining the Samurai tradition.
    Last edited by JamesG; 10-11-07 at 10:59 PM.

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    Senior Member Bangs's Avatar
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    How I wish I could have one of those samurai swords. Getting it out of Japan is big NO WAY though.

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    The curve of the blade is made during the heating/cooling process when the edge side of the blade is coated with a thinner layer of clay and the blunt side coated with a thicker layer. Now since heat expands, the thinner layer of clay (edge side) gets hotter than the thicker layer of clay and when the color of the heated blade reaches a certain condition the blade is quickly quenched in either oil or water.

    Of course the documentary showed traditional sword forging techniques from older periods when the metals needed to create fine quality swords was harder to get than now and the science of metallurgy wasn't as advanced as it is now. In modern days now with advance technologies and equipment and understand of metallurgy, you have to wonder, is making a sword from 1 kind of steel or 2-3 different kinds of steel better?

    What I mean by different kinds of steel is the hardness, brittleness, carbon content, different grades of steel.

    PS: Bangs, if you wish to have a sword for practice try Paul Chen, however if you wish for real ninhonto blades, please becareful and do NOT buy online. However Bangs there is one difference, there are two types of swords that you can get: The sword you will hang on your wall or display somewhere for its craftsmanship and the sword which serves a practical purpose. These two types of swords have different qualities.

    If you ever seen an image of a sword online or anywhere, post it here and I will tell you whether it is real or fake (as in really japanese forged or non-japanese forged).
    Last edited by MysteriouX; 10-11-07 at 10:56 PM.

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    I think they mentioned that the highest quality traditionally made swords can fetch up to $100,000.00. Most are purchased by wealthy collectors.

    There's a Liquidation outlet here in Canada that sells the 3 sword wooden practice set for $15.00 with other individual wooden and steel swords going for $15 to $69.00 for a sharpened one. Quality would not be a word associated with these products.
    Last edited by JamesG; 10-11-07 at 11:23 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesG View Post
    I think they mentioned that the highest quality traditionally made swords can fetch up to $100,000.00. Most are purchased by wealthy collectors.
    damn, too much money for a swords, well for me.....i'm happy with my $100 swords

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesG View Post
    The whole thing about the swords is the Shinto religious influence and the warrior's Bushido code. It's all very mystical.

    One thing I didn't mention in the final heat / quench process was the coating of portions of the blade with a slurry of ceramic which also aids the differential cooling as well as creating that fantastic wavy pattern on the blade.

    The Tanaka family of swordsmen [and women] shown in this documentary was an interesting example of maintaining the Samurai tradition.

    The fantastic wavy pattern you are talking about is called the Hamon, it's a pattern which forms from not only the way the clay is applied but also from the fine grain of the steel.

    Three of the most important factors when you wish to see if the sword you wish to purchase is a real ninhonto or not is:

    1) The file marks on the tang of the blade (the part which goes into the handle)
    2) The hamon line (is it natural heat produced hamon or acid etched)
    3) The Yokote (the tip part of the sword, a real japanese sword has a clear line between the tip and the rest of the blade)

    Other factors are the worksmanship, a real japanese sword will have high quality craftsmanship in all the materials used. Fake ones will use low quality materials.

    If you're interested in learning more about differences between real and fake swords, start with this article:
    http://www.nihontokanjipages.com/fak...se_swords.html

    Just don't be cheated and don't believe every word of someone trying to sell you a sword, better to be aware of some facts than not know anything at all when you decide to buy one someday. I've known people who thought they hired trusted experts to assist them who in reality was working with the dealers to con off fake stuff. Yes this happens even in Japan.

    The different hardness/softness steels are used to control the strength and endurance of the blade. A sword which is too hard or brittle will break/fracture easily on impact and a sword which is too soft will become dull easily. So by using steel of different qualities sandwiched together it produces a balance for a sword with a strong hard lasting edge but flexible enough to endure forceful impacts.
    Last edited by MysteriouX; 10-11-07 at 11:19 PM.

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MysteriouX View Post
    The fantastic wavy pattern you are talking about is called the Hamon, it's a pattern which forms from not only the way the clay is applied but also from the fine grain of the steel.

    Three of the most important factors when you wish to see if the sword you wish to purchase is a real ninhonto or not is:

    1) The file marks on the tang of the blade (the part which goes into the handle)
    2) The hamon line (is it natural heat produced hamon or acid etched)
    3) The Yokote (the tip part of the sword, a real japanese sword has a clear line between the tip and the rest of the blade)

    Other factors are the worksmanship, a real japanese sword will have high quality craftsmanship in all the materials used. Fake ones will use low quality materials.

    If you're interested in learning more about differences between real and fake swords, start with this article:
    http://www.nihontokanjipages.com/fak...se_swords.html

    Just don't be cheated and don't believe every word of someone trying to sell you a sword, better to be aware of some facts than not know anything at all when you decide to buy one someday. I've known people who thought they hired trusted experts to assist them who in reality was working with the dealers to con off fake stuff. Yes this happens even in Japan.

