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Best Katana Sword for the Money (A 2018 Update)

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katana sword

If you’re in the market for buying the best katana sword, you may have discovered that the search can be a minefield.

There is a large range of katanas available and the opinion on which is the best is nearly as wide as the options on offer.

Purists will argue for a top of the range Japanese steel forged “Nihonto” or “Shinken” sword (“Japan sword” or “real sword”). However, with many of them commanding price tags in the high 4 figure region, a lot of buyers are understandably priced out.

But you shouldn’t be disheartened, there are Katanas available that will not break the bank yet exhibit true craftsmanship and beauty.

In this article we have done our research and pulled together 5 prime examples of affordable swords that dominate in terms of premium build quality and aesthetic.

You can check out our findings in the table below, for full reviews of each and a dedicated buyer’s guide – keep on reading.


Best Japanese Katana Sword – Top 5 Picks

KATANANAMELENGTHOUR RATING
TOP PICK:
Custom-Made
Hand Forged
Samurai Sword
Japanese Katana
N/A: Fully
Customised
1095 High
Carbon Steel
Clay Tempered
Katana with
Hand Carved
Saya
Blade: 28.7″
Handle: 10.6″
Overall: 40.6″
1095 High Carbon
Steel Blade
Nagimaki Samurai
Naginata Katana
Blade: 27.9″
Handle: 15.7″
Overall: 47.2″
Hand Forged
1060 High Carbon
Steel Blade
Martial Arts
Iaito Katana
Blade: 28.7″
Handle: 10.6″
Overall: 40.6″
Hand Forged
Red Folded Steel
Tiger Katana
Samurai Sword
Blade: 28.7″
Handle: 10.6″
Overall: 40.6″

Cool Katanas – The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

There’s no deny that a genuine Katana is a very cool sword to own. As a wall ornament or a tool that you might actually use for practical purposes, the aesthetic is often nothing short of stunning.

The highest regarded katanas (and with a price tag to match) are the antique Japanese samurai swords made with Nihonto (日本刀, nihontō) blades, forged using century old techniques.

Nihonto is the seal of quality that designates that the sword was made in Japan by a Japanese swordsmith using traditional forging methods.

These methods actually ancient in origin and stem from a time that the samurai were a genuine power class in Japanese society.

The Katana blade was forged with the skill and dedication that befitted the fact the sword would end up being a lifelong companion to the samurai that owned it.

And while such antique items change hands for huge amounts of money, there are still superior Katanas being produced today that utilise these ancient forging methods.

As our top 5 best katana sword list demonstrates – these are the ones to buy.


The Different Types of Katana Blade

Beyond the subject of forging method, one of the most important factors you should consider when buying a Katana is what type of steel the blade is made from.

Let’s take a closer look at some of them now…

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel blades are widely used in the manufacture of modern Katana swords.

Stainless steel is more brittle than carbon or folded steel (see below for more on those), however stainless is aesthetically pleasing and from that standpoint the finish can be more appealing.

Because of this, stainless steel katanas are a popular choice for showpiece swords rather than for practical application.

This often impacts the overall design of the sword. The geometry of the blade differs in that it is not meant to be wielded; swinging a stainless steel sword that has been designed as a wall hanger can actually be dangerous because of the unbalanced nature and the inferior tang that they generally have.

In other words, if you wish to own a Katana meant for practical use be sure to consider the build quality of a stainless steel option – it may not be up to the mark.

They do however benefit from the high chromium composition contained within the steel. This visually enhances the sword’s appearance. If you just want to look at it, a beautifully crafted stainless will certainly fit the bill.

High Carbon Steel

These days carbons steel Katanas are some of the best you can buy. They balance cost point and build quality in a way that benefits the consumer. High carbon steel Katanas are widely available as a result.

High carbon steel blades do not contain the chromium component found in stainless. The omission of this makes high carbon blades stronger. The extra strength, and the fact these blades can hold a sharper edge for longer goes some way to offset the downside; carbon steel blades are more susceptible to corrosion.

When buying the best Japanese Katana made from carbon steel you will no doubt come across the various metal grades available.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common ones now.

1045 Carbon Steel

1045 is very often used for affordable, entry level quality Katanas. The steel is undeniably softer than some of the other grades listed here however the pliability does make for fantastic wall hangers. When used practically however, the steel edge does not stay sharp for long.

1060 Carbon Steel

1060 carbon steel contains 0.60% carbon content. 1060 katana blades are hard and durable enough to withstand a wide range of uses, making them a popular choice for the Dojo.

1095 Carbon Steel

1095 is a harder more brittle carbon steel that those listed above. It is easy to sharpen and holds an edge better than steel with lower carbon content.

The disadvantage comes when you hit a harder steel object. Your blade is the one that is most likely to break or chip.

