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How to Sharpen a Katana

Are you thinking about taking up the ancient art of swordsmanship? Just imagine back in the day, these weapons were considered the main battle artillery. Knights, warriors, and samurais practiced, lived and died with these weapons on a daily basis. That being said, you might be surprised to learn that a sword doesn’t really even have to be sharp to be considered functional or battle ready. However, if you are going to appreciate the real art and want to train like an ancient Japanese warrior, what’s the point of doing so with a dull sword? Of course, sharpening a sword or katana isn’t as simple as it might seem.

Understanding Some Of The Very Basics

Just like any tasks sword sharpening involves some basic knowledge. And, it is imperative to understand these basics before you just try to jump right into the whole ordeal. First off, any beginner or novice should never attempt to sharpen an antique sword. Most antique katana swords are extremely valuable. Without the right knowledge and know-how, you will most likely ruin the value of the sword, which is something that you want to avoid altogether. This task is best left to the experts.

When it comes to sharpening any sword, you have to be very wary of using power tools. Regardless, of what you see or read on the Internet. In order to be able to utilize power tools to sharpen a sword, you really have to know what you are doing. Not only is this process extremely dangerous, but also the friction alone can really heat up the blade. Applying too much friction too quickly would most certainly destroy the temper and heat treatment of any old Japanese sword.
When sharpening any sword, you must be extremely careful and patient at all times. You would truly be surprised at the number of accidents every year that is related to sword sharpening and maintenance. Whether you are sharpening the blade, cleaning it, or just shining it up, it is without a doubt imperative to pay 100 percent attention to what you are doing at all times. Eliminating distractions can help as well.

Before any beginner or novice attempts to sharpen a valuable sword he or she should at least get some practice on a less valuable sword. It is completely natural to destroy the geometry on your first several attempts. So, if you are going to screw something up it would be best to screw up a much less valuable item. Japanese swords are truly masterful and made with precision, so you want to do everything within your power to avoid destroying them.

The Items Necessary For Sharpening

Sword Sharpening Kit

Just like any DIY project, you are going to need some items before you begin your task. In order to start sharpening your sword, you are going to need the following items:

  1. First, you will need a sword of your choice
  2. You will need a metal file
  3. A whetstone and oil for the whetstone will be absolutely necessary
  4. 3M 400 Grit Emery paper will be necessary
  5. A file
  6. Paper or a good clean rag to wipe and clean the clean
  7. Lastly, you are going to need a block of wood

Also, as mentioned-above some patience and elbow grease can also go a long way.

Beginning The Process

You are pretty much now ready to begin the sharpening process. However, before beginning one excellent tip is to remember is to allow the edge of the sword to reveal itself throughout the entirety of this process. Most beginners will focus too much attention on the edge rather than focusing on removing the metal. You really want to remove the metal until the edge of the blade is naturally exposed. And, it is entirely possible to over sharpen, so this is something that you have to be careful of as well.

To begin the process, you want to find a good comfortable working environment with a great working table. Lots of light can help as well. Place the sword on the table and prop the blade up with your block of wood. Take your file, use measured strokes at 30-degree angles and begin sharpening the blade with your file. Each time you go a full stoke on the blade, you want to keep count of that stroke. Slowly move your way down the blade until you have gone the entire length, flip the sword over, and do the same exact thing, the same number of times.

You have to pay close attention to not spending too much time on just one side of the blade. Keep filling, while turning the blade over until a rough edge starts to appear. The blade is going to look rather rough during this stage and that might seem discouraging, but this is the normal process during this step. You will really begin to refine the blade in the next couple of steps.

Refining The Blade

Once you have completed all the above steps, you will be ready to move on to the refining process. This is where you utilize the whetstone and oil. Start by applying a thin film of oil to the surface of the blade. This will be used for polishing, not grinding. Once the oil has been applied, go ahead and pass the blade over the whetstone. Once again, make sure that you are utilizing a thirty-degree angle with a slow uniform stroking motion. It is important to utilize a back and forth motion instead of a circular one, as the objective here it to polish the blade.

Also, pay special attention to each side of the blade, as you want to make sure each side receives the same number of polishes. Often inspect the blade and still do not be concerned with looks or the feel at this point. Keep working the blade until you have gone over every inch of the surface.

