Some of those who polish their own blades are discovering an underlying
temper line beneath some etched hamon on certain blades, including
our monosteel lines. This is not a true natural hamon from
clayed hardening. The differentiation that is seen is actually the
result of a gradation resulting from the heating and quenching of
the blade and its geometry. (thinner ha side of the blade is
heated faster to a higher temperature than the mune side... additionally,
the blade is usually quenched with the edge side first... Again,
the thinner ha side is cooled more rapidly than the thicker mune....
resulting in a differential cooling rate.) Thus, even though
there may be evidence of a hamon in through hardened blades (provided
it is polished just right), this is not a true natural hamon as
it is intended.
Hamon - What
It's that wavy
line on the cutting edge of a katana. Traditionally, this wavy effect
is achieved by covering the cutting edge with a thin coat of a specialized
clay, and the spine with a thick coat of another, then fired to
differentially temper the cutting edge, and quenched (rapid cooled)
to harden the edge. The cloudy effect is the result of nie crystals
forming in the metal which also increases the hardness of the steel.
The spine of
the blade is cooled less rapidly due to the thick layer of clay
around it and, thus, results in a softer steel. (said to be "shock
absorbing"). For all intents and purpose, although it is during
the hardening (quenching) process that the martensitic crystalline
structure is formed, we'll refer to this overall clay-temper-quench
process as "tempering". (Since you can temper (heat)
a blade without hardening it, but you cannot harden (quench) a blade
without first tempering it).
part of this process is the hardening of the razor thin cutting
edge of a relatively soft steel sword so that the edge won't roll
or dull as quickly during cutting. The white haze that we recognize
as hamon is merely a nice visual side effect.
There is no
doubt that a hamon adds to the beauty of a katana. However, it is
also often used to mislead and raise the price of an otherwise lower
quality sword. A sword is not guaranteed to be better with the presence
of a visible hamon nor is it less functional if it does not have
a visible hamon. More often than not, a seller uses a fake hamon
represented as real to increase the price of a sword.
can be constructed of a through hardened monosteel or a sandwiched
steel with a hardened core so that differential tempering is redundant
if not undesirable. It is more important to recognize the steel
construction of a blade and understand if differential tempering
is necessary than to blindly look for a visible hamon.
a differentially tempered blade may or may not show a visible hamon
depending on how it is polished. The visual appearance of a true
hamon has a great deal to do with the level of polish on a sword.
If you have
your heart set on a sword with a hamon, you should learn how to
distinguish the different types of etched and fake hamon so that
you are not mislead into paying more for a blade than what it is
worth. (You can still get a sword with a cosmetically applied hamon...
you just don't want to pay more for it).
a real, fake (cosmetic), and etched hamon
A hamon is considered
fake when it is cosmetically applied on a non-differentially tempered
blade to increase its visual appeal. This is a little different
from a chemically etched hamon applied to a differentially tempered
and quenched sword to make the temper line more visible.
tempered and hardened blades with real visible hamon is not common
in production blades, but not all production blades uses fake hamon.
Production labor costs increases drastically when we use a real
hand clayed temper. You can reasonably expect a true hand clayed,
differentially tempered blade to go beyond the $200 to $300 range.
ALL fake hamons on Internet auction sites are represented as real
hamon. This problem is so rampant because very few people can recognize
the difference between a real hamon and a well made fake... many
sellers on Internet auction sites do not know if what they are selling
are real or fake themselves.
You don't need
to frown upon all fake or etched hamon... it does, afterall, make
your sword more attractive. Just learn to be able to recognize it
for what it is.
So how do
you tell the difference?
The best way
to learn how to distinguish between a fake and a real hamon (without
using a microscope to look for nie crystals) is to get used to comparing
real and fake hamons over time. The following are several images
of fake and etched hamon for you to reference:
an image of a real hand clayed, tempered blade with a visible
hamon. There are many variations of what a clayed hamon looks
like. This is just one of them.
activities on the border of the hamon (hataraki) is a good
tell tale sign of a real hamon, it is not a guarantee. Chemically
etched hamon can be made to look active if time and care is
put into its creation.
the most common type of fake hamon. It is accomplished by
using a wire brush wheel running over the surface of the metal.
It is easily spotted as you can see the fine lines from brushing.
Also look for a uniform pattern that repeats at intervals
from use of stencil.
most common on cheap display swords.
just showing a variation of the wire brushed hamon using a
on a hamon is the least tasteful method of creating a cosmetic
hamon. It does eats away at the metal
Wire Brushed Hamon
will notice, this sword has a fully sharpened edge, but still
sports a fake hamon. The wire brush used on this sword is
much finer than the previous examples but is still accomplished
by the same method.
certain light conditions will you be able to spot the scratch
marks of the light wire brush.
Etched Hamon Over Non-Differentially Hardened Blade
dye is used to create this hamon. Various chemicals including
mild acid, vinegar, ferric chloride can be used to create
a chemical etched hamon over non-differentially hardened blade.
Etched Hamon with Fabric Buff Over Non-Differentially Hardened
buff over a chemical dye etched hamon creates a subtle cosmetic
hamon that can be attractive without scratching the blade
our favorite and adopted method of creating a cosmetic hamon
on through hardened monosteel or wrapped core blades.
etched (bead blasted?) hamon over a tempered/hardened blade.
method creates a highly visible hamon used by some well know
manufacturers of high end production katanas. The visible
portion of the hamon is still a chemical etch even though
the metal is differentially tempered and hardened.
for this is possibly due to the coarse grade of polish on
the metal surface which would hide a natural hamon.
It is quite
fun and enjoyable to look at the various tempered and etched hamon.
There is an almost limitless variety of both real and etched hamon
Learn to distinguish
and appreciate both for what they are. Some people make it a hobby
to painstakingly hand etch their project blades using chemicals
on q-tips and can create some amazing results.