What Makes a Sword Battle Ready?
I speak to many people in my sword shop and I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly a functional sword is. I often get asked whether the sword is battle ready, and many people think they know exactly what this means.
My idea is to try to describe exactly what a real functional sword must be. I usually use the term functional sword myself, because in my opinion it covers the requirements better. I will mainly call the terms in this article battle ready, because a lot of people use this term. What exactly is such a "real battle ready sword" is what this article is about.
Ever since I started selling Japanese Katanas or Japanese Swords, and that has been for over 20 years, and as indicated, many customers ask if a sword is battle ready. The annoying thing is that many of my competitors use this term inappropriately and actually do not know exactly what this is all about. This can also be dangerous because a sword may be used in which the person handling the sword will be injured, or perhaps people standing nearby and hit by parts of this badly mounted sword.
If you take it literally you can say that a Battle Ready sword is actually a sword that you can use on the battlefield, but fortunately in the Western world these are no longer there. So what you really mean is that you want a sword that you "could" use on the battlefield as opposed to a decorative sword. Decorative swords are meant as a showpiece or on the wall but not for use or handling in a martial art.
Actually it is quite simple but most of the sellers have never disassembled or used a sword for tameshigiri themselves.
These are the minimum requirements for a battle ready (functional) sword
- functional steel grade
- correct heat treatment
- strong construction
- full tang blade
A functional steel grade must be strong enough for a good edge, but also tough so that it does not break quickly. A truly functional sword is always made from high carbon steel. The percentage of carbon is often expressed in the type of steel, the higher the carbon content, the harder the steel. But do not blindly stare at this, because the steel type must also have had good heat treatment. What is not suitable for a battle-ready sword is stainless steel and aluminum, because it is too soft.
The goal of a successful heat treatment is to give the steel type the right properties so that it can be used functionally. This is a balance between hardness and toughness. The heat treatment often consists of heating the steel in a forge and allowing it to cool quickly in water or oil. You call this process tempering and you experience that the steel becomes both hard and tough, instead of just hardening. Too hard steel also makes it brittle and therefore easily vulnerable. Heating the steel ensures that atoms at the higher temperature move faster and need more space. Approximately above 700 degrees, the carbon and iron atoms begin to mix the crystals, and by rapidly cooling the steel, the carbon atoms are trapped in the resulting martensite crystals. If the blade of the sword undergoes this process without problems and cracks, you can speak of hardened steel that is suitable for a battle-ready sword. The sword blade now has the correct balance of steel properties.
Japanese swords are often differentially hardened, with the applied clay layer leading to a difference in hardness between the edge and the back. Clay is applied to the back of the knife so that this part of the knife does not cool down as quickly. This gives the edge a greater hardness, which is therefore very suitable for making it very hard. The back also has tough properties, making the sword less likely to break. A result of this process is often that the blade gets a nice hamon or hardening line, which has a great influence on the beauty of the sword through polishing.
Hardness is usually expressed in HRC (Hardness Rockwell Cone). This is a measure of the hardness of metals determined by the Rockwell hardness test. The hardness is interpreted in a test as "resistance to local penetration" by the net depth at which a penetrator has penetrated the material. A high HRC gives an indication for harder steel, European swords usually have an HRC of 45-50. A Japanese differential hardening sword with an HRC 58-60 cut and HRC 38-40 spine.
A total sword needs a handle to properly handle a sharp and strong blade. A logical consequence is that the mounting quality between the handle and blade is in good state. This often includes the entire mounting, wrapping and securing of the blade. The guard plate is an important aspect of the sword, it provides protection for the hands and mounting it is therefore very important. This also includes the sheath or saya, which ensures that the sword is safely stored and also protects the sword against external influences.
Full Tang Sword
The part of the sword blade in the handle is called the tang. With knives there are often more options for a functional tang, but with knives there are often less forces involved when handling. With swords it makes sense that a sword is "battle ready" only when it will not fall out of the handle and the sword will not break. There are different kinds of tangs, the best known of which is probably the ¾ of 4/5 tangs of Japanese Swords. This means that the construction of the blade in the handle is strong enough to handle it safely and with force. This will not be the case with a decorative sword. The part of the sword in the handle may have been welded, glued or screwed on and is not sufficient to withstand the forces released by functional use. So this is very dangerous! A battle ready sword will therefore have a tang that are suitable for functional use of the sword. The ¾ tang of Japanese swords and the full full tang with kukris and machetes are a good example of this.
Battle Ready Swords
Having a High Carbon Steel blade alone does not actually say anything about battle ready, or just the term full tang. A Battle Ready sword must therefore meet a combination of factors for the safe use of a functional sword. Also, the term battle ready says nothing in my opinion about the sharpness of a sword, you can find it in blunt or sharp versions. You also cannot immediately think that if a sword is "battle ready" you no longer have to think about safety at all. If you start to abuse a sword, very dangerous situations can also arise. You should therefore always take good precautions and use your common sense.
A battle ready sword might be an indication of the minimal aspects a sword has to meet. It is better to speak of a functional sword, or a sword that meets the conditions so that it is suitable to use it for the purpose for which it was made.