Frequently Asked Questions
The frequently asked questions will slowly make room for a more advanced knowledge base:
The Samurai University
! It has an advanced glossary system and currently over 75 articles. Why don't you have a look over there ;)
Besides the sales, restoration and customization of Japanese swords; The Samurai Workshop also spends much efforts in education around the Japanese sword tradition.
Many myths exist around the Japanese sword and dishonest sellers and manufacturers will happily take advantage of that.
We believe that historical knowledge and genuine martial arts experience is the key to distinguish the bushido from the bull-shi-do (if you know what we mean ;) )
The FAQ and article section of our website is filled with original articles and images we have published over the years. To keep up to date with the latest news, please have a look on our facebook page!
Are your swords traditionally made?
We combine traditional and modern techniques to create the best swords possible. While some processes cannot be done with machines (such as wrapping, mounting and polishing) other parts can definitely benefit from modern production methods.
Optimizing the production process of a Japanese sword through the use of modern technologies result in a better quality and better price!
In the following video we show how modern steel is forged and folded in a traditional way. The use of a pneumatic power hammer is widely accepted as efficient rather than 'untraditional', even by many official Japanese sword smiths.
Can my sword break?
Japanese swords can most certainly break as they are considered among lightest and thinnest swords in the world. It is only due to its internal structure and differential hardening that it is extremely tough despite its slim figure. Breaking is however not very common since the Japanese sword was specifically designed NOT to break but bend instead.
Luckily, most modern steels are much more resilient and flexible and traditional carbon steels. Chemical additions such as manganese and silicon improve the tensile strength without giving up the the ability to maintain sharpness.
Tamagahane swords - since they are made from iron sand - do NOT have these added elements. To ensure strength and avoid breaking there is a different technique used.
By starting of with a soft / mild steel core (shingane) and laminating it with a hard steel jacket (hagane), internal shocks and impact stress are absorbed and distributed.
The internal structure of a sword is called gitae.
There can be found many gitae in history but the most common lamination techniques are maru (no lamination) and kobuse (inner/outer jacket).
What is a 'traditional polish'?
One of the most important things of the Japanese sword is the polish. A bad polish can ruin a sword whereas a good polish can raise the value of the sword.
To fully polish a sword you need to work up through at least 6-8 stones. First comes the basic shaping, the the refining of the basic shape and lastly the 'make-up' of the steel. Each next stones becomes finer and will remove the scratches of the previous stone. Also each stones has unique features that prepares the steel for the next stone constantly stacking unique aesthetic details on to op the next.
We speak of traditional polish when at least the last few steps in the polish are done with all-natural stones (nagura-do, uchigumori-do, hazuya, jizuya).
Also it's important that no acids are used to raise the contrast of the habuchi (temper-line) or hada (folding lines) or whiten the hamon.
The general rule is that synthetic polishing materials will ALWAYS make a surface shiny. Japanese (natural) polishing stones have the unique ability to polish a surface matte.
Whilst low-cost swords and cheaper re-production swords often have a shiny surface, a traditionally polished sword will always have a matte surface of the ha (cutting surface).
Note that the mune (back) as well as the shinogi-ji or bo-hi (area from the side ridge line towards the back) are supposed to mirror shiny. However these parts burnished into a mirror appearance instead of polished.
A general rule of thumb is that a proper polish will cost you about 30-50% of the value of the sword.
What is hazuya / jizuya?
An important step in the make-up polishing is the unique hazuya finger stone. If used in a correct way, this thin slice of uchigumori koppa can whiten the steel, giving a hamon a unique white look also known as 'keisho'. This modern way of traditional sword polishing is call 'hadori'.
The area of the ha which is not the hamon is polished with the jizuya stone. The unique feature of this stone is that it opens the steel so the aesthetic details such as njie, nioi and hada can show through the polish.
Any other polishing method would cover these features making them invisible.
