We know finding the correct sword can be a daunting prospect with all the different types, features, and new terminology. We’re here to help! We’ve written this guide so that you can find a sword that best fits you, both functionally and aesthetically.
We’ve included this table of contents so that you can skip directly to what interests you. If you’re not sure where to start, just start reading as we start simple and build up.
Table of Contents
- Sword Types
- Japanese Swords
- Chinese Swords
- Swords from Popular Culture
- Steel Types
- Sword Production
- Battle-Ready vs Ornamental
- Practice Swords
- Sword Maintenance
- Parts of a Sword
- Sword Sharpness
Japanese swords are measured in units called “shaku” (30.30cm). This is important because Japanese swords are categorized based on their lengths.
A Japanese dagger designed primarily for stabbing, it was traditionally worn by samurai with a Tachi. Together the Tanto and Tachi are known as daishō (大小), meaning big-little.Size: 0-1 shaku.
Known as the companion sword, when worn with a Katana it signaled the bearer was a samurai. Together a Katana and a Wakizashi are also known as daishō.Size: 1-2 shaku.
Known as the weapon of the ninja warrior, there is no physical evidence for this sword before the 20th century, but that has done nothing to diminish its popularity in modern culture. It is characterized by a straight blade with a square guard.Size: 1-2 shaku.
A distinctive sword characterized by a moderately curved, single-edged blade, a squared or circular guard, and a two-handed grip. Some western historians have named them among the finest cutting weapons in military history. Traditionally worn with the cutting edge facing up.Size: 2+ shaku.
With over 1000 years of history, this sword type preceded the Katana and was generally lighter, more curved, and had a greater taper from hilt to point. Traditionally worn with the cutting edge facing down.Size: 2+ shaku.
These swords are representative of various styles from Chinese history, from the Han to the Qing Dynasties (almost 2000 years).
Swords from Popular Culture
These swords are replicas of the legendary swords worn by prominent characters in the massively popular TV and manga series of the same name. Reputed to have sentience and empowered by a living spirit, these swords are capable of cutting spiritual bodies. (Our bleach swords are for ornamental purposes only.)
These battle-ready swords are replicas of the swords worn by The Bride, Bill, Oren-Ishii and more. Created by Hattori Hanzo, they are said to be superior to all other swords.
There are three main types of steel used for our swords. They are identified by a 4-digit number. The first two digits are always “10”, and signify that the metal is carbon steel. The last two digits will vary, but signify how much carbon is in the steel. For example “45” signifies that the steel is composed of 0.45% carbon.
The toughest of the materials, swords made of this can take a ton of abuse. Perfect for people who want a blade that won’t break easily and is more resistant to corrosion.
Holds an edge better but are not quite as durable. A good mid-range material.
Able to take and hold the sharpest of edges, swords with 0.95% carbon are also the most brittle and least resistant to corrosion. Best for people who really know what they are doing.
Swords are formed by first heating the steel so it becomes soft and pliable, then rapidly cooling it to harden it. While it sounds simple, the temperatures and time taken to heat and cool the steel are very exact (to the degree and second), and there are different methods of doing so, each producing steel with different attributes and with their own names.
A sword needs to have two things: a hard edge (to cut with) and a soft spine (to resist breakage). By adding clay and varying the thickness on on the steel, swordsmiths can change the cooling rates of different parts of the sword. Also known as differential hardening, this process produces a visible line that separates the edge from the spine and is also responsible for the curving of swords such as the Katana.
Japanese swordsmiths had to deal with poor-quality iron ore, so they invented a method of folding steel in order to smooth out the carbon content and remove impurities. While not needed anymore because of high-quality imported ore, some people prefer the look of folded steel swords as the thousands of layers produce an aesthetically pleasing texture.
Shrouded in legend, the exact process used to make Damascus steel is unknown, but was reputed to produce blades that were tough, resistant to shattering, and capable of taking a sharp, resilient edge. Swords made of this steel were discovered recently to have carbon nanotubes in them. Characterized by a distinctive pattern of banding and mottling, modern smiths have managed to imitate this look in order to produce blades that are reminiscent of the old method (and carry the same name).
Also called a “Blood Grove”, a Bo-Hi is an indention in the blade of a sword whose purpose is to lighten the blade without sacrificing strength. Blades with Bo-Hi produce a louder swishing sound when moved through the air and have the balance point of the sword shifted closer to the hilt compared to a sword without one. While it has nothing to do with blood, the misnomer and look are appealing to some.
Battle-Ready vs Ornamental
If you plan on using your sword for anything other than display, you will want a battle-ready sword (all our swords are Battle-Ready unless otherwise noted). Characterized by having the spine of the sword continue into the handle (called full-tang), swords that are battle ready are suitable for practice and cutting. Using an ornamental-only sword for either of these purposes (even if it’s sharp) can result in the blade breaking off at the hilt and flying off in a random direction, which is quite dangerous.
On our site, swords with the word “Chinese” or“bleach” in the product title are ornamental only and are NOT Battle-Ready.
Many sword enthusiasts are also martial arts practitioners. As using a live Katana would be much too dangerous for general sparring, most popular sword arts today (especially Kendo) use practice swords.
Bokken 木剣 (bokutō 木刀) - wooden practice swords with a similar weight and length to a katana. They were originally developed to reduce injuries in sparring between Samurai. While not able to cut like a Katana,they are still formidable weapons and should not be underestimated.
Size: 2 + Shaku
Shinai 竹刀 - bamboo practice swords usually about half the weight of a Katana, they are widely used in sparring to due their near harmlessness on contact. However, they can still pose a danger through shattering if not properly inspected for cracks before use.
Size: 2 + Shaku
Swords are difficult to repair, so preventing damage is paramount. There are two main ways your sword can be damaged.
Cutting or dueling inappropriately
Swords are not axes and should not be used as one. Hitting anything of similar hardness or rigidity will damage the edge (such as a tree or another sword). When dueling, parries should be made with the flat of the blade, or avoided altogether. When cutting, softer materials such as bamboo or tomatoes should be used.
Like most steel, our swords will corrode if left unprotected. When you receive your blade, you may notice something that looks like a stain or scratch on the blade. This is a thick coating of oil used to protect your blade during transit. However, it will not last forever and will need to be occasionally reapplied in order to continue protecting your blade. Sword maintenance kits contain oil that can be used for this purpose. See our Sword Maintenance Guide for more details.
Parts of a Sword
Swords have their own terminology, and learning it will not only make you sound like an expert, but will also help you communicate better with other sword enthusiasts. See the below image for the most important parts of the sword.
By default, all our swords (except Bleach Swords) come functionally sharp. They will cut bamboo and tomatoes, but not bone. If you’d like your sword unsharpened (blunt), we can do that at no extra cost for you - just let us know in your order notes when placing your order.
When used for cutting, swords will eventually dull. If you’d like to sharpen your blade, you can do that using a whetstone.