It would be a shame to own a beautiful object like a katana and not properly maintain it or apply inappropriate care. Proper maintenance ensures your Japanese katana stays in the best possible condition for you to enjoy for many years. In fact, purists believe that caring for a sword is an essential aspect of the warrior's philosophy. But when is it necessary to clean it? What mistakes should you avoid? What should and shouldn't you do? We will provide answers to all these questions.
How often should you maintain your katana?
The katana requires regular maintenance on several occasions. Just like preserving the beauty of leather or wood objects, the Japanese sword needs cleaning and maintenance to maintain its shine. These tasks should be performed every three to four months. However, if you live near the coast or in a damp area, it's advisable to do it more frequently, checking the blade every month, as moisture can damage it.
If your sword is not purely decorative and you use it for cutting, make sure to perform the necessary maintenance actions after each use.
Cleaning a katana: Mistakes to avoid
Cleaning a katana is not something you should do casually to avoid damaging it. First and foremost, avoid using harsh chemicals as they can degrade the surface of the blade. Also, refrain from cleaning, grinding, or sharpening with abrasive materials or wheels, even fine ones. These operations should only be done under the supervision of someone competent in this field. Remember this golden rule: a Japanese sword must be treated with gentleness and respect.
Avoid touching the blade with your fingers, as fingerprints produce imperceptible condensation that promotes rust formation. Instead, use a very soft cloth, cotton gloves, or special Japanese paper designed for this purpose. Lastly, follow a precaution not specifically for protecting your sword, but for your safety: never maintain a katana or any other sword with the cutting edge directed towards you. The edge should always face outward, away from you, to avoid accidents. When deciding to maintain your sword, do it alone, and especially keep children and pets away.
How to preserve your katana?
To preserve your katana and keep it intact for a long time, you need to renew the thin layer of oil present on the blade. This oil is applied to prevent oxidation and create a protective film, even for stainless steel blades. Additionally, it nourishes the wood inside the scabbard (saya) and prevents moisture from getting in.
To apply new oil, start by removing the old oil. For this purpose, use a very soft cloth, either cotton or microfiber, which must be clean. Another option is to use traditional Japanese paper specifically designed for maintaining Japanese swords, called nuguigami. If you have the opportunity to go to Japan or have a friend visiting, consider getting it to experience being a true samurai! Otherwise, a very soft disposable tissue will suffice.
Fold your cloth or paper in half and grip it between your thumb and index finger to wrap it around the blade. Apply light pressure as you move it along the blade from the tsuba (guard) towards the point or kissaki. Next, use a ball of uchiko powder. Uchiko is a traditional powder resembling chalk, wrapped in a fabric ball. Gently tap this uchiko ball on both sides of the blade and its back, then use a new sheet of paper or a fresh clean cloth to wipe it in the same manner as before. This will remove the powder while slightly polishing the metal. Always perform this operation in the same direction, from the tsuba to the kissaki. Finally, apply a thin layer of new oil evenly using a very soft brush.
The care the Japanese put into developing the maintenance of katanas and other Japanese swords reflects their deep attachment to these symbols of the samurai and the values conveyed by the code of honor. It is a ritual, and we hope you'll put the same passion into preserving your katana.