It is possible to treat this area with nugui oil to darken it. A darker ji increases the contrast between the hamon and ji and can allow the hada to become clearer.
Are your swords hand-polished?
Our swords are most certainly hand polished. Using electrical tools may heat up the blade and cause annealing to the steel, which is the returning to a soft state of the steel.
What is Tamahagane?
Tamahagane can be translated as Jewel Steel.
Metallurgical speaking Tamahagane is a steel ore made from iron sand and charcoal (carbon). These two materials are smelted in a bloomery also known as a tatara. The iron and carbon elements will smelt together into a steel ore known as tamahagane.
There are really just of few tatara left of which the most important is located in Yokota Village, Shimane prefecture. The process is under strict supervision of the NBTHK (Nittoho) organisation, who also control the sales and allocation of the ore.
The 'Nittoho Tatara' is lit only in the deep winter, when the air is at its driest. During this period of around three weeks it's possible to create maximum of three batches of Tamahagane, since the process takes 7 days to complete.
Because of this limited supply of Tamahagane, prices are high and many starting sword smiths cannot afford it. For this reason many of them also use a blend called orishigane (left-over shavings steel). They use old nails, shavings and any other iron containing material as a basis for the steel. By adding (or excluding) charcoal and straw to their - often self made - mini tatara they can control the carbon content of their Oroshigane steel ore.
Since the process of Tamahagane production is so heavy regulated by the government and the NBTHK organisation it is not possible for non-registered sword smith to use or purchase Nittoho Tamahagane.
Luckily, outside of Japan there also aren't any rules for building a tatara and making your own tamahagane. Important is to know that the iron sand used in Nittoho tamahagane (satetsu ~ dark green/iron colored sand) can only be found in the very north of Japan. The impurity and exact chemical contents of this sand determine the visual details of Tamahagane.
This means that Tamahagane steel made of other iron sand may show some different coloration and features than 'true Tamahagane' made of satetsu sand.
What is 1095 steel?
This type of steel is a very common high-carbon steel. It can be water hardened into an beautiful white /blueish steel with excellent edge retention qualities. Differential hardening will cause a clear hamon which can be polished into a white kesho hadori hamon.
Besides the usual carbon and iron, AISI 1095 steel also contains small percentages of manganese, chromium and silicon for rust resistance and better flexibility.
Researched traditional (kawagane) tamahagane steel contained between 0.8 and 1.1% of carbon. AISI 1095 steel contains (as the name states) 0.95% of carbon. The 1095 steel is a perfect average on this.
What is T10 steel?
T10 steel is also known as tool steel. It is the most common steel available on the market and thus, less expensive.
Don't mistake this for less in quality. T10 tool steel has the most similarities with tamahagane than any other steel available on the market.
The base of the T10 steel is carbon and iron. The carbon contents is between 1.0 and 1.1% with some small performance enhancing additions. However, this is less than 1095 steel so you can say the steel is a bit purer.
Polishing T10 steel in kesho hadori requires really specific stones due to the hard surface. However, since 2012, Kaneie Sword Art has the capability to also perform a kesho hadori polish on T10 steel blades. The positive side to traditionally polishing T10 steel is that nugui reacts much better due to the simplicity of the alloy.
1095 steel and T10 are so similar that it is nearly impossible to identify them without metallurgic research equipment.
What materials are used for the sword fittings?
The fittings on our swords are mainly made of iron, steel, copper or brass. In some cases the copper or brass have been silver plated.
Quality sword fittings are always made from a moderate to hard material.
The traditional materials are copper (or shakudo), iron, steel and silver (or shibuichi). From Edo period and up, brass can be found in sword fittings.
We do not use solid silver or gold for fittings. We believe that these push up the price unnecessary and often are too soft to make suitable fittings.
Sword fittings are often divided in two groups. The first group is the simple and practical type of furniture. Satsuma and higo koshirae are a perfect example for this group. Materials as steel, iron, copper and brass are often used.
