Keeping Up With the Katanas: A Guide to Samurai Sword Maintenance

Your prize katana deserves to be well cared for, and that involves much more than stroking its lovely handle and singing it lullabies. Here’s our rendition of a one-stop-shop for everything you needed to know about loving your samurai sword and helping it remain a wind-slicing weapon of terror.

HANDLING

A warning from Captain Obvious: Your katana’s blade is very sharp. We’ve never tried to use one to slice through a brick wall, but for safety purposes, go ahead and assume it’s that sharp. When you’re handling the samurai katana, always make sure that the blade edge is in a position where it can’t injure you or others.

·         Cleaning: When you’re cleaning or oiling your katana, do NOT face the blade’s edge towards you. Avoiding touching the edges at all – sliced-up jeans might be rock n’ roll chic, but sliced-up fingers certainly are not.

·         Drawing: Never draw the katana with the edge facing towards you… especially if you get katana withdrawal and may be overly excited about being reunited with your katana once again.

·         Sheathing: Same as above. Keep the blade facing out as you sheath your sword.

·         No Kids Allowed: It’s not cute. It’s not an Instagram moment. Please don’t let children handle your katana.

SHEATHING

Your sword’s scabbard is purposefully designed to bear hug the katana and keep it snug inside. The last thing you want is a lethally sharp sword accidentally becoming unsheathed.

Unsheathing your blade

DO NOT assume you can simply tug the handle and the scabbard apart. Remember that the act of unsheathing a sword quickly was considered an art in ancient Japan, i.e. it’s dangerous and not recommended for the amateur sword owner. Doing this can also wear out your scabbard.

How to Unsheath:

  • Hold the wrapped section of the scabbard with your left hand, edge side up, and hold the handle with your right hand.
  • With your left thumb, push the guard away from the scabbard. Remember that the fit is tight, so you’ll feel some resistance. Once the friction has been eased, gently slide the blade all the way out. Make sure the back of the blade, not the edge, is sliding against the scabbard. This prevents the blade from becoming dull or the scabbard from getting worn down, damaged, or melancholy from feelings of being misunderstood.

Re-sheathing your blade

  • Hold the katana’s handle in your right hand, edge up (same position as pictured above). Hold the scabbard by the wrapped section with your left hand. Make sure the scabbard is curving in the same direction as the blade.
  • Insert the tip of the blade into the throat of the scabbard and gently slide the blade into the scabbard. Remember that the back of the blade, not the edge, should be pressing against the scabbard.
  • You’ll feel resistance when the guard is within about an inch of the scabbard. Push slightly harder to get the blade all the way into the katana.

Storing your katana

  • Always store your sword horizontally because it’s difficult to take a nap sitting up. A katana needs its beauty sleep. But seriously. Storing it in this direction, with the edge facing up, will prevent wear on the blade and on the scabbard.
  • If over time, the katana no longer fits snugly into the scabbard, you’ll need to have the fit restored to prevent accidental unsheathing.

MAINTENANCE

A katana maintenance kit may include the following:

  • A bottle of oil (such as choji oil, a traditional Japanese clove oil used for swords) to prevent rusting
  • A powder ball to apply polishing powder to the blade
  • A cleaning cloth or rice paper for spreading the oil, polishing, and cleaning the oil from the blade
  • Brass hammer for removing the pins in the sword’s grip. Some include a hammer/awl combination tool.

Warning: Disassembling the katana will increase wear on the pins, resulting in a loose grip. Some sources discourage cleaning your sword this way. Do not remove the katana handle without professional training.

  • 2 pegs
  • A plastic container to store an oiled cloth
  • A wooden box for storage

Maintaining the scabbard

A scabbard will often be covered with multiple coats of lacquer. You’ll just need to wipe it down occasionally with a very soft cloth, so it won’t lose its sheen. Remember to handle the scabbard only by the wrapped section. Handling the lacquered part is likely to result in scratches that will dull the polish.

Maintaining the katana

Blade maintenance is essential to preserve your katana’s finish. It’s recommended that you perform this routine every three months and any time the blade is touched, since skin oil causes fine steels to corrode quickly.

The Routine:

1)      Use a sheet of rice paper to remove the oil from your last cleaning. Be sure to face the edge away from you and work cautiously! (A soft cotton cloth can also be used instead.)

2)      Tap the powder ball softly against the blade about every two inches down its span until the whole blade is lightly dusted with powder. (Before your first use, you may need to tap the powder ball against the blade several times to get the powder flowing through the fabric of the ball.)

3)      Take a clean piece of rice paper or a cotton cloth and carefully rub the powder over the blade to polish it. Continue until both sides are powder-free. Be careful not to inhale the powder!

4)      Drip a few drops of oil along each side of the sword. Use a piece of rice paper or a cloth to spread the oil evenly over the blade. Remember not to touch the blade again before you re-sheath it.

 

Congratulations – your katana is as polished and shiny as the men at Muscle Beach!

If you’re not currently the proud owner of a samurai sword or if you’re in the market for a new one, stop by our website: www.historicalclothingrealm.com.

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