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So, why a katana? - Doug Ayen's Blacksmithing Blog [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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So, why a katana? [Oct. 7th, 2011|11:27 am]
Doug Ayen
Someone asked me recently, "Why are you working on a katana?"

Well, of course part of the answer is that Katanas Are Just Better .

They're cool, they're popular, they look neat, they cut well with minimal training, and of course they're all over the zeitgeist: movies from Kill Bill to Highlander to the epics of Kurosawa, virtually every anime and manga, numerous online videos and websites, and literature from Snow Crash to Samurai Cat, and countless video games, comic books, and magazines.

They're also one of the simplest swords you can make using archaic steels.

The blade itself, in its simplest form, is just a curved, single edged blade. It tapers both in thickness and width, but during forging you don't have to worry about the curve -- forge the pre-heat-treatment blade straight, the blade will adopt its curve during the quench as the edge hardens in an expanded condition then the back slowly cools and contracts. Oh, there's all sorts of arguments, especially when discussing different schools of manufacture, about how much curve, and whether the curve should be towards the tip, the handle, or even, but the fact that there is this argument means it's for someone to say you've done it wrong.

There's no real pattern welding, like you'd get in a migration-era European sword. There's no fiddling with different steels to get a high contrast. There's no having to keep track of twist/countertwist bars to get a particular pattern. It's a well documented process -- the result of the craft surviving to the modern age, unlike ancient western sword manufacture. Katanas are just easier.

The hamon, lacking in western swords (for good reason, I'd argue, but that's a post for another day), has some very interesting characteristics that only show up if you're using a shallow-hardening, low-alloy carbon steel, which also adds to its appeal. There is an entire vocabulary to describe the different features -- the nature of the wood-grain structures in the steel, the bright places where particularly hard steel formed, the dark areas where it didn't, and the hazy, irregular line between them, as well as the different forms that line takes.

Katanas are cool. They're easy to make (relatively speaking). And, of course, they're pretty. So why not make one?