How to Sharpen a Katana

Katanas are not just one of the most popular Japanese swords, they are renowned worldwide for their durability, sharpness, flexibility, and aesthetic. Katanas are not cheap and that is why knowing how to sharpen a katana the right way is so important. So, what should you do?

  • Follow safety measures
  • Have the right tools
  • Clean the katana
  • Inspect the blade
  • Secure the stone
  • Choose the right grit
  • Do another inspection
  • Strop the blade
  • Polish your katana

It is understandable that you are doing your research before sharpening your katana and luckily, we are specialists when it comes to swords and how to maintain them, so, let’s get into the article.


Sharpening a Katana: What is the Right Technique?

Right, time for the most important section of the article, using the right technique to sharpen your katana sword. In some cases you might have to slightly adjust your technique but here is a guide that is easy to follow:

  1. Place one hand (preferably your dominant hand) at the base of the katana handle with your thumb extending to the base of the sword. The back of the sword should be perfectly in the middle of the thumb. It should almost look like you are showing a ‘sharp’ symbol horizontally. 
  2. Place the other hand right at the end of the sword with four of your fingers resting just above the edge and your thumb supporting the back of the sword, again, the back of the sword should be perfectly in the middle of your thumb.
  3. Remember, you are holding the sword so that the blade is facing outward from you, and not toward you.
  4. The whetstone should be on the table.
  5. Place the tip of the sword on the whetstone. Starting at the top of the stone is advisable. 
  6. Ensure that the sword is slanted at 15 to 20 degrees.
  7. Slowly drag the sword across the stone, and gently push the handle away from you. Doing this should give the sword some rotation and it should slide down and across simultaneously.
  8. Apply between four to six pounds of pressure.
  9. Do three to four slides per side.
  10. Never do more slides on one side as it will hurt the sharpness of the sword.
  11. Lubricate the stone with water between each slide.
  12. Start with a lower grit stone and move up if needed, ending with the lower grit stone when you have reached the desired result. Only do one slide on each side when finishing off.

Please note, that we are discussing the whetstone method in this article. Using whetstones is the most common method for those sharpening their katana at home.


Sharpening a Katana: What Not To Do

If you are scanning the page just to get a few tips, one of the biggest takeaways you should walk away with from this article is, please do not use any power tools to sharpen a katana. Not only can it be dangerous, but it is the fastest way to damage the sword. So, what tools should you not use?

  • Do not use an angle grinder
  • Do not use a belt sander
  • Do not use overly coarse sharpening stones

Another thing to avoid when sharpening your katana is sharpening against the edge, which means moving the sharpening tool perpendicular to the edge of the blade, rather than parallel to it. Here is a list of a few more things to avoid:

  • Over sharpening
  • Ignoring damage
  • Not lubricating the sword enough
  • Not maintaining consistent angles

Throughout the rest of the article, we will elaborate on some of these points while giving you additional tips for what to avoid.


Can You Sharpen a Katana at Home?

Not all katanas are the same, and that can especially be seen in the price. For example, a modern katana can cost a few hundred dollars, while an antique katana can set you back a few hundred thousand dollars. In the middle, you have modern authentic swords.

If you own an antique katana, it is advisable to have it maintained by a professional. While you would struggle to damage an authentic sword, the chances are still there. The same can be said if you are not confident in your ability to sharpen the sword correctly, even if your katana is on the lower side in terms of cost.

All of that said, if you have the right tools and a little bit of patience, you should be fine sharpening your katana at home.


Different Ways to Sharpen a Katana

There are different ways in which you can sharpen a katana sword. The most common method is to use a Whetstone. These can be easily purchased for around $50. Using a Whetstone is the method we are going to talk about further down.

When purchasing a whetstone kit, try to get one with grits of up to 300, 600, 1000, 3000, and 8000. The smaller the number, the finer the grit.  

Other methods include using a file and sandpaper which is not recommended unless you have a lot of experience, but even then, whetstones would be a better choice.

Some professionals might use electric sharpeners, but again, this method should be avoided.


Everything You Need to Sharpen a Katana

Before starting the sharpening process, try to have everything that you will need, here is a list:

  • A flat surface
  • Rubber mats are great for keeping whetstones in place
  • Whetstones
  • A towel or cloth
  • Water
  • Your blade

Remember, you will also need time. You should never stop sharpening a katana sword halfway through. Both sides of the sword need to be evenly sharpened.


How to Sharpen a Katana: 9 Easy Steps

If the information in here seems like a bit much, bookmark this page so that you can always come back when needed. That said, let’s get into it.

Safety First

Before you get started sharpening your katana, it is important to remember that safety should always come first. I know it is the most boring way to start this how-to guide, but here’s what you need to consider:

Concentrate on what you are doing. Remember, you will always have one hand on the blade, so losing concentration could lead to serious injury. Always look at what you are doing.

