Our Sword Cleaning Guide
Disassembling a katana for cleaning and maintenance is a straight-forward process. In this sword cleaning guide, we'll be making it even easier by walking you through each step. Follow along with the experts at Swords of Northshire today to ensure your weapons are always in peak condition.
How to Clean a Katana
The most important part of katana sword maintenance is to keep a light layer of oil on the blade. The oil prevents moisture from getting to the metal and rusting the surface of the carbon steel. Real, functional, Japanese swords produced from carbon steel are very susceptible to oxidation, unlike corrosion-resistance stainless steel blades. This is especially important with high-end katanas, as re-polishing a blade in the traditional way can be very expensive.
You probably know you should regularly oil your blade, but our sword cleaning guide dictates that you should clean and re-oil it occasionally even when not in use. To keep the blade in good condition, you should also follow this process after cutting sessions. If you live in a dry climate, you only need to clean and maintain the katana twice a year. In humid climates, you should do it once or twice a month. Any time your fingers or any liquid comes into contact with the blade, you need to follow traditional katana sword maintenance procedure.
What to Use for Cleaning
When considering how to clean a katana, you should use a soft, non-abrasive, lint-free cloth cloth or tissue. You don’t want to leave fibers behind on the blade when cleaning it. Always hold the cloth against the spine side, never directly against the cutting edge.
The Uchiko Ball
Once the blade is completely dry and free of oil, powder it with the uchiko ball. Uchiko is a fine powder made from a kind of polishing stone. It is wrapped up in silk, with a handle for ease of use. By applying it to the blade, it soaks up any left-over moisture and works as an extremely fine abrasive that helps to clean the steel as it’s wiped.
Tap the uchiko ball against the side of the blade while moving it towards the tip, applying powder evenly to the whole blade, then again to the other side and to the spine. Take your non-abrasive cloth and wipe down the whole blade again. This basic sword cleaning guide will keep your blade in great shape.
The next step in this sword cleaning guide is applying a last layer of oil. The Japanese use ‘Choji oil’ which is 99% mineral oil and only 1% clove oil for fragrance. This is the traditional option, but there are several alternatives that you can use, such as machine oil, motor oil, gun oil, 3-in-1 oil, and light mineral oil.
Dab a small amount of oil on your cloth. Move it slowly down the blade, ensuring every inch comes into contact with the metal. If your katana has a bo-hi, or groove, it should be oiled as well. Inspect the blade against the light and check if any area is missing oil. When the entire blade is covered in a light layer, you have completed all the steps in our sword cleaning guide.
Traditional Japanese swords feature one or two bamboo mekugi pegs inside the handle to hold the blade in place. These pegs are easily removable to allow you to inspect the tang — the hidden part of the blade that extends into the handle.
If you purchased a maintenance kit for your katana, you likely have a small brass tool known as the mekugi-nuki. This is a hammer with an inserted punch that you can take out and used to remove the pegs in the sword handle. If you don’t have this hammer, you can use a small piece of wood or flat-head nail as a substitute. You can unscrew the top of the mekugi-nuki hammer to reveal the punch.
Most mekugi pegs are tapered, meaning they have different thicknesses on each end, and you can only remove them in one direction. The side of the handle where you can visibly see the peg will be the side it comes out. Once you find this, flip the handle over and push the ito braid aside slightly, so that you can hammer out the peg. Hold the punch over it and hammer the end with your mekugi-nuki.
Removing The Handle
Once the pegs are hammered out, the handle and fittings can be removed. For particularly tight-fitting katana, this might be a difficult process. To loosen the handle and free it from the tang, hold onto the handle with your left hand and strike your left hand with your right, jolting it loose. It could take a couple tries before the handle comes loose.
Another option is to hold your hand all the way up against the tsuba, squeeze, and push up against it until it loosens. Once the handle is off, you can remove the seppa (spacers), tsuba (hand guard), and habaki (collar). You can reassemble your sword by sliding the fittings back onto the tang in order: habaki, seppa, tsuba, seppa, and finally the handle. If the pieces aren’t sliding smoothly back into place, tap them against the kashira (butt cap) with a softwood block to tighten the fittings.
Sword Cleaning Guide at Swords of Northshire
With this sword cleaning guide from Swords of Northshire, you now know how to clean a katana and how to disassemble your sword for basic maintenance. If you’re interested in learning more about sword maintenance, explore our traditional polishing guide today!
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