Japanese sword making guide, history and sword parts of samurai sword. Japanese sword crafting.
Japanese swords played an extraordinary role in Japanese history, beginning with the mythology of it’s creation. The Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami is said to have given her grandson, Ninigi-no Mikoto, a sword when he was sent down to reign on earth.
Swords were thought to have miraculous powers and lives of their own. As a result a strict code of etiquette was developed for handling and maintaining swords. Swords were thought to have miraculous powers and lives of their own. Soldiers defeated in battle prayed at the shrines of the war-god Hachiman, asking why their swords had lost their spirit. Many stories have come down about the spiritual powers of notable blades as well as the keen sharpness of the blade.
Japanese sword parts
One of these stories tells about two famous swordsmiths, named Muramasa and Masume, who were considered almost equal in skill. They decided to have a contest to see who could make a better sword. As a test for the sword, Muramasa held his sword upright in a swift running stream. Every dead leaf that drifted against the edge of the sword was cut neatly in two. When Masume put his sword to the same test, the floating leaves avoided its edge passing unhurt on either side; Masume’s blade therefore was declared superior to its rival as it clearly possessed a spiritual and/or mystical power.
Because of the importance of the sword and the mystical significance attached to them, the sword makers were an honored class, and they approached their task with great solemnity. It was believed that only those with the purest of hearts and the highest moral standards, could become a master swordsmith. Thus, those who mastered the art were honored and highly respected by their feudal lords.
The Making of the Blade
Before forging the blades, the swordsmiths underwent fasting and ritual purification. They then worked at their anvils in white clothes, like the robes of the priests. There efforts were well rewarded; as early as the 13th Century, Japanese swords were recognized as far superior than any made elsewhere in the world. Not until the development of modern scientific metallurgy in the 19th century, could steel be made that would challenge the quality of that made by these Japanese swordsmith 600 years earlier.
To produce their superlative blades, Japanese artisans had to overcome a problem that had baffled all armorers throughout the world since the earliest time of recorded history. Sword makers could make steel very hard so that it would hold a sharp edge. However, making steel very hard also made it very brittle and often in battle a sword would be broken if hit just right against another sword or object. The sword makers knew how to make soft steel that would be less brittle and would not break in battle. However soft steel would not hold a sharp edge and it would quickly dull in battle and would not be able to cut through armor or hack of limbs and heads as a good sword was expected to do.
One way the Japanese sword makers solved the problem was to hammer together layers of steel of varying hardness welding them into a metal sandwich. This sandwich of metal layers was then reheated, folded back on itself and hammered out thin again. After this had been repeated about a dozen times, the steel consisted of thousands of paper-thin laminations of hard and soft metal. When it was ground to a sharp edge the hard metal stood out and resisted dulling, while the soft steel kept the sword from breaking.
Japanese Sword making technology
But to produce their best blades, the swords that are sought after by collectors today, the Japanese sword makers used a much more intricate process. For the core, or interior, of the blade, they used a comparatively soft, laminated metal that would resist breaking. The blade’s exterior and edge, however, were made of different grades of hard steel welded together in a sandwich that was folded and hammered out as many as 20 times or more, giving it more than a million laminations! This outer “skin” of steel could be made even harder by first heating the sword and then suddenly cooling it. As a final step the master swordsmith would cover the roughly finished blade with a thick layer of adhesive material, mostly clay, leaving only the edge exposed, and heat the blade until the glowing metal reached the right shade of color. The best way to judge this crucially delicate stage was to work in a darkened room. Then with prayer, the sword maker would plunge the heated blade into water. The exposed edge cooled instantly while the rest of the blade, protected by the clay, cooled slowly and remained comparatively soft. The final result was a sword blade of soft non-brittle metal enclosed in a thin layer of hard steel. About one fifth of an inch of its edge was made of metal so hard that it held a razor sharpness during repeated use in battle.