The second is called 'kinko' and represents the more luxurious type of sword fitting. The term can be translated loosely to 'gold worker' or 'jeweler' and is given to sword furniture which are more artful. Here you'll find more expensive materials such as shakudo or shibuichi often combined with gold or silver inlays or sheeting. In general, the level of craftsmanship is very high. Note that there exists a lot of kinko-koshirae which have never been mounted on a sword and were only made as an art object.
A separate type of tosogu are the habaki (collar) and seppa (spacer); these cannot be made of a hard material such as steel. The habaki and seppa are meant to absorb shocks from impact. Using a steel habaki would transmit the force directly onto the tsuka which can crack. This force will also damage the blades hamachi and munemachi and in worst case, snap the blade.
Seppa and habaki are mostly found in copper and brass. In some cases they were sleeved or coated with gold or silver sheets.
What type of wood is used for the saya?
Kaneie Sword Art uses only the wood which is traditionally used in Japan: Kiri wood or Honoki wood.
Tsuka, saya & Shirasaya require the wood to be absolutely acid and resin free, which is a very rare feature.
Both Kiri and Honoki are very fine grained, soft and highly warp-resistant.
The softness of the wood and the lack of resins and acids prevent scratches and oxidation of the polished surface.
Kiri and Honoki are very light and soft woods. A non-perfect drawing (nukitsuke, nukiuchi) and sheathing technique (noto) can severly damage the saya.
Other brands may use (harder) hardwoods for their saya which can handle more abuse. However know that this is not the traditional way.
What can you tell me more about the sword fittings?
All sword fittings used by Kaneie are proudly made in Japan from original antique sword furniture. Most are cast fittings in steel, brass or copper which are optionally been silver coated. After the casting the fittings will be cleaned up, patinated and cleaned again to show the proper detail and shadows.
The Japanese quality of metal work is far superior which results in crisp lines, beautiful patina and proper geometry.
Many other swords brands have their sword furniture mass produced in China. Often they contain nickel which can cause allergic reactions to occur. Also this very soft material will scratch or break rather quickly.
Should I choose a zinc aluminum or steel iaito?
This question is often asked when one finds out that all the blunt training swords in Japan are made from a zinc aluminum alloy. However to fully answer this question we need to first explain why this is the Japanese material of choice.
The Japanese sword laws are rather complicated and are both designed to preserve the art as well as to regulate the (antique) sword industry.
Rule number one is that it is ONLY allowed to create steel (magnetic) swords if you are officially registered as a Japanese sword smith. Additionally, sword smiths are only allowed to make two swords per month (or 24 per year) to prevent mass production.
These sword MUST qualify as nihonto, which means that they should be made of Tamahagane (traditional steel) or orishigane (gathered steel), should be folded and have the well-known nihonto features such as the hamon and the Japanese curvature. Steel swords that resemble Nihonto are strictly forbidden and only traditionally made Japanese swords are granted an owners permit.
Zinc aluminum iaito are an easy and cost efficient way to get around this law. The alloy isn't magnetic and can produce more or less a similar outcome. Also the material is very easy to work with due to its softness. Unfortunately it also as a lot of down sides such as a shorter life span (metal uniqueness), higher flexibility and lower pulling strength.
It's a safe assumption to say that steel swords are better, stronger and more like the traditional Japanese sword. Would the Japanese make iaito from steel should this be allowed? Of course yes!
In the rest of the world we are not restricted to use non-magnetic materials. This means that we can create swords that much more resemble the actual Japanese sword than Japanese iaito manufacturers.
Hardened steel swords can be made thinner and better balanced than zinc/alu swords and they will surely feel completely different from each other. Needless to say, an aluminum alloy will never be as strong and rigid as a steel alloy. Due to the lesser rigidity, a zinc aluminum sword has a stronger wobbling movement with your strike which heavily affects your tachikaze and ken-tai-ichi.