During this step of the process, the good lighting can come in handy. Excellent lighting will help you see the areas that you might have missed. You are not trying to sharpen the edge; you are just trying to remove the metal until the edge of the blade is exposed.

Finishing Up The Process

You are almost entirely finished with the process of sharpening your sword, but there is still quite a bit of work ahead. During the final stage here you will try to blend the sharpened blade with the rest of the sword. And, this is where the 400-grit sandpaper can come in handy. The 3M brands will be your best bet, as it is not worth it to deal with the cheap stuff. Go ahead and tear off a small postage sized stamp piece of the sandpaper.

You will want to dampen the sandpaper with just a small amount of water and run the paper along the edge of the blade. You will want to do this by utilizing your finger and applying thirty-degree angles again. Be extremely careful during this step, because it can be extremely easy to cut yourself.

This steps it without a doubt one of the most dangerous for your fingers. Just one little mishap at this point and you could be dealing with a very serious, very nasty gash. Make sure that you don’t have any distractions bothering you doing this stage. Turn off the TV, put the dogs in their kennels, and do pretty much whatever you have to do in order to eliminate any distractions during this stage.

Some experts will even consider rubbing water and vinegar on the blade to make the sharpening look less obvious, but at this point, you are pretty much done with the entire sharpening process.

Speeding Up The Process

As you can see, sharpening a sword or katana is without a doubt tedious and dangerous. If this seems like too much trouble to you or you just don’t have the confidence to accomplish the task, you do have a variety of other options available to you. First off, you could just hire someone to do the work for you. Of course, this will probably be your most expensive alternative. Don’t start sweating yet, as there is another option available. You can invest in a knife-sharpening tool. While you will probably read a lot of reviews and experts saying that these tools don’t work for katana swords, this is not actually the case.

In fact, there are several of these tools available on the market that will do a fine job on your sword. In addition to this, they are extremely affordable. Just make sure that you take the time to put in the proper research and see what other sword practitioners are saying about these sharpeners before fully investing.

While these tools are effective and cheap, they do come with one major drawback. And, that drawback is that you won’t achieve the detailed look or professional, satisfying edges that you would when you complete the process yourself or hire an expert.

Understanding The Varying Girts

Another important thing that you need to know about sharpening swords is that the grit can vary from country to country. For instance, in the United States, Europe, and Japanese countries grit is used to specify the layering of mesh that separates the abrasive particles. While some people like to utilize different grits, the problems really come in when you get to the finer grits. In The United States when you get to the real fine grits the manufacturers actually start listing their product in size of microns, which throws off the grit rating when compared to other countries.

For instance, United States grit rating of 12,000 would be equal to a 25,000 in Japanese grit. US grit rating of 5,000 would be equal to a Japanese grit rating of 10,000.

Japanese Water Stones For Sharpening

Before choosing a water stone to sharpen your katana, you should know that there are primarily two types of Japanese water stones available for your choosing. These two types are the natural and the artificial stones. Natural stones are without a doubt more expensive, but it really is the artificial stones are used for sharpening polish. Most of the time, experts that are looking to achieve a full cosmetic polish will utilize artificial stones. However, this doesn’t mean that natural stones don’t come in handy in a variety of situations.

Properly Soaking The Stones

Most individuals located in the states don’t realize that Japanese Water Stones must be soaked in water before they can be properly utilized. These stones can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes to properly soak and become saturated. Of course, the time can vary depending on the stone. Some stones can even be stored in water, whereas others have to be stored in dry locations. Most experts will just recommend soaking the stones for twenty minutes and storing them in a dry location. This not only really makes things easier, but it really simplifies the process.

Along with this, it doesn’t hurt to add a quarter cup of sodium bicarbonate to the water, as the baking soda will change the pH levels. This prevents the sword from rusting when applying the water stone. Keep in mind that some stones will deteriorate when they are soaked in water and can only be sprinkled with water before applying. Whatever the situation is, it is imperative to always know the type of stone that you are dealing with and thoroughly reading the manufacturer’s instructions.

Sharpening Your Japanese Stones

Just like ancient Japanese swords the Japanese water stones can wear down as well. This is just a normal part of the process and something that you have to deal with. Some stones will wear much faster than other, but you always want to make sure that you are utilizing a good, sharp stone, otherwise, you might not get the appearance and sharpness that you are looking to achieve. Stones that are dull will usually become hollowed out in the middle, so this is something that you want to keep an eye out for.

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