Folded Steel (Tamahagane)

Folded steel is a popular choice for those that want a superior forged blade that is built to last. The Tamahagane method was used to forge Katanas during the heyday of the Japanese Samurai sword.

The high carbon composition contained within the steel is strengthened through this ancient forging process, (the term “Tamahagane” actually means precious steel).

Tamahagane katanas are more expensive than standard carbon steel swords and are popular with collectors.

Related Content: In search of the best Ninjato sword


The Different types of Katanas Available (Blade & Handle Sizes)

So we have had a general look at the most common types of blade material you can opt for, now it’s time to look at what size Katana you should buy.

As with anything sword related, your own requirements, including your physical size and what you wish to use the Katana for come into play here.

The long Katana

The length of your Katana is a very important consideration if you aim to use it in the Dojo.

The Tsuka (or handle) length is particularly vital. Opt for the wrong size and you could end up with a tool that is unwieldy and unbalanced for your physical makeup.

If you have a long Katana in relation to your size you may misjudge distances in martial arts training and harm yourself or others.

When in doubt you should talk to your sensei, (assuming you are buying a sword for training purposes). They will be able to advise on the correct length Katana, long or short, before you buy.

If on the other hand you are simply purchasing a Katana as a beautiful wall hanger, you just need to measure up the space and buy something that suits your aesthetic requirements.

The short Katana

If you are not is a position to seek advice on the length of Katana you should buy, to err on the side of caution and opt for a short Katana is recommended.

A shorter blade will be lighter, quicker to draw and slightly easier to handle. There is also less likelihood of you misjudging distances and hurting someone during training.

If however, you are more interested in purchasing a sword with a short blade, you might instead consider buying a Wakizashi (short sword).


How much do katanas cost

We briefly touched on the subject of price in the introduction to this article.

Katana prices vary widely depending on the age and origin of the sword and the manufacturing process used to forge the steel.

A prestigious, antique folded steel blade katana can cost you upward of $20,000. However, you can still pick up new build variations of the ancient theme for between $200 and $2000 depending on the type of steel used.


Where to find authentic Japanese Katanas (‘real Japanese Katanas’)

Again this question depends on whether you’re wishing to buy an antique collectable or a modern forged Katana.

All of the swords reviewed in our top 5 best katana round up can be classed as modern, authentic Japanese Katanas in that they are forged using age-old techniques.

Beyond that you can check out websites such as Swords of Northshire to find a wide variety of real Japanese Katanas.

You could also travel to Japan and seek out an antique Katana while you are there (although special procedures have to be carried out in order to import whatever you end up buying).

You should also make sure the seller has the correct documentation to authenticate that the item is genuine.


Top 5 best Japanese Katana Sword Reviews

As a little disclaimer before we begin. This top 5 roundup is designed for those that are in the market for spending between $200 and $2000 for their Katana.

In other words, the ‘everyman’ enthusiast.

We will be revisiting this topic at some point to look at some of the most elite Japanese Katanas that money can buy.

For now though, enjoy these picks knowing that each one is within the realms of possibility for you to own.


1. TOP PICK: Custom-Made to Order: Hand Forged Samurai Sword Japanese Katana

What we loved about this Katana option from Swords of Northshire is the fact it is so highly customised.

Click this link and you will be taken to a page where you will be able to choose everything from the crafting method, the steel used, the size and overall finish for your very own quality hand crafted Katana.

The sword is then custom made to order, utilising the skills of craftsman in the famed swordsmith town of Longquan. (It is said that the art of blade making has continued for 2,600 years in this location, with swordsmiths living beside the waters of the Ou River for countless generations).

The exact crafting methods that go into creating your sword will be entirely dependent on the options you choose.

Here’s a short list to demonstrate just how much control you have on the finished result.
  • Blade Length: Measure up to meet your needs and select a katana length accordingly.
  • Blade Material: A wide range of materials are available. Choose between more cost effective 1060 high carbon steel, right up to the most expensive, highly crafted and labor-intensive tamahagane folded steel blade.
  • Hamon Type: Notare (wavy), Midare (irregular), Sugu (straight), or Natural Clay Temper Hamon.
  • Ito Color: Silk or leather handle wrapping in a large variety of hues.
  • Tsuba: Over a hundred unique blade guard designs are available
  • Signature Engraving: Have a symbol, the swordsmith’s name, or your name engraved on the blade in English, Chinese, or Japanese Kanji.

The list actually continues. Nearly every aspect of your sword’s look and construction is open for discussion. Blade color, geometry and balance, want a different type of wrap, not a problem.

And although this level of customisation may seem daunting, once you have seen what’s available you can cherry pick all your favourite parts of a number of swords and hone them all down to your very own unique work of art.