* A side note is that due to the current sword laws, it is NOT allowed to bring your non-Japanese steel shinken or iaito to Japan (for training). Swords will be checked at the customs for a magnetic reaction and seized & destroyed when you cannot show an import license and Japanese ownership papers.
How do i put on my kaku obi?
Simple :) Just follow the instructions in this video we made!
How do I become a samurai?
Well, in short... you don't :)
You can however study the traditional fighting arts of the samurai. A good start is to look in your neighborhood for an iaido or kenjutsu school.
Even nowadays there are still hundreds of active swordsmanship schools so despite you don't see or hear from them a lot, they are definitely there!
For a reference of what you are going to study, here is the first kata in the Zen Nippen Kendo Renmei Seitei kata range; mae. You can find all the seitei kata on our Youtube Channel but keep in mind that it's nearly impossible to capture all the right details by yourself. Joining a dojo will definitely help you in your training.
My tsuka is getting loose, can I fill up the space with a seppa-shaped piece of carton?
While a piece of carton may work for a short period of time, check from time to time whether the you can add a brass or copper seppa to fill up the space. Also check the mekugi whether it has dents and needs to be replaced.
A piece of carton will not be a direct hazard but you should pay attention what your sword has to say. Extra space in the tsuka means that the blade has room to snap against the wood with every strike (and add major stress to the mekugi). This eventually can cause the tsuka to crack.
Hold a sheet of paper against the wall and try to punch through the paper. You will not succeed.
However if you let a friend hold the paper in the air the paper is very fragile and will tear almost instantly.
The wall prevents the paper from abruptly changing it's shape, protecting it from tearing.
The Japanese sword is completely built up from natural and organic materials which are subject to wear. The difference between a strong and fragile sword can as small as a 0.5 mm gap in your handle.
Does my blade need one or two mekugi pins?
Authentic Japanese swords were equipped with only one pin. This should be enough if the handle has been made properly (with maximum friction around the nakago).
However, should a samurai have felt that his sword handle was getting loose, he would simply have his sword repaired by the village sayashi (saya-maker) and tsukamakishi (handle wrapper).
In current times, replacing a sword handle can be a very costly job and not every city has craftsmen in this area.
For this reason it can be a good idea to have two mekugi pins. Practitioners do not always have the experience to locate, recognize and repair the problems of a sword. A second pin may just save your own or someone else's life.
Should I train with iaito or shinken?
Without doubt one should never begin their swordsmanship training with a fully sharpened sword. Regardless of the talent or experience in other martial arts.
First of all there is the danger of injuring yourself due to the rather complicated techniques as nukitsuke (nuki-uchi~ drawing of the sword) and noto (re-sheathing of the sword in the saya). Note that your left hand is moved very close to the razorsharp blade and even a slight touch to your skin will instantly cut through it.
Secondary there is a more practical (but also possibly dangerous) thing as the damages to the saya. The groove where the cutting edge has to pass through is approximately 2 mm wide and maybe 1 - 1.5 mm high. Because of the curvature of the sword it is extremely difficult to NOT touch the sided or top of the inner saya. Doing this repeatedly will surely slowly carve out the wood of the inner saya eventually causing it to split.
Often it splits exactly where your left hand rests on the saya. Even the unsharpened geometry of iaito are sharp enough to slowly wear out the saya.
Which length sword do I need?
There are some charts available online that offer a static indication of sword length versus body length. While they sometimes may work for modern ZNKR Iaido schools such as Muso Shinden Ryu or Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, the are too generic and don't count numerous relevant factors.
In ancient Japanese martial arts the correct length of ones sword is determined by:
- the persons length
- the length of the arms & legs
- the ratio between lower and upper body
- the flexibilty of the wrist
- the width or the hand
- the Japanese sword school (ryu-ha) that is practised
The best way is to consult your sensei and get advise of which type of sword and sword length suits you best.
Which tsuka (handle) length do I need?