    The different hardness/softness steels are used to control the strength and endurance of the blade. A sword which is too hard or brittle will break/fracture easily on impact and a sword which is too soft will become dull easily. So by using steel of different qualities sandwiched together it produces a balance for a sword with a strong hard lasting edge but flexible enough to endure forceful impacts.
    See my revised post above.

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    Yeah those canadian stuff would be purely crap or just movie item replicas or something like that.

    Right now I'm living in the UK and the UK has a kendo association which also has swordsmiths who studied under japanese smiths. The minimum price for the swords that they forge (of course it wont be real nihonto) is around 200quid for a basic one, higher qualities can be as high as 1000quid+ and these are ones used for kenjutsu training, not for artistic and craftsmanship.

    For practice, training, etc settle for Paul Chen, Zhang/Zhi Swords or get one from a credited Kendo Association or some organization which is recognized.

    If you wish to buy a real nihonto, most likely the one you pay at least a few thousand dollars will be for hanging/displaying somewhere though it may have a sharp durable high quality blade but it will likely be that it isn't designed for use in battles or duels.

    Also Japan has strict laws about buying/selling/exporting swords including owning one so the only way to get a genuine nihonto would be to go to japan in person and buy one. You will also need to get a license for exporting it, a document stating the authenticity of the sword and other documents.

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkcser View Post
    That's interesting. I've always assumed that the blade was hammered into the curved shape. I wonder if the same is true for other curved blade designs like scimitars or kris knives.
    Scimitars and those other curved shaped blades, most of them are usually hammered into their curve shapes and uniformly hardened, while japanese swords are tempered and differentially hardened. Also, many of those curved blades are curved beyond the angle that you could get with japanese heat treatment methods.


    Also, just to clear things up, this statement I made:

    Just don't be cheated and don't believe every word of someone trying to sell you a sword, better to be aware of some facts than not know anything at all when you decide to buy one someday. I've known people who thought they hired trusted experts to assist them who in reality was working with the dealers to con off fake stuff. Yes this happens even in Japan.

    was not meant for any particular person, it's just general advice.

    When buying japanese swords, seeing how popular they are since many people think there is some uberness about japanese swords there are many people who will try to con you.

    You can try to pretend as if you know something about swords and try to con the con artist back but if you aren't aware of some of the basic facts and knowing what to actually look for, most con artists won't be fooled. So if you are prepared with some facts, and if you are wise and intelligent you can con the con artist and make him/her worry that you can see through their charade. Also don't completely rely on a hired expert unless you are 1000% sure you can trust that expert. Some so called 'experts' may be in league with the fake sellers.

    Real Japanese swords are expensive and you don't want to end up spending thousands and finding out you've been ripped off.

    I may sound as if I am repeating myself here but I only warn you because I know people who have been conned like this. Friends included who failed to heed my advice thinking that I was being condecending towards them.

    If you just want a cheap nice looking sword to brag to your friends you have a cool looking sword and don't really care whether it is a real japanese or not, go visit a place like: www.zhangsword.com They are chinese forged, cheap but their designs look good though don't expect it to be of the same quality as real nihonto. Consider them as cheap decorations to display somewhere.

    Also, if anyone is planning to buy a really really sharp sword, please decide carefully before purchasing. I'd personally prefer it if you were studying kenjutsu and you are buying it for training purposes and not just to have a sharp sword. These are dangerous weapons you are purchasing and if you are not careful, have self control and is disciplined, you yourself or others could get hurt and killed. And still after reading this you wish to get a sword for hanging on the wall or display purposes only, buy an unsharpened blade just to be on the safe side.
    Last edited by MysteriouX; 10-12-07 at 12:14 AM.

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    Senior Member CC's Avatar
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    Is there a site or report out there which compares the better Japanese blades scientifically against say Toledo Steel blades* in a scientific manner?

    There is too much manga-ninja-hissatsu hype over this entire 'Samurai' sword business that many fan-boys instantly think that 'real' katanas can slice thru plate armour and tree trunks like a knife thru warm butter.


    *I would not be surprised if even the best Japanese blades show dificiencies in certain areas when matched against some other blades.
    Its BIxie Jianfa Gawdammit you guys!!!!

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    Well you have to remember that Japanese swords and Toledo Steel swords are made differently. Trying to compare which is better is hype itself since it depends on the skill of the smith who forges the blade. Personaly as a kenjutsu practioner and sword user I prefer japanese swords. Others may prefer toledo steel swords (they have different shapes and have different styles of use).

    And yes Japanese swords have their weaknesses too, compare them to a sword like claymores or broadswords made in europe where soldiers wore chain mail armor and the sword needed to have a heavy thrusting power to pierce the armor where as in Japan the armor was mostly layered bamboo and soldiers tend to slash at each other more than try to stab.

    If you're thinking of an unbreakable, never need to be sharpened perfect ultimate sword, that only exists in movies, novels, stories etc.

    During practical use, swords get scractched, the edge chips or becomes dull and even breaks.

