tanto knife blade japan

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Japanese swords have been a topic of much discussion, and really, reverence and fascination, throughout the decades since they first appeared in recordings of history. One of the types of swords that seems to captivate sword enthusiasts is the Tanto blade.

Before going into our buying guide for Tanto swords, here’s a bit of an overview of the Tanto’s history, along with other FAQs about its origins.

History Of The Tanto Blade

The Tanto blade made its entrance into Japanese history somewhere between the 794 to the 1180s. Known as the Heian Period, this was a time when powerful families were at war with each other over influence, position, and power.

To protect themselves and their possessions from enemy clans, said families hired samurai warriors as their guards. Though samurai swords had been proving their might as a weapon unlike any other, the warriors themselves felt the need for a different kind of blade.

Samurai blades were long and lean, and were wielded with great power, and yet, had a refinement about it. It was destructive as it was elegant.

And it’s this Sword that’s immediately and easily associated with the Samurai, being that it represents the warrior’s soul.

In contrast to this, the Samurai, with their desire to continue to elevate their fighting skills, thought that a shorter blade may prove more effective for strikes that are quick as they are lethal. Thus, the idea of the Tanto came into being.

It was for this reason that the Tanto’s overall form is that way that it is even today. This knife became an extremely powerful weapon in close combat and small spaces. As a result, the Samurai were seen brandishing two common weapons (unless the scale of the battle requires them to utilize more)— the Katana and the Tanto.

By the end of the Heian period, the Tanto’s design and craftsmanship saw its fruition when swordsmiths strengthened the blade whilst allowing it to still have lithe. Moreover, they began incorporating designs on its hilt, or the Tuska.

More than bringing a pristine aesthetic to the otherwise deadly blade, these designs were meant to emulate the personality and fighting style of the owner of said blade. At the same time, the swordsmiths had to be careful in not letting these designs be a hindrance to the movements of the Samurai.

By the end of the Heian period, and even more so during the Edo Period’s close, the use of the tanto had faded into legend.

Yet it was written into history as a spectacle of Japanese’s craftsmanship, tactical abilities, and strength.

Parts Of The Tanto Blade: Buying Guide For The Tanto Knife

One thing you can be sure of when it comes to following a buying a guide for this blade is that the blade itself is what needs your focus. Its parts, form, and design will serve as your guide in revealing whether a Tanto blade is authentic or is a bogus imitation of it.

High Point

The highest point of the Tanto is sharp, though in appearance and build, is quite thick. Its flat grind is meant to pierce through think objects with precision without letting the knife-holding need too much force to accomplish so. Look for that flat grind and you’ll be one step closer to authenticating the blade.

However, if you’re scouting for a blade that has a trailing swage point, the same rule applies.

That tip should still be thick, owing to the fact that it’s the match of thicker objects. For this type of knife, its opposite end usually has serrations halfway from the mid-section of the blade to its hilt.

The Hi Or Groove

The traditional design of a tanto sword has a groove only a few millimetres away from the sword’s back or Mune, similar to that of a samurai sword. The length of this slot-like line differs according to the make of the tanto.

Some have it starting from the handle all the way to the high point while others go only to about a fourth of the blade itself, still beginning from the handle.

Handle And Handle Ornament

In their original translation, the Tsuka and the Mekugi, also have a distinctness to them. Though many of the modern versions of the tanto no longer have these as a variation (they’re frequently plain and don’t have any embellishments on them), the traditional types have beautifully intricate Mekugi.

And the weaves are very tightly bound, calling back to what we’ve mentioned early about the embellishments never being a distraction to the sword holder.

Blade Collar

The tanto’s blade collar or Habaki has to be well-placed around the bottom portion of the blade connecting to the spacer and then the hilt.

This is another feature that contemporary blades have forgone. Still, for a truly authentic tanto, this is one to watch out for.

Tips On Sharpening A Tanto Blade

Now that you have a buying guide for purchasing the legendary Tanto Blade, here’s how you can maintain it and keep its blade sharp without damaging the knife itself. First, look closely and point out where the angle of the edge is. Get into the details by identifying any damages on it.

Next, with the help of your choice of a blade stone or sharpening system, lift the knife at an angle and “slide” it onto the stone. If it doesn’t have any significant damage, then you can go ahead and use the high-grit side. As for small nicks and other similar flaws, the low-grit side will work better.

Regarding damaged blades, after sharpening them on the low-grit stone, polish them on the high-grit slab to for that clean and precise sharp edge.

Finally, the secondary edge should be sharpened even more carefully so as to avoid curving or rounding the portion that joints the main and secondary edges together. Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. If you’re already familiar with how to sharpen a regular knife, then you’ll be able to adjust to sharpening a tanto blade in no time.

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