The end result is something truly personal that has been custom made by masters of the craft using traditional hand forging methods.

Amazingly all of this can be achieved for as little as $189.99 with completely free shipping (the lowest grade options being chosen of course).


Some recent examples from Swords of Northshire

Pros of the Custom-Made Hand Forged Samurai Sword Japanese Katana

  • Far too many to list;
  • Affordable
  • Highly customised
  • Reliable dealership producing hand crafted swords to suit everyone from a first time buyer to a seasoned collector.
  • This package is designed to give you everything you need in a Japanese katana no matter your budget.

The Cons

  • Some may find the sheer amount of choice a little daunting.

Bottom line

If you’re after the best katana for you (and after all, the word ‘best’ is highly subjective) then this custom sword package from swords of northshire is the one to go for. You will be able to create a highly customised sword specific to your demands. Get it right and the you will treasure the result forever.


2. 1095 High Carbon Steel Clay Tempered Katana with Hand Carved Saya

For those that might find the whole custom sword purchase too daunting, (with all those design variables it is completely understandable), a fully completed katana that has pieced together by experts may well be the way forward.

Here we have a fantastic 1095 high carbon steel katana with some really beautiful motifs to strike attention.

The clay tempered process with polished mirror-like surface provides a finish that is nothing short of stunning. If you want that immaculate glean from your trophy wall hanger, this is the kind of katana you should be aiming for.

However, the fact it has been forged from 1095 steel means the blade is strong too. You will be able to use it in combat training scenarios without undue concern of damage.

The strength of the blade is further increased by the in depth forging process. The steel is repeatedly heat treated and hand forged to remove impurities.

In fact the clay temper process is what gives the sword a genuine temper line (otherwise known as the hamon).

When you add all of this to the fact the blade incorporates a full tang construction and is hand sharpened before leaving the workshop, well you have a quite the formidable tool.

Strength and sharpness not to be outdone by aesthetics, the sword also comes with a silk sageo/ito, genuine same’ (rayskin) and features premium engraved copper fittings.

Attention to detail also stretches to the hard wood Saya. This has been painted with multiple layers and is hand carved with inlaid shells. Buffalo horn is also used at the ends.

  • Blade: 28.7″
  • Handle: 10.6″
  • Overall: 40.6″
  • Shipping Weight: 4.41 Lbs

Pros of the 1095 High Carbon Steel Clay Tempered Katana with Hand Carved Saya

  • Hand Sharpened, Full Tang 1095 High Carbon Steel – strong enough for battle
  • Clay Tempered (features a Maru Blade Structure with Hira Zukuri Cutting Edge)
  • Traditional 14 Stage Hand Polished Finish – results in an ultra shiny finish
  • Beautiful Saya – Hand Carved & Painted Hard Wood
  • Silk and Genuine Rayskin Wrapped Tsuka
  • Premium 100% Copper Fittings
  • Free Sword Bag and Spare Mekugi

The Cons

  • Craft time is up to 3 weeks after sale

Bottom Line

Overall this katana sword combines beauty and functionality in w way that is difficult to beat. If going down the custom route raises too many questions, and you want a katana with strength and versatility you may have found the answer here. Highly recommended.


3. 1095 High Carbon Steel Blade Nagimaki Samurai Naginata Katana Nagamaki Sword

Here we have another made to order Katana that opts for the durable (yet affordable) 1095 high carbon steel blade.

Similar to the sword reviewed above, this beautiful Nagamaki has a blade that has been clay tempered and hand polished (14 times no less) to create a mirror-like surface finish.

What’s great about this Nagamaki is the unique blade geometry. With a structure that is a mix between a Katana and Naginata, the designers have thrown a curve ball into the mix by incorporating a Unokubi-Zukuri blade shape.

The blade is full tang of course, (the tang is firmly secured utilising two bamboo mekugi; it also features a mei). The blade has been hand sharpened by skilled craftsman before leaving the workshop.

The main embellishments come in the form of a black lacquered hardwood saya with rayskin wrap. There is also a buffalo horn koiguchi. Not to be outdone, the sword also comes complete with a silk sageo/ito, genuine same’ (rayskin) and premium iron fittings.

Sturdy enough to be used in battle, the sword can be used for tameshigiri, bamboo, bones iron wire and whole lot more besides.

  • Blade: 27.9″
  • Handle: 15.7″
  • Overall: 47.2″
  • Shipping Weight: 4.41 Lbs

Pros of the 1095 High Carbon Steel Blade Unokubi-Zukuri Samurai Naginata Katana Nagamaki Sword

  • Hand Forged, hand sharpened, full tang 1095 High Carbon Steel Blade
  • Unique design with the Unokubi Zukuri Style Naginata / Katana Hybrid
  • Features a beautiful hardwood Saya with Rayskin Wrap and Buffalo Horn additions
  • Silk Rayskin Wrapped Tsuka
  • Stunning finish with the traditional 14 stage hand polishing
  • Ships complete with a sword bag and spare mekugi

The Cons

  • Swords of this quality are made to order, meaning there is a 2 to 3 week waiting time.