Keep your stone lubricated and do not loosen your grip on the sword, especially the hand that is applying pressure to the blade. If your hands are tired, take a break, and start again.

Get your Tools Ready

We went over everything that you need. Before starting, ensure that you have everything ready on the table. 

Clean the Katana

Cleaning a production katana is fairly simple, begin by wiping the blade with a soft cloth to remove any surface dust or fingerprints. Next, dip a cleaning cloth in a mixture of non-abrasive oil and gently wipe the blade to prevent rust.

When cleaning the katana before sharpening, don’t apply the oil, instead do that after the sharpening process.

Finally, For antique katanas, exercise additional caution, consulting professionals for preservation

Inspect the Blade

When inspecting the sword before sharpening, you want to look for little nicks. If you do happen to spot one, try to evaluate how severe it is. If it is significant and you are not comfortable, take the sword to a professional who can restore it.

Deciding to go ahead is fine in most cases, but you might have to adjust your technique slightly. 

Blemishing around the edge should naturally come out while sharpening the katana. However, if it does not, you could always try buffing it out at a later stage.

Secure the Stone

If you have a grip, you can use that to secure the stone, but you should not need it as you will not be applying too much pressure when sharpening the sword. 

Placing a whetstone on a rubber mat on a flat surface like a table is perfect for securing the stone. 

Keep the Stones Wet

As mentioned, do not mix oil and water. Once you use oil on the stone, you will need to continue using oil for as long as you use the stone. It is recommended that you use water instead of oil.

Lubricate the stone as much as you can. So, before starting, dip the whole thing in water. Then, using your hand, rub water on the stone after every time you slide the sword across it.

Choose the Right Grit

One of the most important steps is choosing the right grit. Starting too coarse is something you want to avoid. Instead, start with a stone that has a grit of up to 300 and work your way up if needed.

Buying the stones can be more costly than buying a five-piece kit. However, when buying stones individually, you can choose what you need, and the quality is yours to choose.

Constant Inspection

It is recommended that you do approximately four slides per side, and you should inspect the sword after every slide. I know that might seem excessive, but the more practice you get, the quicker the inspections will be.

Once you have done your slides on both sides of the sword, do the paper test. Basically, hold a piece of paper in one hand and slice through it with the sword. If the sword slices through the paper with ease, you are done.

Strop the Blade

After you are done sharpening the sword, stropping is the final step. Doing this will get rid of tiny burrs and give it a polished glow, making sure it’s not just sharp but also looking good. 

To strop (polish) the katana, drag it along a strip of material, typically leather or canvas, known as a strop. You should use the same technique for stropping as you did with sharpening.


Can You Use a Knife Sharpener to Sharpen Your Katana

Technically you can use a knife sharpener to sharpen a katana, but you should not do it. There are custom-made kitchen sharpeners that are designed to sharpen large knives and even katana swords. They are slightly larger than traditional kitchen sharpeners. 

Right, so these things clip onto your table, and should make sharpening a katana easy, but here is the problem. As easy as we made it seem in this article, sharpening your katana is quite the process, and for good reason.

Using tools that are not specifically or traditionally made for sharpening a katana or similar products will most likely give the sword an uneven edge. Also, it could remove too much steel, resulting in a thinner blade that is less durable.


How Often Should You Sharpen a Katana?

Well, there are three answers to the question, how often should a katana be sharpened? First, if it is used casually, you only need to sharpen it once a year or every two years. 

However, if you use the sword often, say for specific purposes, try to sharpen the katana every six months. Finally, if your katana is blunt, forget about schedules, and don’t be afraid to sharpen it.

As long as you use the right techniques and maintain the sword well, sharpening it once or twice a year should not affect its lifespan.


Sharpening a Katana at Home Vs Taking it to a Professional

If you have the time, skill, and patience, there is no problem sharpening your katana at home. Simply follow the above guide. There is a slight catch to that, see, the price of your sword should also be a deciding factor.

An authentic katana should be maintained by a professional. While it might cost a few dollars, it is still better than damaging your sword.


How Long Does a Katana Last?

So, your katana is blunt, and you want to sharpen it but maybe you got a little bit of a fright thinking your katana will never be the same, perhaps it has reached the end of its lifespan. Well, don’t worry. 

A production katana should last decades unless it is made from seriously cheap materials. An authentic sword can last centuries. To put it in perspective, the oldest katana still around is more than 600 years old, today.


Final Thoughts

As long as you use the right technique and are patient, you should have no issues sharpening your katana at home. That said, here at The Survival Island Store, our team is more than happy to assist you with any questions you may have. If you need supplies, katana swords, or even maintenance and care, we are specialists who can help.