Bladed tools require periodic maintenance to retain their edge and make them look as pristine as possible. The Samurai sword – the Katana – demands more than the usual knife-cleaning and maintenance procedure. This legendary sword needs an owner’s undivided attention, unequivocal care, and special equipment to safeguard the Japanese sword’s unique shine, sharpness, precision, and beauty.
In this article, we’ll share how to clean a Katana and offer a few tips for caring for and maintaining the fabled sword of the Orient.
The Katana Maintenance Kit
How to clean a Katana starts with the correct Katana maintenance kit. Using the wrong Katana cleaning materials might ruin the Samurai sword. The following items are a must.
This material protects the Katana blade against rust and corrosion. Choji oil features mineral oil and clove oil extract, giving this anti-corrosion material its unique scent. Most Katana owners pick a 1:100 Choji oil, containing 99% mineral oil and 1% clove oil. If you want a stronger scent for your Katana, choose a 1:10 concentration (90% mineral oil and 10% clove oil). You can substitute it with 100% mineral oil if you cannot find Choji oil.
Choji oil for cleaning Katana swords. Photo by DepDep.
This tool looks like an oversized lollipop, with a thick but short handle and a round head featuring silk material filled with very-fine stone powder. It’s similar to fine-grit sandpaper in function, removing fine scratches, polishing the Nagasa, and eliminating oil.
Uchiko ball for cleaning a Katana. Photo by Budoya.
A Katana cleaning kit is never complete without the Nuguigami or wiping cloth. It’s a very soft, special tissue that wipes off dust and oil off the Katana’s Nagasa. Alternatively, you can use lint-free, unscented, and super-soft paper tissue if you cannot find Nuguigami in your area.
Nuguigami for cleaning a Katana. Photo by Family School Partners.
You need at least two soft, non-starched flannel to clean Katana swords. Use one cloth to apply Choji on the Nagasa and another to clean the Katana without contaminating the Nagasa with oil residue.
A Katana sword cleaning set. Photo by Toyama Ryu Battu Do Konjaku Kioi Dojo.
How to Clean a Katana Samurai Sword
Here are the steps to clean a Katana. Note the procedure applies to different Samurai sword types.
Step 1. Remove the Katana from its scabbard (Saya)
Go to a clean and well-ventilated room free of distractions. You’ll need optimum focus when cleaning Katana swords because these bladed weapons are razor-sharp.
Carefully draw the Katana out of its Saya with the sharp edge facing up and the tip (Kissaki) pointed slightly upward. Place the Katana on a dust-free, lint-free, soft surface to avoid damaging the Nagasa and its Kissaki. Ensure the sharp edge faces away from you.
Alternatively, you can hold the Katana, but this action only gives you one hand to clean the sword.
Gently tap the Saya’s mouth (Koiguchi) against a table’s edge to dislodge debris from the Saya’s interior. Let these particles fall off. Removing debris from the Saya’s insides is crucial to prevent Nagasa abrasion and corrosion.
Step 2. Wipe off oil, dust, and other contaminants from the Katana.
Grab a wiping cloth or Nuguigami and place it over the Nagasa at the spine (Mune) and next to the hilt (Tsuba). In one solid motion, wipe the Katana blade with the Nuguigami toward the Kissaki, ensuring your fingers don’t touch the edge.
If the Nagasa has a Bo-hi (a groove), pinch the wiping cloth or Nuguigami to clean this section.
Wiping a Katana. Photo by Den Garden.
Step 3. Apply polishing powder with the Uchiko ball.
Hold the Uchiko ball and gently tap it against the Nagasa. This action releases the fine-stone polishing powder onto the Katana blade. Start at the collar next to the Tsuba and work your way toward the Kissaki in one- to two-inch increments. Repeat the steps on Katana’s other side.
Gently rub the polishing powder over the Nagasa to clean and polish the blade surface. This action also absorbs any remaining Choji oil. Repeat this procedure if you notice oily patches or fine scratches on the Nagasa.
Applying Uchiko fine-stone polishing powder on Katana. Photo by KSKY.
Step 4. Wipe the Nagasa with Nuguigami.
Repeat Step 2 after applying the fine-stone polishing powder on the Nagasa. Use a different Nuguigami or wiping cloth from the one used in the initial cleaning. Inspect the Katana for signs of corrosion or rust.
Step 5. Apply Choji oil on the Nagasa.
Get an eye dropper and draw Choji oil from its container. Apply a few drops of Choji oil on Nagasa. Alternatively, moisten an oiling cloth or Nuguigami with Choji oil and dab it on the Nagasa. Be careful not to use too much Choji oil.
Spread the Choji oil across the Nagasa, ensuring even coating. Use an oiling cloth or Nuguigami for this step.
Step 6. Wipe excess oil with Nuguigami.
Get a new sheet of Nuguigami and wipe off excess Choji oil. Check the Katana blade collar (Habaki) because oil can accumulate in the ornate crevices. Oil buildup can ruin the Tsuba. Hence, you must inspect this section and wipe any excess oil.
Step 7. Inspect the Katana and return to its Saya and display stand.
Assess the Nagasa for an even oil coating without touching the surface. Once satisfied with the cleaning and polishing, you can return the Katana to its Saya and place it on the display stand.
Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining a Katana
Here are some tips for maintaining and cleaning Katana swords.
- Use only Choji oil in cleaning and polishing Nagasa. Please avoid harsh chemicals, which can damage the blade.
- Always use a clean, lint-free, soft cloth to hold the Nagasa. Touching the blade with your bare fingers can leave oil residues on the blade and cause corrosion.
- The Katana has a sharp edge. Hence, one must clean it in a room free of distractions. If one is sick, cleaning Katana swords can wait.
- Always observe safety when cleaning a Samurai sword. Its sharp edge must always face away from you, and the wiping action must always start from the Habaki to the Kissaki.
The Bottom Line
Learning how to clean a Katana might seem intimidating. The extra care and caution employed in the process is a requirement one must never overlook. The Katana is a sharp tool and it could injure the person cleaning it. It’s also a work of art, deserving only the best cleaning products and the correct techniques to safeguard the Katana’s beauty, sharpness, and precision.