What’s the Best Steel for a Katana?
When choosing the best steel for katanas, it’s crucial to note that each type of steel has its own pedigree and mix of elements and materials. The best steel for swords depends on what the intended usage is. A look at some of the common steel options out there will make it easier to choose what type of steel suits your preference when it comes to swords.
Whether you’re looking for the strongest metal for your swords or you want something that will hold a sharp edge forever, Swords of Northshire can help break down your options.
Carbon steel is a great steel option for Japanese swords, as it creates a strong blade that looks beautiful and can hold an edge. Carbon steel is designated by the first two digits (10), followed by a number ranging from 01 to 99 with each point signifying that 0.01% of the steel is carbon. For instance, 1095 carbon steel has 0.95% carbon content. Katana blades are generally made from 1045, 1060, and 1095 carbon steel.
1045 Carbon Steel
1045 carbon steel is the minimum acceptable standard for a katana sword. It’s not the best steel for a katana, but this specific type of metal can harden very well. You’ll want to upgrade to something tougher for a longer lasting blade that can be used in training and combat.
1060 carbon steel provides a good balance of strength and hardness and is one of the best steel for katanas. Many martial arts swords are made from this type of steel. It’s more popular than 1045 carbon steel but more difficult to make.
1095 carbon steel katanas can take and hold a much keener edge than katanas with lower carbon content. This carbon content lends itself to an incredibly strong sword, making 1095 carbon steel one of the best metals for swords.
The best spring steel for katanas are either the 5160 or 9260. Spring steels have a small amount of silicon added to them, which allows them to return to their original shape despite significant twisting or bending. As with plain carbon steels, they both have 0.60% carbon.
5160 Spring Steel
This steel is a low chromium alloy of steel. The chromium combined with a small amount of silicon results in a tough and durable sword.
9260 spring has a significant percentage of silicon, ensuring it a much higher resilience against bending. This type of steel sword will spring back to normal even from an almost 90-degree bend.
Tool steels have gained popularity recently, due to their ability to keep and hold a sharp edge. They also have a strong reputation for toughness that ensures you can hack away during training with no fear of nicking your blade. While there are several types available, the two best tool steels for katanas are T10 and L6.
T10 Tool Steel
This is a steel alloy with tungsten. The tungsten makes it resistant to abrasions and scratches compared to most types of steels.
The L designates that this material is a low alloy steel, known as the toughest type of katana steel on the market. Expect to pay a hefty sum for this type of steel sword.
Folded Damascus Steel
A Damascus steel sword is made using an ancient Japanese technique that involves folding the steel block before shaping the sword. While the technique is more authentic and traditional, resulting in a beautiful grain pattern, the process does not benefit modern steel and isn’t generally the best steel for a katana. The folding technique was originally integrated into sword making when the Japanese were using tamahagane. Tamahagane was typically a mixture from many sources, and the folding removed impurities. Since modern steel is already pure with an even carbon content throughout, there is no need for folding unless you’re looking to create the grain pattern.
While folding doesn’t generally damage the metal, there is a possibility that small gaps in the steel will be created, reducing the durability of the blade if not performed by an expert smith.
In feudal Japan, early swordsmiths would melt iron, sand, and charcoal in a tatara furnace until the iron and carbon fused together. The resulting steel, called tamahagane, was not the best steel for a katana. It was impure and inconsistent — necessitating the creation of the folding process to remove impurities and disperse the iron evenly throughout the steel. Authentic tamahagane katanas are treated as a part of Japanese cultural heritage, and their creation is heavily regulated in Japan.
While most steel mixtures are meant to create the strongest metal for swords, clay tempering utilizes something other than steel itself to toughen up the blade. A clay mixture is created and painted at different thicknesses onto the roughly shaped blade. As the blade is rapidly heated and cooled, the varying thickness of clay along the spine and cutting edge cools at different rates to differentially temper the blade. The result is one of the best metals for a sword. Clay tempering improves shock absorption and ensures these types of blades can withstand even the toughest battles.
Clay tempering can be used with carbon steel as well as tamahagane steel.
What About Stainless Steel?
While stainless steel is good for knives and saves you from needing to maintain the blade, any stainless steel blade that’s over 12 inches is considered too brittle for functional use. It’s not the best metal for a sword, as it easily breaks upon impact. Most stainless steel swords are reserved for decorative or ceremonial purposes.
At Swords of Northshire, we refuse to sell any stainless steel swords or other sword-like objects. All of our blades are made of the best steel for katanas to create full tang, battle ready pieces. Each of our swords is fully functional for use in training and combat.
Shopping for the Best Steel for a Sword
Still wondering what the best steel for a katana is? There is no direct answer to this question, as each person buys a sword for different reasons. We generally recommend 1060 or 9260 for a practice sword in martial arts or as a light to medium cutting sword. 1095 steel, on the other hand, makes for a heavy-duty cutting sword with a very sharp edge that lasts for years. For a more in-depth discussion concerning the best steel for a sword that meets your particular needs, you can reach out to our team at any time.
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