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What is a Katana Made Of? Steel, Parts, and Fittings

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: August 16, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The Japanese katana sword has many parts, with its fundamental steel blade. However, all the parts of the katana have a special purpose that works in collaboration, making the katana the most beloved sword of the samurai.

In this article, we will discuss in detail all the parts that make up the katana. We will examine the different types of metal and materials that give the katana its unique functionalities. We will also delve into its smaller mountings and fittings. 

Metal and Material

Materials of a Katana Sword
The different material the katana is made of makes it a unique sword – Credits: Mr. Process

Material and metal are the foundation of the katana. Depending on the material used, the katana can function in various ways. Some materials make it highly functional and ready for powerful cutting tests, while others make it a perfect training tool for martial art matches and sparring.

The katana is primarily made out of steel that is prominent in the blade and goes underneath all the other parts. Manufacturing this steel is a meticulous process that can sometimes take months. Here are some popular materials that a katana sword can be made out of.

Tamahagane Steel 

The traditional and “real” metal that a Japanese katana is made of is tamahagane steel which translates to pure or jewel steel in Japanese. It is a high-carbon steel made from iron dust called satetsu. The dust goes through a heating process in a tatara furnace before being forged and folded, creating a functional carbon steel blade consisting of over 1000 layers.

Carbon Steel 

A modern functional, real, and battle-ready katana sword is made with carbon steel, a type of metal that can be sharpened and hold an edge for cutting. The katana’s flexibility and toughness will depend on the type and amount of carbon and other alloy metals. The balance between those attributes makes a carbon steel katana an ideal weapon.

Spring Steel 

Spring steel is a practical alloy steel a katana can be made of that focuses on toughness but primarily on flexibility. A katana made with spring steel is generally tougher and more flexible than a carbon katana, making it a fan favorite for many enthusiasts worldwide.

Tool Steel 

Tool steel makes the sword a real battle-ready weapon able to withstand powerful cutting tests on most tough surfaces. A katana made out of tool steel can maintain a sharp edge after enduring a great deal of damage. Tool steel is more difficult to work with, making it one of the rarer metals used to create the katana. 

Damascus Steel 

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Damascus steel katana with beautiful visual blade patterns – Credits: Katana Sword

The katana can also be made out of Damascus steel which can be used for light-cutting practice and is also one of the more popular decorative pieces featured in many sword collections. Different types of steel are welded together to make elaborate patterns that give the katana its stunning aesthetics. However, this causes air bubbles and impurities, making the weapon more prone to breakage.

Stainless Steel 

When a katana is made out of stainless steel, it is primarily used as a decorative piece because this type of material is generally heavier and too brittle to be used for cutting. However, a great advantage to stainless steel is that it is more resistant to corrosion and rust, making the weapon easier to maintain than other functional carbon steel blades.

Wood and Bamboo 

Katana swords can be made out of wood which is called bokken. They are historical training tools for the samurai and are used in the same manner today by sword enthusiasts and martial art practitioners. Some can be made out of bamboo, called shinai. These swords are popular in kendo and aikido and help determine the true katana length for different individuals.

Aluminum and Zinc 

A katana sword can also be made out of aluminum and zinc. This type of blade is used throughout Japan for Iaido practices because only legitimate nihonto katana swords can be made of tamahagane steel. Outside Japan, aluminum katana Iaito swords are commonly used to train kamae sword stances, sparring practice, and using the unsharpened sword as a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) or decorative piece.

Plastic 

Some katana swords can be made out of plastic. These are usually more affordable and generally used during cosplay events. Some plastic katanas can follow fantasy elements in anime, games, and sci-fi series. Katanas made of plastic can also be given as gifts and used as decorative wall hangings.

Main Parts of the Katana

All the Katana Parts
The Japanese Katana is made of four main parts – Credits: Met Museum

The Katana comprises four main parts𑁋the handle, the guard, the blade, and the scabbard. Although the scabbard is not technically part of the katana, it is seen as one because it is crucial that the blade is sheathed when not in use. 

These main parts of the katana are what make it such an important part of history. Each part goes through a meticulous crafting process and is seen as a work of art. Although it is commonly accepted that the blade is the most important, each part of the katana is essential in making it function as well as it does.

  • Handle (Tsuka) – the part of the katana where the sword is held with both hands to execute swift and powerful slashing motions
  • Guard (Tsuba) – the metal round handguard is used as a hand-stopper for the handle as well as for protection from incoming strikes
  • Blade (Nagasa) – the long metal steel blade that has the handle on the bottom, the guard mounted on the top, the sharp edge used for cutting as well as the tip used for thrusting
  • Scabbard (Saya) – the wooden piece that slides and mounts on top of the blade protects  against rust and makes the weapon easier to carry

All of the main katana parts consist of many smaller unique pieces that are called koshirae. The koshirae are very important in enhancing the katana aesthetics and practical functionality. They can be created with different types of metal, such as steel, brass, and copper. The katana wraps can be made with materials such as silk, leather, and cotton; some having intricate, beautiful inscriptions.

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