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Mai n Bl ad e Ma te ria ls f or Ja pan ese St yle Sw ord

By PR Dept., the wholesale Japanese sword House All rights reserved

Blade material: There are three basic blade materials for modern Japanese
style swords, these are; steel (commonly called carbon steel), stainless steel,
and non-steel alloy (commonly called alloy). Following are the detailed
information and what it's good for.

Steel: Commonly called carbon steel - which is redundant - all steel by

definition, contains carbon. Steel is simply iron with carbon added. The carbon
makes the iron stronger. There's nothing magical about carbon steel. Here's a
breakdown of the various types of "plain" carbon steel and what they're good

Plain Carbon Steels

These steels are iron, usually (but not always) with less than 1 percent
carbon, plus small amounts of manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, and silicon.
The characteristics of these steels are primarily a product of carbon content,
although the alloying and residual elements do have a minor influence.
Plain carbon steels are divided into four groups:
1. Low
2. Medium
3. High
4. Very high

Low. Often called mild steels, low-carbon steels have less than 0.30 percent
carbon and are the most commonly used grades. These steels are too soft to
hold an edge, and would be easy to bend with use. Some display swords are
made from mild steel. Stainless is preferred because neither is fully functional
and stainless looks better.

Medium. Medium-carbon steels have from 0.30 to 0.40 percent carbon.

Increased carbon means increased hardness and tensile strength, with
decreased ductility. These steels are too soft to hold an edge, and would be
easy to bend with use. Some display swords are made from medium carbon
steel. Stainless is prefered because neither is fully functional and stainless
looks better. Carbon content of 0.40 percent is an important threshold; steel
with a carbon content of 0.40 percent or greater can be hardened, below 0.40
percent it cannot be hardened.

High. With 0.45 to 0.75 percent carbon, these steels are capable of sword
quality hardening, can hold an edge well, and make a good sword. Remember
that a sword is not just a big knife. A functional sword will be subjected to
stresses that a good knife has nightmares about!

Very High. With up to 1.50 percent carbon content, very high-carbon steels
are used for the highest quality knives and functional swords.

The lowest carbon content usually found in functional swords is .45%, and
this would be called 1045 carbon steel. The highest carbon content commonly
found in swords is .95%, and this would be called 1095 carbon steel. The "10"
that precedes the percentage indicates that it is plain carbon steel. Another
prefix you might see is "52", as in 5260 steel. The "50" family of prefixes
indicates the chromium content, and is usually used in spring steel.

The higher the carbon content, the more expensive and harder it is to work
with, and the higher the price. Lower carbon steels are easier to forge and
sharpen, but don't hold an edge as well.

Stainless Steels

There are many types of stainless steels which fill a variety of roles. For the
purpose of this discussion, there are four basic types. All of them contain
varying degrees of carbon, manganese, chromium, and vanadium, as well as
a few other ingredients. It is the quantities and ratios of these ingredients
which give each type its characteristics. It should be noted that although a very
high quality functional knife can be made from stainless steel, it is impossible
to make a fully functional sword from stainless. There are some stainless
swords that can be used for Aikido, Iaido, and kata, but a stainless sword
should never be used for tameshigiri; it will either bend or break, and usually
on the first swing.
Here are the four types commonly used in swords and their general

420, 420J and 420J2: Quite soft and not very rust resistant. Very inexpensive
and easy to grind, so lots of cheap swords can be made very quickly. Swords
made from these steels should do nothing but hang on the wall; even swinging
one could break it.

440A: Soft but extremely rust resistant. Treat these swords as you would one
made from 420 steel; it will look better than 420 steel, but will be very prone to
bending. You could probably store a 440A sword in salt water and not have it
rust; good quality diving knives are made from 440A.

440B: Harder than 440A, but less rust resistant. A good quality sword made
from 440B can be used for Aikido, Iaido, or kata if the blade is thick enough
and the tang is long enough (it doesn’t have to be a full tang, but it should be
at least eight inches long and not be a rat-tail), but won’t be suitable for
tameshigiri. Again, good quality diving knives are often made from this type of

440C: The hardest and least rust resistant in the 440 family. These are the
most functional stainless swords, but still can’t be used for tameshigiri.

Swords marked “440” not followed by an A, B, or C are usually A or B.

Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as “plain 440”.
There are other families of high quality stainless (such as D-2) that are used
for knives, but not for swords, so that will be the topic of another review

Non-steel alloys

These swords fall into two main categories: 1) Fairly high quality Iaido
swords that are made in Japan, and, 2) Low quality swords, usually an
aluminum alloy that isn’t worth your consideration.

Japan has very strict laws about how swords are made and which swords
can be exported. One of these laws says that functional blades capable of
cutting cannot be exported, which is bad if you live outside Japan and want to
own a Japanese made sword. Although Japanese made swords can be found
on the market, they are rare and expensive.

As a result of this, Japanese sword makers produce alloy swords of

fairly high quality that cannot be sharpened and therefore can be exported.
These swords can be used for Iaido, Aikido, and kata. I have tried to sharpen
this type of sword, and trust me, they CAN’T BE SHARPENED. It’s like trying
to put an edge on a hunk of wax.