Traditionally speaking the handle of a daito (up to 3 shaku) is around 35% of the blade's total length. For instance: the handle of a 2.3 shaku sword (about 70 cm) can have a tsuka of around 24.5 cm. A sword with a nagasa of 2.6 shaku(around 79 cm) can have a handle of 27.65 cm.
However, this is only a guideline and does not count the fact that modern practitioners can have much larger hands than the classic samurai. In this case you can also follow the next rule:
The handle should not be longer than two fists and 2-3 fingers.
A shorted or longer tsuka will change the balance and leverage of the sword and with this; reducing the efficiency of the Japanese sword techniques. Also one should be able to stab with the sword (ha upwards) by pushing on the butt-end of the handle (kashira), without having to change the grip of the right hand.
Sword parts terminology
Click on the image to zoom
Traditionally, Japanese swords are measured in shaku, sun and bu.
The 'shaku-system' works - just like the metric system - with decimals. The main difference is that basic unit is of one is 3.03 instead.
This gives us the following conversion chart.
1 shaku: 30.3 cm
1 sun: 3.03 cm
1 bu: 0.303 cm (3.03 mm)
The nagasa is the most important specification of a sword(blade). This is considered the length, despite it's not the full length of the sword.
You can calculate the nagasa by measuring the distance from the mune-machi (back of the blade which sits inside the habaki) to the tip of the kissaki.
The amount in centimeters is divided by 30.3 to get the Japanese measurements. Here is a small conversion chart of the most common sword lengths:
69.69 cm: 2.3 shaku
71.2 cm: 2.35 shaku
72.72 cm: 2.4 shaku
74.24 cm: 2.45 shaku
75.75 cm: 2.5 shaku
77.27 cm: 2.55 shaku
78.78 cm: 2.6 shaku
Why choose TSW swords?
Our swords are made by one of the few modern sword production companies that almost exclusively depend on traditional working methods.
The forge has received education from classically trained Japanese craftsmen which resulted in the most traditionally crafted production swords. The swords of Kaneie contain the smallest details usually only found on Nihonto.
The level of our craftsmanship has astounded experienced sword collectors as well as advanced students in the Japanese swordsmanship arts.
Some important quality aspects*
- Traditional Keisho hadori or sashikomi polish
- Differential hardening with ashi (legs on hamon to prevent large chips)
- Hiraniku (apple seed shaped cutting edge)
- Sharp and crisp geometric yokote line
- Japanese tsuka-ito (cotton & silk) and tsuka-gawa (suede or leather)
- Japanese imported koshirae & tosogu (sword fittings)
- Habaki with machigane (to support the hamachi)
- Same level munemachi / hamachi
- Folded rice-paper hishigami
- Honoki / kiri wood tsuka and saya
* please see sword details / specification for the exact details of your sword.
Can I order a custom sword?
For martial arts use the balance of a sword is far more important than its appearance. You could have a beautiful sword which has a balance of a baseball bat... Still useless.
We have seen many people disappointed after waiting 12 weeks and they got their Japanese made iaito. Beautiful but completely not what they expected. The balance is way off, the handle is too big, too tip heavy and the color of tsuka-ito looks more purple than crimson red...
However you agreed with the purchase and customization (and probably paid as well) so returning the sword is not an option.
Keep this in mind before you consider purchasing a customized sword.
This also applies to customizing sword by the Kaneie forge. It will be beautiful but we cannot guarantee the weight and balance.
For this reason we offer customs in two different ways. Please contact us should you be interested in purchasing a custom sword.
1) The customization is done by us: The Samurai Workshop or by one of our affiliated craftsmen
- excellent mounting quality with full control over the process
- can change every aspect of the sword
- balance of the sword can be tested before starting custom work
- current waiting list
- higher price for customization work
2) The customization is done by the Kaneie forge and the sword will be sent completely customized to us.
- excellent Kaneie quality
- may take a very long time due to the production cycles the forge works with
- unknown balance of the sword
- cannot use your own fittings
- limited to certain colors tsuka-ito