There are almost no chances that you never heard of a Katana sword, an iconic Japanese symbol of Samurai. It is characterized by a very long curved blade containing a single cut edge that faces outward. Since Katana blades are one of the most popular projects among bladesmiths, many people are interested in either the making or acquiring that spectacular blade.
So, what are the best steels for making a katana blade?
Depending on the intended use, the ideal steel choice for Katana is quite different. If you intend to make or acquire Katana just as a showpiece, then stainless steel is an ideal choice. On the other hand, if you want to have a functional katana sword, materials like carbon, spring, or tool steels are recommended, including:
- 1060 Steel
- 1095 Steel
- 5160 Steel
- 9260 Steel
- T10 Steel
- L6 Steel
Since the Katana blade can be used for various purposes, each type of steel must be carefully implemented in the making process. That is what the rest of the article is about.
Let’s dive into it.
Short Summary of Katana Sword
Katana is, by far, one of the most popular swords in the world. It has a long curved blade that was designed for intimate and fast combat in the battle. Katanas were developed in the 13th century during Kublai Khan’s occupation of Japan as an improved replacement of previous weapons.
Traditional katanas are usually characterized by a visual wavelike effect called a Hamon, which extends along the blade. A Hamon is a fusion of hard steel that runs until the edge to the elastic spine of the dampened edge.
Katanas are in high demand today among collectors who grant them to be vital historical relics. They are particularly admired primarily due to their expression of Samurai culture.
However, there are still a lot of myths surrounding katana swords. For example, many people think that katanas are much lighter than European swords. That is simply not the case. If you look at Japanese swords compared to Europeans, they are proportionally about the same weight.
You may find that European swords are longer on average, but the overall weight is similar. Katanas weight varied a lot during the past, but it generally weights from 0.7 kg to 1.5 kg. There is another myth that katana swords are capable of cutting through absolutely almost everything. Again, far from the truth.
One of the popular claims was that Katana could cut through a machine gun barrel. I mean, really? No, that never happened and most probably never will. Don’t get me wrong here, Katana certainly can easily cut off a limb or head, but it would barely scratch a machine gun barrel.
What Are You Planning to Do With Your Katana?
And we come to the most important factor when choosing the right steel for making a Katana. Namely, the intended usage of Katana will ultimately determine your steel choice. So, if you plan to make a Katana just for a showpiece, you will not use the same steels as for making the Katana that you will actually use.
Best Steels for Making Katana as Showpiece
As we previously said, after all, Katana is very popular among various collectors who are crazy about them. So, if you are making a Katana for those people, keep in mind that they won’t certainly use it to play ninja and do crazy stuff with it. Instead, they will lay it somewhere or hang it on a wall to serve as a showpiece.
In that case, stainless steels are a perfect choice as they are more aesthetically appealing. Swords made from stainless steel are typically not so durable due to its molecular structure. So, if you would use stainless steel Katana for cutting, the chances are it would quickly crack due to its brittleness.
Also, most stainless steel swords aren’t rigorously heat treated as other steels. So, if they are not heat-treated enough, thus they are not as hard as other steels. But, stainless steels contain a high amount of chromium, which increases corrosion resistance.
In the end, except for nice visual appeal and corrosion resistance of the stainless steel Katanas, you don’t need anything else to serve for decorative or ceremonial purposes.
Best Steels for Making Katana as Functional Sword
On the other side, if you actually plan to use that Katana for cutting, steels like high-carbon steels, tool steels, and spring steels are an excellent choice. Using stainless steel for this purpose would be a bad idea.
Let’s start with the most common steel choice.
Now, most of you will probably want to use that newly made Katana blade. In that case, high-carbon steels are one of the most popular choices, and also for a great reason.
High-carbon steels are mostly considered as a good combination of price and quality for making Katana swords. Due to their chemical structure, high-carbon steels are known for their durability and strength. High-carbon Katana is much harder than stainless, which makes it sharper and also has better edge retention.
Steels like 1095 and 1060 are generally viewed as the most preferred choice among many bladesmiths. Both types of steels provide exceptional hardness and durability. They are also much quicker to sharpen than stainless steel. However, one of their downsides is they lack chromium content, which is responsible for corrosion resistance.
1095 steel is considered as one of the most popular carbon steels for sword making, including Katanas. It contains 0.9-1.0% of carbon content. The exact amount depends on a manufacturer. That high amount of carbon makes it perfect for the heat-treating process.
However, primarily due to its low level of manganese, it is typically not as strong as other forms of steel, despite the carbon content. Keep in mind that you should take care of it to prevent rusting. It is not complicated for heat-treating, which makes it popular among beginners. It also shines nicely.
Make sure the tempering process is done correctly. With the proper tempering, their reputation for fragility becomes meaningless. 1095 steel is usually more expensive than 1060 steel.
1060 steel, on the other side, is an excellent combination of strength and hardness. Although it contains less carbon content in comparison with 1095 steel, it still makes one of the most-quality Katanas in the market.
However, it is generally more difficult, and it takes a long time to forge and polish. All in all, it is good steel that is strong and hard enough with good durability.
Tool steel is getting more and more popular in bladesmithing, especially in sword making. Swords made from tool steels tend to be very tough and hold edge nicely. Two that stand out the most are T10 and well-known L6.
Another great steel option, which is also a relatively new choice for making Katana, is T10 steel. It is a Tungsten alloy containing 0.9-1% carbon, 0.3% silicon, and other alloying elements. Due to the silicon combined with high carbon content, swords made from T10 steel generally perform better than high carbon steels.
When properly tempered, T10 steel can achieve high levels of hardness (more than 60 HRC). It is considered as high-speed steel. Remember, the more carbon content steel has, the harder it is, but with silicon added to it, it makes it much less brittle.
And of course, there is a famous L6 Bainite, known as the toughest type of sword steel with the assumption it is heat-treated correctly. However, don’t expect to pay it for it cheaply. L6 steel requires a lot of maintenance, as it is prone to rust.
For sword purposes, two popular spring steels come to my mind, including 5160 and 9260 steel. As you can see on the last two digits, both of them contain 0.60% carbon, which is a great compromise between durability and hardness.
5160 steel is low alloy steel with high resistance to fatigue. You can easily find it on a scrapyard at low prices and sometimes even for free. If you have any coil springs laying around in your garage, you got a free material to work with.
It has been shown to achieve a high level of toughness with an austenitizing temperature of 1500-1525°F (815-830°C). Like many other types of steels that are susceptible to corrosion, 5160 steel is no exception. Namely, the oxygen is often too strong for the iron that produces iron oxide, which is responsible for cracking and weak spots.
Some swords made out of 5160 spring steel are reported to be able to cut off a buffalos head with only one strike. Crazy, I know.
Next is 9260 spring steel, which is also often called Silicon Manganese Steel. It consists of 2$ silicon, giving it an even more noticeable resilience against bending. 9260 steel is able to spring back even after being bent at almost 90 degrees. So, if you want to make a Katana by using 9260 steel, you would miss it. Swords made from this steel have a reputation for strong durability.
But Wait, What About Damascus?
Oh yes, Damascus steel, one of the most controversial steels in the blacksmithing industry. A Damascus steel Katana is made by using an old Japanese technique that involves a lot of material folding.
While this technique is definitely more visually appealing and authentic, it is not typically recommended for making Katana swords. That is mainly due to the possibility of forming small gaps that often results in cracking if not performed by an expert smith.
In the end, the best steel for making any sword is the one you know how to properly heat treat. So, it doesn’t matter if some steel is better than another if you don’t know how to harden it.
Okay, that’s it for today’s article, now lets back into the shop.