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    Senior Member CC's Avatar
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    Yes I know that. I was hoping to see if there were any hard facts like Brinell numbers/yield strength/elastic limits for the different swords out there.

    I am quite stunned by the number of people out there who think that 'real' katanas can slice thru plate (never mind chain) armour.
    Its BIxie Jianfa Gawdammit you guys!!!!

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    LOL good quality katanas could probably slice through thin plate armors but I doubt it last much longer after that. It wont work like in the movies where you can slice through several people wearing the same kind of armor and the sword will still remain perfect. And unless you are exceptionally skilled and have strong arms, slicing through an entire chest plate would be difficult.

    As for numbers/strength/elastic limits, etc try looking for something like Rockwell Hardness Ratios, HRC, etc. With japanese swords I know that swordsmiths keep the edge side a HRC number between 50-65 and the backside HRC between 35-45. But then again, as you and I know katana and toledo steel swords are made for different styles of usage, so their numbers would obviously be different.

    For one thing, you wouldnt take a Rapier and try to do a cutting test on some bamboo poles like you would with a Katana would you? While at the same time you wouldn't take a broadsword and perform iaijutsu techniques. If you ever watched Samurai X, in my opinion Broadsword movements are almost as limited as Sano's Zanbatou due to the weight. While a Roman Legionnaire's sword (which is shorter than a broadsword and lighter) would allow you more freedom in the way you fight but with its shorter length comes decrease in range of attack/control.
    Last edited by MysteriouX; 10-12-07 at 06:54 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CC View Post
    I am quite stunned by the number of people out there who think that 'real' katanas can slice thru plate (never mind chain) armour.
    That's what movies do to people, fool them.

    BTW, I'm interested in samurai swords only for displaying purposes. I'm not really into sword fighting, specially not with real swords.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MysteriouX View Post
    Well you have to remember that Japanese swords and Toledo Steel swords are made differently. Trying to compare which is better is hype itself since it depends on the skill of the smith who forges the blade. Personaly as a kenjutsu practioner and sword user I prefer japanese swords. Others may prefer toledo steel swords (they have different shapes and have different styles of use).

    And yes Japanese swords have their weaknesses too, compare them to a sword like claymores or broadswords made in europe where soldiers wore chain mail armor and the sword needed to have a heavy thrusting power to pierce the armor where as in Japan the armor was mostly layered bamboo and soldiers tend to slash at each other more than try to stab.
    IIRC European swords tended to be of higher quality because higher quality ore was available. So for mystique and glamour Japanese swords might win, but for sheer quality Spanish (ancient) and especially Middle Eastern (Damascene, medieval) swords are better.

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    Senior Member MysteriouX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pannonian View Post
    IIRC European swords tended to be of higher quality because higher quality ore was available. So for mystique and glamour Japanese swords might win, but for sheer quality Spanish (ancient) and especially Middle Eastern (Damascene, medieval) swords are better.
    European broadswords are thicker and heavier, rapiers are thin and flexible, japanese swords held a better edge, there isn't something that can be considered an absolute better quality.

    Swordsmiths in those days had to make the best with the materials which were available for them.

    Also the swords (the shape, design) was made to fit the beliefs and requirements of the wielder and the sword arts they practiced. Samurais believed that curved swords provided better leverage when slashing.

    And if you do truely wish to compare quality, first lets look at which factors are we going to compete:

    1) durability of the edge
    2) strength of the blade to withstand breaking
    3) slashing strength
    4) thrusting strength

    in terms of long lasting razor sharpness of the edge, japanese swords will last longer

    in terms of the blade's ability to withstand breaking during battle, it will depend on the skill of the smith who forged the sword

    in terms of slashing, sharpness of the edge when cutting, japanese swords being sharper and curved will provide more leverage, however first rate razor sharp blades will also suffer if the sword is being used to slash through tough materials such as chain mails and metal plate armors. Broadswords would fare better because most of the time their edges aren't as sharp as japanese swords, so and also the blade being harder would be able to withstand slashing against chain mail or plate armors. however as an analogy the difference would be like using a very high quality sharp razor to shave your moustache or beard or using a high quality but not razor sharp blade. sharper swords provide a smoother cut

    in terms of thrusting, with armors such as chain mail or metal plate armors, european broadswords are tougher so they as long as the person has enough strenght those armors can be pierced. japanese swords would not be able to penetrate such armor without suffering some damage. An analogy would be bolt cutters...their edges are not made razor sharp, its just plain sharp enough to cut through steel fences or metal locks.

    european swords are made with uniform hardness, japanese swords are made with differential hardness in order to balance flexibility and strength to produce long lasting blades.

    if you took a high quality japanese sword and slashed a low quality european broad sword, I wouldnt be surprised it the katana was able to smoothly slice the broadsword's blade.

    if you took a high quality broadsword and slashed at a low quality japanese sword, I wouldnt be surprised if the katana either bent or got broken.
    Last edited by MysteriouX; 10-12-07 at 10:01 PM.

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    Registered User JamesG's Avatar
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    The Mythbusters had a lot of fun with Japanese sword cutting myths.

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