The sword was the samurai’s most important weapon. The samurai would never be without it, but it was bad manners to take it out so others could see it. The samurai would never show a common person the sword. If a high-ranking official asked to see the sword, the samurai would pull the sword out of its scabbard only a few inches.
The samurai sword, called a katana, was a marvel of engineering. A master craftsman could take more than a month to make a samurai katana. The craftsman would start by melting metal, even pots and pans. The heat of a specially made fireplace created molten metal, burning away the impurities. Then the craftsman would pour the metal into the shape of a sword. While the metal was still warm, he would pound the sword with a hammer, flattening it out. He folded the metal over onto itself, and then cooled it in water. Then, he heated the sword up again, pounded it flat again, then folded it over. This hammering and folding, heating, and cooling cycle was repeated dozens of times. It is what gave the samurai katana its legendary hardness and razor-sharp edge.
When the craftsman was satisfied with the samurai sword, he began the polishing process. He first polished the samurai katana with a pumice-like material, which smoothed the sword out. Then he polished it with a different material, which would remove the scratches left by the pumice. Twelve different materials were used to polish the sword, each one finer than the last. Each removed the scratched left by the previous material. The twelfth material had the consistency of flour, which left the sword bright and shiny.
Finally, the craftsman would sign his name on the samurai katana, underneath the handle. He then added the wooden handle and a decorative hand guard.
Ritual surrounded the making of samurai sword. It is said that there were certain foods the craftsman would not eat during the sword-making process and even certain activities the craftsman would not do while making the sword as part of the ritual. The making of the sword was a religious experience for the craftsman. The sword had a religious significance for the samurai, too. The samurai called the sword “his soul,” and it never left his side.
Typically, the samurai would carry two swords. The samurai katana was usually a little more than three feet (0.9 m) long. The second sword they carried was called a wakizashi and was about 2 feet (0.6 m) long. They would use the wakizashi if the katana broke, for closer combat, or for the grim ritual of seppuku (suicide to protect honor). Together, the two swords represented the high social status of the samurai.
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Source by Jules Brice