Bottom Line

Another beautiful katana that balances functionality with aesthetic grandeur to a level that cannot be ignored. The unique hybrid design also makes this worthy of your attention.


4. Hand Forged 1060 High Carbon Steel Blade Martial Arts Iaito Katana

This Martial Arts Katana makes our top 5 list because it offers quality a the lowest end you could expect to pay for a hand forged katana.

The full tang, 1060 carbon steel blade is specifically designed to provide the balance and handling you need for efficient swordsmanship within the dojo.

Some real thought has gone into the manufacture of the blade, a factor that really does help raise the Laito Katana above its peers at this price point.

Designed from the ground up to in order to meet the demands of regular Iaido & Kenjutsu use, this is a katana you can put to work everyday for training and know it will be up to the task.

Because the sword has been designed for training purposes, the blade is unsharpened by default. However, the manufacturers do provide a free sharpening service upon request for those customers that prefer their swords to arrive with a bit of an edge.

Just because this sword is designed for regular use doesn’t mean they have skimped on the aesthetic mind you.

The Katana comes equipped with a black matte hardwood saya. Like others in our top 5 a silk sageo/ito is also provided, along with alloy fittings and a genuine same’ (rayskin) along with a silk wrapped tsuka.

A disclaimer that you won’t mind hearing is the fact specifications on the sword may vary, due to each one being individually handmade.

  • Blade: 28.7″
  • Handle: 10.6″
  • Overall: 40.6″
  • Shipping Weight: 4.41 Lbs

Pros of the Hand Forged 1060 High Carbon Steel Blade Martial Arts Iaito Katana

  • Hand Forged 1060 High Carbon Steel Blade – durable enough for regular combat training
  • Genuine black matte Schoepfia Wood Saya
  • Comes complete with a beautiful Rayskin and Silk Wrapped Tsuka
  • Tang secured with two Bamboo Mekugi
  • Free Sword Bag and Spare Mekugi for safe storage and transportation

The Cons

  • Does not come with signature engraving but these can be added upon request.
  • Solid alloy fittings to cut down on cost

Bottom Line

A unique handmade sword at this price point, you’d be made not to consider it. Built with combat training in mind, this really is the everyday katana many people cry out for. A cheap enough sword not to stress about if it gets a dink, yet beautiful enough to impress.

Highly recommended for those dipping their feet into the exciting world of sword ownership for the first time.


5. Hand Forged Red Folded Steel Tiger Katana Samurai Sword

This is a well-made Tiger Katana samurai sword is the final addition to our top 5 best katana review round up, but don’t let that fool you. Apart from our number one choice, the reviews are not in any specific order.

This colorful folded steel sword follows the traditional Japanese process, the end result being a formidable strength blade that actually beats all others in our top 5, (unless you opt for folded steel on the custom sword build).

After being folded 14 times during the forging process, it is understatement to say that the blade on this bad boy is sharp. The process amounts to over 16,000 layers in the actual construction.

The full tang will not budge anytime soon. With the blade running through the length of the handle (the tang is secured using two bamboo mekugi), you can be sure that the sword is up to the demands of a competitive dojo.

The distinct black and red color is achieved after sharpening. The manufacturers etch the color in via an oxidation process. The finish is nothing short of stunning.

Like the other swords in our list, added stylistic touches come in the form of the natural hard wood saya complete with buffalo horn koiguchi. There are also tiger themed copper fittings to fit the overall design. A genuine same (rayskin) is also provided.

  • Blade: 28.7″
  • Handle: 10.6″
  • Overall: 40.6″
  • Shipping Weight: 4.41 Lbs

Pros of the Hand Forged Red Folded Steel Tiger Katana Samurai Sword

  • Hand Forged Red Folded Steel Blade (Folded 14 Times)
  • Natural Hard Wood Saya with Buffalo Horn (Premium 100% Copper Fittings)
  • Comes complete with a Silk and Genuine Rayskin Wrapped Tsuka
  • A free sword bag and spare Mekugi are also provided

The Cons

  • Like other premium katana swords listed, the wait time for build is 2 to 3 weeks
  • More expensive that other swords reviewed in our top 5

Bottom Line

The red and black tiger finish really does raise this sword above the competition from an aesthetic perspective. As does the folded steel blade construction. It takes beauty and the beast to another level. If you have the funds available, this katana could be the one for you.


Image credits: Swords of Northshire